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.

HtHaD 2ndEd: The Age of Monsters!

The Second Edition of How To Host A Dungeons features a radically different system for the Age Monsters. As with the Dwarven Civilization, the changes seem to maximize the variability and replayability of the new edition. Monsters are now on a deck of (print and play) cards, and each has their own list of behaviors, rather than falling into broad categories of monster with the same AI. The player also has a lot more control over monster behavior, which is both good and bad. It makes it a better tool for telling a story or creating just the dungeon layout you want, but those improvements come at the cost of being slightly less of a game.

At the start of the Age of Monsters, you shuffle all the monster cards, and deal out three for the first turn. I got two Alpha Monsters: a Worm and an Ogre. My third "monster" is a roaming party of 4 adventurers.

There are zero treasures on my board. None of the monsters I drew on the first turn start with any, and none of the choices I made for the Dwarves created any long-lasting Epic Treasures, either. None of these creatures Exploit ore, either. This means it will take many turns to trigger the Age of Villainy by Empire, and also in the early game a lot of Actions the use or target treasure won't be available.

The new rules really don't keep track of territory and range, and how far a monster can move is left up to your judgment. For this game I'm assuming they can move about the length of 1 finger (as measured in the previous system) if there's a clear, explored path with no intervening dangers. If they have to explore or tunnel, they'll get a lot less distance in a turn. This assumption works well in some situations, and in others it just kind of dragged out the game. Having played most of a game now, I think the rules actually intended there to be no range limitation, with no one ever failing to get where they wanted to go in a single turn. That's implied by the Relocate text, and probably would have made for a more exciting and shorter game. I wish the rules were more overt about that.

I also wish there were more subtypes of "Relocate" because it is used a little too broadly. There are a number of Monster cards that use one of Relocate, Scout or Explore that feel mislabeled. A party of Adventurers probably shouldn't be digging tunnels or really claiming territory at all, so it seems like the game would benefit from them having a movement Action that was different from Explore or Relocate. It's particularly egregious on The Experts, who as written sit in one place and dig new tunnels every turn. This bugged me so much that I ignored the rules as written for both Adventurer groups that showed up in my game.

I also wish there were more subtypes of "Relocate" because it is used a little too broadly. There are a number of Monster cards that use one of Relocate, Scout or Explore that feel mislabeled. A party of Adventurers probably shouldn't be digging tunnels or really claiming territory at all, so it seems like the game would benefit from them having a movement Action that was different from Explore or Relocate. It's particularly egregious on The Experts, who as written sit in one place and dig new tunnels every turn. This bugged me so much that I ignored the rules as written for both Adventurer groups that showed up in my game.

If you're just here for the review and house-rule suggestions, you can 

Turn 1: Initiative: Worm, Ogre, Adventurers

Worm: Digs towards the nearest water in search of food and a spot to nest. The lateral route opens up into a big ol' cave of lava from the Primordial era, so I reveal the nearby parts of that cave and then he changes direction. He doesn't get far enough to do any other actions on his list.

Ogre: There's nothing to eat in the old Dwarven drinking hall, so he relocates to a nearby room. He confuses the old bronze "impossible engine" for a big egg, and sets up camp there. He explores a little further down, but returns to the egg. To eat it now, or wait for it to hatch? That's a big think for the ogre.

Adventurers: Looking for adventure, they head down a mine and an old rickety elevator. They don't get far enough to accomplish anything more beneficial, and none of the follow-up actions are applicable.

Turn 2: Ogre, Worm, Adventurers, + Owlbear
Ogre: Gives up chewing on the bronze aeolipile and moves the banks of the small underground lake. Throws rocks at the old dwarf sculpture for a while, but can't figure out how to kill or eat it. Explores a bit of tunnel after he runs out of rocks.

Worm: Heads closer to the water. Because of my not initially understanding that there's intentionally no range limit on Relocate, the Worm didn't get as far as he probably should have.

Adventurers: Relocate to deeper in the dungeon. Again, probably should have moved further.

Owlbears: An Owlbear wanders in from the grasslands of the far left edge of the map, and moves up into the hills. There it finds a cave to use as a den, and scouts by digging to open up access to the nearby underground sea.

