Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mass Combat

So, predictably, I got sidetracked. Currently, I'm working out a system for determining politics inside-out and backwards (literally - I want to figure out how to realistically model power structures but still be able to improvise new ones in play). Of course, as Clausewitz points out, the necessary corollary to politics is war.

The biggest hurdle I see in mass combat is that it presents as, basically, a completely different game. You trade the creature-to-creature brutality of regular fighting for the clinical precision of a battlemap, and you learn new things like facing, movement rates, morale, and discipline. D&D is a first-person game, and you want to retain the ability to slide into your character's head, dump the cowardly peasant battle line, and kill that giant like you know you can. But that doesn't comport with normal mass combat rules.

It doesn't help that clinical precision is itself ahistorical, and also prevents some of the more interesting battle scenarios that tended to happen. In real battles, confused and exhausted soldiers mistook returning scouts for whole new armies, or misinterpreted enemy reinforcements as friendly units, or impulsively charged directly into obvious traps. Nothing like carefully adjudicating facing, distance, and range. Also, nothing like the tedium of tracking precise casualties at each step of the battle. Again, real battles were decided primarily by breaking the enemy's ranks or minds, not physically destroying every opposing combatant. The latter role is, of course, where cavalry actually excelled - as any close-packed infantry line could repulse a cavalry charge, spears or no, so long as it didn't break and flee.

Luckily, real-world generals tended to fight battles in a manner similar to how a D&D player would ideally wish to do the same. They commanded their units ad-hoc, in between leading a charge and forgoing a command perspective in order to get to grips with the enemy. The information they could process was limited and fairly general - and so a mass combat system should be the same.There's no real need to track the precise location of a multitude of different units when historical commanders worried only about the left, flank, the right flank, and the center.

Furthermore, the mass combat system should, as much as possible, stick to the mechanics and statistics used in the basic game. What do we really need to know about our units - and, more importantly, how can we transmit this information along the channels players are already familiar with?

Strength: In my game, I've done away with splitting the melee and ranged AB's, so Strength translates directly to how hard you can hit. So, it means the same for a whole armed unit.

Constitution: Again, in my game, Constitution provides bonuses both hit point gain and the Will save. The latter is more important for a unit - since the intent of battle is to induce the opposing force to rout, Constitution indicates resistance to routing. The unit's discipline is its staying power on the battlefield, just as constitution is the same for the individual.

Dexterity: Dexterity connotes tactile adaptability and the fine manipulation of parts. It also means a defensive bonus in any D&D style game. In battle, the unit's formation determines its resistance to damage, and ability to change formations rapidly reduces the opportunity for catching it off-guard. A dexterous formation presents its toughest face against any attack - much like a dexterous hero taking blows on the hardest parts of her armor. In my system, Dexterity also relates to how many actions you can complete per combat round. Therefore, Dexterity means both defense and mobility, as it does for the normal combat system.

Defense: I replaced AC with "defense" in my own system, modelling armor as damage reduction. It's the same thing here.

Morale: This is the first "independent" stat. It's directly affected by Charisma, and similar to the idea of morale for monsters and henchmen, but I want it to behave differently in battle. The main objective of mass combat is wearing down enemy morale so they'll break and stay broken, rather than enacting a disciplined withdrawal. A unit's morale score thus modifies the results of failed Constitution checks, and is tracked per flank, rather than per unit.

Stamina: In my game, fatigue is treated as additional encumbrance. Since encumbrance is a non-issue in battle (you drop everything at the start, then you either win and everything's safe or you lose and nobody drags along massive bags of gold while being pursued by a bloodthirsty army) it has to be treated substantially differently in mass combat. The difference, and the fact that "higher Fatigue" sounds bad but is good, means I'll call it Stamina. Stamina scores modify a unit's Strength and Dexterity.

And that's basically it. Everything else can basically be added as special rules - cavalry units get the special ability to rapidly redeploy between flanks, heavy armor is a modifer to Dexterity that increases damage resistance but reduces mobility, ranged attacks are given a "near" range and a "far" range, with separate Strengths for each.

Units attack by rolling a d20, adding their Strength modifier, trying to beat enemy Defense. Damage is not directly tracked - at least not now. A hit instead reduces Stamina by one. A critical hit means an officer is killed or ferocious warriors scythe through some significant portion of the enemy line. Reduce Stamina by one and make a Constitution check.

