Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Horse Of Another Timbre

 I'm going to be starting a new Amber campaign soon. I've sent out a few invites, and started building the campaign on Roll20. Not that an Amber game really needs Roll20, given that it's diceless and the rules are minimalist, but I've been so happy with the clue-storage and relationship-mapping aspects used in my Night's Black Agents campaign on Roll20 that I've decided something similar for this campaign is a good idea. The Roll20 will be a place to share images, if nothing else. 

I've decided the campaign will be called A Horse of Another Timbre, which just struck me as a clever thing to call an Amber game. The "horse" being the unicorn, of course, of course, and the music-term "timbre" is properly pronounced "tamber" and means the characteristic quality or "tone color" of a sound. It's a pun-inside-a-rhyme and cries out to be used for an Amber game.

I'll be running a Logrus-less Chaos, because I kind of hate the way Merlin's descriptions of the Logrus really invalidate the plot of Corwin's tale. (As in, we're told in the first 5 books that Chaos needs the Black Road and Dara's blood of Amber to be able to invade... but if Logrus is common in the Courts and functions as it does in Merlin's tale, that invasion should have been easy to start without Brand or Dara.) So I'm currently pouring over my old Amber documents here, looking for things that need updating. 

I'm also looking over the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow rulebook, and mulling over if there's a way to use the Grand Stair from that book, without it creating the same problem the Logrus does. I'm thinking maybe the Grand Stair is like a secret backdoor that Dworkin or Oberon created? 

One other change I'm going to make is just a rename of an ability. It will be Tarot Artistry, because the old name is unfortunately a homonym for the criminal-in-chief, and I don't want that constant reminder ruining scenes.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Quiet Conclusion

I just realized I don't think I ever did a post from the end of The Quiet Year game that I played with my buddy Brendan from Chicago. It was a lot of fun. Here's a picture from the end of the game, to save me from writing a thousand words of play-by-play for a game we finished up a few weeks back:
We played on Roll20. Just a heads-up for anyone thinking of doing the same: the game is a lot of fun on Roll20, but it does have some technical hurdles you'll want to prepare for. Drawing is clumsier in the Roll20 interface than it is face-to-face, and labeling things with text is super-easy and more legible than it would be in-person, so we ended up with quick little scribbles and relied a lot more on our ability to put text on the map (than the rulebook officially discourages labeling, but on Roll20 it's a welcome tool). You'll notice that the fence on the map was drawn in by a couple hundred strokes of the drawing tool. By the end of the game, things were lagging a tiny bit, so it might be better to not draw every individual fence-post next time.

I was surprised the Roll20 version isn't quite ready-to-play straight-off-the-shelf. The default page has nowhere for you to note scarcities, abundances, or characters, so I changed the page size (landscape rather than portrait fit my screen better anyway) and added a section for notes on the side. It also doesn't come with anything to represent the Contempt tokens, and no placeable dice. So I used a token I'd uploaded for an old Warhammer RPG for Contempt, and slapped together a rollable table token of a d6. It was all pretty simple, but just be advised that if you do want to play it on Roll20, you can't just fire-and-forget at the marketplace, someone in the group is going to have to do a few minutes of work to prep the game before the first time you play. Thankfully, the deck is already loaded up, so it does save you a whole bunch of time and effort by not having to scan the deck in. It does feel worth the 8$ or 10$ it costs on the Roll20 marketplace, and I'm glad I bought it, but I was a little surprised that I had to provide my own dice and tokens. It seems like if the publisher had included those in the Roll20 assets, it wouldn't have cost them much time or effort, yet would have resulted in a much more polished product.

About half way through the second session, we realized that we should have been making notes in the chat window of each turn's development and what all Projects and Discoveries were. If we had done so from the beginning, then we'd have a nice chat log of what had happened, and it would have been much easier to pick back up when we came back two weeks later for the second half of the game. So file that tip away for next time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Byzantine Dice of Torg

I played in a session of the new edition of Torg last night (well, a few nights ago now, but it was last night when I wrote the first 2000 words that follow). It was fun, but, man, are the die rolls complicated and weird in this RPG. I'm really glad we were playing over Roll20, because I wouldn't want to try to engage with the core mechanic of Torg without die-rolling software.

To use a skill in Torg, you: Start with your Attribute value, add your skill value,  and add any miscellaneous modifiers (like +4 for an All-Out Attack that leaves you Very Vulnerable afterwards).

So far, so good, it's not sounding any more complicated than d20 games.

Now you roll a d20, but instead of adding your roll to the total above, instead you look at a chart that converts your 1d20 roll into a Bonus from -10 to +7.
 
Okay, that's a little weird. Not horrible, but already a tiny bit clunky and hard to intuit what your average roll will actually be. At first, I thought the chart was flattening the roll by making the average roll more common... but on studying the math of the chart, I quickly realized it doesn't do that at all.

Things are going to get a whole lot stranger from here on out.

If your die roll was a 10 or a 20, it "explodes", giving you another die to roll, which can also explode if it rolls a 10 or 20. So it's a system with the potential for arbitrarily large successes, big memorable die rolls where you out-perform anyone's expectations. This is technically infinitely open-ended, but the progression of the resulting modifier slows down once you go further up the chart than a 20. So while a natural roll of 20 is +7 bonus, a total of 50 (which requires exploding at least twice to accomplish) is just +13.

Except, you can't actually roll a 20, because the natural 20 would explode, as would any roll of 50 (20+20+10 explodes for a 4th die, for example). So as near as I can tell, the entry for the +7 result (which only happens on a 20) is almost never needed, and the entry for the +13 result actually happens on 46-49, not 46-50 as the chart indicates. For that matter, the chart says a of 9 or 10 roll is a -1 bonus, but you can't normally actually roll the 10, so that's also somewhat misleading.  Well, you can roll a 20, 30, 50, etc, but only if you've got a bonus die from an Ups or Possibility (both of which are described below). Rolling an exact 10 is even harder to do (and requires an Ups).

So what is the actual average roll? The math is kind of tricky, but I made a big spreadsheet to figure it out.  The average rolled bonus is... -0.26127955.  Yep, on average, you'll roll slightly less than your Attribute+Skill combination. Which is counter-intuitive, because the potential for big memorable high-value rolls makes you expect that you ought to be averaging rather higher than your stats. That is not the case at all.

An aside about approximations: I only calculated rolls of 80 or less, so I'm probably low-balling it by a few one-thousandths of a percent. Rolling above an 80 requires rolling a "20" four times in a row, or a "10" eight times in a row, or some combination splitting the difference like 10-20-10-10-20-10. The odds of scoring above an 80 are less than 1 in 10,000, so I figure it's probably safe to round off at that point. Calculating it only to rolls of 70 or less returned an average of -0.26271358, a variation of only one one-thousandth of a point of bonus, and I'm pretty sure the math runs out to diminishing returns even as you approach infinity.

Yes, you could technically roll a one-million Bonus, but if you ever did the game would grind to a halt of multi-hour die-rolls and a re-enactment straight out of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen, and I don't feel I need to extrapolate the math out that far, either, just for the sake of accuracy.

So at that point, I'm already really glad that Roll20 has a die-rolling function that calculates it all in the blink of an eye. In our session, we had two rolls that were above 60. While rolling a d20 three to five times and counting up the math out loud would have been dramatic and awesome, it's also likely to feel weirdly clunky, and kinda suspicious. Like, if the same person rolled a 61+ twice in the same session, as GM I'd start wanting a closer look at his dice. Maybe I'm just an untrusting jerk, though. Roll20 eliminates the chance of dice-deception, so I didn't have to worry about it.

