Friday, September 30, 2011

Caves of Myrddin update

Celumir the Bald, Durgar Ironfoot, Pavel the Great and Father Nicholas are back from the Caves before most of the jackanapes staying at the abbey guest house bother to stumble out of bed.  If it weren't for Father Nick's acid burns and the slashing claw marks covering Durgar, the only clue that they had ventured out would be the crab stew they're cooking up over the guest house fire pit.  Scuttling crabs are fairly common along the beach leading up the the Caves.  Anglo-Normans view crab as a lowly peasant fare, but these four adventurers seem pretty happy just to be alive at breakfast time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Welcome to Wizardly Wednesday!

Mako from the first Conan flick.

FACT: There's no way I can top William Shatner or Mr. T.  In terms of sheer over-the-top ludicrous celebrity, there are none higher.  (The band KISS taken as an aggregate comes pretty close, but eventually I decided to go in a different direction.)

FACT: Wizards are completely awesome.

THEREFORE: Every Wednesday for the next year I will post a picture of some sort of kickass wizard, warlock, witch, sorcerer, mage, necromancer or other magic-user type.

Carousing in Wessex

I'm pretty sure my carousing rules (reprinted below the break) are the most widely-used idea I've come up with here on the ol' Gameblog.  If you use them or something similar, it might do you some good to think about what that gold spent actually buys you within the context of the campaign.  Different campaigns will have different luxuries and debaucheries based upon differing economies and extent of trade.  For example, in a game where gold flows freely and a thousand items are imported from across the world, that 100 to 600gp may buy you just enough Black Lotus Powder for the lone carouser to get blasted out of their skull for a single evening.

Looking at the Caves of Myrddin outings, set in fake Cornwall A.D. 1140, a carousing roll basically buys you a large multi-day feast/festival.  Peasants from miles around bring buckets of ale, baskets of bread, armfuls of veggies, strings of fresh fish, and whole beasts poached off some lord's land.  More than a few show up with live animals: chickens, pigs, sheep, etc.  Some of this food is shared with the brothers of the abbey, as any food preparation beyond simple heating by the fireplace requires that it be sent to the abbey kitchens.  Wagons bearing tuns of wine trundle their way across rough Cornish trails.  Additionally, the guest house of the abbey is inundated by minstrels, jugglers, mimes, storytellers, dancers and other entertainers of various levels of skill.

Sometimes, but not always, stronger stuff than wine and ale are available.  Merwik has a line on Welsh whiskey and can occasionally obtain aqua vita (brandy) from an alchemist.  Sometimes a nearby halfling community will send a delegation carrying clay pipes and bundles of pipeweed.  Apple cider and mead are available when in season.  Maybe Dremelza the Witch shows up with her famous henbane homebrew.  If it doesn't kill you it's quite a trip.

Extra candles must be procured for the late nights, as well as replacement furniture and dishes for whatever is broken.  Occasionally a temporary stage needs to be built or a Maypole obtained.  Ewella the Alewife and Merwik the Merchant try their best to manage these affairs, as it allows them to claim some portion of the money exchanged.  In fact, they will happily act as go-between for a large portion of the affair, allowing them to claim even more of that 100 to 600gp.

Merry lads and lasses of several types attend these affairs.  Outright prostitution is uncommon, but some of the travelling performers are subject to improved reaction rolls when showered with gifts, if you catch my drift.  Ewella the Alewife tries to keep her kin away from the drunken embraces of the adventurers, but some of the country youths sneak into the party anyway.  Some of these enthusiastic lads and lasses are 'adventure groupies' seeking secondhand excitement but some of the craftier ones are looking to marry up.

So carousing in Wessex is a public, community affair.  The PC spending the money has a good time, but so do all the other adventurers in the vicinity as do many other people who crash the party (including a few brothers of the abbey who sneak out of there cells).  Anyone carousing even once will be remembered by many in that hex of the overland map as a right worthy old so-and-so.  Once the whole debauch peters out, most folks spend the next day attending Mass in the abbey church.  Some do this to repent the various sins committed during the previous night(s), others just like to keep the abbot on their good side.  Whatever of the 100 to 600gp is unspent by this point goes into the collection box.

Incidentally, the carnival nature of carousing in Wessex is the reason I feel free in blabbing adventure details whenever anyone uses the rules below.  Everyone knows you got the gold for the feast from the dungeons.  You're asked constantly to relate the tale of derring-do that resulted in your riches.  You're already the life of the party, since you're paying for everything.  You're drunk on God knows what.  And this sweet young thing you've been chatting up is gazing at you with that look that tells you you're almost there.  How many days in a row do you think you could resist bragging about your exploits under these circumstances?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mr. T is down for the count.

Today is the last Mr. T'sday here at the ol' Gameblog.

Friday, September 23, 2011

these guys are kinda cool

Found here.

another Caves of Myrddin update

Five set out this morning for the Caves of Myrddin: Harold the Adequate, Sneaky Roger, Celumir the Elf and his Hopeless Loser, and Pavel the Great, the world's least dressed halfling.  Only four came back.  Can you guess which one didn't?  The other four rolled into the Abbey with two barrels of ancient wine aged to perfection.  The next 200gp spent on carousing will retroactively purchase this wine.

Since today's PCs didn't immediately carouse and the one NPC died, there's not much else I can report except for this little fact:  From the Abbey you can see smoke rising out of the south tower of the ruins of Dundagel.

Someone has woke up the dragon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Caves of Myrddin update

So last night my tabletop crew launched their second, third and fourth expeditions to the Caves.  The first and second visits were short jaunts to the Big Cave.  The first visit involved a clash with some giant tiger beetles and the party dwarf finding and selling a necklace that he failed to tell the other PCs about.  The players know, but their characters are out of the loop.

The second expedition involved finding Joe Mama's larder, which is a like a meat locker but with people instead of sides of beef.  They retrieve the corpses for proper burial back at the monastery and among their effects they find a couple of spellbooks.  After transcribing some spells out of them, they sell the spellbooks off.  So if anyone in the FLAILSNAILS multiverse has 500gp or 1,000gp to blow, you can buy a dead elf's spell book with one or two first level spells in it.

The third expedition was a doozy.  Let me set it up for you.  Zak S. has been trying to sell this map he made of some of the Dungeons of Dundagel.  Dane has a potion of ESP he got from his witch/girlfriend.  So he asks me if he could find the guy selling the map and feign interest in buying it to get an opportunity to scan the dude's mind for free info.  This is a tricky situation, since Zak is not present to defend himself, but I think it's a clever ploy so I decide to go along.  I describe to Dane a mental image of this vast pile of gold in a room lit by blue torches which is at the bottom of a spiral staircase accessible from the south tower of the ruined castle.

Damn, these guys are hot and bothered to lay their hands on this treasure.  They locate the hatch that gives access to the stairs.  Only after a descent of over a hundred feet do some of them start to wonder if this plan is so great or not.  At over 100' down they encounter a door, but the stairs continue to spiral down.  Continuing down, a little while later they pass another door.  Maybe 50' deeper there's a side passage.  Tom volunteers to send his elf into the passage to scout ahead.  He spots what are clearly 4 or 5 corporeal undead of possibly vampiric persuasion coming up another set of stairs.  The party runs back up the stairs, but not before hearing one of the undead whisper to one of his fellows "Do you smell blood?  I smell blood."

