Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lost Baronies - Recruiting

Our next session has been scheduled for October 15th because we already know there are scheduling conflicts for the 1st of the month.

Meanwhile I will hopefully be meeting with a couple of prospective new players for the campaign. Keep your fingers crossed that the game gains some fresh blood.

Anyone that feels like they don't mind the drive or lives close to Frederick, Maryland and is interested in possibly joining the game, email me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Do You Feed Your Ravenous Horde Of Carnivorous Fish?

Answer: If you're in the weekly game I play in, and the module being played is Night's Dark Terror, you feed them my elf!

The party is in a very strange area and desperate to find a crossing over a river without walking into the teeth of a well fortified tribe of goblins. When searching up river for a fordable area my character tried wading across the best spot he had found so far. He was out of line of sight of the party and foolishly did not test the waters first with anything that would have alerted him to the peril. Seventeen hitpoints of surprise damage later and the party is now wondering where the heck the elf got off to.



New character time. This is my first character loss in years, and the first ever by unseen carnivorous fish!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What To Do When There Is No Scheduled Game

That is a question worthy of an answer. Sadly I don't really have a good one. But I do have a link to some entertainment.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5e Already?!

Well, maybe and maybe not. There is no denying that the rumor mill is working overtime now that Monte Cook has been hired on to consult for Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the major designers of 3e (not 3.5) and is open to thinking in all sorts of directions on all sorts of topics relating to the hobby. So here he is, back with the Wizards and one can't help wonder if there might be something to the rumors.

The relevant passage on the official website that has everyone buzzing is this from Mike Mearls: "Starting next week, I'm turning this column over to acclaimed game designer Monte Cook. ~ I've spent the past several months talking about D&D's past and how that relates to its future. It's now time to focus much more on the future of the game. Monte has an unmatched design pedigree in the RPG field, and for that reason we've brought him on board to work with R&D in making D&D the greatest RPG the world has seen. Over the next few weeks, Monte will use this column to share his thoughts about the game."

So, Monte is back on the payroll, involved once more with research and developement, and his focus is the future of the game. I can see why this kind of announcement would get the rumors flying.

I have been a fan of Monte's work for quite some time. While he and I do not agree on all aspects of DMing, that is natural. If two people are sharing ideas on something and both agree 100%, one of them is redundant.

Will this increase my chances of being pulled back in by Wizards if they do release a 5th edition worked on by Monte? Not necessarily. I will definitely take a good look at it, but I think going back to my roots has shown me the version of the game best suited to me as a DM.

Here is some homework for everyone reading as well as for me . . . keep the ears and eyes open for any additional details to see if we can figure out if the rumor mill is right. Since it typically takes about 3 years from the decision to create a new edition to the time of release, there is probably plenty of time for us to dig up some juicy grubs to feed the rumor addicts out there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

. . . And Then There Were Two

Just received notice that the player intending to return in October has run headlong into a number of things in Real Life(tm) that make regular participation unlikely. I have wished this player well and made clear that the invitation remains open even if only able to stop in once in a while.

While I am bummed out about losing yet another player, I am in touch with some other folks and hopefully at least a couple will be interested and able to join in so the game can go on.

Looks like scheduling for one of the two remaining players is a bit over-booked for early October so the next chance we appear to have for a session might be October 15th. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

House Rules In Play

So far in the Lost Baronies campaign the house rule for how death is handled has come into play 3 times over the course of 6 sessions. While that may sound like a lethal game, it has not worked out that way, instead keeping the sense of danger while leaving chances for survival.

The success rate is actually above the expected level so far. The first event was when the cleric Samson was dropped by an arrow from orc sentries at the bandit caves. The save vs death failed. The second event was when Seamus the thief was severely mauled by the owlbear. The save vs death was a natural 20 (rolled by that absent player's wife, dude you so owe her flowers for that).

The most recent event was during the goblin ambush when Elanna the elf was brought to exactly zero hit points by two arrows. The house rule is that zero is not immediate risk of death, but instead is incapacitation and unconsciousness. The character could still have died had she been left without treatment. Of course in the game a cleric immediately acted and healed the downed character, but had they retreated it could have lead to death or even capture.

In case anyone is wondering about the potential number of casualties in the campaign only six session into it, keep in mind that the dice do not get fudged.

In other news: Session #7 got cancelled due to player illness. Based on current information we are not likely to have another session until October. If by the end of October we have not managed to get in the seventh session then I may just call a halt to the campaign completely. No point putting in the effort if nobody can make it on dates that were scheduled well in advance and everyone knew about.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Campaign That Almost Was - Sky Reach

Prior to the Lost Baronies campaign I was working on a different approach to campaign and world building. The idea was to involve the players in as much of the world design as I could without asking too much. The purpose of course was to give them a good sense of what parts of the world were like and get them invested in the campaign.

It was to have been a sandbox within a sandbox game with players and game master gradually building the world outside the starting area as characters eventually reached the levels at which they would be free to go anywhere else in the world they wanted. There were also some underlying plot lines to help give them a sense that the world was active, a living world.

While originally intended for 4th edition use, it was the old-school style that was actually a driving force behind it and the idea can easily be used with any edition.