So the next question that springs to mind is how often you succeed at the standard difficulty. For that we need to know a bit about Character Creation. Characters are made with a point-buy method, and your point budget matches an average Attribute of 8. You're given 16 skill points to spend, with an initial cap of 3 in any skill. In my limited experience from making a single character, it seems like there are more than 8 skills that you'll want on any given character (I ended up putting points in 10 skills for my fairly simple fighter-y Edeinos character, because it would have taken 13 different skills to represent the more ranger-y concept I'd wanted), so you're almost certainly going to have a 2 or less in any skill that's not the centerpiece of your character. 8+2=10, and the Standard Difficulty listed as default is a 10, and the average roll reduces your Total, so you can expect to have a less than 50% chance to succeed at a random task. You will, of course, likely focus your character, getting an 11 or so in your best attribute, brought up to a 14 by the skill bonus. This comes at the cost of most likely having a 6 on some attribute (4 out of 5 PCs last night had a 6 in Charisma, and my character had two 6s and a 7 to afford his 10 Dex and 11 Str), so there are definitely going to be critical rolls that face a very low chance of success, and those will pop up from time to time regardless of your efforts to avoid them (unless you give your PC an 8 in all 5 stats and spread your skill points thin, too). Succeeding at an average Difficulty with a 6 attribute and no skill requires rolling a 17 or higher (or an exploding 10 followed by a 7 or higher) on the die, which works a 23.5% chance of success.

That is assuming that Difficulty 10 is the norm. While it is the stated Standard Difficulty, there's plenty of reason to expect that the actual Difficulty you're shooting at is going to vary from that quite often. Instead of a single Armor Class and maybe a few kinds of Saving Throw, each character has about 10 different defensive values calculated from their other stats, and the potential to take an Active Defense Action to raise the difficulty from an attack.

But it gets even weirder and more elaborate from there, as Torg has degrees of success, so it's not just hit or miss, succeed or fail. It's failure vs standard success vs good success vs outstanding success, with increasing degrees of success adding on extra beneficial results. Contrast this with D&D. In D&D, once I know the enemy's AC is 15, if I roll high I don't have to do any math and can skip straight to damage. In Torg, even if I know the enemy Melee Defense is 12, and I just rolled a 18, I still have to look at the chart, find that 18 = +5 bonus, add that to my 10 Dexterity and 3 Unarmed skill to know my total post-bonus is 18, then subtract his Defense of 12 to get 6 and know that I have a Good-ranked hit, which will do bonus damage. Again, with Roll20's lovely die-roller and the output from the automated character sheets this is pretty painless, but I imagine all that math would murder the pacing of a face-to-face game.

Torg also gives you a lot of ways to reroll or add a die, and all of those rerolls have special rules of their own. Before we can discuss these rerolls, however, we need to explore the Mishap rule, which can shut down your rerolls completely. Certain types of Actions are prone to Mishaps. These are generally high-risk Actions like full-auto gunfire, and spellcasting. These Actions will trigger a Mishap if the first die rolled is a "1", and some Actions may have a higher Mishap range (up to a 4 on the die in some cases). Mishaps are automatic failures (regardless of stats) that can't be rerolled, and they usually also trigger some sort of critical fumble consequence. None of my Actions were Mishap-applicable last night, but I was involved in a shooting-into-a-Melee situation, which we will discuss later, because it interacts very strangely with some of the reroll options.

One of the reroll options my character had available was that I was able to make "Favored" rolls in melee and stealth. During character creation, I read this sort of like having Advantage in D&D, but I was very wrong, as functionally it's quite different and not nearly as strong. Favored is a re-roll, rather than rolling twice and taking the better result. Since more than half the rolls in Torg have a negative "Bonus" (and the average Bonus is negative as well), Favored rolls are somewhat unlikely to produce a good result. Let's say I roll a 13, for a meager Bonus of +1. If I invoke my Favored ability, I will improve my total only 34% of the time. I will break even 10.5%, and I have a 55.5% chance of actually hurting my results. So invoking my Favored reroll is usually a poor choice in that situation.

So it seems like Favored is mostly useful to prevent really bad results, but you'll recall that a Mishap cannot be re-rolled, so for some types of die rolls, Favored doesn't actually mitigate the worst results, either. Which more or less means that Favored is only useful if the GM is very transparent about the Difficulty Numbers. Thankfully, page 260 of the Torg Eternity rules specify that the GM should be very forthcoming with difficulties. I didn't realize that last night, and as a result I felt like my Favored abilities were actually pretty useless. After all, I'm only willing to risk using Favored to reroll a +1 roll if I'm pretty certain that the +1 is a failure.

Having read the rulebook since last night, I now know that I can actually quiz the GM about the monster's stats. That seems weird to me, as it is very gamist and spoils some of the mystery that most RPGs provide by default. That said, I spent both of the two Perks you get in character creation to buy Favored status on die rolls, so if I don't want to feel like I wasted my choices, I'm going to have to invoke page 260 a lot (even if it does feel a little weird to me to do so). Honestly, having such non-intuitive math at the core of the game probably means you do have to be forthcoming with mechanics and target numbers if you want the players to ever be able to make the intelligent decisions that skilled characters should be making in-universe. The math is so fiddly, you can't really be sure your gut instincts are going to be probabilistically accurate.

Let's move on to the next type of reroll: The Up. Ups are really more of a bonus die than a reroll. They are triggered by certain cards, and generally affect the entire party of Heroes for a round.

Yep, eagle-eyed viewer, you read that right. We are 1,800 words into a discussion of the complicated mechanics of Torg Eternity, and I am just now making my first mention of any of the three major card-based mechanics in the system. Man, this game is weird.

Ups add a second die to every roll. These are combined into a single die roll value, but the rules say the second die is added after the first roll, probably to preserve the chance of a Mishap. Either or both dice may explode. So what do Ups do to the success rate? That math makes my previous calculations look like child's play. After a lot of number crunching, I think it works out to the average roll with an Ups being about +6.185. The doubled opportunity for exploding dice really gives it a shot in the arm, pushing it above the value of simply being double the roll. Going from -0.26 to +6.2 is a very strong swing in the PCs favor.

Again, I didn't take the math out terribly far (nothing above a roll of a 63 in this case, but it still took a hell of a lot more number-crunching to get that far than it did to get to 80 on a normal roll), so if anything I'm possibly underestimating the results by possibly as much as a few one-hundredths of a point.

Ups are rare, but I don't have ready access to the cards that trigger them, so I'm not sure how rare. When they kick in they often (maybe always?) affect the rolls of the entire side. So GMs need to be aware that when the card comes up that gives the PCs all Ups, they will crush the opposition mightily that round, and it may end your fight scene (and your major villain) earlier than expected.

The rules implied this Ups only appears on cards that help the Heroes, but I don't have the cards in front of me to be certain of that.  In the unlikely event that a card exists that gives Ups to all NPCs, the GM would likewise need to be prepared for the TPK that would likely cause. That threat of a TPK makes me suspect that bad-guy across-the-board Ups cards probably don't exist. For the most part, the cards exist to make the PCs look like badasses, not to randomly end your campaign anti-climactically. Or at least, that's the impression I get from the percentage of the cards that I have seen after 1 session of play.

The final, and probably most common, form of reroll is spending Possibilities. These are like Bennies in Savage Worlds or like Drama Dice in 7th Sea. You spend one to roll an extra die and add it to your total, and what's more, if the extra die rolls less than a 10, you get to count it as a 10. So in that way, it's even better than an Ups. The thing about the minimum value of a 10 is kind of crazy in that it is super good if your original roll was pretty awful, and only provides a very modest bump if your original roll was strong. It's a weird system, but kind of beautiful.

Let's say you have a combined attribute plus skill of 12. You rolled a 2 on your first die, resulting in a -8 "Bonus", so your final Action Total is a 4, which is almost always going to fail at anything. You spend a Possibility and roll poorly, so you get the minimum bump of turning your 2 into a 12. The Bonus on a 12 is +0, bringing your final Action Total up to a 12, so you've gone from a guaranteed failure to what is very likely a success.

Now let's say the same character rolls a 19 on your first die instead, resulting in a +6 Bonus, for a final Action Total of 18. You spend a Possibility and roll poorly, so you get the minimum bump of turning your 19 into a 29. The Bonus on a 29 is +8, so your final Action Total is 20. It's only an effective increase of +2 to your total, which might not even be enough to change the degree of success. 
 
There is definitely something really cool about how all the math works out on that. It's kind of awesome... but it's also just really arcane and complicated. I can admire how tightly and precise this system runs, and yet be really glad I'm not having to calculate it all by hand on the fly while people at the table are waiting for their turn. Once again, Roll20 makes an otherwise unwieldy mechanic very playable.

