Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My new ACKS campaign setting: the Elysian Empire

Lysandrus of Elysia conquered the many city-states of old and defeated the Sorcerer Kings in the name of the Conquering Sun. He founded the Elysian Empire and crowned himself, by the Grace of Sol, the first Emperor. 517 years later, his empire lies in ruins.

At its height, the Elysian Empire stretched from coast to coast, unifying the continent under the Emperor's might. It was a civilization of Law. Some say it was the greatest civilization since the dawn of man. Its wealth, beyond any dream, streamed from the many provinces to the shining city of Elysia. Its magnificence is now a matter of fables. Fought over by pretenders, claimants, and would-be Emperors, it is now a dead, burnt-out shell of its former glory. In the place where one Emperor ruled, now several compete. In a land once shepherded by a single Bright Pontifex, five Pontiffs claim the title, each endorsing his own usurper to the throne.

The land was always cold. Some scholars speak of an earlier, warmer age. Others claim that our forebears came from another continent to the west, refugees from the encroaching ice. Now and then, doomsayers and preachers lecture about the ice and winter being sent to purge the world of the sins of man. The Elysian Empire once ruled the southern part of the continent, where climate allows bountiful agriculture, from the forests of Valukarask to the wheat and barley fields of Camalynn. Ice chokes the North. Great animals, from mammoths and cave-bears to woolly rhinoceros ("unicorns") and sabertooth cats, roam the land, especially the northern taiga and tundra. Men domesticated the mammoth as a beast of burden; the nomads who prowl the icy tundra claim that they herded mammoth eons before the men of now reside in Elysia came to their shores.

The Empire's state religion is the Bright Church. Worshipping the Conquering Sun, called Sol Victa in Elysia and Amon-Ra in the warm south, it preaches Law and follows the Pontifex. Or, to speak of current events, the five Pontiff-claimants. Having overthrown the Chaotic cults of the old Sorcerer Kings, Lysandrus of Elysia brought Law and Church to the neighboring lands by sword and fire. Competing with it is the Grey Church, also known as the Penitents, fanatically Lawful. These followers of the Flayed Lady see pain as the pathway to penitence and spiritual purity. They view martyrdom as the pinnacle of faith a believer can achieve, and wounding of the mortal flesh as a road to clearing one's soul of dark Chaos. While both Churches have won the hearts of the common man, many peasants also worship the Neutral pagan Old Gods, just like they did when the Chaos-worshiping Sorcerer Kings lorded over them. And in the darkness, Chaos promises, as it eternally does, infinite power - and the price of untold destruction and corruption. Head among the cults of Chaos is the so-called Dark Church of the dread god Apep, lord of undeath and dark sorcery.

The Empire is dying. It can barely rule the Imperial domain of Elysia, let alone the provinces. Many aspiring tyrants fight over its throne. In the outer provinces, the locals have not seen an Imperial Legion - or tax collector for that matter - for decades. Local Tribunes and other officials now became de-facto sovereign lords. Their armies are depleted by years of war. Beastmen and bandits besiege their impoverished domains. Some would say that the land calls for heroes - but politics calls for another thing.



The following is an early work-in-progress of the western part of the former Elysian Empire. Elysia itself is to the east of this map. There is much, much more I should add to this map and will add in the future.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Alternative Autofire Rules for the Cepheus Engine

Players love to roll dice and see stuff explode! Thus, the typical RPG, including Traveller and the Cepheus Engine, allows multiple attacks per round. Especially with automatic fire. However, such fun turns into boring drudgery when too many combatants stand on the battle map, each rolling their multiple attack rolls. It becomes even more tedious when many of the combatants are lowly-skilled grunts who rarely hit.

Below, I suggest an alternative, partially inspired by the old, Classic-era Azhanti High Lightning and Striker! rules. The basic idea is to roll once per combatant. For mobs of poorly-skilled thugs, roll once per mob. Then determine how many times the autofire hits its target - or targets - according to its Effect.