The CON check is 1d20 roll-under. If you fail, roll 2d6 and apply morale modifiers:

2: Destroyed. Deprived of discipline, a significant portion of the unit is destroyed and the rest flee for safety or are simply absorbed by neighboring units. 
3-5: Broken. The unit's will to fight leaves them and they immediately attempt to disengage and leave the battlefield. Move the unit to Reserves and reduce its Stamina by 1d4. Next turn, roll another CON check - if successful, it rallies as a combat unit, and if failed, it leaves the battlefield entirely.
6-8: Retreating. The unit pulls itself out of the battle line and moves to Reserves. Reduce Stamina by 1d4. The unit may return to the front line next turn as normal.
9-11: Shaken. Through hard fighting, the unit manages to reform, though it is now disorganized and exhausted. Reduce Stamina by 1d4. The unit will automatically fail any CON checks it is forced to make next turn. 
12: Counterattack - The unit fights back with such ferocity that it turns the tables! Reduce both units' Stamina by 1d4. 

Whenever a unit is forced out of the battle line, any adjacent units must also roll CON checks, in order to close the gap that is created. Passed checks, obviously, close the gap, while failed ones roll on the above table. Shaken results close the gap, while Counterattacks close it at the cost of 1 stamina, inflicting nothing upon the enemy. 

Tactically withdrawing units also requires CON checks for adjacent units according to the above procedure. The withdrawing unit itself is placed directly into reserves, no rolls required. 

Gaps allow your opponent to commit reserves to gang up on your units. Each unit absent from the line allows two enemy units to enter the gap and roll extra attacks on your units, starting with those on the immediate edges of the gap. Units exploiting holes in the line roll criticals on a 19-20.

You can close gaps by committing extra reserves to engage the excess enemy units, or by opening gaps in the enemy battle line. If you can open two gaps, and engage most of the units in between, you've isolated that segment of the enemy army - your forces can continue ganging up on them even if the enemy plugs the line. They have to be rescued.

Each turn, any flank that has a unit which has failed a CON check must make a 1d20 roll-under Morale check. Pass, and no effect. Fail, reduce Morale by one. Every time an enemy unit is Broken or Annihilated, roll another Morale check - add 1 Morale if passed.

I'm still working on exact rules for positioning, forming up, etc. but the principles are here. Most of the stats are ability-score style, with modifiers. Therefore, the average flank might start with a Morale of 12,  providing no bonuses or penalties. But if four morale checks are failed, and you're knocked back to Morale 8, then the retreats table lurches towards the "annihilated" end. Similarly, a fresh, well-trained unit might have STR 13 and 13 Stamina, which gives a +2 to attack bonuses. Lose 5 Stamina to hard fighting and it's +0. Yes, the Stamina rules mean that armed units have a practically unlimited capacity to slaughter helpless innocents.

The idea is you want to be able to run the battle in the background and give it its own personality. For the most part, it'll be a pretty inconclusive slog, where you slowwly wear down your enemy with little to show. But now and then something interesting happens - with the potential to create devastating cascade effects. Do you commit now? Or do you wait, knowing how dangerous it is to withdraw units?

Of course, the PC's can always dive in and create criticals - assassinating officers, or killing a lot of soldiers. The latter really does have to be a lot - units are considered to be 1,000 men, so you need to get them all to notice for it to count.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Putting NPC Polities into the Toolbox

I think the most important thing is to remember the Magic Number 7, and not have more than 7 things in front of you at once. Since political groups operate in the same way as World NPCs will, they compete with those for the 7 slots of global movers and shakers you can comfortably juggle at a time.

Luckily, for the most part, a World NPC will be aligned or associated with a given political entity, and can be part of the polity's entry. Only extremely charismatic, powerful, or manipulative individuals can be expect to be a global force entirely their own - others, even those having significant disagreements with the polity they participate in, will still be significantly constrained by the preferences of the polity, and should be considered within it, rather than apart from it.

The other type of World NPC that can get away with one of the 7 spots on the front page of your campaign journal is an individual with an absolutely loyal following, or crazy enough to not even go around with much of a following. Generally, these will be necromancers with armies of undead, iron-fisted cult leaders with fewer, but crazier followers, (larger cults with more than one power base will actually behave as normal polities), and lone wacko heroes like Hercules, Arjuna, or the PCs.