Turn 3: Worm, Owlbear, Ogre, Adventurers, + Antlings

Worm: Digs until he finds water, then builds a Nest. Routs the Ogre, driving him back to the Old Dwarven Drinking Hall.

Owlbear: Relocates to an island in the underground sea. Scouts around a bit, subsists on small blind cavefish.

Ogre: Hunts and eats of the four adventurers. Then he scouts out an escape route, since he's trapped between two opposing forces.

Adventurers: Have no good way to deal with the Ogre, so they relocate closer to the surface.

Antlings: Start with 3 Population, and our first Treasure of this Age. The giant ants Breed, then Explore towards the ruins of Segun Rokot.

The addition of the antlings to the map has made it all a lot more interesting. Exactly what happens next turn will matter greatly upon the initiative order in Turn 4.

Turn 4: Adventurers, Owlbear, Worm, Ogre, Antlings, + The Experts
Adventurers: Hear some noise in one of the old Dwarven vaults, and investigate. They pick a Fight with the Antlings, and lose.

Owlbear: Relocates from the island to the far shore. Scouts out some of the smaller caves at this end of the cavern, and discovers an opening to the surface.

Worm: Follows the scent of the Ogre, and short-cuts through the giant bronze tubes of the ruined Dwarven hydrothermal system. Despite bursting up from a floor grate in the Ogre's fortified lair, it fails to rout him a second time.

Ogre: That worm should have left him alone. Most creatures in the game with a Hunt action specify that it can only target Denizens or some other specific category of target. The Ogre's "ravenous hunger" implies the lack of targeting requirements is intentional on this creature. Since he wasn't routed, he turns the tables on the worm and devours it. After a nice meal, he Explores another possible escape route in case anything else ever bursts up from the floor of his home.

Antlings: Breed. They fight the Adventurers, and kill 1 of them. They then Explore, digging a tunnel all the way to that island in the sea.

This is actually something of a mistake on my part. When their Fight action finished, it should have ended their turn. By the time I realized it, I'd already drawn a big ol' tunnel on the page, and didn't want to delete it.

As you'll see in a future post, the existence of this Tunnel is what slows down the Antlings from becoming the Villain, turn after turn, and prolongs my game significantly. Little things can have huge ripple effects in How To Host A Dungeon, and that's kind of cool, even if it was brought to my attention because of what seemed like an innocuous mistake on my part.

The Experts: (These are a type of Adventurers, so I'm using the same color tokens for them, but technically if the two groups somehow meet, they aren't necessarily allied.) The Experts arrive in strata 4, so I have them enter via the old Dwarven Loway. Technically, they Explore this turn... but that seems like it should be some version of Relocate instead, so I'm treating it more like that. It doesn't really make sense for them to sit still unless they lose a fight, or to start building their own dungeon.

That's the end of the Fourth Turn, and we've had our first eliminations of the Age of Monsters. The Purple Worm was devoured by the Ogre. The first Adventurer group was reduced to just 1 Population, so they'll be Relocating off the map at the start of their next Turn.

This seems like a nice moment for a few observations about the new edition. I love the idea of the "Monster Cards" providing different actions and priorities for each species. I like the way the initiative changes turn by turn and am pleased with how easy the card system makes it to know what part of the turn I'm on if I get interrupted and come back later. That's all pretty great.

However, the actual particulars of the Monster Cards themselves often leave a lot to be desired. They really could have benefited from some serious proofreading and blind playtesting. Here are a few things that seem really weird to me:

The rules for Fortifications and special bonus stars are inconsistently applied in the descriptions of the various Actions, so it's not easy to reference during play, and it can be hard to be certain if they are meant to apply to certain Actions or not. I think the intention is that Stars can be spent on any Conflict, but Fortifications only boost Fights (which are a type of Conflict). It seems strange to me that having Built some sort of fortress does not give you a defensive bonus against Extort, Hunt, or Steal.