(Effect is a Mongoose Traveller 1E/2D6 SRD/CE term which refers to how much your adjusted roll exceeded 8; e.g., if your total adjusted roll is 10, you get an Effect of +2).

Before I get to the autofire rules, however, I will first re-post my alternative, streamlined armor rules which go perfectly with them.

Streamlined Armor
The Cepheus Engine uses the default armor system from the 2D6 Sci-Fi SRD. That system presents armor as a damage absorber - i.e. it subtracts the target's armor rating from any attack's damage. For the sake of simplicity and to best suit these rules, I propose a simpler armor system. Under that variant system, armor does not absorb damage but rather incurs a negative DM to incoming attack rolls, as presented in the following table:

Armor TypeTo-Hit DM

* The first number is against ranged attacks, the second against melee attacks.
* The first number is against non-laser attacks, the second against laser attacks.

Alternative Automatic Fire Rules
An automatic small arm, such as an SMG or autorifle, makes one attack per round. This uses 4 rounds and attacks at DM+2. For each 2 points of Effect (or part thereof) of a successful attack, the target suffers a hit. For example, an Effect of +5 causes three hits. The maximum number of hits is 4. The shooter can distribute these hits as desired between the primary target and any other targets within 1.5m ("adjacent" in CT terms) of the primary target.

A machine gun makes one attack per round, using 10 rounds, at DM+4. For each 2 points of Effect (or part thereof) of a successful attack, the target suffers hit. For example, an Effect of +5 causes three hits. The maximum number of hits is 10. The shooter can distribute these hits as desired between the primary target and any other targets within 3m of the primary target.

A shotgun enjoys DM+2 to-hit vs. flying targets within Medium or shorter range. Also, the blast attacks up to three additional targets within 1.5m ("adjacent" in CT terms) from the primary target with no penalty.

Now, I will re-post modified rules for mobs.

A mob is a multitude of untrained irregulars who lack adequate combat training or tactical awareness. They may be enraged or even fanatical but will typically rush at their enemies instead of employing a more cautious tactical approach. As noted above, the classical "low-tech local peasants chasing the spacemen with pitchforks and torches" or "zombie apocalypse" are good examples of this theme.

Each mob includes up to 12 members. In many cases there will be multiple mobs involved. Do not track individual characteristics, damage, or skills of mob members. The mob moves as one unit. It makes a single attack roll per round. Make this roll at an effective "Skill-0", with DM+1 for every four active members in the mob, or part of it. Thus, a big mob of 12 members will attack at base DM+3, modified, of course, by weapon and range DMs; a mob of 5 members will attack at base DM+2. Make the attack as if the mob is one character; use automatic fire or shotgun rules as usual. While the entire gang might be unloading a hail of bullets, these shots are badly aimed and only a few have a chance of striking true.

PCs attack the mob as if it is one target. Most mobs are either unarmored or wearing Jack or Mesh armor; apply DMs accordingly. A non-automatic ranged attack which hits the mob incapacitates one member; if its Effect is +4 or better, it incapacitates two members, one from the bullet and another from "Shock & Awe". When automatic fire, a scattergun, or a grenade hit a mob, a number of mob members equal to the attack's Effect are incapacitated. Obviously, as with single shots, "incapacitated" does not necessarily mean "killed by a bullet" but rather "out of the fight" - killed, wounded, or maybe just shocked enough to be ineffective in fighting. The latter is the reason automatic fire can incapacitate more than 4 mob members while an automatic burst only contains 4 bullets.

Mobs are much more dangerous in melee, with a to-hit DM+1 per 2 members. A mob attacks once per round, but scores one hit per two points of Effect in a melee attack. When skilled characters fight a mob in melee, they "cleave" - each hit incapacitates a number of mob members equal to the attack's Effect, up to the character's relevant melee skill.).