So now that I've explained all those different re-roll and added-die mechanics, I'm going to pivot and talk about a related rule in the game that really doesn't seem to fit well at all with everything else the game is doing. As described above, you have a mechanical base where rolls are open-ended, with varying degrees of success and lots of tools for turning a bad roll into a strong result. The game shines a spotlight on players, sometimes going so far as to empower the party to suddenly smash through against hardened enemies and wrap up a battle way early. So how do you imagine that game engine handles shooting into a melee? You might expect that firing into a melee scrum where a fellow PC is wrestling with a bad guy would mean that you had to be wary about the consequences of a Mishap. You'd be wrong. The Mishap rule doesn't apply in that situation. Instead, it's far worse. Seriously, shooting into a melee is damnably nasty in this game. Don't do it!

Whenever you shoot into a melee, if your die roll is odd, you hit a random participant instead of your target. So that right there is a little surprising, because the characters are mostly hypercompetent badasses, so the notion that they would have a close to 50-50 chance to shoot the wrong person by mistake seems odd. Again, the math turns out to be really complicated, because it's not just an equal distribution of odds and evens on a normal d20. You can't roll a 10 or 20, but you could roll a 37, so it's not 50-50 exactly.

In our session, the villain had taken a child hostage. I rushed forward to try to wrest the baby from their grasp, and succeeded, but the movement rules are a little vague (it's not really a map-and-miniatures game, at least not as our GM was running it), so when my action was done I was still arguably engaged with the villain. Another PC went to shoot him. They did a called shot to the head, and rolled an outstanding success... but the die was odd! So this effectively canceled out their success and their called shot, and meant they would instead hit a randomly determined person in the scrum: that being either the villain, or me, or the child. So a 2/3rds chance of disaster! It came up the bad way on the first roll, and the player's instinct was to spend a Possibility to add an extra die to the roll in hopes of making it even. At first glance they assumed it meant a 50-50 chance of fixing the problem. It doesn't however, because any roll less than 10 on the Possibility die is treated as a 10, meaning the overall total was still odd. Effectively, the extra die had 5 sides that would save my bacon and 15 sides that would kill me or the baby! Thanks to some card play, I survived. Obviously I'm not an objective observer, having been in the center of the target zone, but it definitely strikes me as a weird design choice to forgo the existing Mishap mechanic for something that's a lot more punishing.

3,100 words, and I still haven't gotten to the card mechanic. Damn. I guess this will have to just be an article on the dice, because if I dive into the card decks right now, who knows how deep I'll have to go before I can surface.  For now, let's just acknowledge that the cards enhance the game, but they also ramp up the complexity that much further.


TL;DR: Torg Eternity is math-intensive, card-driven, and chart-reliant. Playing on Roll20 with the button-programmed character sheets and custom die rolling API works like a charm, but I don't think I would want to play (or run) the game on the tabletop with nothing but dice and charts. Thankfully, online technology still works in my native Cosm.

On my Crunchometer, this is a big shiny c24. It looks weirder than it actually plays, and at first glance you might misjudge what it actually is. It's definitely not something that I feel every gamer needs in their collection, but I'm happy to have one in my dice bowl, even if it's mostly just to show off and gawk at. It's more complicated than the current edition of D&D.








Sunday, June 7, 2020

Archive - More Amber Conspiracy Theories

I was toying with the notion of starting an Amber campaign again, and so I went looking through my old Amber stuff, including my old Amber Conspiracy Theory lists... and I realized I had only Archived half of them here on the blog. The others were thankfully still reachable via the wayback machine, but it's probably a good idea for me to repost them here for ease of reference.

Please excuse the frost and the dust, they've been in cold storage for years.

Unicorn as Pet or Pawn
Here's one theory that everybody likes to tell me is crazy. Dogma and Rhetoric, I say! What I'm proposing is that the Unicorn really isn't some godlike primal entity, but is just an ordinary horse with a horn on it's head. Well, not quite. I've already talked about the possibility of redheads or Random faking a Unicorn appearance in The Courts of Chaos.
It's not like Zelazny ever says "it's impossible for a shapeshifter to take the form of the unicorn". (In my campaign, all that stops them is social taboo, religious stigma, and the subconscious. It's a powerful enemy, and they are uncomfortable taking it's form. Sort of like a really religious christian not wanting to walk around dressed satanic imagery)

The Merlin saga really makes a big deal about The Unicorn and The Serpent being gods to the gods, capable of near omnipotence. There's plenty of campaigns out there set after Corwin's saga, but with little or none of Merlin's saga included. So, why must we accept the idea of serpent and unicorn being superpowerful? I've known gamemasters that rule no chaoslords can take the form of the Unicorn, and no Amberite can find a Shadow with Unicorns in them! To each their own, but I see nothing in the canon that says it must be so.
If your campaign is just based on Corwin's saga, there's no need for the serpent to even exist. For that matter, the Unicorn doesn't do anything that we can be sure would be impossible for a lesser being - maybe even for that bird that Oberon makes out of Corwin's blood.
Could the Unicorn be one of Oberon's agents? Perhaps formed from Oberon's blood? Could this magnificent beast just be a lousy 20 point creature? Could the entire religion of Amber be just a fallacy created by Oberon to ensure control of the peasantry via his own control of their God? Could Dworkin just have been crazy (heaven forbid) when he spoke of mating with the Unicorn? Sure, any or all of the above, and it wouldn't be the sneakiest or worst thing Oberon had ever done.
If the Unicorn is just a tool or pet of Oberon's, it makes a lot more sense for it to be pulling the Jewel from the Abyss. Oberon sent it there to do so, and Oberon picked Random. Maybe he thought his kids would be less likely against the imaginary god-horse than they would be to rebel against his own dying wish.

Or maybe Oberon's Unicorn was killed, or captured, and someone who wanted Random on the throne brought in their own shadow unicorn or a shapeshifter to bring the Jewel of Judgement to Random. Afterall, if the Unicorn is really all-powerful, and really has the best interests of Amber at heart, why does it get close enough to snag the Jewel from Brand, but not help innocent Deirdre out of the Abyss?

Hell, maybe there is no Unicorn at all, maybe it's always just been Oberon taking that shape.


Brand's Favorite Rug
So, we’re told that Brand is very sentimental, and didn't kill Corwin because the blood would stain his favorite rug. Does anyone believe this? Brand is a master of Pattern (and more, it would seem) and yet unable to find another rug just like it? Lowly Corwin can pull swords out of trees, but Brand can’t find a quality floormat, or at least a good drycleaners?

At the very least, there’s a story we’re not taking advantage of. If Brand is truly this sentimental, then we should ask ourselves why. Perhaps it was given to him by an old flame, or dear friend long gone. Are they dead, or merely alienated? If they’re this important to him, they must be more than some lame shadowling. If you really want your players to see your campaign as meticulously researched and crafted, come up with the background of the person who gave him the rug. A lady of Chaos? An unseen child of his? Or is it the last souvenir from Brand's favorite shadow-world, long ago destroyed like Corwin's Avalon.

In a more paranoid vein, perhaps there’s something magic to the rug. Maybe it reacts with Blood, shapeshifting to the form of the DNA that touches it. That could explain Brand being in two places at once on several occasions, as well as providing a motive for not shooting Corwin while upon it. Maybe it was a blood-activated trump, an escape route that Brand would be able to use if ever stabbed in his sleep and left to die.

Or maybe Brand just wants us to think that. He knows how suspicious Corwin is, expects that Corwin won’t believe he's that mushy over a piece of decor, and will start meddling with the rug. Perhaps it’s a trap or a curse. But those years in Shadow have made Corwin sentimental, so it doesn’t occur to him just how out of place sentiment is in Brand. In that case, here’s a trap lying about the castle years later for PCs to accidentally spring on themselves...



Fiona's Bad Timing
In Hand of Oberon, Fiona trumps Corwin and leads him to the Primal Pattern. This is after Brand has gotten the Jewel of Judgement, and is almost certainly headed there himself. They arrive a few moments too late: Brand is already on the Pattern, and Corwin has to chase him.