After they decide vampires are not pursuing them up the stairs, they head back down.  When they reach the bottom, at maybe 300' below the surface, Dane is very confused.  The treasure room should be right here.  Instead there's a small passageway leading to a ladder further down.  Exploring that passage reveals four things:
  • Another set of non-spiral stairs leading up.  Some giant rats come pouring down these stairs, but they are quickly burnt up with some well-aimed flasks of oil.
  • A set of imposing bronze doors.
  • The statue of the Anti-Virgin.  Even drunk, no one in the party talks much about that one.
  • A secret door beyond which is yet another ladder down.
At this point tensions are pretty high with the group, as they realize they are way deeper into this dungeon than any group of 1st and 2nd level characters should possibly be.  But they seem determined not to leave empty handed.  So Tom agrees to go down that ladder and scout ahead.  For maximum movement rate he doffs his chainmail.  As an additional precaution he ties a length of rope around himself so he can be pulled up quickly if that becomes necessary.

50' down he reaches the end of the ladder.  The shaft he descended ends with a pair of doors, one on eaither side of the ladder.  Before he can do anything else, the metallic blue giant spider enters the shaft, emerging from its concealed spider-hole halfway down the ladder, between the party and the elf.  The spider starts moving up the shaft.  The party dumps several flasks of flaming oil on the spider to no effect.  A d30-powered magic missile careens right off it's shiny blue carapace.  Fearing they have no means with which to hurt this beast, they close the hatch.  Cursing the rest of the party, Tom quickly dashes through the nearest door.  Luckily, there isn't anything on the other side waiting to immediately eat him.

While Tom is searching the chambers beyond, the party discovers the spider is intelligent.  They negotiate a payment of gold to get the elf back safely.  Meanwhile, Tom's elf has discovered a fiery pit of some sort and a strange creature nearby.  It's a smallish worm with a human face.  And it pleads with Tom to rescue him.  Tom stuffs the little weirdo in his backpack just before the spider arrives to tell him he's being returned to his friends.  There's a tense "prisoner exchange" type situation in the ladder shaft, with a bag of gold dangling by a rope and an elf tethered by a length of webbing.  But the swap is made fairly by both sides.  Then the party gets the crap out of the dungeon.  Net haul for expedition three: negative 250gp in ransom money, plus the cost of several flasks of oil plus the laundry bill for an undetermined number of soiled underpants.

Back at the monastery, the party casually hits up Father Abbot to see if he knows what's wrong with little worm dude.  The Abbot recoils in horror and explains that they have in their possession a damned soul.  In short TOM'S FIRST LEVEL ELF NEARLY STUMBLED INTO THE UPPERMOST LAYER OF HELL ITSELF. 

That's how deep this dungeon goes, motherfuckers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I can only assume...

... that Mr. T is hunting down the man who sold him that hat.

your Caves of Myrddin cast

Regular commenter Anon of Ibid, inquiring about Sunday's NPC listing, asks, "Do these characters have actors assigned to them as well?"

They do now.

William Atherton/Walter Peck from Ghostbusters is Father Sithny, Vicar of Endeltstow.  Yes, it's true; this man has no dick.

Rhea Perlman/Carla Tortelli from Cheers is Ewella the Alewife.  She'll readily supply you with as much barley-based poison as you can drink.  Just don't get on her bad side.

Cassandra Gaviola/The Witch from Conan the Barbarian is Dremelza, Witch of Camelton.  She's alluring but also hella dangerous.  And pretty much the only game in town for arcane services.

Harry Morgan/Colonel Sherman T. Potter from MASH is Father Wendron, Abbot of St. Emmet.  He knows what you and Hawkeye get up to when you're not on duty but he doesn't care as long as you're fighting the good fight.  Keep the bishop out of the loop and you're aces in his book.

Julian Glover/General Veers from Empire Strikes Back is William of Crevan, Castellan Bottreaux.  Something about General Veers always struck me, like he was a reasonable man who happened to be on the wrong side of the conflict.  The Imperial Admirals in Empire and Jedi seem to be douchebags of one sort or another, but Veers doesn't give me that same vibe.  Like if you beat him at chess he wouldn't pitch a fit or hold it against you.  I dunno.

Zero Mostel/Max Bialystock from The Producers is Merwik the Merchant.  Clearly not trustworthy and more than a little berserk at times, but lovable nonetheless.

Fleet Captain: fighters & missiles

Gameblog reader pavo6503 asks:
...It is generally accepted as the rule that air power made battleships obsolete in WW2. The US and British Navy kept their battleships in safe harbors until air superiority was established. Now, some say aircraft carriers are obsolete because of submarines and anit-ship weapons like the Chinese DF-21, a ballistic missile with 900 miles of range and attacks from above with incoming meteorite speed. It doesn't even have an explosive warhead, just a concrete slug! Small missile launchers are the new awesome as far as naval power goes.
How well do the rules for your game hold up to this modern situation? Do squadrons of fighters and torpedo attacks have the same devastating effects? ...
I know you're concentrating on speed and fun with workable rules being the desired outcome but have you found that fighters and missile attacks are the way to go?
Any resemblance between Fleet Captain and modern naval warfare is purely coincidental. There's got to be fighter rules in Fleet Captain simply because Star Wars is fighter heavy.  However, they can't be quite as awesome or important as in Star Wars, because original Star Trek is another heavy influence.  So try imagining the Battle of Jutland involving a few biplane-launching carriers and you get the vibe I'm going for.  I want to have bigass anti-ship missiles as well, simply because I want the possibility of launching a missile and striking a friendly vessel by accident.  But big, dumb, slow capital ships exchanging wildly inaccruate laser cannon barrages will still be the focus of the game.

Right now I'm trying to figure out whether I want my fighter rules just plain simple or so mind-numbingly simple the Rogue Squadron fans spit and call me names.  For example, here are two possible movement rules I am considering:

Alternate 1: All fighters not already engaged in a dogfight roll a large die (d12 or d20 maybe) and move up to that many hexes with no regard to facing changes or anything like that.  Just roll and move that many hexes, no big whoop.

Alternate 2: All fighters not already engaged in a dogfight just plain go wherever they want.  Pick up the piece and set it down somewhere else on the board.  Fighters are just so many orders of magntiude faster and more maneuverable that they all but teleport for our purposes.

Missiles will definitely move on some sort of die roll.  If they end their move adjacent to an enemy vessel they automatically attack it.  If they end their move adjacent to a friendly vessel there's a flat 1 in 6 chance they misidentify the ship and attack.

Either way, fleets will be limited on the number of carriers or missile boats they can deploy.  I'm imagining maybe 2 to 4 stands worth of fighters or missiles per specialty vessel and probably only 0 to 2 such vessels in any fleet.

(Also, I have a different game idea that's all about the fighters as opposed to the capital ships.  In that game all vessels above fighter/shuttle size occupy multiple hexes, functioning as terrain.  The fighters buzz all around them, with the capital ships involved basically stationary or nearly so.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

early CRPG immigration patterns

Some early D&D-type games for home computers allowed the importation of characters from other early D&D-type computer games.  Above is an attempt to map some of them.  Not all versions supported this features (the C-64 version of a game might support such a feature, while the Apple II version does not, etc.) so this map is at best an ideal.  A few interesting bits of trivia:
  • The earliest version of Wizardry II straight up required you to import your PCs from the original game.  Someone eventually figured out that this limited their sales to people who had played the original and a chargen feature was eventually added.
  • Deathlord is a fairly obscure computer RPG with a mythic Japanese setting.  Thieves and fighters imported from other games find themselves transformed to ninja and samurai.  Also, if you like overland exploration in the vein of Ultima III and IV, Deathlord's wilderness map is supposed to be much larger than either of those games.
  • Dragon Wars started life as Bard's Tale IV, but corporate shenanigans ensued.  It's supposed to be pretty dang good.
  • You can't bring your Ultima III characters into your Ultima IV game, but maybe PCs from both adventures can join forces together in Bard's Tale III!