Ogres should say "Hunt anything" if that's what is intended. One word (literally "anything") would have made it crystal clear, but without that I'm left wondering if it's really supposed to be able to kill other Alpha Predators or not. Compare that with the Owlbear, who has the same "always Hunt" but no statement about great hunger. Both of them have another way of dealing with Alpha Predators, so if it was intended that they can't eat Alphas, they still have things worth doing when they have an Alpha neighbor. Mechanically, it's going to be rare that they gain more from Ally or Trade with an Alpha than they would if they Hunt them, so it makes me wonder if maybe in some earlier edit of this edition the Hunt Action could only target Denizens.

Antlings should have Scout instead of Explore, or maybe have both options on their list. Scout would create tunnels that look more like an Ant farm, full of side passages and growing in every direction. At the start of this game, it felt like maybe Antlings could Breed too fast.  I eventually learned that their speed-breeding can be held in check by a single Alpha, so it's not game-breaking, but that brings up another question. Why don't Antlings have any way of driving off or killing an Alpha Monster? In the real world, ant colonies regularly swarm and devour creatures larger than themselves. Before my next game, I may give them another option that is a weakened version of the Swarm from the Horde Villain in 2nd Ed. Sacrifice some Population to Hunt or Rout an Alpha. Next time I play, I may make them "Always Scout" and "If we have killed a monster token this turn, Breed and Prepare." Then give them another option on their list of "Pupate: Requires * / Breed". That would keep them from popping up in a quiet corner of the map and triggering Villainy before even meeting their neighbors.

The Experts should have Relocate instead of Explore. As written, they just keep digging and expanding their territory instead of moving. That's so weird I ignored the instructions and made them behave more like Adventurers.

Why do owlbears Trade? It doesn't really break anything, but it doesn't make much sense, either. In general, the Owlbear card just confuses me. I get the Lords of Waterdeep joke, but there's a lot of strangeness on this card, and the particulars match neither D&D lore nor the Waterdeep boardgame. Scout has them drawing new caves nearly every turn: that seems more like what the Antlings should be doing. Trading with Alphas, and Ally with Animals don't really seem in-character for this species.

The system in the 1st Edition (all printings) had you start the Age of Monsters with 1 Delving Group, 1 Breeding Group, 1 Alpha Predator, and 1 Surface Kingdom. 2nd Edition does nothing to guarantee such a starting mix, and it suffers for it. I may have gotten a fluke in my opening draw, but having a Dungeon with 2 Alphas and some Adventurers makes a weird dynamic. Things started slowly, and many potential Actions were pointless or impossible for the first few turns. I also really miss the Surface Kingdoms. Next time I play, I may change the set-up for the Age of Monsters to call for specific types the way that 1st Edition did.

The next post will cover turns 5 to 11.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Lifespan of a Dwarven Civilization

Here's a turn-by-turn recap of my second session of my first map of the second edition of How To Host A Dungeon. That was a mouthful.

Below is the tale of the growth of a tiny Dwarven settlement into a sprawling underground city with hydroelectric plants, elevators and a fortress keep.

My previous post covered the world set up, geological strata, and Primordial Age.

When I've finished this map, I'll share the final version in a post of its own, and a brief review of 2nd Ed or summation of the changes between editions. The post below is a pretty rough stream of consciousness of the second fifth of a game.

The founding of the settlement of Segun Edg

The dwarves start off with an entrance from one side of the map to the nearest ore. I almost screwed that up, because in 1st Edition the dig a shaft down from above the ore. I could have started my digging from the far side, and put the core of the colony in the middle of the map.

 The brown circles with a "D" are Dwarven population. The white circles are Treasures.

Year 1 - or, I guess it's just Turn 1 in the second edition. A new dwarf population token shows up, then the dwarves immediately mine the nearby ore deposit, netting a treasure token. I know from 1st Edition, that I should be building new rooms to house these. Which is good, because it took some hunting for me to find any indication of that in the rules. (It's on page 7, by the way. All the dwarf-specific instructions are page 14 and 15.) Hard for me to be certain if that's actually confusing for new players or not, but since the "build" section under dwarves doesn't mention it, I think there's at least a small chance this will bewilder the noobs. In first edition it was spelled out clearly on the page about the Dwarf civilization.