Fiona really cut thru shadow, taking only 15 minutes to reach primal pattern land from earth. But, wouldn’t walking the Pattern of the Mind (a sub-power of Advanced Pattern) have been much faster? Once there, she could have trumped Corwin. They could have talked at the Pattern instead of en route to it, and that speed would have prevented Brand from becoming partially attuned. Is this her error? or Zelazny’s? Or game designer Erick Wujciks? Certainly one of the following must be the case:

Possibility #1: Fiona doesn’t have Advanced Pattern, and can’t walk the Pattern of the Mind. She also doesn't have a trump of Primal Pattern Land. She must have been further away from Primal Pattern Land then the Earth is, so that Trumping Corwin first actually saved her time, instead of costing precious minutes. The problem is, has any campaign ever not given Fiona access to Advanced Pattern? She's definitely better at Pattern manipulation than Corwin, and she seems more skilled than most of the family. She's clearly in the top 4, along with Dworkin, Oberon, and Brand.

Possibility #2: Fiona has Advanced Pattern, but the rules for Advanced Pattern are incorrect, and just too generous for the source material. Walking the pattern of the mind and teleporting needs some other higher requirement. Perhaps to learn to teleport, you have to have actually drawn your own pattern first. After all, the only person who definitely uses this power in Corwin’s saga is Corwin himself, in the final chapters just after he draws a new Pattern.

Even if this restriction is truly the case, there's still a plot hole because a Fiona who can't Walk The Pattern Of The Mind can still probably make Trumps. She must have never painted a trump of that important place, which would seem unlikely. If I were her, and I knew of a primal place of order that three quarters of the family were ignorant of, I’d have painted a card of it years ago. I can't picture her not having done this, especially not if she's engaged in a multi-year strategy to weaken Amber by pouring blood on the Primal Pattern. She just doesn't seem that short-sighted to me.

Possibility #3: So, that leaves us with the ultimate conspiratorial view of Fiona. She planned it. Her timing was intentional. She tricked Corwin out on to the Primal Pattern, expecting him to skewer Brand. As it is, he does stab Brand, and his blood does damage the Pattern further. But, like Brand, she didn’t expect Corwin would know how to summon the storm that carried Brand away.

So, she was still playing the game open ended, willing to let Corwin kill Brand, obliterate the Pattern, and strand himself on the black parts and die. She wasn’t counting on his calling a tornado or using Greyswandir to cut a trail through the damaged parts.

The obvious implication is that Fiona was already attuned to the Jewel and was prepared to make her own universe as soon as Corwin’s suicidal sacrifice was complete. She’s colder than Corwin ever imagined.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Mnemelos Notes

I was sorting out an old harddrive today, and stumbled across this madness:
That was a scan of a prop I made for a LARP I was briefly running. It's the notes of a raving madman, a Narcisist from the Continuum RPG. Those weird mathematical symbols followed by numbers are what is known as Mnemelos Coordinates. They define the cosmological location of parallel worlds, and the energy/vectors needed to reach them.

The prop was not, however, made for a Continuum RPG campaign. It was made for a Changeling LARP that had a lot of cross-pollination from other worlds, settings, and fandoms. Unfortunately, I do not seem to have a scan of the flip side of the document, which contained mostly more insane rambling, along with some functional universe mapping and magical sigils. You can see a little of it bleeding through the paper. I wish I had the other side, but one of the players kept it. It's been a couple years now, so it's very unlikely I will ever see that prop again.  :(

Saturday, May 30, 2020

How To Host The Magician's Dungeon

Some photos from my second game of How To Host A Dungeon 2nd Edition. I'm not planning a full turn-by-turn breakdown this time, because that makes the game take a lot longer.

 Image number 1 is from the end of the Primordial Age. The "Sky Gems" was from the Geographical Inspiration table suggesting that some of the gems on my map were meteorites. My Nexus is Leylines, which I drew real large in hopes that it will provide many Bonus Stars to groups in the Age of Monsters.

 Image number 2 is from the Age of Civilization. This was my first time playing the new Magician's Civilization. There were a few parts in the right up for this Civ that were kind of vague. So be prepared for that, you'll have to make a few judgment calls with this Civ. The vague areas were: Am I meant to have 1 or 2 Magicians at the end of the first turn? If I Build a construction that doesn't use/require a Jinn, should I also build a Vault, or just accept that I may have more than one Jinn might be at the Standing Stone at various points in this Age? Does the Omphalos prevent me from building an Orrery in a later turn? Will the Omphalos be meaningful (or even be a thing at all) later in the game? None of this vagueness here really breaks the game, but it is confusing and murky, and requires you to rule on how it all works mid-game.

Image number 3 is from the end of the Age of Civilization, after the Diaspora, with the three Epic Treasure Tokens hidden, and the location labels unhidden, to make the map more legible.

The Magician's Civilization was pretty neat, in that it had a fun, sprawling construction all over the left side of the map.  I could have easily run it over the right, or the top half, or even the bottom of the map. The player has a lot of impact on how this Civ develops, it's not the mostly automated script of the first edition. Part of that is because the Build list has twice as many constructions on it as you'll ever get to use on a single map, and part of it is because 2nd Ed maps have a lot more resources on them. (And a small part of it is because I included more Strata on my map than the rules-as-written would suggest. Strata #7 on this map set-up seemed way too huge, so I split it up into 3 substrata. When I get to the Age of Monsters, I'm also going to us the left- and right- halves of the surface as different Strata, so that when a Surface Dweller spawns, I'll have a system in place that randomly tells me where they start.)

Aside from being kind of vague and unclear at parts, I was also dissapointed with one tiny aspect of the Magician Civilization. There are two ways it can end: in Diaspora or in Vengeance. Diaspora has zero instruction, and basically just leaves everything empty on your map. Vengeance does this cool thing where a new layer of dust and debris buries part of your map. That sounds awesome! But as written, this will almost never happen. There are 13 constructions on the Build list for this Civ, and you'll only get to pick 6 or 7 of them on a typical map. The Vengeance only happens if you choose 1 specific combo of 7 specific Buildings with no variation from that path. If you pick any one of the other 6 Buildings at any point during this Civilization, then you'll trigger the Diaspora at least 1 turn before you could possibly trigger the Vengeance. There's a little bit of wiggle room if your Nexus or some other result on the map from the Primordial Era has the ability to kill Magicians, but the game tends to skip over death during the Civ phase, and it's kind of annoying and can be quite limiting to carefully set things up to make that work. In the rules, this Civ seems amazing, but in practice it plays out as "merely" very good, but not quite as amazing as the potential implied. Like I said, it's a minor gripe about what is mostly a tiny thing, and it wouldn't have broken the game if I had decided to just dump that layer of dust on the map like I was tempted to do.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Deals With Devils

The theme of my RPG GMing in recent weeks has been "deals with the devil".

In my Savage Worlds / DramaSystem / Deadlands / Brimstone campaign, the PCs have been interacting a lot with a literal snakeoil salesman. Mr Melchizedek's Traveling Emporium of Miracle Cures, Mystic Artifacts, and Scratch-Built Devices. They met him at a crossroads, and the character wasn't on the screen for more than a minute before the players started making "Something Wicked This Way Comes" references, and trying to get him to take off his hat to check for horns. One of the PCs had an in-character reason to want to learn French, and voiced this in front of him. The next morning, when that PC woke up, he spoke perfect French, but no longer understood English.

In my Gumshoe / Night's Black Agents / Dracula Dossier campaign, one of the PCs has recently learned Goetia, the demon-summoning magic (from the Gumshoe Zoom supplement). The PCs did a mini-op to steel the Munich Manual of Demonology from the state library archives, so he can eventually do a deeper-dive into the demony fringes of the occult. Meanwhile, the PCs have also infiltrated one Vampire's web of conspiracies, and (going undercover) have begun taking missions from that Vampire against Edom and other Vampires. So there's a supernatural war going on, and the PCs are helping one particular Evil get one up on other Evils. They seemed a little too eager to get in bed with this particular darkness, so I've taken every opportunity to remind them that he's just the worst. First there was that whole blood sorcery ritual he involved them in with only the faintest nod towards concent. Then the first mission he gave them was a straight-up assassination. When the PCs asked about pay, he produced actual bars of Nazi gold... which, I should mention, he apparently magically summoned to the negotiation by butchering rats in front of the PCs. There's just nothing good about this situation... but, being PCs, they went ahead and did it anyway.