Honestly, for the most part, most World NPCs can be replaced by NPC polities. Instead of "King Hendrik of Lyceum," just use "Lyceum." The 7 great powers in your region will be the 7 polities you generate, unless there are 1 or 2 crazy individuals out there who can either compete on their own or are sufficiently unhinged that they can generate their own gravity on the world equal to that of a kingdom.

So, it's time for a few definitions. We want this system to be easy to port into different power levels, and easy to remember - therefore, use fractal design. Up to 7 kingdoms in your continent, each with up to 7 major internal players, each of which has up to 7 of its own major entities.

From here on out, a domain is the "setting level" at which there are up to 7 actors, which are entities both able and willing to meaningfully change the state of a given domain. A domain can be a multiverse, a continent, a kingdom, a city, a region, or even a single hamlet. An actor can be a race, a religion, a kingdom, a political party, a guild, a mercenary band, a cult, a posse, or a family.

(An actor can also be a single individual, but for the most part they will simply be subunits of other actors. Historically, even a king could never rule on his own - he needed the support of a complex network of noble, merchant, and military backers. And this network, of course, would never be completely unified - if necessary, it could be considered a domain all its own. Anyway, if you want, put in individuals as actors rather than subunits of traditional actors whenever you want to, and ignore these rules completely whenever you do so. Unless the individual in question has seven personalities.)

Therefore, each domain has up to 7 actors, each of which is their own domain, with up to 7 smaller actors, which are also domains, and so forth. Each actor uses the the stats described in my previous post:
  • Strength: Isolation versus interventionism. 
  • Constitution: Pacifism versus militarism. 
  • Dexterity: Stasis vs. change.
  • Intelligence: Social memory.
  • Wisdom: Elitism versus populism.
  • Charisma: Xenophobia vs cosmopolitanism.
I suggest beginning with the domain that is one higher than what the PC's will begin acting on. Perhaps more - it is easier to improvise downwards than upwards, since a strange new town they've never heard of before is accepted more easily than the appearance of a strange new empire just a few miles away. Generating this "top-level domain" is the simplest - choose the number of actors you want, roll their stats in order, then write the name, a 1-2 sentence description, and any other notes - important NPCs, controlled subunits and regions, etc. I made a summary sheet with all this inputted. Write down both the stats and the stat bonuses - the latter are important when moving downwards to a lower domain.

For example, the Kingdom of Lyceum is, from the PC's position, the most important entity in my Veil setting. The domain is functionally the World - the "Old Continent" of Estia, and the "New Continent" of Adrastia. There are two other actors on this domain - the Polikan Empire and the Safarran League - but I'll just do Lyceum for now:

STR: 9 (0)
CON: 10 (0)
DEX: 14 (+1)
INT: 8 (-1)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 12 (0)

As you can see, not particularly extreme in any area, but it is favorably disposed to social change, isn't rooted much in the past, and favors elite rule. I re-rolled the lowest die for STR and CHA, because I already have Lyceum funding exploration and colonization of a New Continent, and that wouldn't jive with scores of 7 and 5 on each of those. However, I do like that neither of those stats is particularly high - perhaps the kingdom is only exploring out of necessity? Or excitement has waned?

Of course, each actor is its own domain, so do this again for each actor. The exact manner in which you execute the next step depends on what the original actor is - most importantly on its centralization. A loosely organized religion might have its internal actors represent different schools of thought, while a rigid cult would have its internal actors representing different direct units. Political actors - such as states or empires - would have a mix of independent internal actors, such as different political parties or social groups, and subordinate ones, like militaries, tax agencies, et cetera.

Importantly, you apply the main actor's stat modifiers to the stats of every smaller actor under its direct control. Sometimes this is done crosswise - if a major actor within a kingdom is an independence movement controlled by a rival kingdom, apply the rival kingdom's stat modifiers. 

Continuing within Lyceum, one of the most important organizations in the Kingdom is the Black Chamber. It began as a cryptographic office and expanded to become a hybrid of magical and philosophical research unit, witch hunter, and spy ring. As its purview has grown, so has its power, and its secrets - both mundane and mystical - shape the entire kingdom's future.