Mobs rarely fight well under fire. In any of the following cases, make a morale throw, which is a Leadership, INT, Average (DM+0) check. Without a "Rabble Rouser", the mob is Unskilled in Leadership and has an INT DM+0, giving it DM-3 on this roll. On the other hand, if such leader is present, use their Leadership skill and INT modifier; in most cases, assume a total DM+0 for both Leadership and INT. Failure means that the mob disperses and is no longer effective in combat.

Fanatical mobs are immune to this effect and will continue swarming the PCs regardless of death. 

Triggers for morale throws include: 
  • The first time the mob comes under ranged fire. 
  • The first time the mob loses a member. 
  • When the mob first falls to half or less of its size. 
  • Each time the mob is attacked with flames, explosives, or a similar shocking attack. 
  • When first attacked by armored vehicles or troops in battledress. 
A "Rabble Rouser" character with the Leadership skill may attempt to rally a dispersed mob back to fighting shape by a Leadership, INT, Difficult (DM-2) throw.

The Referee might also want to consider groups or herds of various small-to-medium-sized wild animals, but not apex predators or particularly large animals, as mobs.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Barrowmaze play report - of Swords and Near Death Experiences

Barrowmaze I map, updated to Barrowmaze Complete
Today we started our Barrowmaze campaign, using the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS). It was a blast! The system was very easy to get used to for my players, and as usual it was a breeze to run as a Judge (AKA Dungeon Master).

We spent an hour and a half generating characters. This was a pleasant experience. Many interesting options, yet little bureaucracy involved (unlike D&;D 3.xE). I had them roll 3d6 six times and arrange to taste, and this yielded varied results - both have one ability score above 16, but two below 8. Boulderson is clumsy and not very charismatic; Rufus is a bit foolhardy. I gavew them full level 1 HP. They used their starting gold to equip themselves well and hired a henchman - a Dwarf named Angus who is an apprentice Dwarven Fury, but still fights as a level 0 NPC for most purposes (Rufus' henchman).

Our Intrepid Heroes:
Boulderson - Level 1 Dwarven Craft Priest - played by Eliran
Rufus - Level 1 Dwarven Delver - played by Itai
+ Angus - Level 0 Dwarf - Rufus' henchman

Appropriate drinks!
We Venture Forth!
The two dwarves and their henchman came to Helix - a "boomtown" next to the famous Barrowmaze dungeon - to seek their fame and fortune. Boulderson is here to cleanse defiled tombs; Rufus is in for the gold. As dwarves, they came to the obvious place - The Axe and the Anvil, serving both as Helix's smithy and a Dwarven mead hall. The place was packed with dwarves, drunken and boasting about their deeds - past or future - in Barrowmaze.

Helix, as mentioned above, is a boomtown. Thus it has an unbalanced economy centered on Barrowmaze delving. All sorts of ne'er-do-well types come to plunder Barrowmaze and use Helix as a base camp. Those who survive sometimes bring back great treasures. On its own, Helix is a Village of 172 families and a Class-VI Market - a backwater agricultural community. However, the influx of dungeon loot has skewed its economy. Persons from far-away, wealthier places to the East take interest in such loot. They use HHR Huffnpuff as an agent, acquiring valuable pieces of art and gems for them for a commission. Even Mazzahs the Magnificent serves as an agent of sorts for remote patrons; he purchases magical items from adventurers which he sells to middlemen for a commission - which helps fund his expensive magical research. Thus, adventurers can sell quite expensive loot in Helix itself, but purchasing expensive supplies usually requires a trip to Ironguard Motte, as most gold does not remain in Helix, except for the trading commissions. On the other hand, local businesses cater to adventurers - creating far more "drinking holes" in Helix than in the typical village.

Yours Truly - the Judge
Soon our heroes, bolstered by all sorts of drunken tales, marched off to Barrowmaze. Luckily, they encountered no opposition on the way there. After this uneventful journey they contemplated entering the central mound (12), but changed their minds and set out to explore smaller mounds.

They began with a looted tomb (3) from which it seemed that previous grave robbers fled in a hurry, leaving behind a small golden ring.