The players guide was designed in Word and printed on bright white paper, the fonts and colors and images put there to set the mood and give the players something to sink their teeth into at the start. It began with two pieces of fiction. The first was a narration from someones point of view that was about to finally make his way out of Sky Reach (originally called High Reach until I remembered the name was of a city in the Mystara campaign setting). It hinted at what the characters might be dealing with while there. The second piece was in the section titled "Why Are You Here?". It begins with basic background information and the fiction then details the arrival of the characters, whoever they might be, and gives more information about things to expect.

The guide went on to describe permitted classes and races, other concepts important to the setting and then to provided a starting list of questions that the players would answer to begin creating the world outside of Sky Reach. Below is the majority of the guide, only slightly abbreviated. It will not include the permitted races and classes since those would be system specific.

My time in Sky Reach is almost finished. After years of toil, years of risking my life to uncover lost magic, I've finally collected nearly enough blood pips to pay for my release and trip back to civilization. The things I've seen here, the companions I've lost to the monsters and other hazards; cold though it sounds I won't miss them. I long for life in a city, any city other than this place.

There's some unfinished business before I can settle down and enjoy my hard earned freedom and wealth. I plan to use a small portion of my gains to make sure a certain magistrate gets a taste of real justice. Money changed hands to send me here, money can change hands for another ticket to Sky Reach, and I don't think the magistrate will be coming back. Then I'll marry his daughter.

Why are you here?

The Player Characters have all been brought to Sky Reach for Different reasons. Many are exiles whether for criminal, political, or other reasons. Others have been ordered here or volunteered on behalf of their liege lords. All are stuck here until they can gather the required price of a ticket home.

Everyone arrives the same way . . . divested of possessions, bound, and escorted aboard an airship run by metal automatons known as gear men. Once on board everyone is kept in a cabin isolated from the outside until arrival. The first sight of the outside happens at night while being escorted down a ramp from the airship to a wide stone plateau.

In good weather the stars and moon are clearly visible. The thin air is crisp ans wisps of cloud pass nearby. Below can barely be seen the dark silhouettes of squat square buildings. The only detectable activity is that of the automatons unloading crates and barrels in the gloom.

The snapping of small arcs of lightning from the keg shaped iron cages attached to the sides of the gondola briefly illuminates the airship lifting away from the ground. It becomes dark and silent again for what seems many minutes.

Shadowy robed figures seem to rise from the ground, soft footsteps giving away the stairs they climb. Bonds are removed and small cloth purses are placed into the palms of hands whose fingers are flexing away the stiffness of having been tightly shackled.

A whisper is followed by the ignition of a lantern, its glow muted to prevent hurting any one's eyes, but bright enough to reveal flesh and blood people.

Hello, you are at Sky Reach. In your hands you hold a small bag containing 20 blood pips each. This is the most prized form of currency here. All of us are trying to earn enough of these to buy our trips back home or anywhere away from here. You'll need food, clothing, lodging, and other goods. Precious metals, gemstones, and barter are all good here, but you'll find things more expensive unless you are paying in pips. You're going to need a few thousand of those to buy your way out of the Reach and they're the only thing accepted as payment for the trip.

Before anyone gets the idea of stealing other people's pips, think again. There aren't laws as such here, but thieves are quickly dealt with by everyone who wants to be sure they aren't the next victim of theft.

Ways to earn pips vary. Some people set up shops to sell skills or goods. Others try their luck in the wilds, searching the ruins for lost treasures. That is the quickest way out since those lucky enough to survive and bring back ancient magic can sell it to the gear men for a goodly number of blood pips.

Why are we giving you pips? Those aren't ours; we were paid to give those to you.

Now come on, you've got to be getting cold wearing loin cloths and light shifts, and there's warm food and straw sleeping mats waiting below. Don't worry about the crates; those will be taken care of.

Important Meta-game Concepts

In Sky Reach there are no magic shops. There may be people present that can sell consumable items such as scrolls and potions occasionally. Characters may also take time to make items for themselves. Magic items can be sold to other PCs and of course to the automatons.

New arrivals begin literally with nothing, but the 20 blood pips they have been handed and the light shift and loincloth they arrived wearing. There is equipment available to buy, however none of it is magical.

The World at Large

The world is an enormous, fantastical place, and so are the numbers of questions players likely have regarding it. Fear not, you already know the answers for many questions. You will be helping to build the world as you create characters and play them in the campaign.

Included here is a set of questions to answer about the character's city-state of origin. Answering these questions is a good first step in helping design the world and the future of play, especially once play expands beyond Sky Reach.

Other questions that might come up include things about divine entities. So tell us, player of a religious character, what type of god does your character worship?

When a question comes up about the world see if you can answer it. Most modern people know very little about the world we live in, even with such conveniences as television, the internet, and rapid international travel being available, so go ahead, it is okay it it turns out to be inaccurate.

To get started, here are some questions.

Name the city-state you came from or the nearest to your home:

Name and describe at least one special geographic feature from there:

Name the leader or leaders and give a guess of their age (young, middle, old, special):

Name two important factions that affect local society:

What is the primary economic framework like? Agrarian. manufacturing, mining, a mix, etc?

What are the top exports and imports?

Describe the racial demographics:

Is the city-state at war or peace? If at peace, when was the last war and  was it a win, loss, inconclusive? If at war, is it against internal or external foes? Who? Is the city-state winning, losing, or inconclusive?

Where is the city-state located? Which hemisphere - North, South, East, West? Near a pole or the equator? Is it landlocked, coastal, an island, etc?

What is the climate like?

Are there any major/minor religions of importance? What are they like and how do they interact?