BX: this class rules/sucks

Just thinking out loud today.

The Fighter
Why this class rules: The perfect class for the macho hero type.  You can use any weapon.  Most suits of magic armor will be sized to you.  In some games this class puts you on the fast track to knighthood or other cool warrior culture status.
Why this class sucks: With no weapon specialization rules or anything like that there is precious little that you are good at that Elves and Dwarves can't do as well.  Some people find the fighter dull as dishwater.  Most parties expect fighters to act as meatshields.

The Cleric
Why this class rules:  You fight almost as well as the fighter types, but you also get cool powers.  Using Turn Undead at the right time to route a pack of ghouls or a vampire will make you the hero of the table.  God is literally on your side.
Why this class sucks:  No spells until level 2 is pretty damn bogus.  I don't even like clerics and I think that's a travesty.  Any DM worth their salt will pimp you over at least once with some sort of deadly quest bestowed by a high-ranking member of your hierarchy.

The Magic-User
Why this class rules:  Fireballing jerkwads will never go out of style.  You have a specific problem, use spell research to come up with a custom solution.  A lot of kickass magic items are specifically designed for your class and at high enough level you can make your own.
Why this class sucks:  Getting over the hump from 1 hit point and 1 spell per day to 5th level fireball lobber ain't easy.  Some DMs are dillweeds when it comes to making spells available.

The Thief
Why this class rules: With only d4 hit points most sane parties won't expect you to constantly check for traps or scout ahead.  In BX you can wield damn near any weapon.  Some players will expect a small amount of intraparty theft, since this class is literally built around the concept of greed.
Why this class sucks:  That d4 hit die really seems puny when you are in a small party and don't have enough muscle to protect you.  Most of your skill percentages totally suck.  If any kickass magic items go missing you will be the #1 suspect.

The Dwarf
Why this class rules: Good hit points and great saves make you tough to kill.  Your ability to find traps and listen at doors makes you a useful point man and the fighter can even shoot over you.  People tend to expect you to be grumpy or a lush, so you can behave badly and get away with it more often.
Why this class sucks: Most magic armor found will be sized for the fighters and clerics in the party.  Some folks will expect you to scout ahead, what with your infravision and trap-finding abilities.

The Elf
Why this class rules: You have the best of both worlds: kicking as much ass as fighters and throwing spells like magic-users. In fact, throw in infravision and languages and you're better than those guys.  Immunity to ghoul paralysis ain't nothing to sneeze at, either; One ghoul is all you need to utterly ruin a 1st level party.
Why this class sucks: The XP chart. It gets really annoying to see all the other players zoom past you in levels.  Also, some fairly common monsters (hobgoblins, orcs) seem to just straight up hate on you.

The Haflling
Why this class rules: Great saves.  The ability to hide from danger.  Many players expect little or no contribution from you, allowing you to shirk many hazardous duties.  The fact that this class tops out at 8th level means that if you make it that far you can declare yourself to have 'won' the game.
Why this class sucks: You look like a tasty bite-sized snack to most monsters in the dungeon.  Good luck finding magic armor that fits.  Trudging through dungeons barefoot strikes me as a bad idea.

I totally understand people wanting more classes in their games, but whenever I start thinking about all the cool things you can do with just these seven it suggests to me that the others aren't necessary.  I'd play any of the classes listed above.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

key NPCs of the Caves of Myrddin area

William of Crevan, Castellan of Bottreaux - Castle Bottreaux is the nearest seat of Anglo-Norman power in the area, a motte and bailey castle about five miles from the Caves of Myrddin and the Abbey of St. Emmet.  Like most Cornish lords, the holder of Bottreaux spends most of his time in the more civilized eastern end of the island or in France, so his chosen man William of Crevan is the defacto ruler of the region.  The craggy-faced grey-haired Sir William is noted for being more fair-minded and even-handed than most of the Norman lords in Cornwall, but he's suspicious of the shady characters plundering the dungeons in the region.

Father Sithny, Vicar of Endeltstow - One of the highest ranking churchmen in the area, Father Sithny is a bitter old son of a bitch.  He's an ambitious man approaching middle age who perceives all too keenly the glass ceiling for Cornishmen in the Norman-dominated church.

Dremelza, Witch of Camelton - This talented young peasant woman is said to be versed in arcane spells beyond her years.  She is known to identify magic items for gold, gem or jewel, but beware her wrath.  She's already turned one PC into a pig. 

Father Wendron, Abbot of St. Emmet - Father Abbot is the sort of canny fellow who plays the white-haired fool when necessary to keep the agents of the Bishop out of Abbey business.  He's well aware of the kind of debauchery that goes on in the guest house of the Abbey whenever adventurers come back from the dungeons loaded with riches, but he chooses to turn a blind eye to such liveliness rather than discourage anyone from continuing the fight against the evils under Castle Dundagel. 

Ewella the Alewife - Since adventurers arrived in the region, this jolly old widow has been working her ass off keeping you all supplied with sufficient beverages.  Her own household, those of her two daughters-in-law and several other kinsmen now spend every spare moment brewing as much ale as they can.  She also occasionally puts you in contact with local poachers so that you have some decent meat to go with your drink.  A fine ol' gal all around, even if she does charge you more than she does local peasants.

Merwik the Merchant - This shady Welshman sells you a lot of the weapons, armor and miscellaneous supplies you expend in plundering the dungeons.  Most of these goods are of dubious quality and over-priced to boot, but what can you do in the middle of this blighted land?  Some of you are starting to suspect that he buys much of his wares from the pirates of Lundy Island.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Caves of Myrddin update

The survivors from this morning's expedition to the Caves of Myrddin are unusually tight-lipped.  They don't get drunk and immediately blab a bunch of details.  And the only non-warpoodle NPC in the party, Lisa the Loser, didn't come back with the group.  Here are the only things anyone else can learn about the adventure:
  • Celumir the Elf brags that the group killed a vampire.  You're not sure whether to believe him or not.  Dude is built like a half-starved broomstick.  It's hard to imagine him killing fleas successfully, much less actual dungeon monsters.
  • Pavel the Halfling, who adventures in nothing but a loincloth (revealing far more halfling fur than you ever really wanted to see), is carried back from the dungeon, unconscious and covered in acid burns.
  • Blixa the Thief claims the group penetrated the dungeons of Castle Dundagel, the ruins overlooking the cave (as seen here).  He has a map that he will sell for coin or magic items.  Blixa says the map indicates where the infamous Dragon of Dundagel may be found.
As the DM, I will tell you that the part about entering the Dungeons of Dundagel is legit.  I had enough ready to go to give today's group the option of exploring the ruins.  Future parties may choose between visiting the three caves previously in play and the ruined castle above.  Also, the Dragon of Dundagel is a well-known menace.  Every few years smoke is seen over the castle.  A few days or weeks later the dragon then goes on a Cornwall-wide rampage, demanding tribute from villages and burninating anyone who doesn't cough up treasure to satisfy it.  The first adventurers in the area chose to enter the Caves of Myrddin in hopes of finding a back door to the dragon's loot.  So far no luck on that point.