I draw in a mine, a dormitory and a vault. Then I get to the build section. Based on my 3 population, I can now build either a tomb or a workshop. That's new. In 1st Ed, Dwarf settlements followed a single scripted path, and were really only different based on the shape and placement of other features on the map. As discussed in my previous installment, the 2nd Ed map has twice as many features, so even if it was the same formula 2nd Ed would probably get slightly more variety. To my distinct pleasure, I see that every turn of Dwarf civilization I'll have a meaningful choice to make about what they create with their Build action! Right there, that's a huge advantage in the favor of the 2nd Ed. So I extend a tunnel up a level and draw in three little workshops in a row.

Turn 2 - You know what, I'm probably just going to call them years. Year 2. I liked that they were years in the previous edition. New Dwarves go into new dorms directly above the workshops. There's another ore vein right next to the workshops, so they Exploit that. I copied over my little mine doodle from the other space, and tweak it a little to better fit the shape of the second ore patch. And then I just kept doodling and put a little elevator in the tall shaft. It's not anything official from the game, but it seemed like a fun little detail to scribble in. I come around to build, and now have a choice between four different buildings that I qualify for. This is definitely more interesting than the first edition approach to this stage.

I chose a fortified Drinking Hall. The Dwarven lore on page 15 explain it is fortified to seal in drunken belligerent dwarves until they've vented their anger on each other. Nice touch. This counts as a fortification that will have mechanical impact in later eras, which the main reason why I chose it. The rules instruct us to mark the fortification with a chevron, so I put one on a banner between the crossed axes and coat of arms on the walls of the drinking hall, just below the giant kegs of booze.

Year 3 - The new dormitory is directly attached to the Drinking Hall, perhaps it's the barkeeper's apartment. Rather than build another generic vault, I decided that there's no reason why I can't just store the new treasure in one of the giant kegs in the hall. Perhaps their treasure is fine Dwarven spirits.

Population is at 5, so I've got a lot of options for the Build phase, and it's possible my choice here might unlock additional buildings for later turns. 2nd Ed is pretty great. I am feeling far more engaged right now than I ever would have been at this point in the old system. I choose the Power Plant, because it unlocks some fun stuff for later, and because this gives me a justification to go in an unexpected direction, nadir to the underground lake. Waterwheel and archimedes' screw, coming right up! The main conduit runs straight to the drinking hall, because that's the obvious heart of the colony.

Year 4 - Put the new dorm half way to the new mine, and added a shortcut direct to the Drinking Hall. Seemed like such a crossroad would be a good place for a house. A second Treasure went in the Drinking Hall since it's clearly doing good business. With 6 Population and a Power Plant, I had unlocked the option to Build the Underground Highway. At first I sketched it out as just a straight cut all at one elevation, and it was both boring and hard to accept as the output of one year (or other arbitrary time unit that corresponds to the time needed to build some workshops or a drinking hall). So I figured they'd probably save construction effort (at the cost of travelers having to go up a lot of stairs) by cutting along the banks of the lake, and using the pre-existing primordial tunnel for a long leg of the highway. This necessitated increasing the elevator from a few turns ago, so the dwarves would have access to their new road.

Year 5 - New mine where you'd expect it. Dormitory down by the power plant for staff. For the optional build choice we get a fortified citadel. I put it on the highway, so that it defends the civilization from anything that might come up from the caves. Like the drinking hall, this gives bonuses in combat, which are definitely not going to happen before this civilization dooms itself. But, again, this is establishing details that will improve the second half of the game.

Year 6 - The dormitory this time goes over near the citadel, as a barracks for reserve troops. I decide the next nearest ore is just barely within range for the Exploit action, and place a new mine. First edition was a lot more precise about how far they could tunnel, and that's one area I preferred in the old system. Second ed is less precise, and while it's great that leaves a lot of creative control in the player's hands, it also makes it less of a game.

During this Build phase, they officially become a City, and so I get to place some big landmark. I go for a huge statue of one of the founding fathers of the colony, partially submerged in the lake to show the superiority of Dwarven engineers and their ability to rise above the water. I expand the name to make it sound more impressive. Deciding Rokot is some Dwarven word for city or fortress, and relabel this end of the map The Dwarven City of Segun Edg Rokot. I also change the font to white, because that's the color of treasure and these industrious little dwarves have earned it.