Man, I just realized that "Deals With Devils" would be a great name for an Everway character.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Noisy Season

Got together tonight on Roll20 with an old friend from half a continent away. After catching up (we hadn't seen each other since GenCon) we played 1/3 to 1/2 a game of The Quiet Year. If you haven't heard of it, The Quiet Year is a collaborative map-making game. We're building a community in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's a lot of fun. Here's our map as it stands at the moment:
I like The Quiet Year quite a bit. Enough to buy it on Roll20, despite owning a hardcopy that I suppose I could have just scanned in, or played by drawing cards in meatspace and just reading them into the video chat. It was enjoyable enough we're going to get together next week for the second half. (There's more than half a game left to do, but we spent the first hour mostly gabbing and catching up tonight, so it will probably zip by fast next time.)

The Roll20 implementation is pretty minimalist. It has all the pages of the rulebook as individual handouts, which is great for searching up individual rules, or for splitting up the reading of the rulebook between players. I wasn't completely convinced that Roll20's drawing tools were up to the task, and as you can see our drawings are pretty rough. I gotta say though, it worked well enough and was every bit as fun as in-person play. The Roll20 interface actually sped the game up, because if you had something a little more involved to draw you could fill in details while the other player took their turn. That's not normally a thing you can do when passing one sheet of paper back and forth in the physical game. So in some ways the Roll20 version is better than in-person (speed of play, and being able to play long-distance despite quarantine), and in other ways it is inferior to tabletop (mostly because the drawing tools on Roll20 aren't as easy to use as a box of colored pencils is).

I have always wanted to use The Quiet Year to create a map and history together with a playgroup, and then later set an RPG for the same group in that world we'd created together. It occurs to me that the Roll20 implementation would make it really easy to do that, as well as much easier to tweak that map (or upgrade it with a fancy version) after the start of the campaign. You would, however, then have a few dozen redundant rules-handouts jamming up your journal that you would want to delete or archive.  Even so, that is really cool, and now I really want to try that sometime.

One thing that did disappoint me a little about the Roll20 implementation is the lack of bells and whistles. I had to add the tiny dice as rollable table tokens. For the Contempt Tokens, I had to steal a chip from an old WH40K RPG campaign I ran back in the day. The yellowed paper background was on a single pregenerated page that took a little bit of ingenuity to duplicate to other pages for a second game.
(Addendum: It occured to me a few weeks later that they probably set it up that way intending for you to launch the module as a new campaign each time you want to play, so having multiple pages per campaign wasn't even a thing they considered. I think I prefer to have all the maps from every game of The Quiet Year that I've ever done online all be accessible in the same campaign framework, for ease of reference, and so I can show off old maps when teaching the game to new players. I suppose that preference might change if I do ever get around to starting an RPG campaign with a round of The Quiet Year to make the map for the campaign. You might not want a dozen other maps clogging up your campaign in that situation.) 
All told, it was less than half an hour of work to set up a reusable online version of the game, but if I had just bought it and thought I could start play right away I would have been surprised that I needed to take those extra steps the first time. I don't really know the first thing about how hard it is to build a sellable product on the Roll20 Marketplace, but it seems like it wouldn't be too much to ask for the game to come with a few assets that were selectable from the art library of the marketplace item, such as a set of tiny dice icons (or better yet, a prebuilt rollable token), a themed graphic for Contempt, and the yellow parchment background that you could then drag and drop to start a new page (bonus points if you could use it in other games/campaigns). I wonder if that's possible?

Along those lines, I'm really surprised that the Roll20 interface doesn't really include any generic "glass bead" -style tokens. Maybe they worry that would cut into sales of art assets? It sure seems like it would be useful for any number of gaming applications, but not so cool that people would be willing to pay much for it. But it also doesn't seem like it would take much work for Roll20's staff to make a set of half a dozen colored bead tokens available as a freebie (Edit: Or just one, which the GM could color via the existing token Tint feature), since they already give away for free several dozen virtual miniatures that are way more detailed.

Anyhow, The Quiet Year is elegant, goofy fun, and I highly recommend it, whether in dead-tree or Roll20 version. It's not perfect, but it's definitely worth the modest asking price in either format.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

HtHaD2E: This Close To World Domination

This post covers the last 5 turns of my recent game of How To Host A Dungeon 2nd Edition. In the previous posts, we followed the rise and fall of a Dwarven City, and then a series of dungeon expansions in and around those ruins by successive waves or generations of monsters. Eventually, this culminated in an insectoid species -- known as "Antlings" -- accumulating enough Treasure to trigger the Age of Villainy.



Here is the map as it was when we left off:


Other groups on the map at this point include:
  • A giant Pike that swallowed an Owlbear whole.
  • A small Reclamation Colony of Dwarves, who have built an armory, reignited the old smelters and unearthed an Epic Magical Treasure.
  • A high-level adventurer and his Ork henchman have set up camp in an old Dwarven drinking hall.
  • An ork tribe that was once prosperous and powerful but is now stretched too thin.
  • A warren of sneaky kobold thieves.

Per the rules as written, the Antlings had qualified to start The Empire, which is one of the two main forms of Villainy. Empires Ally and Annex other groups, and build Monuments and Universities. The Antlings are Mindless, so that's not a good match thematically.

Instead, I'll be using the other main form of Villain, which is The Horde. It's a perfect match for a colony of giant ants. (Alternately, I could have just narrated that the Antlings had evolved sentience, possibly a result of the weird fungus they were farming.)

As a Horde Villain, the Antlings will gain some new Actions each turn. Previously, they would Breed and Prepare every turn, and Harvest their Fungus Farm nearly every turn. On turns when they didn't Harvest, they could Explore or Fight. Now they always Scout new territory each turn, in addition to Breeding and Preparing. On turns when they don't Harvest or Explore or Fight, they can now alternately Rout tougher monsters, or sacrifice some of their own to Exterminate groups they outnumber. They always at first at the start of each Round, but at the end of the Round they get a Finishing move of Corrupting the Strata they are in if there's no one there to resist them. If they Corrupt all 7 underground Strata, they conquer the world and win the game.


Age of Villainy Set-Up:
We corrupt the Strata where the majority of the Antling tokens are. Visually, I went for a reddish mycelium growth, as if the Fungus Farm were spreading out of control through the rock.

What follows is mostly a stream-of-consciousness step-by-step playthrough of all 5 turns of the Age of Villainy in my recent game. I will put a summarized list of observations and proposed house-rules in another post later.



Age of Villainy - Turn 1: Antlings Horde, The Experts, Giant Pike, Dwarves, Kobolds, Orkz +Gnolls

Antlings Horde: Breed. Scout action expands their space by roughly 1 room in each direction, which means they fill some but not all of the rooms previously inhabited by the Owlbear, but will not reach the water until next turn. Prepare. Explore the rest of their main corrupted stratum by digging a tunnel towards the Demigod structures.

The Experts: Their monster card compels them to pick a Fight with one of the nearby Denizen groups. They attack the Dwarves, and their Ork henchman dies. So then they Recruit a new henchman from the Orkz, and that's enough of a drain on the Orkz population to eliminate the Orkz.

Giant Pike: Can't leave the water, and the Antlings didn't reach the water, so it just relocates to explore the other part of the subterranean ocean. I mark his original territory with "spawning bed" because I suspect he swims upstream in later turns.

Dwarves: Dwarves are playing a dangerous game. They Exploit the only remaining Ore on the map, which involves reopening passageways very close to the Adventuring Party. So it's in their best interests to Fight the interlopers, which they do, killing the new Ork henchman and leaving just the 1 Adventurer holding the old Drinking Hall.

Kobolds: They are pretty much doomed by their Explore requirement, sweet tooth for treasure, and the extinction of the Orkz. With all those factors, there's no way their mess of tunnels isn't going to hit that Fate Nexus booby trap that's been sitting there since the Primordial Era. Having found their Fate, the Kobolds are wiped out.

Orkz: Were eliminated before they could take their turn.