A sealed tomb (4) yielded a closed, undisturbed sarcophagus. Boulderson was not very keen on the idea of disturbing the dead, but the greedy Rufus managed to convince him to look away. The dwarves found a wooden casket inside, shaped like a beautiful woman; it held the remains of said woman, along with four flasks of perfume.

Emboldened by the previous easy pickings, they broke into a larger sealed mound (16). The tomb held a central sarcophagus and a magnificent jeweled broadsword upon it. It also had the skeletons of six long-dead warriors standing in alcoves around its walls. Rufus and Angus rushed to the sarcophagus, coveting the sword. They grabbed it. The skeletons animated and attacked. Boulderson tried to turn them and failed. A long melee ensued, with both sides missing many of their blows. However, the Craft Priest, Boulderson, was not so lucky. Two lucky strikes by a skeleton felled him. At 0 HP, he was mortally wounded. Rufus, who is proficient in Healing, bandaged him the next round. He was lucky to stay alive, albeit with a lame leg (penalty to AC and halved movement rate). Rufus and Angus then proceeded to defeat the skeletons, sustaining very serious injuries but surviving.

Itai (right) and Eliran (left) ready for adventure!
Rufus - with his keen Dwarven eye and Delver skill - then found the hidden door leading down into the dungeon (room 81). He tried to sneak but failed; the noise animated several Fossilized Skeletons in the room below, and he ran back to the mound, sealed the secret door helped Angus carry the wounded Boulderson, and ran as fast as he could away from the mound.

Back in Helix, the dwarves negotiated with HHR Huffnpuff, the sly halfling banker. The decided to postpone the sale of the ring and perfumes until after they get Boulderson healed, though they did reach a sort of agreement for its sale. Then they sold the magical jeweled broadsword to Mazzahs the Magnificent for the unimaginable sum of 500pp, which they though was a huge sum of money - not knowing that its value is 1,000pp.

Loaded with platinum, they made their way to Ironguard Motte, where Father Fergus - a level 9 Cleric in my version of Barrowmaze - cast Restore Life and Limb on Boulderson. Again, the lucky Craft Priest paid only a small price for his near-death experience - only recurring nightmares (a sleepless night on a roll of 1 on 1d6).

XP was wonderful and Angus reached level 1 - as a Dwarven Fury! The two other dwarves are about one-third of their way to level 2.

All in all - wonderful fun! Eliran remarked: "This game brought me 20 years back!"


Oh, and the local Dragon was out and about as well!

Our local (wild) Painted Dragon - Stellagama stellio stellio

Monday, November 13, 2017

Barrowmaze ACKSified!

I will start running Barrowmaze Complete the coming Friday to three of my friends - all of them playing Dwarves! I am using the ACKS ruleset, which emphasizes realm building and demographics, especially as high-level PCs can become actual rulers. So here I will flesh out the Aerik County (using ACKS demographics, it's too small to be a proper Duchy) and modify it to suit the ACKS rules. I will also add several new minor adventuring locations in case my players will want to take a break from Barrowmaze itself. I also changed the map from 5-mile hexes to 6-mile hexes as is customary in ACKS.

The Aerik County is 18 six-mile hexes in size, which is a small County. In the past, it was 27 hexes, a much larger County. However, the moribund Empire receded, and so did the County. What was once a prosperous frontier County shipping timber and ore to Imperial lands is now a shadow of itself. The Yellow Plague ravaged it a decade ago. Lizardmen and froglings - and worse - now threaten its residents. Viscount Ironguard, an aging knight, functions as the de-facto sovereign ruler despite owing de jure fealty to the Empire. Greatly shrunk in size and wracked by internecine warfare, the Empire can neither project military force to this County nor collect taxes from it.