Year 7 - They get to exploit the last ore, opening up a surface pit mine, and building nearby barracks. This year's treasure is stored in the great citadel fortress, representing a concentration of wealth to the military as access to the surface raises tensions.

They Build the Impossible Engine, which I make look like an enormous aeoliopile, The special effect of the Engine is that it gives them an immediate free build. For that I create a Furnace that will allow them to Exploit all those trees they're cutting down on the surface. This also helps decentralize the city a bit more, which will make its ruins matter more in later eras.

At this time, I realize I'm starting to really like this map, and I feel bad about "Segun Edg" being such an obvious "Second Age" / "Second Edition" riff. Like, if I wanted to use this as a D&D World, my players would probably make fun of the name, or it might undermine immersion. I'd already added "Rokot" to the end, so I just drop the "Edg" part and relabel it The Dwarven City of Rokot. It's a work in progress, okay?

Year 8 - This is guaranteed to be the final turn of the Dwarves. More about that in a moment, but first I have new dormitory to place, which I put on the upper west road between (but not too close to) the various mines. There's no major ore deposits left, but thanks to the Furnace, they can burn the forest biome for treasure. So I add another treasure vault near there as well, just off the elevator. Here's a picture of it with all the various tokens in place.

Now on to the end of civilization as we know it.

In the 1st Edition of the game, the Dwarven civilization almost always ended with the Dwarves "They Delve Too Deep" action, which has them dig a hole straight down off the bottom of the map. Since we have a Fate cave, they might alternately tunnel into it and die off early, but this was really rare, and only happened if your Fate cave's random position was really close to an ore source or you fudged the results a little to make it happen. It was also technically possible to run out of ore and have a slow population collapse, but I don't think I've ever actually seen that happen.

Dwarves are no longer as linear and predictable. In 1st Ed, especially the first printing, you could predict the entire map, course and end state of the Dwarven Civilization by just roughly measuring how far they were from a couple of features (like the bottom of the map). I actually had built a spreadsheet to calculate it so I could me skip the first few years, because it was far less interesting once you'd done that part once or twice. It would always end with Delving Too Deep, but there was never a Balrog payoff. *sigh*

In 2nd Ed, Delving Too Deep or hitting a Fate cave are still possible. But there are also two new options. If you built a powerplant, you can unlock the Industrial Accident event, and if you built a Smelter you can unlock The Dwarf War event.

We built a powerplant, so I figured I would try out the Industrial Accident. It says "Draw destruction and waste. Wreck stuff." So I did. The aeoliopile has broken free and fallen in it's chamber. The power wheel is blown off and sunk beneath the lake. There's some tunnel areas blasted open because of some high-pressure explosion, and the old east elevator is destroyed. I erased most of the ore from the mines as well, showing that they were mostly depleted by the dwarves, and possibly looted a bit as society crumbled.

I probably could have made the disaster more widespread and messed up the map worse. Next time, I guess.

So that's the Age of Dwarves for 2nd Edition How To Host A Dungeon. Here's a quick recap of what I thought about the new material.

Things I really liked about (this part of) the second edition:
  • The Primordial Age has about twice as many interesting things on a typical map in the new edition.
  • The geographical inspirations page has some neat stuff on it, and I wish I'd noticed it in time to incorporate it more.
  • Dwarves are no longer as linear and predictable. The Dwarves had been the most tedious part of the game before, and now they're much more fun. It's probably impossible to get every room type on the map at the same time, so I think the Dwarven replayability is higher.
  • I felt a lot more invested in this colony, and towards the end started actually making my little scribbled rooms a lot more interesting instead of just rushing through them.
  • The new ways the Dwarves can collapse are fun. An industrial accident has the potential to really change your drawing. My devastation was on the small side, I probably could have justified much larger craters.
  • Even though my colony started way over on the side, it impacted more of the map than is typical for 1st edition. The Dwarves changed the surface, and built a huge underground road that will be useful in later Ages of this map.
  • The ability to theme your colony to fortifications or epic treasures is pretty cool, and may have subtle impact in later stages.