List two special laws that others might find interesting or worrisome:

Name some cultural habits or quirks a foreigner would notice:

That is the majority of the Players Guide for the campaign that never got off the ground. Hopefully this will inspire somebody somewhere to give something like this a try. If anyone does, please drop me a line so I can keep up with your game journals.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tok - A Halfling's Halfling (Lost Baronies character spotlight)

Short, quite rotund, and remarkably agile. Able to fade into the surrounding foliage with ease. And greedy to a fault. These are all things that could, and probably have been used to describe the only halfling currently among the party.

His favorite line when discussing the spoils is "this has been in my family for years!". Imagine that said in the voice of Wallace Shawn the actor perhaps best known for his part in the movie A Princess Bride.

He currently is in possession of a high percentage of the magical equipment within the party including the choicest armor which he conned them into resizing for him, a magic shield, and a Girdle of Giant Strength!

"But they've been in my family for years!"

When confronted with various situations Tok's standards often fall into the category of questionable. For example: his companion Samson falls in battle, an arrow through the throat. What does Tok do after the fighting is over? Loot Samson's corpse and push the body down the hillside.

The party seems reluctant to challenge him so far, probably because he is a crack shot with his sling and with his boosted strength those stones are even more lethal than before. Of course his firepower has saved their bacon several times so maybe giving him some leeway with treasure pickings isn't such a bad idea . . .

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trying to shake a nasty cold.

Yuck. I've been mostly resting and trying not to do much other than sleep so I've had time to think and of course watch a little bit of TV to alleviate some of the boredom.

I was watching Dr. Who and the follow-up show Ask a Whovian tonight when it hit me that the Weeping Angels from the show are the kind of scary that gargoyles should be scary. The question still remains then, how to make that work in the game?

Anyone that has played the game for some time has likely run into gargoyles and now they are paranoid whenever around statues. This was born out by the reaction my players had to discovering some stone statues on the second level of the tower they discovered. The first thing they did upon finding the statues was to have a dwarf give them each a good whack, dulling one blade of his axe.

There needs to be a way to put the genie back in the bottle, but not just for one good scare. It has to be something that can both creep the players out in the long run and put them at ease when around statues at other times. But how?

I don't yet have an answer, though I am pondering some possibilities. If you readers have some ideas please leave comments.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten Years Ago

I'm sure most of you have heard the constant discussion about the pending ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. This discussion is everywhere. TV, radio, etc.

Well today is the ten year anniversary of something else for me. On Saturday September 8th 2001 I ran a twelve and a half hour special game session to sort of put an ending to a campaign.

The length of the session while extensive by the group's normal standards isn't what was so interesting for me about it. What to me is special was the chronological order of the events taking place and how the time shifting was handled.

The session began at the end, a funeral for someone who died during the events that would unfold during the next twelve hours. Nine months of thinking and planning went into trying to come up with a way to start a game at the end in a way that when everything was over would at least sort of make sense.

Putting this mega-episode together was a brain twister. It required making a time-line of intended encounters and role-playing points, changing when bits and pieces of them would happen, and then determining how to explain why spells or items or hit points wouldn't be available earlier and why they got spent later, when earlier happens after later during play.

I decided that each item, each spell, and each hit point needed a physical marker that would be traded in when expended and given out when healed or purchased. I bought a couple hundred small colored craft sticks (kind of like miniature popsicle sticks) for use as hit points. Index cards written on in different colors of Sharpie marker would serve for items and spells.

The physical tokens (cards and sticks, etc) served to remove some options from play. The explanation was that earlier they simply chose not to use that spell, or they had something else they used in a situation which is why they had it later. This worked quite well despite my reservations and concerns, and initial player confusion.

The funeral had most people there. I put on a CD playing Adagio for Strings (the one that was in the Homeworld PC game years ago) to set the somber mood. A few people were missing because despite stressing for 6 months that it was important for everyone to be there on time or people might get lost in understanding what was going on some folks scheduled something else and arrived 3 hours into the game, and promptly started asking questions that almost derailed the session because of how much info was involved (deep breath . . . that's better).

Immediately after the funeral I had the characters pick up as they were approaching the source of some chanting they had detected earlier. I put on a CD playing the Gyuto Monks, which is perfect for the sound of a large group conducting some sort of ritual summoning. This was the lead in for the major battle scene with a cast of hundreds.

Battle commenced and I allowed it to run for three rounds. During which the CD for Icewind Dale had a couple of good combat tracks on repeat. Because of the number of NPC cultists involved, I had painted up close to 100 soda bottle caps in different colors and then used a pre-rolled random battle order for the bottle cap mooks. Some broke and ran as soon as the attack commenced. Others milled about confused. Some stood briefly then took other actions. Yet others rushed to attack the interlopers. There was also a set of planned actions for the non-mook NPCs represented by miniatures, that were capable of bringing the hurt to the characters.

At the end of that three rounds during which many mooks perished, some at the claws and fangs of a wizard's cat familiar, I pulled the players into another room and threw them into a moment several hours earlier.

During each shift back and forward through the events of the day the PCs learned more about what was going on. They began to put together who they were up against, and eventually what was at stake. It wouldn't be till closer to the end of the session that they would encounter an arch-nemesis of the group during the campaign and end up joining forces to stop the summoned demon from getting loose in the city they were a couple hundred feet beneath.

At one point they were able, with the advantage now of foresight, to purchase some healing potions and other scrolls that would prove useful in the encounters, earlier lesser events, and the main battle.