The main access between the levels below Dundagel uses the vertical geomorphs I tricked a bunch of people into making a while back.  Thanks again for all that work, folks!  Initially I tried passing off the vertical geomorphs as normal dungeon interactions.  This was a mistake, as either I have to come up with the missing depth of everything on the spot or do a lot more preplanning than I want.  Next time anyone ventures below the towers of Dundagel I'll just be up front about when the party is in the vertical zone and only talk about east, west, up and down.  North and south will be glossed over as less relevant.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fleet Captain: Countdown to Doom

Any ships that have been reduced to 0 hull points must roll on the chart below before taking any action, including the mandatory Drift at the end of a turn where the ship wasn't activated.

Countdown to Doom (normally 1d6, Fleet Captains roll 2d6)

1 - STRIKE COLORS - Remove ship from board.  If the enemy wins, they capture it as prize.  If the rest of your fleet wins, enjoy the court-martial.
2 - BOOM! - Your ship explodes.  You are dead.  See the rules below for more details.
3 - ABANDON SHIP - Place one Escape Pod marker on your hex for every point of crew efficiency you have left.  1 in 6 chance the ship explodes anyway, killing everyone.
4 - SITTING DUCK - You may only Drift this turn.  Any further hull damage to vessel has an X in 6 chance of Exploding the ship, where X is the hull damage inflicted by the incoming shot.
5 - VENTING ATMOSPHERE - Take 1 point of crew damage.  3 in 6 chance of one fire self-extinguishing.  You may act normally this turn.
6 - EMERGENCY REPAIRS - Crew restores 1 hull point.  2 in 6 chance of extinguishing one fire.  You may act normally this turn.

7 - EMERGENCY REPAIRS - Crew restores d6 hull points, extinguishes all fires and repairs a weapon system of your choice. You may act normally this turn.
8 - EMERGENCY REPAIRS - Crew restores 1 hull point.  2 in 6 chance of extinguishing one fire.  You may act normally this turn.
9 - ENGINE STALL - You may only Drift for movement this turn.  Weapons and Shields still function.
10 - SPITE STRIKE - You may fire as many weapons as you want this turn, but vessel has an X in 6 chance of Exploding, where X is the number of weapons fired.
11 - ENGINE CORE BREACH IMMANENT - Sometime this turn, your ship Explodes.  You get to pick when.  Try to take one of the bastards with you.
12 - SHATNERIAN MIRACLE - Erase all damage to vessel.  Extinguish all fires. Go forth and kick ass.

Anybody or anything that happens to be in your hex takes damage equal to a centerline torpedo strike.
Anybody or anything that happens to be in an adjacent hex takes damage equal to an offcenter torpedo strike.
Replace your ship with an Explosion marker.  This remains on the board as a stationary Density 1 asteroid field.  At the beginning of each turn roll 1d6 for each Explosion marker on the board.  On a 6 remove that marker.
Make a loud explodey sound effect.  Entertain your friends.

random Cornish names

Since the action in my Wessex campaign has moved to Cornwall, I decided to do a thimblefull of research on Cornish names.  Listed below is what I came up with.  The results aren't as well-targeted on the medieval period as my work on Norman names, but it's good enough for some D&D characters.

Cornish names, male (d100)

1. Aedan
2. Alan
3. Anaoc
4. Benesek
5. Boult
6. Branek/Branok
7. Cadan
8. Cador
9. Carasek
10. Carlyon
11. Casvelyn
12. Carne
13. Clemo(w)
14. Colan
15. Conan
16. Corentyn
17. Cubert
18. Daveth
19. Denzel/Denzil/Danzel
20. Derrick
21. Digory
22. Dofagan
23. Donyerth/Donyarth
24. Edern
25. Ennor
26. Enyon
27. Gawen
28. Gerens
29. Gorran
30. Gurcant
31. Gurcon
32. Guriant
33. Gryffyn
34. Gwithyen
35. Hammitt
36. Hedrek
37. Hedyn
38. Hendra
39. Howel
40. Jacca
41. Jago
42. Jermyn
43. Jory
44. Jowan
45. Keby
46. Kenan
47. Kenver
48. Kenwyn
49. Kernick
50. Kevern
51. Kitto
52. Lanyon
53. Lewyth
54. Locryn
55. Maban
56. Madern
57. Margh
58. Massen
59. Mawgan
60. Medrod
61. Melor
62. Menadue
63. Meriasek
64. Merryn
65. Morcum
66. Myghal
67. Nadelek
68. Neythen
69. Pasco
70. Padern
71. Pasco
72. Peder
73. Pedrek
74. Penrice
75. Perran/Piran/Peran
76. Petrok
77. Remfry
78. Rowse
79. Ruan/Rewan
80. Sithny
81. Talan
82. Talek
83. Tomas
84. Treyfusis
85. Trelawney
86. Tre(y)mayne/Tre(y)main(e)
87. Tresco
88. Trethowan
89. Teudar
90. Treeve
91. Trevelyan
92. Tristan
93. Tyack
94. Ust
95. Vyvyan
96. Wella
97. Wendron
98. Yestin
99. Ythel
100. Zennor

Cornish names, female (d100)

1. Aedoc
2. Arranza
3. Anaguistl
4. Bennath
5. Berlewen
6. Bersaba
7. Beryan
8. Blejan
9. Bronnen
10. Bryluen
11. Caja
12. Chesten
13. Colenso
14. Conwenna
15. Crewenna
16. Delen
17. Demelza
18. Derowen
19. Ebrel
20. Elestren
21. Elowen
22. Endelyon/Endellion
23. Eseld/Esyld
24. Eva
25. Ewella
26. Hedra
27. Jenna
28. Genna
29. Gloiucen
30. Gunnoda
31. Gwen
32. Gwenna
33. Gwennap/Gwenep
34. Gwenneth
35. Gwenno
36. Gwenora
37. Gwin/Gwynne
38. Ienipa
39. Jena
40. Jenifry
41. Jowna
42. Kayna
43. Kelynen
44. Kensa
45. Kerensa/Karenza
46. Kerra
47. Kew
48. Lamorna
49. Loveday
50. Lowenna
51. Mabryn
52. Medguistl
53. Mellyn
54. Melwyn
55. Melyor
56. Meraud
57. Merryn
58. Morenwyn
59. Morva
60. Morvoren
61. Morwenna
62. Newlyna
63. Onwen
64. Pasca
65. Rosen
66. Rosenwyn
67. Rosevear
68. Senara
69. Sidwella
70. Sowena/Sowenna
71. Steren
72. Talwyn
73. Tamsin
74. Tanguistl
75. Tecca
76. Tegen
77. Tressa
78. Ursell
79. Wenna
80. Ygerna/Igerna
81. Ysella
82. -100. reroll

Cornish surnames
Like most folk in the period, surnames identify either a parent or a place.  In the first case use [roll1] son of [roll2] or [roll1] daughter of [roll2].  For men you can also use the patronymic 'map', the Cornish equivalent to the 'mac' of Scotland or the "O'" of the Irish, so Talan map Keby might work as a Cornish name.  I don't know the female equivalent.
For place-based surnames use the construction "X of Y".  To get the Y part, roll d8 on the chart below:
1. Tre-
2. Ros(e)-
3. Pol-
4. Lan-
5. Car-
6. Pen-
7. Nan-
8. Saint [roll another first name]
The prefixes need to be attached to something.  I recommend rolling again on one of the first two charts, but truncating or otherwise mangling the results.  E.g. "Lan-" plus "Morvoren" becomes "Lanvoren" or "Lanmor" or something like that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

more than I expected

How many different starting characters are possible in Basic/Expert D&D?  Don't say seven.