Gnolls: In the Age of Villainy, new Monsters spawn less frequently. Instead of being automatic each turn, it's based on whether or not any Monster groups were eliminated in the previous turn. Looking at my notes from the last play session, I see that the Owlbear was eaten by the Giant Pike in the previous turn, so I do spawn monsters this turn. It's Gnolls, and they rolled the ocean strata, so I figure the Giant Pike's migration has exposed their seaside home. They fight the Antlings and win, and then they Steal from the Pike. I draw a tunnel to the old Owlbear caves to be the route they use for both Actions. To give the Gnolls just a tiny bit of visual character, I decide all their rooms will have two support columns.

Antling Horde Finishing Move: They haven't yet spread far enough to trigger their finishing move, mostly because I chose to have them tunnel to the Demigod Hall with their Explore action. Next Turn, they'll most likely start corrupting the layers beneath them.



Age of Villainy - Turn 2: Antling Horde, Gnolls, Experts, Giant Pike, +Medusa

Antlings Horde: Breed. Scout in all directions, and drag the treasure they find in the Hall of the Demigod deeper into their nest. It's probably ambrosia or golden apples or something of the sort. They explore further down, penetrating pretty far since the Old Dwarven Loway is open and un-owned.

Gnolls: Fight the Antlings and kill one, cutting off their access to the sea. Breed, since they fought the Antlings last turn. Scout and expand their territory.

Experts: Fight the Dwarves, and with a lucky roll kill them despite the Armory bonus. Then, since it worked with the Orkz, they try to Recruit the survivors. This time it doesn't work, and they just end up giving their last treasure to the Dwarves for no gain.

Dwarves: There's no Ore left anywhere on the map, so they can neither Exploit nor Relocate to better lands. So they pick a Fight. The best odds are against the Antlings, so that's the risk they take, and they win!

Giant Pike: Hunts a Gnoll. Explores a deeper section of the water than was previously obvious.

Medusa: Spawns way down on Stratum 8 where there's no one to Hunt. Prepares. Scouts.

Antling Horde Finishing Move: They corrupt the Stratum directly below the hive, so the Antlings are 2/7ths of the way to world domination.



Age of Villainy: Turn 3 - Antling Horde, Experts, Gnolls, Medusa, Dwarves, Giant Pike,

Antling Horde: Breed. Prepare. Scout. Then they use the Horde-specific Exterminate Action to wipe out the Dwarves. It may seem wasteful or overkill, but the math of it makes sense. That single Dwarf, with his +1 on Fight, had about a 72% chance each turn to kill an Antling. Exterminate is a can't-fail Action that gets to ignore the Dwarves Fortification bonuses.  By wiping him out, the Antlings gain a Fortification of their own, making them much better at dealing with incursions from the Gnolls. Plus, by not Fighting the Gnolls this turn, they prevent the Giant Pike from Hunting them just a little bit longer. This isn't without some peril, as it drops the Antling Population briefly down to 2, before the second half of Exterminate bumps them back up to 3. Their numbers are dwindling, but they've gained a large portion of the map. They are at their most vulnerable for the rest of this turn, but it seems a worthwhile gamble.

The Experts: Fight the Antlings, and almost beat them. The Antlings have to spend their Special Bonus Star (from Preparing) in order to win. They do so, and that's the end of The so-called Experts.

Gnolls: Fight the Antlings, and lose thanks to the Fortification the Antlings have in their territory now. As they also fought last turn, they get to Breed and replace the population they just lost. Scout a little.

Medusa: No one to Hunt. Prepares. Scouts a little bit further up, and reorganizes into the area she scouted.

Dwarves: Dead before their turn comes up.

Giant Pike: Hunt a Gnoll. The Gnolls are in trouble now. If the Pike beats their Initiative next turn, they'll be wiped out.

Troglodytes: Enter in Strata 4. Start exploring a route up towards water. For some reason, I made their tunnels huge and their rooms small. Not sure what I was thinking. I'm pretty I did this part of the turn after midnight sometime last week, so exhaustion or insomnia-dellerium may have been to blame. If I use this map for an RPG adventure, I'll probably claim they worship some giant serpent-god, and this huge winding tunnel is carved in his honor.

Antlings Horde: Finishing Move: Corrupt strata 5 and 6. Now 4/7ths of the way to victory.



Age of Villainy Turn 4: Antlings, Giant Pike, Gnolls, Medusa, Troglodytes, +Starhelm ++Demonic Hordes

Antlings Horde: Breed. Prepare. Scout in all directions, making significant progress in directions where they don't have to tunnel and can just follow existing pathways. They are now approaching the Fate cave from two directions. Before they get there, they Fight the Troglodytes and kill some of them.

Giant Pike: Eats the last Gnoll, and has some Ants for desert.

Gnolls: Have been wiped out before their turn.

Medusa: Kills some Antlings. Then tries to Exploit Nexus, because it's a cool-sounding Action that I do believe is unique to the Medusa. Unfortunately, the Nexus on this map is the very lethal Fate Cave. Exploit uses the exploited resource to create a treasure. The Fate cave must have some reflective surfaces. Perhaps its a crystalline geode cave. She sees her own reflection, and Exploits herself into a statue-shaped treasure.

Troglodytes: There's no ore left on the map to Exploit, and they have a treasure to defend so they don't Relocate. They retaliate with their "Fight a monster that attacked us last turn" against the Antlings, and lose.

Starhelm: Monster groups were wiped out, so I draw a new card to replace them. I get Starhelm, which is a traveling order of Knights who specialize in hunting undead. They spawn in strata four. It's near the end of the game, so I just grab my old Adventurer tokens for them. They're actually more interesting than the other Adventurer groups, and if I wasn't obviously about 1 turn away from the end of the game, I would bother to treat them like a bigger deal. I figure they're too late to really trigger any of the cool things that make Starhelm unique, and it's just easier to use tokens I already have. They will, however, get to trigger their "When spawning" power. They need a foe to defeat, so I have to draw the first Undead monster in the deck and add it to the map. They can't Hunt Undead from their starting location, so they Relocate. They go to the Hall of the Demigod, and Build a Tomb for the fallen Godling. Well, maybe they can actually do a few of their cool Starhelm-exclusive tricks after all. These guys are already way more interesting than The (so-called) Experts.


Demonic Hordes: I was a little surprised to see the "Undead" Keyword on the Demonic Hordes, but in the context of placing an unholy enemy for Starhelm to hunt, it works. I rolled Strata 5, so they burst up from a volcanic rift to another plane. They then immediately relocate to a resource they can Exploit up in the old Gnoll area, blasting lightning-shaped tunnels to get there. In hindsight, maybe they should have gone to the Exploitable water around the Ancient Dwarven Statue, as it's much closer, could be reached mostly by existing tunnels, would slow down the Antling progress, and not run them through such hotly contested territory. However, I didn't think of that until after I'd already carved out the zig-zag tunnels they'd blasted into the landscape, and it was going to be too much work to undo that.


Antlings Horde: Finishing Move: Corrupt strata 7 and 8. Now 6/7ths of the way to victory. In order to extend it into both of the strata, they needed to relocate both of their remaining Population tokens to the frontiers of their expansion. Which is fine and legal, there was nothing requiring them to have a Queen chamber, or keep a Population there. If we want a story justification, perhaps the Queen has a sense that her fate awaits here in stratum 7.


My Villains are now down to just 2 Population, within Scouting range of Fate, and have just one Stratum between them and global domination. One way or another, the game is going to end next turn.



Age of Villainy: Turn 5: Antlings, Giant Pike, Demonic Horde, Troglodytes, Starhelm

Antlings Horde: Breed. Scout into Fate, and meet their doom. They came so close to winning it all, only to doom themselves.

Giant Pike: Eats a Demonic Horde. Explores and discovers a thin river where a surface creek feeds the underground seas.

Demonic Horde: Exploit the water. Breed. Explore - This is taking some minor liberty with the system, but as a sort of combination of their Exploit and Explore, I had them build a big pier or bridge out over the water.

Troglodytes: Just Breed.

Starhelm: Hunt 1 of the Demonic Horde automatically. Then Fight the remaining Demonic Horde and win! The Demonic Horde are wiped out! Which means the Order of Starhelm disbands and leaves the map for quests elsewhere.

Arguably, I should maybe spawn another Monster since there were eliminations this turn, but the game ends at the end of the turn, so it didn't seem worth it.