Once the fighting was over, dozens of cultists including several high ranking ones, were dead and the party lost only two members, a thief who had snuck far behind enemy lines and was smote from a high position and fell to her death, and the brave and very dangerous familiar to one of the party wizards. And thus, the funeral.

I doubt I will ever attempt anything as involved as that session ever again. The time and effort involved paid off that day, but these days it is proving nearly impossible to bring players to the table for a regular session, let alone something that complex and drawn out. Even with as much notice as was given for that session it is unlikely it would succeed. Regardless it was fun and memorable.

Here's to those who lost their lives 10 years ago, both in game and in the sad tragedy three days later in reality.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Punched By An Ogre - New on the WB

Ok, just kidding about that.

Not kidding however about feeling like absolute crapola. I definitely have come down with something.

If I take a couple days away from posting or just post some light fluff, please understand that it hurts to think and the sound of typing sounds like hammers on my skull.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lost Baronies of Lendore Isle - session #6

The Company of the Bloody Boots as they were now being called in town, set about preparing for their next trip to the old tower. They purchased a two wheeled cart and tack so the donkeys could pull it. They bought nails, planks, block & tackle, and other gear to use when fixing up the doors in the tower, along with additional rations and supplies for the trip. Altogether another few days in town passed and then they were on their way.

As they made their bumpy way through tall grass along the same animal trail they had followed previously Pedro spotted the fall of three arrows about a yard short of his companions, but there was no obvious sign of the attackers. Immediately the group drew weapons and began to look for the threats.

They began to make an attempt to locate the enemy by firing a couple random shots in the direction the arrows had come from. Apparently one of their shots struck close causing a barrage of return fire with one arrow striking Elanna. They now had a better idea where to aim and Rowena came up with a brilliant idea.

Gulping down the potion of plant control she focused her mind in the direction of the enemy and had the waving tall grass lie flat in a large circluar area, much like a crop circle. Exposed off-center toward the back of the flattened grasses was a goblin with his shortbow drawn. His look of surprise served to spur the group to action and he broke and ran. This would be the first maneuver with the plant control that would serve to turn this ambush into a rapid victory.

A sleep spell managed to drop the runner and one of his companions though it missed a third that could now be detected by the disturbance among the high plant growth. Tok took aim and sent a sling stone sailing to thwere he thought the third goblin would be. His assessment was perfect and a loud crack sound preceded a cessation of movement.

More arrow fire errupted from behind the party with one shot again striking Elanna, driving her to the ground. Pedro immediately came to her side and discovering her alive, but unconscious began his healing prayer.

Thorgrim and Miera charged toward this new set of attackers as Fred moved toward the original group, soon to be followed by Pedro.

Rowenna sensing an opportunity, swept her attention toward the new threat, the grasses jostling as she moved the center of her control along the ground. As her control reached the point she perceived as her target she commanded the grasses to twist into formations much like sheaves of wheat in a farmer's field. Her aim was true and three of the dozen groupings of twisted grass cursed and struggled as the trapped goblins tried in vain to free themselves.

With no more arrows coming in, they gathered the captured goblins together and the dwarves began to question them. Getting nowhere with questions about where they came from, Thorgrim showed his impatience and disgust by beheading two of the four captives.

Miera was having no more of this treatment, suggesting instead that these bandits be turned over to the town to be dealt with. Fred agreed that the last two might serve a better purpose and he and Thorgrim tied the goblins to the cart to help pull.

Upon arrival at the tower the two goblin prisoners were put to work helping carry equipment to the roof. With most of the party below the dwarves decided to resolve the prisoner question expediantly. A crashing through the tree canopy was followed by the thudding of goblin bodies at the base of the tower to the shock of the rest of the party who upon recovering the ability to speak asked why they couldn't wait until the cleaning was finished.

The party set to cleaning the still disgusting ground floor and third floor. Discovering that someone forgot to buy shovels, they created makeshift utensils from the planks and hide armor from the goblins. Progress was slow so four of the group decided to find a local source of water and set off searching the woods.

Tok, Valen, Pedro, and Thorgrim spent most of the day following small streams until the came upon a pond fed by a fresh spring. The air near the spring was very cool with a light mist clinging near the plants and surface of the water. That is when the giant toads attacked.
Everyone except for Tok was taken by surprise as the toads lashed out with their 15 foot long tongues trying to grab prey. Tok's instinct to seek cover in the foliage served him well and although being small made him a favored morsel, he was able dodge the hungry toads attacks.

During the fight Thorgrim was grabbed and pulled into a toad's mouth for a nasty bite and as the fight progressed his legs and new red boots were chewed on. Tok finished off a toad with a sling bullet through the eye and Valen stood his ground against the third as Pedro sought safe distance. When combined efforts by Tok and Thorgrim felled a second toad, the third fled into the water trailing blood.

The four decided staying around trying to collect water now would be ill advised in case something else lurked nearby drawn by the smell of the dead toads. They made their way back to the tower by nightfall.

After a couple of days at the tower, the party decided that the oracle room was now clean enough to attempt a couple of questions. Made curious by their discussion with Olhatta about the silver coins, they decided to try two questions about Stone Hell, where was it and how would they get there.