Let's start by assuming that two otherwise identical characters are "different" if one is a Fighter and the other is a Thief, all other things being identical.  Let us also assume two Fighters are "different" if one has 1 hit point max and the other has 2hp.  Also, two characters differ if one has a Strength score of 10 and the other has a Str of 11.  That one will be a stretch for some people, but when you start to think about monsters that do stat damage even one point can be a big difference.

Furthmore, if one character is Lawful and the other Neutral, they are different.  Additionally, a starting Magic-User with a Sleep spell is not the same as one who begins play with Shield.  Finally, starting money differentiates characters as well.  After all, a starting fighter that can afford platemail and a bow is in a different starting position than one who can barely buy leather and a spear.

By these criteria, I calculate 4.3775 x 10^18 possible starting PCs in Basic D&D.  That's 4,377,498,837,804,120,000 or more than 4 quadrillion characters, before we even talk about names or homeland or personality or even starting equipment.

The actual number is higher when you start taking into account bonus languages for high Int score. Using the sample chart of 20 monster languages increases the total by a little more than one order of magnitude, I think.

Q: Why is this man crying?

A: Because Jeff forgot Mr. T'sday last week and no one said anything about it!  Poor Mr. T.

Monday, September 12, 2011

BX derived 2d6 stat checks

This chart is already in the BX D&D rules as the "Morale of retainers" column under Charisma.  Is there any reason why it couldn't be applied generally for all sorts of skill checks?

Q: favorite class?

My favorite class in any version of D&D is probably the 2nd edition AD&D bard.  You can wield a sword (or any other weapon), but you kinda suck at it.  You can play around with arcane spells, but you are clearly inferior to an actual wizard.  You can attempt several thieving abilities, but you're not as good as a real deal thief.  You can wear armor up to chainmail and play the mandolin or flute or something and maybe inspire the troops a little bit.  In short, you have a wide variety of interesting things you can try to do, just don't expect to be very good at any of them.  You have a good reason to try to talk to a lot of monsters, but also several neat little tricks when that fails.

In fact I once got into a rather ridiculously intense email argument with a DM over the second edition Bard.  He was gearing up to run a 2nd ed. campaign and looking for players.  I suggested that I would like to test my theory that a half-elf bard makes a better Gandalf than the standard Mage type classes.  Wield a sword?  Check.  Give inspiring speeches on the eve of battle?  Check.  Know things about mysterious magic rings?  Check.  Use persuasion to forge new alliances? Check.  Cast spells only after other avenues are exhausted?  Checkity-check.  And the half-elf part gave me a slightly elonged lifespan over mere men while still allowing me to move amongst them as if one of their own.

Despite being a veteran HERO System player who understood the difference between fluff and crunch, he absolutely rejected my character concept out of hand.  Never mind that my choice of class and race was perfectly legit under the rules, dude just didn't think it made any sense to play a wizard using any other class than the normal one prescribed.  If I was to play a bard, he would expect me to carry a lute and dress in poofy-sleeved vests and whatnot.  My head nearly exploded with frustration.

Anyway, that's water long under the bridge.  What's your favorite class and why?

Fleet Captain: Improbably Dense Asteroid Fields

The asteroid rules for Fleet Captain can be used as a springboard for designing other space hazards.

First, let's begin by acknowledging that in the real world asteroids are rarely dense enough to pose a threat as a group.  Still, we all love the asteroid field sequence in Empire Strikes Back, so we darn well need asteroid rules in our game.  From a design point of view, asteroids (and any other terrain) needs to providing insteresting variation to the game without so overwhelming the other rules as to warp overall design.  In other words, we want asteroids, they need to be exciting but also nod vaguely towards realism and we have to make sure the game doesn't become about them.

Let's start with a simple assumption: if we are using asteroids then the whole map is a segment of the asteroid field.  Every ding dang hex has one or more smallish and uninteresting asteroids in them that for all purposes we ignore mechanically.  The asteroid markers we are going to place on the board represent areas of particularly high danger.  You can think of those markers as the "big rocks" if you like, but a more sophisticated reading of the simulation at work here would be that those markers indicate crests in the density waves that propogate through the asteroid field.

Anyway, each asteroid marker needs to contain two pieces of information, a direction arrow and a density rating from 1 to 6.  Something like this:
The arrow is in the corner for no particular reason.  You're going to place these on the map facing a hexside just like the nose of a ship.  Note that if you are using miniatures you can omit the number, simply place a small number of asteroids on a single base; the number of rocks on the base is the density rating.  Make sure the base has an arrow marked on it.

You don't need many of these asteroids to jazz up a space battle, one of each size 1 to 6 is probably enough for most space maps.

Okay, let's look at the mechanics for these babies.  Each turn asteroids are moved after you place movement markers but before you start flipping cards.  Roll d6 for each asteroid marker and move it that many hexes in a straight line.  If you move off the map place it opposite where it exited, next turn it will re-enter the map there.

Did you just pass an asteroid through a ship or land on the same hex as one?  Good, 'cause now its time to learn what happens when you try to occupy the same space as a few million tons of space rock.  Roll a d6 to avoid contact.  If you get above the asteroid density rating, you are safe.  If you don't, you're in trouble.  Roll d20 damage.  Shields do not protect you, you are just straight up taking a big pile of Hull Damage here.  The one thing that might save you is your Laser(s).  Each Laser shaves off d6 worth of incoming asteroid damage.  If the asteroid marker tried to end it's movement in your hex, move it one more hex.  Nature may abhor a vacuum but Fleet Captain abhors having two objects in the same hex.  That's a big pain in the ass when using minis.

The same basic procedure applies when you try to fly through an asteroid hex.  The two main differences are that A) you can attempt the Special Maneuver called Avoid Hazard to increase your chances of successfully negotiating the field and B) if you try to end your turn on an asteroid hex it is your vessel that moves one extra hex, not you.

The other important thing to know about asteroids is that they attenuate weapons fire that passes through them.  Subtract the density rating from the attack roll of any fire passing through the hex.

Where to initially place the asteroids is something of an art form.  One way to do it is to try to guess which rows on the map will be most conducive to screwing up the battle for everyone, then rolling dice to determine the hexes along those rows that the asteroids begin in.  The longest rows on the map are usually a good bet, something like this:

But obviously how you set up the fleets will have an impact on choosing where to put the asteroids.  In most scenarios you don't want the initial placement to destroy any vessels before the first turn of the cards.

I prefer my asteroids to all float in the same direction, but what do I know?

canonical BX to-do list: elves

This is the last of the BX to-do lists.  So if you're one of the many Gameblog readers confused or annoyed by this series, you may begin your celebrations.