This region is very sparsely populated. Between economic decline, frogling raids, and the devastating Yellow Plague, the County of Aerik declined from an average of 40 families per square mile to 30 families (200 families per 6-mile hex). The total population is 3,720 families. The plague and raids hit the rural population harder than the larger villages. Furthermore, given the frogling, lizardman, and bandit threat, many peasants prefer to huddle closer to the larger villages, where the Viscount's men offer some protection. Thus, the urban population is unusually large - 520 families out of 3,720. Most of these families practice agriculture, logging, and mining near the main three villages.

The County seat, and largest village, is Ironguard Motte. It is a Large Village of 261 families (1,304 people), a Class-V market. The ruler is, of course, Viscount Kell Ironguard, a level 7 retired fighter.

Bogtown is a Small Village of 87 families (431 people), a Class-VI market. It is ruled, de jure, by Elderman Herik Anguson, a level 5 thief. The true ruler, however, is the County's criminal kingpin, Alzo Danuth, a level 6 thief. This, ironically, makes the tiny Bogtown a better-defended village than the much larger Helix. Any would-be invader will have to content with the local gangsters - a motley crew of tough thugs.

Helix is a Village of 172 families (860 people), a Class-IV market. Its ruler is Krothos Ironguard, a level 3 fighter. He is particularly weak and unskilled for the ruler of such village. Father Othar, the Cleric of the Unconquered Sun (level 5 cleric), holds much of the actual power and oversees the lion's share of village administration. Such weak leadership, as well as the small contingent of men-at-arms, makes Helix a prime target to bandits, lizardmen, and froglings. It also makes it a perfect target for ambitious would-be conquering adventurers who want to be kings.

The County is considered Wilderness and thus should have had a garrison budget of 4gp/family per month, but in practice the forces are much thinner, equivalent to approximately 2gp value per family per month, for an actual  total of 7,570gp per month. Out of these, the Viscount has at his disposal a unit of Light Cavalry (60 horsemen, 2,850gp, battle rating 3.5), a unit of bowmen (120 bowmen, 1,450gp, battle rating 1.5), and 3 units of light infantry (120 men each, 720gp each, total 360 men, 3,270gp, battle rating 1 each). (using Domains at War: Campaigns troop tables, these include specialist salaries). A total of 540 men, battle rating 8. Knowing the risk of attack, Viscount Ironguard keeps his forces concentrated at the castrum of Ironguard Motte. Only one unit of men-at-arms - light infantry - patrol the rural areas and serve as town guards in Helix and Bogtown. In case of an attack on one of these villages, the Viscount will dispatch a larger contingent of troops to counter it, but will keep his cavalry and one infantry unit at the Motte to guard against further attacks.

This force is weak, as even a force of 240 lizardmen have a battle rating of 9. If the lizardmen will ever launch a concerted attack on Ironguard Motte, they will pose a dire threat to the realm. Thankfully, so far tribalism and disorganization prevented such an attack, but if a strong leader will arise in the swamp, great peril will come to the Aerik County.

St. Marcus used to be part of the Aerik County. However, economic decline, raids, and the Plague brought about Viscount Ironguard's retreat from this Small Village (Class-VI market). The local population is 76 families (380 people). A decade ago, before the Plague came, the population was triple that figure, and now most of the village stands boarded up and abandoned. Abbot Kasimir, head of the nearby Monastery of St. Marcus (level 3 Cleric) administers the village. I can set my The Rot Beneath adventure here, if the PCs will want to take a break from Barrowmaze and pursue another adventure for some time.

I have added an abandoned town called Mountainside in southern Wyrdwood, and well as a small abandoned Dwarven Vault called Krum Tok in the southern Moon Peaks. I have three Dwarven characters so an abandoned vault will fit in very well as a side quest. In my larger setting, the Empire receded, which led to the decline of the Aerik County as well. Thus, Mountainside was abandoned, especially after the nearby Vault fell. After all, Mountainside was an important stop on the trade route from the Vault to Ironguard Motte.

Mountainside probably became a Frogling nest (or maybe contested between Froglings and Lizardmen?), while the vault is inhabited by something worse. Maybe an Aboleth? A Dwarven Mechinist Automaton possessed by a vile Elemental spirit?