Aiden and Fred were chosen as the two who would be in the room to ask the questions and write down the answers as it was felt that having ten people in the room would risk cluttering things too much. Removing the silver lid and raising the panel on the enruned ebony cylinder they asked their questions.The radiant fae within the device beamed brightly and spun the contraption, stopping twice to shine light through panels of stained glass upon groups of symbols on the walls.

Group one was Indigo (Sky), Blue (Mountain), Red (Valley), Orange (Cage).

Group two was Yellow (Keep), Indigo (Sea), Indigo (Boat), Blue (Bear).

At first Aiden and Fred were puzzled until Fred mentioned that he thought Indigo indicated things to be ignored. Olhatta had explained that her group had once looked for the prison and believed it to be somewhere near the center of this island. They most likely would not need to cross the sea in a boat or fly into the sky to find something dug into the ground on this island.

Consulting with the rest of the group resulted in a lengthy discussion. Eventually they decided Fred had to be right and maybe the Indigo was also things that did pertain to the original group sent to the island. They had crossed the sea in a boat and a storm landed them in Restenford from which they set out exploring.

Other thoughts included the idea of Hot/Cold based on colors. If you are searching in the sky or sea you are very cold and when you are finding the brighter colors like yellow, orange, and red you are warmer or even hot. Or maybe they could look for it in the mountains and if they see a bear they are getting closer. Then if they locate a valley with a keep they'll find the cage which must be the prison.

Supplies were running low and sleeping in the tower was uncomfortable so after three days they returned to the town of Lake Farmin. Ahead of them entering the gates was a train of 4 wagons guarded by 8 men-at-arms on foot, 4 drivers and 4 more persons seated beside the drivers. The wagons were packed with large crates surrounded by straw for cushoning.

After paying gate tax, they headed to the inn to discover this same group purchasing the rooms they normally rented. That left the barn as the only sleeping choice. Despite the cheaper cost, there was still much grumbling about expenses.

As they prepared to bed down they conversed with 4 of the men-at-arms who also had to share the barn. Looking at a map the guards explained they had come in from the city of Kroten and were being paid to escort a fragile cargo here, but had no idea what it contained.

The party noticed that the map showed the central mountain chain along which were the city of Kroten, Kendall Keep, and the town of Wolford. While far from detailed, the map might have just shown them what they needed to know if they wanted to locate Stone Hell.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Taking it easy today.

I tink I have come down with a cold or something so I am taking it easy and not pushing myself to try to do anything. The session write-up will wait till I have a clearer head so to stand in for it here is something to ponder.

Did the natives of Easter Island know something we don't? And should we be worried? Notice the resemblance between H.P. Lovecraft and some of the statue heads on Easter Island?
Maybe it's just my cold clouded mind . . .

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We played today.

I'm a bit on the tired side and not feeling that great right now so the write-up of the session will have to wait.

The session was light, but very interesting. It spawned another "Joy of Creative Players" moment. They also got to try out the oracle in the tower's upper room.

Here's a little hint about something from the session.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Welcome To The Dungeon

You know where you are? You're in the dungeon baby, you're gonna die!

I really think Guns'n'Roses missed an opportunity with the lyrics.

So I'm listening to the song and thinking how easily the lyrics could apply to the whole adventuring profession or at least the grittier side of urban adventures. And of course they're easy as heck to twist.

On other notes, Lost Baronies session #6 looks like it will finally happen tomorrow. I'm not yet psyched back up into DM mode, but I'm sure it'll happen in plenty of time.

I've also noticed an increased number of blogs showing their appreciation of the ever iconic Gelatinous Cube over the past several days. That's always fun. There will be a tale from a Ptolus adventure posted here soon where cubes made some adventurers crap themselves.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Board Game - Federation Commander: war campaign rules

I had a friend dig up the draft rules we were developing for a campaign of Federation Commander and email them back to me. Here they are, in unfinished form. This was written in March of 2009.

EMPIRES AFLAME: A Federation Commander Campaign Game

This is a set of campaign rules for playing wars between multiple star-faring empires from the Federation Commander game. These rules handle the strategic and economic elements that tie the tactical combats together in a light story-based framework. The rules have been kept simplistic, yet allow for a depth of strategic options and a touch of role-playing flavor.

The game is played for a set number of strategic turns (a campaign) determined by the players at the beginning. A recommended minimum is 10 turns which should give enough time to experience many, though unlikely all, of the things that can happen in a campaign. At the conclusion, all victory points are counted and the empire with the highest victory point total wins the campaign.

The game is played using “fleet” scale schematics to speed the tactical encounters.

There is no strategic map used to display the position of star systems, everyone can reach everyone else’s border.

In a game with 3 or more players, each empire begins with 10 border systems, 5 core systems, 1 home system, and 1,500 commerce points with which to build their beginning ships. In a two player war the players begin with 5 border systems, 2 core systems, 1 home system, and 750 commerce points with which to build their beginning ships. In both cases, left over points are lost.

All star systems and ships must be named by the controlling player. Example: The Gorn Empire sends the Heavy Cruiser Thunder Lizard and the Destroyer Skink to the Oberon system on the Federation border and encounters the Heavy Cruiser Enterprise and the Light Cruiser Reliant. That sure sounds better than saying “I send two ships over there”, and we know if they encounter anything because we know where they went. (If you’re like me and have trouble coming up with names, Google a horse racing site and look through the tons of horse name listings. You’ll be surprised how handy that can be. Of course you could also use band names. Example: Klingon battle cruiser Black Sabbath.)