Level 1
Join a Basic NPC party
Serve as a Retainer to a PC
Serve as a mercenary
Pal around with up to 23 fellow 1st level elves

Level 2
Join a Basic NPC party
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead up to 24 1st level elves

Level 3
Join a Basic NPC party
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead up to 24 1st level elves
Join an Expert NPC party
Retainer to a Fighter level 7 to 10

Levels 4 to 6
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead up to 24 1st level elves
Join an Expert NPC party
Retainer to a Fighter level 7 to 10

Level 7
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead up to 24 1st level elves
Join an Expert NPC party

Level 8
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Join an Expert NPC party

Levels 9 and 10
Serve as a Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Join an Expert NPC party
Found an elvish stronghold
Make magic items

Sunday, September 11, 2011

canonical BX to-do list: dwarf

Level 1
Pal around with up to 39 fellow first level dwarves
Join a Basic NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC
Serve as a mercenary

Level 2
Join a Basic NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

Level 3
Join a Basic NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

Lead up to 40 first level dwarves
Serve as Retainer to Fighter level 7 to 10

Levels 4 to 6
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Lead up to 40 first level dwarves
Serve as Retainer to Fighter level 7 to 10

Levels 7 and 8
Join an Expert NPC party
Serve as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level

Levels 9 to 12
Lead up to 40 first level dwarves

Join an Expert NPC party
Serves as Retainer to a PC of at least the same level
Found a dwarf clan stronghold

Saturday, September 10, 2011

mysterious solved

Thanks to the Lost Minis Wiki I have solved a personal mystery that has baffled me for more than 25 years.  Circa 1983 was a different time for D&D.  On one hand, the Game we love was under attack for being Satanic.  On the other hand, you could find D&D stuff for sale in the Sears Christmas catalog.  One year some boxes of miniatures were among the wares stocked by Sears.  I fell in absolute love with this one figure in a tiny photo, a painted pic of a dude riding a giant spider and carrying a shield with a spider web device.  That dude was super bad.  How tough to you have to be to tame a friggin' giant spider and ride it around like a pony???

I've been looking for that spider riding badass one and off ever since.  Now I know why I've never found him.  Dude wasn't riding a spider, he was the spider!

I don't know why it never occurred to me that this elusive figure was a drider.  Maybe I just wanted it to be a cool dude riding a spider a little too badly.  Or maybe I'm just a dope.  Either way that shield is still awesome times five.

(Figure from the original Grenadier AD&D line.)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fleet Captain: the attack chart

This is the first Fleet Captain piece where I'm not so sure of my footing.  Please feel free to tell me that ships are too fragile under these rules.  I can't make up my mind.

If I did my math right, this chart expresses a very simple idea:
  • Roll attack the attack die, roll the defense die.
  • If the attack die is higher, you have penetrated the shields and do damage.
  • Damage inflicted is attack roll divided by defense roll, dropping fractions.
Ship hull points tend to range from 4 to 8 for Escorts, 6 to 12 for Cruisers and 10 or higher for Battleships and such.  Ships can blow up fast and unexpectedly.

One of my design goals is being able to play out a 3-battle mini-campaign in a single 4 hour convention slot, so ships shouldn't last too long once the shooting starts.

However, running out of hull points doesn't automatically damn your ship.  Each round you are out of hit point you roll on the Countdown to Doom chart to follow.  You might survive a few more turns at diminished capacity or you might be able to trick someone into boarding your ship just before your self-destruct system activates.  Or maybe you just plain explode, inflicting damage on neighboring vessels.  As with everything else, your Fleet Captain is better able to deal with such emergencies.

3rd Expedition to the Caves of Myrddin

All the adventurers mooching off the hospitality of the monks of St. Emmet's and not actually getting around to much adventure get a rude wake-up call this morning.  Just two days after one party steals Joe Mama's sack of gold, a new group returns with thousands and thousands of gold pieces worth of gems and jewels.

This illo of Hugo le Bâtard by Jeremy
totally nails the spirit of the campaign.

Today's players were Anthony, Jeremy, John and Zak, playing Rando the Halfling (a Halfling Stew survivor), Hugo le Bâtard, Father Nicholas and Blixa the Thief.  Blixa is a survivor from previous FLAILSNAILS adventures with three levels of thievery under his belt.  He also has a pet war poodle and enough gold to try a roll on my draft henchmen chart.  Poor fellow spent 500 gold and ended up with a Hopeless Loser.  The Loser in question never made it back to the Abbey, taking a lethal pounding from the mysterious and deucedly hard to kill Yelling Naked Tarbaby Dude.  That's a Hopeless Loser's main job, to take a hit that would otherwise kill a character we actually care about.  He also handled some stirge guano that was part of a Clever Plan.  It's nice to have underlings in those situations.

Since three of them blow a big portion of their share on carousing, they will inevitably let slip details of their adventure this morning.  Fearing the wrath of Joe Mama and suspecting the best treasure has already been found, today's group eschewed the Big Cave and tried the Small Cave instead.  In addition to the stirges and the Yelling Naked Tarbaby Dude, they fought some gigantic fiddler crabs and parlayed with some gnome adventurers.  The gnomes were travellers from some far off realm, who arrived via a strange teleporter machine located in an underwater dungeon.  They arrived at a similar device located in the cave.  Giant fiddler crabs killed half their party before the PCs showed up.  Yelling Naked Tarbaby Dude killed another, while the last gnome was accidentally doused in flaming oil.  Hugo was nearly killed by the Yelling Naked Tarbaby Dude after getting his hand stuck inside its stomach, but another PC and the Loser (who was naked as well at this point, don't ask) managed to extricate him.  Hugo was later revived with a skin of wine.

Another great session of dungeon shenanigans.  The party made good use of terrain, oil and missile weapons to keep the number of melees to a minimum.  Which is a good idea when dealing with blood-sucking bird-bats and crabs with pincers big enough to decapitate a man.

Fleet Captain: initial thoughts on weapons systems

Worf: They are now locking lasers on us.
Riker: Lasers?
Worf: Yes, sir.
Picard: Lasers can't even penetrate our navigation shields. Don't they know that?
Riker: Regulations do call for a yellow alert.
Picard: Mmm, a very old regulation. Well, make it so, Number One. And reduce speed, drop main shields as well.
Riker: May I ask why, sir?
Picard: In case we decide to surrender to them, Number One!

I love that sequence.

Most vessels in Fleet Captain have three kinds of weaponry.  You can call these Primary, Secondary and Tertiary weapons if you'd like, but I tend to think of them as Torpedoes, Phasers and Lasers.  Rename them as better suits your own sci-fi universe.  If I was running a Traveller-themed game I'd call them Spinal Mount, Batteries and Turrets, for a Star Wars game I'd trade out Phasers for Blasters, etc.

These weapons are differentiated very simply. 

Torpedoes are Forward Firing Only.  Check out this figure.

The colored hexes represent where the red ship can target a foe with Torpedoes.  Targets in the blue centerline are attacked at ONE DIE BETTER than you normally get when rolling an attack.  So if you have a big battleship with d12 powered to weapons, break out that that d20!  For targets in the purple regions, slightly off the centerline, you get to add a flat +1 to your attack roll.  Plus you get the added benefit of being able to make an extra attack.

The other two weapons systems have 360 degree fields of fire.

Phasers use whatever die you've allocated to weapons.  You get one, two or three vollies of Phaser fire per turn, depending on the size of your ship.  If you have multiple targets in range each volley must each target a different ship, starting with the nearest enemy vessel, unless your captain executes an Alpha Strike special maneuver.

The range of Torpedoes and Lasers is equal to their die type.  E.g. a Phaser powered to a d10 has a range of 10 hexes. 

(If you like lots of fire across large boards, here's an optional rule: Each weapon's range band is based upon its die size.  Die size drops after each band.  That d10 Phaser attacks as a d10 at range 0 to 10, as a d8 at 11 to 20, as a d6 at 21-30 and as a d4 at 31 to 40.)

Lasers are primarily designed to shoot down enemy fighters and missiles, blast away debris, etc.  Most ships get one laser attack per turn.  Swarming fighters and similar targets are attacked at a d6, even if the ship has powered weapons only to a d4.  Using a Laser for anti-ship purposes is allowed, but at d4-1 to a max range of 3.

So if you have a typical big ship with a single foe directly ahead at range 3 or less, you can make up to five attack rolls against the foe.  This is why big ships try to keep escorts handy, to draw at least some of that fire.