Things I liked better in first edition:
  • Calling the turns Years, and further subdividing them into seasons where seasonally-themed things happened. That part felt a little more immersive in 1st ed.
  • Exploring and tunneling distances were spelled out more precisely, and easy to find on the page about Dwarves. This appealed to me on a gamist level, as well as appreciating the clarity. HTHAD already had a lot of fudge factor, and now that's amplified in 2nd Ed. There were two turns where I dug a really long tunnel to get to the ore, and while that seems to be allowed in this edition, it's a little vague and felt cheap. More often than not, I'd rather there be a random die on the scale than my thumb on the scale.
  • There used to be a short "The Great Disaster" phase immediately after the collapse of a Civilization. While it didn't always line up thematically with the Civilization-specific endings (which as noted above are much better in this edition), it was a nice unpredictable way to shake up the map between Eras. I miss that already, and may house-rule it back in next time. If I had noticed it was absent from this edition, I may have made my Industrial Accident have larger effects on the map.

Things I would have liked to see change, but didn't:
  • In general, I would like to see more conflict in this early stage. The Dwarves built fortifications, and could have built a tomb, but Primordial Beasts are so rare that it's almost guaranteed these buildings won't use their special mechanics until after the Dwarves have left the map. That's a shame.
  • It's a small thing, but I still really wish the "Delve Too Deep" event would put a Balrog (or other Alpha Predator) on the map.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

How To Host A (Second Edition) Dungeon

As long time readers of this blog may recall, I really like the little solo-game / drawing project / dungeon creation tool called "How To Host A Dungeon". So I was excited to learn that a second edition had recently been published. I picked it up as part of the Bundle of Holding Solo Games collection that is available for a short while longer at

The original was lots of fun, and the only real criticism I had for it was that it could get a little repetitive if you weren't actively mixing it up with your own content (or cool ideas you saw at The Dwarven Civilization and Dark Elf Civilization in particular tended to always produce very stock results with rules-as-written, and as a result the first third of the game could be a little dry after your third playthrough.

New content sounded great, so I picked it up and dove right in. Quite a bit has changed.

Right off the bat, one thing that's very different is the strata. The old version had you determine the location of landmarks in your primordial era by rolling dice onto your drawing. The number rolled determined what you were placing, and the spot the die stopped moving at set the location. This was a really fun system, but also felt kind of rigged. I played most of my maps digitally, so I had to kind of cludge a fix for it by numbering a grid onto my page. The new system gets rid of the "where the die lands" mechanic, and subdivides your map into geologic strata. You then roll up one primordial theme for each stratum. This is clean, and simple, and makes sure the resources and traps are evenly distributed across the map. So far, I think it's a pretty good system. With the old system is was possible to end up with all the interesting stuff packed into one little corner of the map sometimes, and that wasn't great. This seems like an improvement, and the lip-service to geology is a nice touch. The random strata structure I rolled was pretty simple and feels realistic enough.

For the primordial era of my first map of 2nd Ed, I only rolled things that could have come up in the 1st Edition as well. Likewise, my d20 roll for a nexus resulted in just the classic "fate" cave from 1st Ed. I was a little bummed at first, because I want to see the new stuff, like underground biomes.  I guess that saves some surprises for my second play through. It also gives me an opportunity to really compare the mechanisms of the two editions instead of just geeking out over new content. That focus on mechanical differences eventually won me around to accepting the rolls I'd made for the purposes of review.

My dice got streaky, and 3 of my 7 underground strata had magma features. These then involved rolls on sub-tables that filled in details of what sort of magma or water features I should draw. I got a magma river, a large lava pool, and a huge chamber with multiple smaller magma pools in it for the hot layers. I purposefully downplayed the magma river because I was concerned that three strata full of lava might not leave me enough playable space. Since I took the step to minimize it in drawing, I will no doubt roll nothing but Fire Elementals and Dragons who could have happily set up condos on that lavafront property.