Buying Beginning Ships
Because of the need to cover large swaths of space and because no empire can afford to buy enough of their largest ships to be everywhere, the following purchasing limits are in place for beginning ships to better represent what actual force dispositions might be like.

No more than 10% of starting ships may be valued in the 100 and above commerce point range, no more than 30% of starting ships may be valued in the 70 to 99 commerce point range, and up to 70% of starting ships may be valued under 70 commerce points.

Some races may have few ship types to choose from and may be lacking ships that have a flag bridge. To compensate, any race may spend 2 additional commerce points at the time of building the vessel to make it a command ship.

At the start of the game there are no base stations, battle stations, or starbases. Empires may buy them the same way they buy ships. Bases are assigned to a system and never move from that location.

Placing Starting Ships
At start of game empires have a border fleet, core fleet, and a home fleet. The ships assigned to a fleet may defend systems or undertake other duties specific to the fleet assignment they are given.

Ships above 99 commerce point value may not be assigned to Exploration, Patrol, or Raids.

Border Fleet: defend border systems, invade enemy border systems, conduct commerce raids against enemies, or conduct deep strikes against enemy core systems.

Up to 6 ships may be assigned to commerce raids against other empires. Each ship raids alone. Ships assigned to raids may not be used for reserve forces. Raiding ships may form a fleet to conduct a Deep Strike.

Core Fleet: defend core systems, or patrol to try to intercept raiders.

Up to 6 ships may be assigned to Patrol against commerce raids. Each Patrol ship patrols alone. Patrol ships may be called upon as reserve forces against attacks on Core systems, but this removes them from their patrol duty that turn.

Home Fleet: defend home system, or explore.

Up to 6 ships may be assigned to Exploration. Ships on exploration duty may not be called upon as reserve forces.

To Explore, roll 1die, result of 1 indicates finding a system; result of 6 indicates an Event.

Events include things such as encountering hostile alien ships to monsters like the Planet Killer. Hostile alien ships won’t follow you home, but a monster will turn up next turn in a random border system of the empire that discovers it unless they stop it. Then its moves are again randomized if not stopped and it can go to another border system of the same empire, or another empire’s border system, and on until stopped. Exploring has rewards, and likewise has risks.

Newly discovered systems become new border systems and are worth 10 commerce points each per turn.
Building Ships and Bases
All new ships built begin play either at the Home system or at a Starbase should one exist in another system. New bases may be built in any system controlled by an empire.

Repairing Damaged Ships and Bases
Bases are assumed to be repairable at the location they occupy using in-system resources.

Ships are also able to repair on the move with the following exception: Frame damage. A ship damaged so badly that it took frame damage must report to either a starbase or Home system and remain there for one strategic turn before it can be used in battle again. If it is out on the border and has to transfer back to Home system for repair it will effectively be out of combat for at least the next 3 turns. (1 to get to core, 1 more to get to Home, and a 3rd for repair)

Damaged ships count against Command Capability and cannot be counted as raiding, on patrol, or exploring.

A ship with frame damage that lacks power to move must be towed. Empires may chose to scuttle a badly damaged ship if they feel it is too burdensome to repair it. Scuttling a ship destroys it.

Transferring ships between fleets
Ships may transfer from a fleet to the next fleet in order in a given strategic turn. Example: a heavy cruiser in Core fleet may transfer to Home or Border fleets in 1 turn. A ship in Home or Border has to transfer to Core first, and then on the following turn may proceed to the other fleet.

Encounters of any type (ship combats, some monster combats, etc) are played on “location” maps. To create a location map place an upside-down counter or other marker in a central hex at the start of the game. The map may “float” within 50 hexes of the marker. Floating the map may not be used to try and force someone else out of the battle, if your movement would cause the map to float past another vessel’s position, the map stops at their position and your vessel risks disengaging. Alternate map set-ups will sometimes occur with monster encounters.

Disengaging from battle is as simple as escaping the side of the map. Ships that leave the map may not return to that encounter and are considered to have left the contested area until completion of combat.

Each convoy consists of a large freighter and a small freighter. Roll 1d6 to determine which patrol ship (if any) is protecting the convoy. If no patrol ship is protecting the convoy, the defending empire loses 20 commerce points from those collected. Example: Robert’s Empire decides to raid William’s Empire. Robert assigned 1 ship and rolls 1 die. William has 3 ships assigned to patrol. William assigns a CL as #1, a DD as #2 and a FF as #3, leaving 4, 5 and 6 as no coverage. Robert’s assigned raider is a DD. He rolls and gets a 1 as the result meaning he’ll be up against the toughest of the 3 patrol ships. The battle is conducted and he decides to hit and run, trying to do as much internal cargo damage as he can as quickly as he can against the small freighter in the convoy. He then makes a run for it. After the battle the internal cargo damage is counted and William’s empire loses that many commerce points from those collected. Capturing a freighter results in being awarded double the value of its remaining internal cargo spaces as victory points. The defending empire suffers a reduction of collected commerce points by that amount. These battles also result in the award of victory points like any normal battle, but non-intercepted raids do not award victory points.

Empires bid each turn to hire Pirates to raid other empires. Pirate raids take place after raids by the ships of empires. Pirates automatically find a convoy and the confrontation is played out regardless of the availability of a patrol vessel. Half of the commerce value lost by the defending empire is given to the empire that hired the Pirates. An empire may never earn or lose more commerce points than are being collected that turn.