STR: 13 (+1)
CON: 11 (0)
DEX: 9+1= 10 (+0)
INT: 10-1= 9 (-0)
WIS: 8-1=7 (-1)
CHA: 14 (+1)

So, the Black Chamber is fairly interventionist, still fairly elitist, but pretty cosmopolitan. That last might sound strange for a spy group, but remember it's equal parts mage, alchemist, and assassin. Lyceum's stats modified DEX, INT, and WIS to a small degree. Again, record the stat modifiers so they can be applied to any smaller actors the Black Chamber controls. 

Continuing on, Lyceum is a trading state, and thus Lycian merchants are socially and economically powerful, even if their political power is curtailed by the proliferation of trading guilds and shipping companies. 

STR: 11 (0)
CON: 9 (0)
DEX: 8 (-1)
INT: 10 (0)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 16 (+2)

The merchants are, of course, not under the crown's direct control. They're mildly interventionist, with a mild aversion to fighting, and are actually fairly inflexible and elitist. They're extremely cosmopolitan - I actually fudged this roll, since the first would have given me xenophobic traders - not a contradiction I'm willing to work with at this point. Inflexibility and elitism might seem counterintuitive to some, but this can easily happen if trading is conducted by smaller, entrenched family monopolies, rather than independent explorers.

From here, you can continue on down the line as far as you like. I wouldn't fully generate every actor at every domain level - keeping in mind that its easier to generate downwards rather than upwards, I'd fully generate every actor at the domain the players are starting in and the one immediately above it, and then partially generate one or two lower domains the players will likely come into contact with.

Partial generation involves rolling only the stats that players are likely to hear about from other actors - Charisma and one other stat (probably Strength, Constitution, or Wisdom). Partially generating like this greatly reduces the generation time, and provides enough information to allow incomplete actors to interact with the players from afar, buying you time to roll the other four stats.

The next post, I'll write up how to account for influences - religions, regions, social strata, and changes in command.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Polities as NPCs

The next awesome tool in LS's Campaign Toolbox is the list of World NPCs, basically the few really important people whose actions and goals cause great changes in the nature of the campaign world. Of course, these can't all be individuals, since that would be hoary old Great Man History and poorly reflects the way societies drove and determined their fates. But it's been hard to quickly model sublimated social currents.

I thought, why not use ability scores, like we use for individuals? 3d6 in order, straight up. I got the idea from Europa Universalis III's policy sliders. The major difference from normal ability scores is that "polity ability score" is a continuum - no score is strictly "better" or "worse" - instead it shows what position the polity has on an axis.

  • Strength: Isolation versus interventionism. Low scores indicate an unwillingness to become involved in the political affairs of other polities, and high scores indicate eagerness to intervene.
  • Constitution: Pacifism versus militarism. The low end doesn't necessarily indicate complete pacifism, just an anemic army and thinking that doesn't lend itself to violent solutions. More militarized polities have conflict as their first choice.
  • Dexterity: Conservatism vs progressivism. This measures the polity's rhetoric and goals. Ignore the real-world connotations - Traditionalism means the polity wants what it wants because it believes that society is currently in a better state, progressive polities want to drive forward into that future state. Any desire for change - even "regressive" change - is modeled as "progressivism" here.
  • Intelligence: Social memory. Social memory indicates how much the polity retains a sense of its past. This doesn't imply any other positions - a group can have detailed knowledge and many connections to its past, and be determined to move past it, just as much as it can wish a return to a past it knows nothing about. I can think of many real-life examples.
  • Wisdom: Elitism versus populism. Fairly self-explanatory - high scores mean the polity fancies itself a champion of the people, and low scores mean they think the people are an ignorant rabble.
  • Charisma: Xenophobia vs cosmopolitanism. Again, fairly self-explanatory - and remember that a polity can be cosmopolitan and still isolationist. Differs from Strength in that Strength indicates a willingness to affect other societies, and Charisma indicates the society's willingness to be affected.