Antlings Horde Villain: Have been wiped out, so they don't get their Finishing Move... but I just couldn't resist firing off the mycelium corruption affect one more time, at a large scale, centered on the Fate cave.



At that stage, it doesn't look like a very usable map for an RPG, what with all that visual clutter, hardly any monsters, and treasures just piled up everywhere. Surprisingly, it took very little clean-up to get it in a usable state for D&D (or whatever other purpose you might need it for, like the setting of a novel). Once you've cleared the tokens out, all those labels of what used to be in areas become a legend of what is currently there at the start of your D&D campaign. Tweaking the transparency of a few layers, and shifting some a little further down the layer list only took a couple minutes, and let me shift the map into usable territory.



I'm actually really pleased with how this one turned out, there were a few points where I thought I'd ruined it, but layering all those extra greebly details transformed my crappy quick pixel sketches into more than the sum of the parts. Even the crazy coloring I used to designate areas ended up being less garish and awful in the final product that I thought it would.

Sometime soon I will put together a new post with a big summary of all the things that I'd like to house-rule or do differently next time I play. The game was a lot of fun, but the second edition has a few rough edges.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

HtHaD 2nd Ed: Age Of Monsters Turns 5 to 11

This is the turn-by-turn summary of my most recent game of How To Host A Dungeon, 2nd Edition. In this post, I'm covering turns 5 to 11 of The Age Of Monsters.

There's less review in this post than the previous two. I'll no doubt do a big summary post of all my praise, criticism, and likely future house-rules after I've completed the Age of Villainy and wrapped up my first full game of the new edition.


As you'll see below, for many turns the Antlings were on the verge of triggering the Age of Villainy. The timing rules of this game are pretty vague. You could actually make an argument that the Age transition should have happened much earlier, at the end of Turn 6, or possibly 7 or 8 if you correct for a few places where the rules were vague, I made a mistake, or I applied a house-rule. While those earlier turns would have been valid and defensible positions, I held off until it was undeniable that the transition had to happen by the rules. I'm glad I did because it made the final map a lot more complex and rich. This map had gotten off to a slow start because it lacked early mining/building denizens due to random chance, so those few extra turns of development really helped enhance the map.

For those new to HtHaD: This is a map-drawing solitaire game, where each turn new monsters are added to the map and preexisting monsters carve new territory and occasionally fight each other.




Turn 5: Ogre, Owlbear, Antlings, The Experts, Adventurers, + Skeletons

Ogre: Relocate closer to food. Explore more mines.

Owlbear: Hunts 1 Antling. Relocates to the island mouth of the new anthill.

Antlings: Breed. Then fight the last Adventurer, and defeat him before he can Relocate on his turn. This means next turn they'll get to Prepare and then Build a Fungus Farm.

The Experts: There's nothing to fight, so they Explore. I had them Relocate rather than Explore, because Explore would have them just sit around in the corner of the map digging a small collection of new tunnels. It seems like Relocate is what the card should say.

Skeletons: The bodies of all those who died ancient Industrial Accident arise from the waters at the foot of the Statue of Edg (the founder of the previous Dwarven City from the first Age of this map), and Scout around.



Turn 6: Antlings, Experts, Owlbear, Ogre, Skeletons, + Demigod



Antlings: Breed first. Then, because they wiped out the Adventurers, they get to Prepare. Lastly, because they gained a Special Bonus Star from Preparing, they may spend it to Build a Fungus Farm. This is a special room that contains a Fungus Biome that they will be able to Harvest on future turns. Note that at this time the Antlings have reached Population 6. So if nothing kills any Antlings this round, the Antlings will usher in the Age of Villainy.

Experts: Relocate.

Owlbear: Hunts an Antling. Then Scouts down the anthill.

Ogre: Relocates back to his favorite Drinking Hall. Explores a bit more of side branches.

Skeletons: Kill the Ogre, despite his defensive Fortification bonus. They retake the Drinking Hall. With the fresh influx of bones, next turn they will get to Breed.

Demigod: He is a Lawful Humanoid divinity, and spawned in Strata 3 so he was either going to be in instant conflict with the Antlings or spawning over by the lava. I went with the later, and gave him some fancy furnishings befitting his status. He Prepares, then Relocates closer to potential worshippers.

The turn ends with the Antlings back down to 5 population, so I'm not sure if the Age of Villainy is triggered or not. I'm going with "not" because otherwise timing doesn't really matter, and I think that makes for a better game if initiative and sequencing matter. There's a part in the rules where the say what to do if 2 species both trigger Villainy in the same turn, so that implies it's not something that happens instantly or interrupts turn order.



Turn 7: Skeletons, Antlings, Experts, Owlbear, Demigod, + Earthdevils

Skeletons: Because they were drawn first this turn, they take no actions. Sucks to be undead. I think this also means they lose out on the opportunity to make an Ogre skeleton, because of the wording on the card.

Antlings: Breed (taking them momentarily back up to 6 Population), Prepare (getting them a Special Bonus Star), Harvest Fungus Biome (creating a new Treasure).

Experts: Relocate

Owlbear: Hunt an Antling, Scout out another nearby cave (this one has a large column in the middle of it for no particular reason).

Again the Antlings end the turn 1 Population short of Villainy. It may look at a glance like they have 6, but one of those is just the Special Bonus Star they got from the Prepare action. If the Owlbear keeps their population check, it will take them another 4 turns of Fungus-Treasure production to achieve the other type of Villainy.

I'm tempted at this point to have the Owlbear dig and accidentally burst through the floor of the underground sea above him, flooding the antlings. There were some optional rules in the 1st Edition that would handle this, but it's a lot of work and I don't have a better reason for it than fearing the Owlbear-Antling stalemate may grow tiresome eventually.

Demigod: Prepares and Relocates again. Rather than restricting him to the same slow pace as some others, I figured a Demigod could perform Herculean tasks. So he digs a longer than normal tunnel, and builds a gleaming staircase to connect it to the old Dwarven LoWay. He also crafts a perfect golden dome above his home temple. I leave him in a position where Initiative order will determine how things play out between him and The Experts.

Earth Devils: I wasn't sure what to make of the Earth Devils, as they don't really have a D&D analog to base them on. The card says "Earth devils live in angular, asymmetrical chambers that are uncomfortable to other races." So I started drawing spiky outlines down in Strata 8, that I planned to turn into some sort of rocky towers until something magical happened. I realized the frameworks I'd started sketching would actually make really neat sort of irregular crystalline spiderweb stabiles. So I dug through the deck of undrawn monsters in a hurry to make sure that there weren't any actual spiders in there (there aren't). Now I had my hook for Earth Devils: they're more like Ore Spiders. I'll use the Earth Devils name and stats/actions, but just make these huge bizarre webs for them. For the first turn, they don't have the requirements for Exploiting or Breeding, so they'll just scout a route into the rest of the dungeon.


Turn 8: Demigod, Owlbear, Earth Devils, Experts, Antlings, Skeletons, + Dwarves

Demigod: Prepares, then Recruits from The Experts. He gives this adventuring party a gift, and then convinces one of their number to leave their band and become his sidekick mortal companion.

Owlbear: Hunts 1 Antling. Scouts a tiny little dead-end cave just off the antpath. Claws the wall of that cavelet to mark his territory.

Earth Devils: Relocate closer to ore, leaving a trail of web behind them. Can't quite make it to the ore in one turn, so they dig a temporary den near the old Purple Worm nest. (I guess it would have made more sense to have them just build a web in the nest. Oh, well, I've already drawn the side room for them to web.)

Experts: Haven't yet explored the old Dwarven Citadel, so they arguably can't fight the tantalizingly close Earth Devils. They then attempt to rout the Demigod, and fail miserably (not even spending their current Special Bonus Star would help them).

Antlings: Breed. Prepare. Fungus Harvest Biome and dig a small room for the new treasure. Three more turns of this and they'll become The Empire of Villainy.

Skeletons: Fight the Earth Devils, and flub the roll. Half the skeletons are wiped out. At this point, the Skeletons could reorganize their treasures up into the Drinking Hall for free, but I decide buried beneath the waves is protected enough.