Carriers, minelayers, missile ships and other specialty attack craft usually do not mount any Torpedoes.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

quick follow-up: my game + 4e + One Ring

Despite my best intentions I cannot report back any useful intelligence regarding the other two fantasy role-playing games at the Armored Gopher last night.  I just didn't have any personal energy to devote to paying attention to the other tables.  My own resources were more than sufficiently occupied because the cold I've been fighting seemed to flair back up plus I had seven players show up wanting to make new characters and explore the Caves of Myrddin.  Regular players Carl, Nick, Dane, Wheels and Lewis were joined by Tom Trumpinski (a long time feature of the local scene) and Chris Tichenor, known on some old school message boards as the Rogue Attorney.

The party consisted of a cleric, a thief, a dwarf, an elf and three fighters, if I recall correctly.  They entered the Big Cave, as did last week's online group.  They found evidence of the first group's mayhem and also located some treasure they missed.  There was a desperate fight with some giant beetles and a distant Mysterious Clucking Sound.  But the big event of the night was a run in with Joe Mama, the psycho-killer giant.  Joe sliced Nick's character clean in half with his giant-sized chainsaw.  The party dropped Joe through use of the Big Purple d30 Rule to overpower a couple of attacks (the final strike was a 24 point slingstone, David and Goliath style).  The survivors then located Joe's bag o' gold, which they split up into sacks and packs to carry out.  When they returned to the room where they "killed" Joe, he was gone, along with his chainsaw and hockey mask.  So he's still on the loose, only now he's pissed off.

The party returned to Abbey of St. Emmet with more than enough gold to do a little carousing, which 3 players opted to roll for.  Dane blew his carousing roll and ended up making a pass at a sultry peasant witch, who turned him into a pig for his trouble.  But Dane turned it around and apologized to her, using his d30 roll for the evening on the NPC Reaction chart.  The chart goes from 2 to 12, high being a more favorable reaction.  With the d30 in use, Dane got a result of something over 20.  So the witch turned the silver-tongued devil back into a man, because now she is totally smitten with his scoundrel ways.  So now I need to come up with a witch NPC.

Good times.

Fleet Captain: before you flip those cards

Before you start flipping cards to see who flies where and who shoots what, you actually have to do a little planning ahead. This simulates your best efforts to direct the rest of the fleet to where you want them to go on the board. Every Fleet Captain should be supplied with a set of counters. On side could be marked by Fleet/Faction/Polity/Race/Whatever or it could have a nice starfield decoration or it could just be blank. The other side of the counters should be marked in one of four ways:

Before the cards are deployed, every ship in play must have one of these markers face down next to it. If one guy at the table is holding up the game you are allowed to raz him for it. I suggest humming the Final Jeopardy countdown music in unison.

When you get a move result (a Black card) you activate the unit you are moving by flipping over their marker.  If you are shooting (a Red card) just pick up the marker and put it back in the pile.  A ship with no marker cannot be activated.  When one of your dumbass captains makes a normal move (using a 2 through 10 playing card) this is how it works:

FORWARD ARROW: Roll your movement die, move the full amount (divided by your Slowness, dropping fractions).  Optionally, you may sideslip one hex right or left on the last hex of your move.  A sideslip is an easy concept to show but can be hard to convey verbally, basically you nudge over one column while retaining your facing.  Like this little red ship making a 4 hex move that ends with a sideslip to the right:

Don't rotate your vessel at any point,
just slip to the side.  You dig?

If you can wrap your head around that sideslip thing the rest of this will be dead easy.  A key point to remember is that you can only sideslip at the end of your move.

RIGHT or LEFT TURN:  Move forward the full amount dictated by dice and Slowness, then turn your vessel one hexside (60 degrees) in the direction of the arrow on the marker.  That's it.  That's the whole deal.

STOP SIGN: The stop sign is a total lie.  In space they have this thing call Momentum.  (We have it here on Earth, too.  But it's easier to miss when it gets mixed in with Drag and Gravity and Ham Sandwiches and what not.  In space Momentum is just about the only thing they got going.)  A stop sign means your vessel executes a Drift maneuver.  You move forward exactly one hex.  After you move that one hex you may turn one hexside to your right or left, at your option.  You may not sideslip.

Notice how all these schmuck captains and their sucky vessels are about as graceful as oxen in tutus?  An especially important consideration here is that each turn NPC vessels have this nasty tendency to enter the hex immediately in front of their nose whether it is a good idea or not.  It doesn't matter if the enemy has dropped gravitic mines there or if that hex is surrounded by the sphincter of a giant space amoeba's bunghole. 

This is why the rules dictate that if you shoot you always Drift as well.  So your moron junior captain can smash into things right at the moment of his ultimate triumph.  Before you fire, you drift one hex forward.  You may not turn.  Also, if you run out of cards for the round and still have movement markers down, all remaining vessels Drift forward one hex, no turn allowed.  This can happen because the cards aren't just flipped off the top of a deck.  At the start of each turn the scenario organizer or some designated person deals off a small pile of facedown cards.  The number of cards so dealt is equal to the number of ships in the largest player fleet in the game.  This little pile is then turned over one card at a time.  The round is over when the last card in this small stack is turned over, whether everybody acted or not.  The cards used are discarded until an entire deck is exhausted.

Of course, the Special Maneuvers available to all captains can modify these rules.  But those are tricky and uncertain.
  • Your flag vessel may move less than a full move if you so desire.
  • Your flag vessel may turn or sideslip at any point in your move, if you placed the appropriate marker (you can only sideslip in a Forward Move, etc.).
  • If you put down a Stop Sign then your flag vessel may either sideslip when you drift one forward OR turn to face any direction if you go straight ahead. 
  • In general, the Special Maneuvers rules work even better for your Fleet Captain.

this amused me

Great Moments in Fleet Captain History #1

Optional Rule for 'Small Hex' Games: Any time two NPC vessels enter the same hex roll d100 for each ship.  If both rolls come up the same number, the ships make contact and both take the number rolled in hull points of damage.

Fleet Captain does not come with a set scale for either time or distance.  Individual GMs, scenario designers and player-empowering anarchist collectives can work such things out for themselves.  Or simply do what the designer does and remember the MST3K Mantra: Repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax.

But there are times when the size of one of those hexes of empty space really matters.  One is when you want to know if ships can accidentally bump into each other or not, hence the optional rule above.  Another is when you want to put a planet on the map. 

If we're fighting a last ditch effort to defend Earth from the forces of Omicron Persei 8 it's important to figure out at some point whether or not Earth fits on the map.  Perhaps you print out a custom counter that's exactly one hex wide.  "This counter blocks line of site and anyone entering this hex must make an Avoid Hazard maneuver or crash into a randomly determined city in New Jersey."  Or maybe you cut an old globe in half and slap that puppy down on the map.  You'll need different rules for that to cover the partial hexes peaking out beneath the hemisphere.  Another possibility is that the battle is taking place so close to Earth that any vessel exiting the right side of the board at more than Drift speed crashes into the planet. 

Or perhaps these hexes are friggin' huge and the Earth is just another dot in hex 1213.  If I recall correctly, Steve JacksonMarc Miller's vector-based tactical sci-fi ship game Triplanetary has much of the Solar System on the mapboard.  You literally bank around Venus to line up a shot against your foe, who is over by Jupiter when you make your turn.  I kinda think turns were days or weeks long in that one.

Anyway, my point is that "Oops!  I got my destroyer in your frigate!" is funny.  But it shouldn't happen too often.  Space, after all, is really, really big.  Besides, if you want vessels crashing into stuff, that's what Improbably Dense Asteroid Fields are for.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

this should be interesting...