Assigning fleet resources
Example: Sheila’s empire has 12 ships in her border fleet. She has 10 border systems. She could try a couple of different approaches to guarding her border. She could spread her ships out as evenly as possible or leave some systems undefended while others are heavily defended. She decides to place 3 ships each on systems 2, 4, and 7, and one ship each on systems 1, 6, and 8, leaving systems 3, 5, 9, and 10 undefended.  She is hoping nobody attacks an undefended system until she can build more ships, and in the meantime she’ll hope the Reserve Forces Rule will help her sufficiently cover the weaker defended systems.

Reserve Forces
 A system with less than the Maximum Force of ships present is invaded. If they have enough Command Capability available IN that system, they may summon additional ships from other non-engaged systems. Those additional forces will arrive in a random amount of turns determined by rolling 1 die. Example: Sheila had placed only 1 ship, a CL, in system 1 and Marcus invades that border system with 2 FF. Sheila calls for reserves. In system 2 Sheila has 3 ships which luckily nobody invaded so she sends 2 of those ships. She rolls a 3 on the die indicating that the CL has to hold on for 3 turns before the reserves arrive to help.

Maximum Force
The maximum number of ships able to take part in a battle is 3. The Maximum Force to 5 ships if a ship with a flag bridge is present.

Deep Strike
Empires may consolidate raiders into a fleet inside enemy territory and use them to invade an enemy core system. This may only be done once per turn per enemy, so it is not possible for one empire to conduct multiple deep strikes into one enemy. They may conduct deep strikes against more than one foe, however having only a maximum of 6 raider ships available limits how many enemies you can do this to in a given turn unless you are spreading the ships very thin.

Home Strike
Home systems cannot be attacked until all core systems have been converted to border systems. It may then be attacked in the manner of a deep strike.

Conquering systems
Winning a conflict either by destruction of defenders or retreat of the defenders gives the invader control of the border system and it now becomes a border system of theirs. Winning a conflict during a deep strike has a completely different effect. Prior to the deep strike, there was no way to maintain support and supply lines to this enemy stronghold. Afterward it becomes vulnerable to main enemy units. The core system that was struck is not yet conquered, it remains under the control of the defending empire, but it is now reduced to being a border system. It is reduced in commerce value per turn and can be attacked and conquered during future attacks. Defeating a Home system using a deep strike converts it to a core system in commerce value. It may then be struck again to reduce it to the value of a border system, at which point it is vulnerable to conquest. The only way to completely eliminate an enemy is for all of their systems to be conquered.

Rebuilding Home and Core systems In the event an empire’s home system is conquered, but they still maintain control of at least one border system (either an original border system, a former core system, or a system discovered through exploration) that empire may spend all of their commerce available that turn to convert a border system to a core system. They may then spend all commerce from the following turn or any subsequent turn, to convert that core system into a new Home system. Once a new Home system exist, the empire may begin converting other border systems into core systems (to a maximum of 5 core systems) at the cost of all of a given turn’s available commerce points.

The Referee. All movements, use/collection of commerce, bids for Pirates, etc, are sent to the ref. The ref then alerts empires about what they need to do (meet to resolve conflicts, etc) and the empires then schedule the time/place to play out the events, reporting (copying in each other) the report. This allows for fog of war, and the chance of multiple empires possibly encountering at a system at the same time … that sounds like a fun situation to play out.

Fog of war, limited news reports. Some news always gets out during conflicts, but just what the truth is can only be known by those that were really there, and the referee. The referee will let everyone know of changes that can’t go without notice, and will leak hints of other information. A complete accurate record will be kept for release after the campaign ends so that everyone may enjoy the truth of the bloody details.

Cloaked ships in strategic play. Normally when enemy forces meet, the players reveal their ships to each other at the same time. When an empire using cloaking devices meets an enemy force without cloaking, they may optionally require the non-cloaked enemy forces to be revealed and deployed before placing their cloaked forces, or they may reveal their forces non-cloaked at the same time. Example: The Romulans invade a Federation system. The Federation deploys the defending forces on the board and reveals what ship types and names are defending. The Romulan can choose to deploy a force of already cloaked vessels or disengage before contact which does not constitute a battle and no wins, losses, or victory points are recorded. Alternately if the Romulans are defending they do not reveal defending forces until after the invading force is placed and revealed. If the Romulans choose to disengage from a defensive position it does count as a battle and victory points are awarded.

  When strategic moves would result in contact between forces, the referee notifies all involved players of the system in which the contact takes place. The players then respond (using copy all so the ref can keep records) and discuss a date/time to play out the encounter. The players reveal to each other what forces will be involved and decide if they wish to play out the scenario. This also applies to Romulans using cloaking since it simulates the other force detecting the anomalous sensor readings that sometimes indicate the presence of cloaked ships, but does not require the Romulans to reveal the forces, although he does learn what forces the other player has present. (The ref will know because the movement of ships is logged through the ref.)
Cloaked ships in raids. Cloaked raiders are tougher to intercept than normal ships. To reflect this, when the raid roll is made, add 1 to the die roll. Example: (see raid example) Had the raiding force rolled a 6 even with 6 defending patrol ships, they would avoid detection and complete a non-intercepted raid.

Communication and negotiation between empires. Players are encouraged to “roleplay” their empires. They may issue statements meant for all to hear, and they may also negotiate trade agreements or other types of communications. In all cases the referee is to be copied in for record keeping purposes and play enhancement opportunities.