Dwarves: A team of Dwarves have come to reclaim their ancestral home. They immediately dive into the surface mine, fix up the elevator and light the fires of the smelter.  Then they get to work exploiting every last scrap of ore they get their hands on. They are briefly at 3 Treasure, before detecting the ant-hole in the ruins. To be safe, they invest 2 Treasure in Building an Armory that gives +1 on future Fight rolls.

Turn 9: Experts, Antlings, Dwarves, Earth Devils, Demigod, Owlbear, Skeletons, + Orkz

Experts: The Experts are underperforming the promise of their name. Last turn, I argued that they shouldn't Fight the Earth Devils, because there was a big unexplored castle in the way. Honestly, that was kinda lame on my part. Nothing actually printed on the "The Experts" card suggests they can't just dig tunnels. It is terribly unfair of me to complain about which Actions The Experts have access to (which I did in my previous post) if I'm not giving them a chance to do some of those Actions and see how it plays.

So this turn, I decide to let them figure a winding route through that big castle to attack the Earth Devils, and I decided to let them roll for two such attacks, since they should have had one from the previous turn as well. Both times, the die they rolled scored 1 lower than the die the Earth Devils rolled. The first time this happens, they can spend their Special Bonus Star from having Prepared, so the Earth Devils lose 1 of their 2 population. The second time, not having the Star to spend, The Experts lose 1 of their 2 population. So both groups are down to 1 Population.

The remaining Expert then tries once again, and fails once again, to Rout the Demigod. These "Expert" guys... *shakes head*

They can at least re-organize to place themselves anywhere in their territory, which I guess means they can hide out in the fort, to get +1 in any future Fight. That's something.

Antlings: Breed. Prepare. Harvest. ETA till Villainy: 2 more turns.

Dwarves: Exploit Ore and use it to Build a Hall to attract a new population.

Earth Devils: They dig a new tunnel to the nearby old Dwarven mine, and Exploit every last bit of Ore from it. It was either dig a fairly large chunk of tunnel, or sneak through skeleton territory, or skip their "Always Exploit Ore" directive.

I think before the next time I play this, I may have to come up with a consistent house rule for how far groups are allowed to dig for the Exploit Action (and other Actions that involve movement or tunneling). It may even become a per-species thing that I list on the Monster Cards.

Demigod: Prepares. Attempts to Extort the Treasure back from the lone Adventurer, but he won't give it up.  The Demigod temporarily loses his Special Bonus Star in the attempt. For his third Action, he tries to Steal the Treasure, and this time is successful.

Owlbear: Continues to snack on Antlings, and Scout small caves in the vicinity. In this cave, he stores all the discarded Antling exoskeletons, after he's sucked out the innards and munched the tender tasty sensory organs. Num!

Skeletons: Fight the Earth Devils, and successfully eliminate them. Earth Devils, especially ones I've decided are Spider-like, won't have any bones, so no skeleton reinforcements. They do, however, get the Treasure: I mean, it's ore-based, and some of it was mined from the old Dwarven property, so if there's ever a Treasure to be coveted by the spirits of angry Dwarves, this is it. Weirdly, this now moves the Skeletons into "first place" as far as being one Treasure away from triggering Villainy.

Orkz: Arrive in Stratum 8. Dig some initial caves, with campfires. Orcish society is organized around campfire stories. Explore and annex passages that had been created by the Purple Worm or the Earth Devils. It is theoretically possible the Orcs could defeat the Skeletons and become the Villains as early as next turn. Initiative order will again be critical next Turn.

At this point I figure out I've been using a House Rule without realizing it. A close read of the rules suggests new monster groups should not be taking actions on the turn they spawn. I've been doing that incorrectly since Turn 2 of the game. I had actually suspected my mistake a few turns ago, decided not to correct it, because in theory this would speed up the game a little. Early on I only had Alphas and Adventurers, so anything to get Denizen groups building and breeding a little faster seemed welcome, plus, it would be really hard to reverse all those maps and take new snapshots, so it's not worth the hassle. But now I've hit an ugly ripple effect that I hadn't considered. It might be weird and anticlimactic if a new species popped onto the map and immediately became the Villain without warning. On the other hand, you could rationalize that as they were already the Villain before they arrived, and their first turn is an invasion. So maybe that's not so bad.

Speaking of Invasions, since the new Spawning rules just place Monster Groups to large vague Strata with a lot of wiggle room, it is somewhat unlikely you would ever actually need the Invasion rules (the rules that govern what happens if a new Monster Group spawns inside the territory of another established group). It could happen, but that either means you decided to force it to happen when it wasn't truly necessary, or it means one of your existing Groups has prospered so much the entire Statum is their active territory. In the former case, if you've fudged things to make that happen you've probably already got a good idea of how you want it to play out. In the latter case, it may seem kinda weird if a civilization big enough to fill an entire stratum got driven out completely by the new upstarts they greatly outnumbered, but there's a 50% chance that's what will happen.


Turn 10: Experts, Antlings, Skeletons, Owlbear, Demigod, Dwarves, Orkz, +Kobolds

Experts: Fight the Skeletons, as find them to be easy pickings. The last Skeleton is destroyed, so the Experts gather up all their Treasure. They reorganize to the Drinking Hall because that seems like a fun place. They then use their newfound wealth to recruit some of the Orkz to their cause.

Antlings: Breed. Prepare. Harvest Fungus for Treasure. Next turn, they become the Villain if no one stops them.

Skeletons: Wiped out by Experts.

Owlbear: Hunt 1 Antling. Scout out a little further afield, and find a new room full of stalagmites and stalactites.

Demigod: Prepare. Tries to Extort the Experts. When that fails, he successfully Steals from them instead.

Dwarves: Exploit Ore. Fight The Experts did not go well, and 1 Population of Dwarves died.

Orkz: Fail to Extort the Experts. Successfully Fight the Demigod, killing his recruited Minion. Then, they proceed to Ally with the Demigod! They cannot attack each other next turn at all, and the Orkz gain a rare Special Bonus Star since the Demigod had Prepared. This may be a magical blessing from the Demigod, who was clearly impressed that they were able to kill his sidekick.

Kobolds: Explore. Prepare. Build Tunnels. As Kobolds do, they are digging lots of narrow tunnels. They survive by traps and thievery.

Turn 11: Dwarves, Orkz, Owlbear, Antlings, Kobolds, Experts, Demigod, +Giant Pike

Dwarves: Exploit ore, and find a Holy Relic: The twin axes of Sedg, the original founder of the Ancient Dwarven City of Segun Rokot!

Orkz: What a turn! Extort cash out of the Experts, and then Fight and kill the Demigod! (Oops! It has been pointed out they should have been under the effects of the Ally Action this turn, and shouldn't have been able to betray the Demigod yet. It's too late to fix that now. I guess these particular Orkz are just hyper-violent.) The Orkz then build Defenses (+1 in Fights).

Owlbear: Hunt antlings. Scout a small underwater cave near the island. I didn't realize it at the time, but this would quickly be their undoing once I flipped over the new Monster Card for the turn.

Antlings: Breed. Prepare. Harvest. They are now at 6 Treasures! Villainy begins at the end of this turn!

Kobolds: Explore, and Steal from Orkz. Theft succeeds but costs the bonus star from both Kobolds and Orkz to resolve. Kobolds always Explore, so they'll likely hit the Fate Cave next turn and wipe themselves out.

Experts: Fight Orkz and win despite the Orkz fortifications. Attempt to Ally with Dwarves but fail. Dwarves are pretty upset about the desecration and occupation of their ancestral city.

Demigod: Was wiped out. His treasure is pretty remote on the map, so I decided not to give it to anyone.

Giant Pike: Spawns in the nearest body of water. Clearly it was a bad idea for the Owlbear to explore that flooded cave. Fights the Owlbear, killing it.






The Age Of Monsters Has Ended
That is the end of Turn 11 of the Age of Monsters. The Antlings have collected the necessary 6 Treasures to launch the Age of Villainy, and become The Empire Villain. More on that next time.

Here is my map at the Transition, without Tokens, and with all the areas labeled in case anyone wants to use it as the basis of a D&D adventure or something. If you click on it you should be able to see it in high enough resolution to be read the labels.