I think the biggest advantage with these ability scores is that they - realistically - depict all of the internal contradictions and complexities displayed by real-life polities. You might think that the Xenophobic Interventionist Conservatives with low Social Memory are just four contradictions piled right on top of each other, except for the fact that this group exists.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

10-Month Seasons

I just came across LS's post at Papers & Pencils about long-term campaign management, and am immediately going to implement it when I start a new game, after I move to the other side of the country. He writes about how he keeps track of most things - player goals, major NPC's, and regions - all in a way that cuts down on prep time and allows the various powers in the world to really flow together.

Of course, what inspired me most was his calendar. Each month, in his system, has 5 weeks, and each year has 10 months - coming out to 350 days, but much easier to keep track of. Especially when compared to the real-world system of months changing mid-week and all having different lengths. I like this much better than the alternative, suggested in the comments, of 12 4-week months. The 12-month reckoning only comes out to 336 days, which becomes increasingly significant when reckoning lifespans, aging effects, and historical timelines.

Now, the really interesting bit for me is seasons. LS suggests handling them by having 3-month summers and winters, with autumn and spring as 2-month transitional periods. This is a great simplification, but is based on the Western solar calendar, which has four seasons, rather than the ecological calendar, which has 6 seasons. I prefer reckoning by the ecological calendar because the most common challengers adventurers will face are ecological, rather than astrological. Ecological seasons determine weather, the activity of animals and plants, and thus the ability to forage, survive in the wild, etc.

In temperate areas, the "extra" seasons result from two divisions. Spring divides into pre-vernal and vernal phases, distinguishing between the budding of trees and return of migratory birds, and plants entering full bloom, with animals establishing territories and beginning to mate. Summer, on the other hand, is made up of an estival, or high summer, and serotinal phase, when leaves begin to change and young birds mature and prepare to migrate. Luckily for the 10-month model, the transition seasons of pre-spring and late summer are about half as long as the full seasons, of high summer, spring, autumn, and winter, allowing there to be two one-month seasons and four two-month seasons.

Seasons can tell you a whole lot about a new region, such as the optimum times to adventure, or to "steal a march" on an enemy, and generally dictate the pace of travel in an area. The ten-month year can easily accommodate seasonal differentiation in other biomes as well - I made seasonal wheels for, starting from the left, monsoon/savanna, subtropical (based on Thai seasons), temperate, polar, and magical polar climates.

Monsoon/savanna covers any two-season regions, either most tropics with a monsoon and dry season, or savannas experiencing rainy and dry seasons. Subtropical is based on Thai seasons (though Thailand is not "sub"tropical!), with a cool, a hot, and  alonger monsoon/rainy season. The temperate wheel has the most variation, and can accommodate both northern and southern temperate climates. In the north, run a colder, snowy pre-spring and a harsher late summer, with autumn snows, and in warm temperate regions, run a livelier pre-spring (perhaps with more diverse birds, as some species pass through to get to higher latitudes) and a much hotter late summer.

The polar wheel basically has two subtly differentiated "summer" and "winter," with a month marked off at each midpoint designating the Midnight Sun and Polar Night. And, the far right wheel represents Bloodland, a frigid, ghoul-infested continent. Here, the ghouls awaken from their slumber and walk freely upon the land during the Season of Blood, when the sun is too weak to burn their blasphemous flesh.

Finally, I whipped up a Year Page for temperate climates, with blank spaces for you to write in the names of your months, as well as keep track of major events. I faded the dates, and the lines between days, so they could be written over but still provide useful context - this tool is really designed for notes at the week-level, rather than the day level. I have the polar and tropical variants as vector files, and will try to upload them later.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Easy Non-Lethal Damage

Keeping track of two types of damage annoys me. Even worse is splitting damage rolls in half when the PCs are using "the flat of the blade" during impromptu prisoner subdual. In any case, if you kick a guy in the gut to wind him, and then stab him in the throat, he's not going to "be subdued." He's going to die.

Nonlethal damage is treated exactly as normal damage, except if the killing blow is nonlethal. If a creature's last hit points are removed by a nonlethal blow, the creature is knocked unconscious for 1d20 minutes, instead of dying. Before then, nonlethal damage has the same effects, and removes the same hit points, as regular damage - thus, if a 7HP creature takes 6HP of nonlethal damage, and then 2 HP of lethal damage, it is killed, rather than knocked unconscious.

Weapons used to subdue roll for damage as normal, but treat even numbers as nonlethal damage, and odd numbers as lethal damage.