Likewise, due to streaky dice, 2 of the 7 had water features. One water layer had a single large underground lake, and the other had a huge underground sea that was supposed to fill most of the stratum. I split the later into two parts with a narrow channel and a waterful, partly because it seemed like a fun little thing to draw, and partly so that half my surface map wouldn't be cut off from all the underground fun.

I like the ore entry that I rolled, that placed it in scattered clumps across a single stratum. That seems way better than the single large triangle of ore you'd often see in 1st ed. For my caves entry I rolled a single long tunnel.

For the surface strata, I rolled up three distinct biomes. So I stamped in a forest on one side of the mountain, and grassland on the other.

I planted the lethal nexus Fate cave just south of center of the map. In the middle so there'd be a chance of it wiping out civilizations, but far enough from the surface that it wouldn't do so too early and spoil the fun. This definitely seemed far better than the old system where I sometimes got Fate caves in remote corners of the map. Being restricted only in which strata to put things, and not where within the stratum seems pretty great. For the moment, I like how it balances the randomness with some player agency. I could, however, see how it might lead to very... I don't think "abusable" is the right word... some situations where the random pressure fails to manifest at all and player authorship steers the game with a heavy hand. I guess we'll see how it turns out.

Speaking of seeing, here's the shape of my map just before the dawn of civilization. It's not much to look at just yet, but I'm sure there's fun stuff coming up.

Another obvious point of comparison to 1st Edition is the number of things on the map at the end of the Primordial Age. In the previous edition, at this stage your map would almost always have exactly 3 features on it. Now, it will have anywhere from 7 to 9, and that seems like a huge improvement to the interest and variety of the map.

One thing I didn't make much use of was the "Geographical Inspirations" page in the new rules. It comes after the other strata information, so I'd already drawn everything before I even noticed it. It may have but more flavor in my magma sites, and a different color and a bit of story to my ore. I kinda wish I'd done that, but I don't wish it enough to undo what I've already saved. It's technically possible to get nothing but boring generic rolls on that page, so I'm not technically diverting from the range of possible results for 2nd Ed. I don't think it's badly skewing my experience or review, but I kinda wish I hadn't missed it. (Note to self: read ahead next time.)  Next map, I'll roll on that for each stratum before drawing anything, and see if it makes things more exciting.

Speaking of drawing, here's a few technical details of how I'm doing this. I've got Corel painter booted up because I don't do enough art to justify Adobe's pricetag.

I dropped in a background layer of light brown to be the barest, clearest dirt and rock in spots where caves and tunnels exist. I then copied that brown into a new layer directly on top of it, paint-bucketed it to a darker tone, and then set that darker layer down to 50% opacity. The plan is that each new age I'll drop in another layer on top, also at 30% to 50% opacity, and carve out with the eraser any tunnels or caves. This will preserve layered history, much the way the default rules assume you'd be doing with tracing paper. I'd used this method before (but with a different piece of software) and been happy with the results. The unmined areas should be much darker in the final layer.

To make the surface not quite so boring, especially in the early stages, I dropped in a rocky texture on the first half-opacity layer. I don't know if I'll preserve that through to the final version of the map or not, but at least for now it makes all the empty rock space more interesting than just a boring brown rectangle.

For the water and magma I hand painted in two or three tones. Scribbled, really, then did a glass distortion or marbling effect over it to mix the colors and create waves. Instant water! (Directions from the box: just add contents of this package of instant water to real water, and stir.)

It took me a little while to get things set up last night, so that's all I've got for now. I'll work on another layer or two tonight and report back in a few days when Dwarven Civilization has collapsed.

Monday, April 6, 2020

I can take that suspicious corkboard off my wall.

Just about have my Night's Black Agents: Dracula Dossier RPG campaign converted to online play via Roll20. Character sheets, handouts, "murder board" Adversary Map, the whole enchilada. Excited at the thought of getting to play again soon.

Not sure what I'll do with all the space this will free up in my living room. Maintaining a corkboard with NPC photos pinned and connected by colored strings has been a hallmark of my home for over 2 years. For once I won't be afraid to have my landlord drop by... well, I mean... except for the fear of contagion and quarantine.