Just got an email from Dave, the supercool dude who runs my FLGS:
Hey all...
Quick annoucement...
Beginning tonight, September 7th, Armored Gopher Games will be hosting D&D Encounters on a weekly basis. The sessions will be run by Eric Bohm, and promise to be a lot of fun!
Seating is limited, be here early. Game time is 6:30PM. Enjoy!
Dave @ Armored Gopher Games
Tonight also happens to be the night I'm resuming running D&D at the Gopher.  Six sessions seemed like a sufficient amount of Boot Hill and I wanted to give my FLAILSNAILS players some competition, so I'm sending whoever shows up for my game into the Caves of Myrddin.  It's not the first time I've GM'ed when another game was going down on the other side of the store, but it'll be the first time that other game was also called Dungeons & Dragons.

There's lots of interesting data that could be gathered in a situation like this.  Do the D&D Encounters people skew younger than my table?  How many encounters do they get through in an average hour as opposed to my game?  Setting up a couple of video cameras to observe the two groups could be fun as well.  In general I'd much rather focus on my own game rather than someone else's, but this is an unusual opportunity.

Fleet Captain: the card deck

In Fleet Captain the deck of playing cards is used as a sort of initiative mechanic, based upon Crew Inefficiency and the captain's Incompetence.  At the beginning of each turn d6's are thrown to see who gets to go first each card flip.  If Bob rolls a 4 and Susan rolls a 5 that means that Susan must act first after every flip until the turn is over.  You can think of the cards as sort of an impulse/phase time management mechanic, with better crews and smarter captains making better use of their time.  Let's look at Bob's fleets.

Bob is playing a contingent of Middle-Aged Uplifted Spacefaring Tortoises, a.k.a. the Maust.  He has 5 ships in his fleet:

  • The MDF (Maust Defense Force) Warhol, a cutting art, state-of-the-edge Heavy Cruiser and his Fleet Captain's ship.  As Bob's personal vessel, it is not rated for inefficiency or incompetence.  It can act on any phase of Bob's choosing.
  • The MDF Kinkade, a leaky old battleship that should have been sold for scrap seven centuries ago.  The Captain's Incompetence is rated Jack-Queen or JQ, which is not too bad.  That means he can attempt a Captain's Maneuver any time either of those cards come up.  The crew has an appalling Inefficiency of 234, which means the ship can only move or fire when those cards come up.  Picking which vessels to activate when a low card comes up is one of the tough command decisions the Maust hope Bob is capable of making.
  • The MDF Pollock, a decent light cruiser design with only a slight tendency to explode.  The captain of the Pollock graduated from command school with top honors, but hasn't gotten along with the Fleet Captain since that embarrassing incident at the Admiralty Christmas Party, so his Incompetence is only JQ while the fleet is under Bob's command.  The crew is astonishingly well-trained, with an Inefficiency of 23456789.
  • The MDF Bob Ross and Alex Ross, a pair of destroyers of the same mediocre class.  The commander of the Bob Ross is a young go-getter with everything to prove.  Her Incompetence is JQK, meaning she can attempt a Captain's Maneuver on any face card.  This kid just might have it in her to be Fleet Captain some day.  She's managed to whip her sad-sack crew into an Inefficiency of 234567, which is pretty decent for this fleet.  The Alex Ross, on the other hand, is commanded by a wily old fool near retirement.  No way in hell is he sticking his neck out any more than he has to.  His Incompetence is J and his lack luster crew is 2345.  Note that these two vessels have the exact same engines and guns and hullpoints and nearly the same name, but one of them is going to get a lot more done on any given turn. 
So let's look at some of Bob's options when various cards are drawn.
  • A black (black means move) 5 would indicate that Bob could opt to move the Warhol, the Pollock or either Ross.
  • A red 3 means that any vessel in the Fleet could opt to shoot.  Red=shoot.  This would be a good time to actually use those giant zap guns on the Kinkade.
  • A black Queen would mean that the Warhol, Kinkade, Pollock or Bob Ross could attempt some sort of special movement-based Captain's Maneuver, like flying through an asteroid hex unharmed or doing a 180-degree turn.  Note that NPC Captains only succeed in some maneuvers on a d6 roll where they beat their vessel's Slowness, so the sluggish Kinkade probably shouldn't try anything too dangerous.
  • An ace always indicates that the only vessel you can activate is your flagship.
  • In this fleet, any ten card would mean only the flagship can move/shoot.
Note that the Crew Inefficiency is written out long form 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, rather than just Inefficiency 5 because it also serves as the damage track for crew casualties.  Crew losses are marked off starting with the 2 and working up.  Similarly, the critical result Captain Bumps Head On Console can eliminate the Jack from his or her Incompetence rating.

Note that all vessels only get to Move or Shoot each turn and at the beginning of the turn there's no good way to tell if you should move now or hold out for an opportunity to fire.  You MUST move/fire if you can.

You can tell whether or not you've moved or shot by the markers mentioned in the Equipment Needed list.  Before all this card malarkey you place a marker face down next to each vessel.  Pick it up when ever you move or shoot.  Also, shooting actually involves a one hex forward Drift before you resolve fire, so every vessel moves every turn.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Fleet Captain: I like the way this sucks

Gameblog reader amp108 asked:
[D]o the dice all have to be of different sizes? Can you have something like d6/d4/d4 or d12/d6/d6? How about something like d6/d4+1/d4?

Otherwise, you only have 3 different types of ship. What say you?
Good questions!  Energy allocation by die type is not meant to be the only method whereby ship classes can be distinguished from one another.  It's an important mechanic, but not a primarily distinguishing one past the small/medium/large size difference.  The Slowness Factor mentioned earlier is another dimension that has small differences that are meant to distinguish more between Escort A and Cruiser D, rather than Escort A and Escort B.  Most small ships involved in space warfare will be Energy Rating d4/d6/d8 and Slowness 1.  A Slowness 2 rustbucket would not be out of the question, just to give an example.

Let me explain a wider point this hypothetical rustbucket makes.  One important touchstone for me in designing Fleet Captain is this vessel:

That big slab is the Klingon L-13 K’el Ri’anda ("Dangerous Fat Man") battleship.  To the best of my knowledge it first appeared in FASA's Klingon Ship Recognition ManualBrad Torgersen makes the argument for me in his entry for the L-13 at the improbably long-named Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator On-Line Database & Archive: The L-13 sucks as bad as it looks.  It was a complete boondoggle for the Klingon Empire, slower than nearly any other vessel in space and armed no better than most cruisers.  In short, it is just the sort of thing that a real military procurement system would foist upon the troops on the front line.

In Fleet Captain, not only do most captain suck at their jobs, most of their vessels are average at best.  I have no problem with the Fleet Captain's vessel being a sweet Constitution class heavy cruiser with kickass weapons.  But I want to explore conflicts involving mostly suboptimal vessels.  Therefore, the primary distinguishing characteristic for each vessel isn't high or low numbers in stats that all vessels possess, rather we'll be looking at simple (cross fingers) exception-based rules that define how badly each class of vessel sucks.  So the Archimedes-class frigate often suffers from Torpedo Jams, while the Jehoshaphat-class destroyer tends to be a Fast Decompressor.  Other differences are bound to come up when I get serious about hull points and weapons and firing arcs, though we're still trying to Keep It Simple, Rients.

Oh, yeah, here's another picture that's important inspiration for this project:

This is you after seeing the order of battle for your own side.