Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fourth Age of Middle Earth

Several years ago, there was a thread on the Hero Games forums discussing ways to make a game set in the Fourth Age of Middle Earth work.  It was agreed that there would be no elves or dwarves, or at least there would be next to none.  Someone pointed out that in order to feel like Middle Earth, you needed a big bad guy...after all, in the Silmarillion, you had Melkor/Morgoth causing trouble in the First Age, and Sauron filling the role in the Second and Third Ages.  There were some suggestions that maybe Saruman or some other corrupted Maia would be the bad guy; it was pretty generally accepted that the Fourth Age would have a lesser bad guy in keeping with the lesser grandeur of the age.  After all, even Sauron wasn't as powerful in the Third Age as he was in the Second, and he didn't hold a candle to Morgoth even then.  But the final demise of Sauron and Saruman was too well-documented in the source material.  The thread wound down around that point, without really finishing what it had started.

The naysayers won that one, and no suitable enemy was to be found.  I think Andres Diplotti figured it all out, though:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Number crunching interlude and an underappreciated RPG

Doing all these probability manipulations for this swell project is going to take some time, and once I'm done with that, if the numbers come out reasonably well, I'll have to find patterns I can use to develop a system to generate random swell patterns without all this fiddling with spreadsheets in between.  But rather than leaving the blog to sit unattended while I churn my way through, and sometimes make no progress at all when I get tired of it all, I'm going to spend a little time here and there talking about a game that I rarely see discussed online, despite the fact that it was both fun and ahead of its time in many ways.

The Atlantean RPG was first published in 1983 by Bard Games as the "Compleat Series"...The Compleat Alchemist, The Compleat Spell Caster, and The Compleat Adventurer.  It was later expanded into the "Atlantean Trilogy" consisting of The Arcanum (the main rules, including all character classes), The Beastiary (the monster book), and The Lexicon (the oddly named setting book, giving a decent overview of the whole game world, although not much detail on any given area).

I first ran into the Arcanum around 1987.  A friend of mine had it (as well as a ton of other good stuff...I was really envious of his gaming library at the time), and while I was fairly prejudiced early in my gaming career against any game that wasn't D&D, and particularly those games that were very similar to D&D, I became intrigued by some of the changes the Arcanum had made.  Eventually, we made characters and ran at least one Arcanum campaign.  I know I made three different characters, but I don't remember if it was because one died, or because I got tired of one character, or if the group as a whole got tired of the campaign and started a different one later.  We never used the Lexicon, and I don't recall if the DM used the monsters from the Beastiary, the AD&D Monster Manual, or some combination of the two, but the Arcanum had made enough of an impression on me that I kept my eyes out for all three books for years, and finally bought them from Noble Knight Games a few years back.  For what it's worth, at least one of those Arcanum campaigns we played was set in the Forgotten Realms, which was also my first exposure to that idea; the Forgotten Realms never made the same kind of  impression on me as the Arcanum did.

So what makes this game different from D&D?  I'll save details on the races, classes, and magic system for later, but here are some quick bullet points about the game:

  • Point-buy stats:  At a time when AD&D classes had stat requirements that could be frustratingly difficult to attain randomly, you were assured of getting the class you wanted in the Arcanum.  There was some minor randomization involving the number of points you had to spend, and if you wanted a stat at the racial maximum, you only had a 10% chance to get it (otherwise you had one point less), but there was no chance of rolling straight 8s and having to play a dumpy character while your friend rolls a bunch of 16s.
  • Speed and Perception stats: The Atlantean system had eight stats instead of D&D's six.  Most were the same, with Will and Wisdom as obvious analogues, but the Arcanum added Perception (allowing characters different chances to notice an ambush or find a secret door...yes, Elves had a good Perception maximum) and Speed (giving characters different base movement rates).
  • No combat tables:  By the time I ran into the Arcanum, THAC0 was a well-known concept in D&D.  THAC0 requires subtraction,though, and while that's not overly hard, it is still harder than adding.  In the Arcanum, 11 is the number to hit, and characters get periodic bonuses to hit based primarily on class and level, similar to 3rd Edition BAB.  Also saving throws don't have a table, but are based again on the number 11, with bonuses or penalties based on stats.  If it makes sense to dodge a trap, save vs Dexterity.  If it makes sense to tough it out, save vs Constitution.  There are really no save-or-die effects, so while higher level characters fail their saves more often than in D&D, it doesn't matter as much.  Also, lower level characters are more durable because of this.
  • Characters are more durable at lower level: Besides easier saving throws and fewer save-or-die effects, characters have more hit points.  Hit points for all characters are equal to their Constitution score, with an additional fixed amount per level based on class, plus a bonus per level for high Constitution.  Even a pretty scrawny mage-type ends up with at least 10 or 12 hp at 1st level most of the time, and since it's a point-buy system, if you feel screwed over, it's your own fault.  No worries about getting mauled by the innkeeper's cat and left for dead.
  • Armor absorbs damage: While I've mellowed towards the abstract nature of D&D armor classes, at the time, I was unhappy with it, to say the least.  I suppose it comes from the idea that you need to roll over a certain number to hit, and therefore if you roll too low, it's a miss.  This in turn leads to the idea that there are to hit rolls that will hit a nimble, dodgy thief with a 5 AC, but miss a guy loaded down in platemail and 80 pounds of gear.  The Arcanum foreshadows later editions of D&D in that heavier armor penalizes Dexterity rolls.
  • Characters are more customizable:  Most of a class's description breaks down to a list of skills.  These skills can be bought separately by spending experience points, so if your paladin really needs to know how to sneak around, he can delay gaining a level and learn Stealth.  Spellcasters can even learn spells from other lists.
  • No more single-use magic users:  All spellcasters have (level+2) spells per day, so even 1st level characters can cast three times before they're out.  Even at that, the skills associated with each class give them something more they can contribute, usually including some sort of minor alchemical ability.
  • "I don't want to be the cleric!":  Parties without a cleric in D&D spend a lot of time holed up licking their wounds.  It's hard for a small group of heroes to keep pressure on a large group of bad guys if they have to take a few days between fights, so someone has to be the cleric.  Not everyone wants to be a cleric though, and sometimes it gets passed along as a rotating duty from campaign to campaign.  In the Arcanum, any character with Divine magic, Elemental magic, Low magic, Healing Arts, or Herbal Remedies can heal at 1st level, so whoever's turn it is to be the healer has a choice of 10 different classes.  More characters pick up healing abilities at higher levels, too.
  • No walking magic-item hoards:  All my early games of D&D and AD&D seemed to end up swimming in magic items.  Most of them ended up being kept around "just in case", charges hoarded away until the absolute perfect time, which kind of just added to the problem.  (Encumbrance should have kept this under control, I suppose, but like many people, we usually ended up handwaving that in the interest of getting on with the game.)  The Arcanum specifically forbids any character from carrying more than seven magic items or they ALL stop working (one use items like scrolls and alchemical mixtures excluded).  Still plenty of room for a magic shield, magic armor, magic boots, magic sword, dagger, spear, and magic helmet.  But when you find a ring or something, you need to prioritize what you want and what you can do without...
 Okay, plenty of that for now...back to the spreadsheet for me.  I'll post about Arcanum races later.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Possibly onto something

Trying to streamline the determination of swell in a given area of the game world's ocean.  Every other part of this wave project so far was fairly straightforward, each piece following on the last naturally, and merely requiring hours of patient number crunching and typing out into tabular form to produce.  Turning a whole world's worth of weather into a table takes a little more thought, and a little effort into making it elegant and easy to use.  More so than just rounding off heights to whole numbers, anyway.

At first, I was thinking that I would simply use the icosahedral world map template that came with the AD&D 2nd Edition World Builder's Guidebook (now available on; I've never regretted buying the print version, and I highly recommend the PDF for anyone interested in world building). For an Earth-sized world, that comes out to 600 miles per hex.  I'm making the call that weather systems generally run about that size (Wikipedia says storms are in the vicinity of 60-1250 miles diameter, so not far off).  For my purposes here,  a weather check (determined through whatever method, but here mostly concerning wind speed), covers a 600 mile hex, at least over the ocean where terrain doesn't break it up.

Next, starting with the 2d6 wind speed roll used in the D&D Expert rules, I figured the probabilities of high winds across multiple 600 miles hexes.  Swell is produced by high winds, so when looking at multiple hexes, you really only need to worry about the highest wind among them.  I did the math by hand to figure out the new probability curves for a 2 hex region, but somehow couldn't get it to work out for more than that.  I still don't know what I was doing wrong.  Luckily, the Troll Dice Roller and Probability Calculator was there, and didn't take too long to figure out.  Thanks, Torben Mogensen; Troll was invaluable.

My idea at this point was to look at all the ocean in a straight line out from a given point in all directions and use that number of hexes to figure out what swell was hitting that point, thus taking into account every direction it could come from and the fetch in those directions.  This way, an island or a point on the tip of a peninsula is more likely to have a large swell than a point in a protected bay or inland sea. 

I decided to look at the Hawaiian Islands to see how well this system maps out to the real world.  The Hawaiian Island chain fits pretty much into a single 600 mile hex, at least the main islands do.  There are six hexes of ocean surrounding that, and 12 more surrounding those, so I worked out the probability curve for winds across 19 hexes.  And that's where the problem came in.  With 19 hexes, there's an 80% chance of winds of Beaufort number 11 or 12, and since it's only three hexes out, the waves have little time to dwindle down.  Hawaii is a surfer's paradise, but swells over 20 feet (growing higher as they start running inshore) are not an everyday thing.  I distinctly remember, when I was stationed there, going to the beach and not being swept away or pounded by massive plunging waves (I did see some some frighteningly large ones, though, on occasion).  And those 19 hexes aren't even all of the ocean hexes that could possibly be the source of a Hawaiian swell.

But, I think using a larger hex might work.  A 1200 mile hex would mean fewer chances of a really high wind result, and also double the average distance the swell would travel, giving it time to diminish to a more reasonable (from my perspective) level.  I'm going to work some numbers for a few different real-world areas at 1200 miles per hex and see where that takes me.