The Referee will play out encounters generated through exploration. Which means things like hostile alien ships and planet killers, Orion Raiders, etc.

If a player knows he or she will be unable to meet to resolve encounters, he must notify the ref and other involved players as early as possible. It is also recommended to try to recruit someone (acceptable to the group) to play the encounters for you that you won’t be able to attend. The referee will try to resolve situations as fairly as possible if a player cannot manage to cover the encounters in a turn. Example: Wayne finds out he’ll be working lots of overtime and won’t be able to play out some of his encounters this month. He recruits someone to play some of them for him (and that person is introduced through the email thread to the ref and other involved players in plenty of time for scheduling). However there is one encounter he won’t be able to work out. The ref then decides that for some unforeseen reason Wayne’s forces avoid the conflict. If it was an offensive move, he calls it off. It might have been a feint, or something else, but it doesn’t take place and the ref either returns the ships to their starting location or if Maximum Force rules would prevent that, the ships go where they have room to go. If it is a defensive situation, Wayne retreats from it because intelligence reports indicated a superior force coming and he wouldn’t have the strength to resist, or he was lured away by trickery. In all cases the other player is awarded the win, but no victory points change hands.

Ships and Other Things Not Currently Allowed in Campaign
The reason many things are not being used in the campaign is that most of those people expected to play currently own none of the game sets and aren’t expected to suddenly go out and drop a lot of money on getting everything.

Because of the fact that the two people that do currently own some of the game sets cannot reasonably be expected to be available every time someone else is trying to play out an encounter, some things had to be eliminated from consideration.

The following sets are excluded (with some possible unit exceptions) Battleships, Orion Attack, War and Peace, and Borders of Madness. Some individual units are excluded as well. From the Hydran Attack set, the Hydran and Lyran battleships are not permitted.

Turn Sequence
            Players must keep the Referee notified of all information or risk not having things happen as intended.

Allocate Commerce Points
            One turn 1 no player will have points available for this phase which means nobody will have funds to bid for pirates or to buy ships or bases during the first turn. However, on following turns players will have commerce points collected from their systems, conquered systems, discovered systems, and any successful pirate raids for which they won the bid. Those points are totaled and then subtracted from those are any points lost to raids, systems lost to conquest, and monster attacks.
            Example: At the end of turn 1, Dave has all of his original systems left and has discovered one new system during exploration. So he multiplies his border systems (now 6) times 10 = 60 points, multiplies his core systems (2) times 20 = 40 points, and his Home system (1) times 50 = 50 points, and adds those together (60 + 40 + 50) = 150 points. However he lost 20 points due to a successful raid by the enemy leaving him a total of 130 points to allocate on turn 2.
            Dave decides he wants to bid for pirates this turn and puts aside 15 points for the bid. If he loses the bid he keeps those 15 points. If he wins the bid those 15 points are spent, but the potential exists to earn that back and more if the pirates are successful.
            Dave also wants to buy 2 more destroyers at 50 points each (=100) and that will leave him with at least 15 points at the end of the turn that will carry over to the turn 3 allocation phase.
Bid For Pirates
            In turn 2 the players bid to hire the pirates for a raid on an enemy. Dave had put aside 15 points for this bid and luckily he wins the bid and now the pirates will conduct a raid against his chosen enemy.

Assign Ships & Moves
            Players determine where ships are assigned and what their duties are each turn, and report that information to the referee.
            Example: Dave writes out his orders beginning with his border fleet. He determines which ships will defend which border systems, which ships will invade enemy border systems, and which ships will raid enemy commerce. Dave then writes out his orders for his core fleet. He decides which ships are defending which systems, and which ships will be on patrol to defend commerce. Dave then determines to have all of his home fleet on exploration duty looking for new systems to add to his empire. He also would report if any ships are moving between fleets and what systems they arrive at. Notify the ref when a ship is moving between fleets. This is important because different tasks can only be done by ships in certain fleets. Only Home fleet ships can explore. Only core fleet ships can patrol, and only border fleet ships can raid or deep strike.

Resolution Of Moves
            The referee takes all player moves and assignments info and determines if and where encounters occur. For encounters that require player involvement he contacts the players and presents information and they decide how to proceed. The order for those resolutions is as follows:
            Invasions of border, core, and home systems.
            Raids and Patrol response.
            Exploration events.

Launch New Ships & Bases
            Newly built ships that were purchased in the allocation phase are now launched either in Home system or a system with a Starbase. These ships then get assigned to their next location during the Assign Ships & Moves phase of the following turn. Starbases are placed in their intended system at that same phase.

Collect Commerce
            Players collect the commerce points for the systems they now control and add to that any points earned from a pirate raid. They then subtract any losses from raids and add the total to any points left over previously.

            Players may conduct trade deals or work out other deals with one another. For example: Dave might have received a request from another player about trading or selling a ship or ships. Perhaps the other player wants to buy a pair of destroyers. Dave could either ask for commerce points or a ship from the other player or a combination. Or perhaps the other player has been exploring heavily and finding many systems, Dave might offer that player something for one of those discovered systems, like a captured enemy ship and a sum of commerce points. Maybe the other player has a troublesome enemy he needs help against. Dave might offer direct intervention or bring diplomatic pressure, or he might offer a loan of commerce points, or sell some ships, etc. Diplomacy opens the doors for all sorts of strategic maneuvering.