Monday, May 30, 2016

Adventures vs. Soldiers 2 - Weaknesses and Benefits

First - No discussion of soldiers today should begin without some mention of the incredible number of men and women who gave their lives to insure our freedoms today. If you have never been to Arlington National Cemetery (or the equivalent in your home country) you do a disservice to yourself. It is both inspiring and horrifying to imagine the number of people who have died for us. While I pray we may never need to put them into harm again, I know that there are those in the world who believe our freedoms are not ours to keep, and we will again need to rely on our soldiers to protect us and those freedoms.

But this is about fantasy soldiers! OK, in the last post Adventurers vs. Soldiers - Men of Steel or Wheat?, I was going on about game mechanics, but that’s not everything to discuss here. Why should adventurers nearly always defeat soldiers? Well, magic! No, that’s not a cop out answer. Here’s why:

Most commonly a party of adventurers will be well rounded: tanks (aka bricks aka meat shields), mages, maybe a rogue. Soldiers are primarily just fighter types. While the adventuring fighter types are probably a little better than the soldiers, they are also backed up by spells, magic items, healing potions, etc. etc. etc. etc. That’s a huge advantage! Now I often give my military officers some minor magic, because my world has a lot of enchanters, so I think it makes sense. But the rank and file are probably on their own.

Also, soldiers are typically outfitted and trained for a particular style of combat. Adventurers are a bit more of the “adapting to chaos” style. Soldiers in a bar fight are less likely to see a chair, table or full beer barrel as a weapon than adventurers are. An archer unit expects to be able to get off a few flights before the enemy closes, but if the adventurers ambush them, this may not work out so well. Similarly, shield and spear infantry expect to be able to move in formations. If the adventurers can sucker them into battle in a ruined city and keep moving as the battle goes, the infantry unit is going to break formation and lose at least some of their best techniques.

So what do soldiers have going for them? Well, maybe not as much on the battle field (unless they get to choose it), but if you’re role-playing, they do have some great advantages. It may seem odd to start here, but history (even recent history in Egypt) shows us examples of where the military staged a coup and then went on to run the government. Adventurers cannot get the support of the people in that fashion. If adventurers stage a coup, they become “warlords” and you should count on the people being “liberated” by some force within a generation. Now a generation can be pretty long if you’re the warlord, but historically, it just doesn’t work.

But it’s more than just coups. Soldiers (unless the government is unjust - and no, I do not yet think the US government has gotten there yet) have the support of the people. If a soldier were wounded in battle and bleeding to death, if they could do it safely, most citizens would drag him to safety and dress his wounds. They would probably loot a mercenary (adventurer). They would let a soldier sleep in front of their fire on a snowy night, and probably make him breakfast in the morning. There are countless ways that simply being seen as a “good guy” by the people is helpful. Maybe some adventurers can get this (I’m thinking paladins or Robin Hood characters), but for the most part, adventurers are on their own.

Let’s not forget the other side to soldiers. If they lose a battle but escape, they can call for reinforcements. In fact they can probably be replaced by reinforcements (fresh troops). I haven’t seen an adventuring band able to pull of that maneuver yet. It may sound like I’m giving adventurers a lot of advantages and making the solders out to be less effective on the battlefield. I am. If not, why hire mercenaries, other than you don’t want your own soldiers to die. Both have their part to play in your fantasy world, and drawing distinctions between them makes each of them seem far more important when it is their turn to take action.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adventurers vs. Soldiers - Men of Steel or Wheat?

In Team Cap - and why it’s FRPG, I started talking about adventurers vs. soldiers. That’s a key theme both in the role-playing conversations between characters in my campaigns as well as between players outside of the games. So I wanted to get deeper into it!

One of the biggest problems I had with that original game was that adventurers got to be so much more powerful than everybody else, nearly right off the bat. By level 3 a fighter typically had four times the hit points of the common soldier and (I don’t know if this rule is still in those rules) could attack three times in a single round simply because they were common soldiers (level 0). Let me complain about that for a bit, but then I’ll tell you how it might be possible to justify it.

The urban legend when GENCON was still in Kenosha was that hit points were meant to be rolled at the start of every mission or every day. The idea was that you might be feeling poorly or you might have gotten a great night’s sleep and be ready to kick ass. I never used that rule, but I always kind of liked it. I do think that if you rolled poorly that morning, you should be able to get a cure disease spell or something of the sort and get to roll again, but that’s just me using role-playing and not trying to min-max every opportunity.

But it is HP that is the issue. You take a guy with 70HP and he gets cornered in an alley by four city guards. The city guards are packing heavy crossbows which they have aimed at the PC. What does the PC do? He charges them! He has nothing to worry about. He has 70HP and the best they can do is 2-5 x 4 = 20. He slaughters them. Now here was how I played that as a GM (after having that BS happen one too many times): If someone has the drop on you, they get to use the assassination rules. You charge straight into a line of guys planning to shoot you with crossbows, they each get to roll to assassinate you. Admittedly, they are unlikely to get the instant kill, but then they fall back on the “backstab” damage which was at least double. It’s still not enough to stop most guys with 70HP from charging, but even a 1% chance of instant death (multiplied by four guys) should make them think first.

So here’s how I would justify it if I were still playing that game: Think of the adventurers as Jason Bourne or Black Widow. They go flying into the pack, sliding here, dodging there, throwing fists and people around, etc. It is high fantasy, so let her rip. After all, HP is not supposed to represent the physical damage the body can take, but instead how they use their luck and abilities.

But then why is a character supposed to rest for weeks in order to get all of their HP back? Do their skills not show back up again once they catch their breath, or at least first thing tomorrow morning? Shameless plug here, but in Legend Quest, you have a certain amount of damage you can take physically based on your Endurance attribute (your “Life’s Blood”). As you take damage you bleed, fatiguing you and eventually sapping your Life’s Blood even if you do not take additional hits. But those skills and abilities you have are represented by your skill levels, and they are back every turn. So this turn, I can use my shield levels to block an incoming crossbow bolt, use my sword levels to parry a thrusting spear, but still use my Strength attribute to slash at the spearman. Or I can just take the bolt and hope my armor stops enough of it and focus my shield’s parrying against the spear so I can use strength and skills on my sword attack. What’s the difference? Well - You get to decide on strategy. It is better to not get hit than to simply assume you can take huge damage. You also get to use your skills over and over in the day, deciding how it will happen. Look, the HP thing is a simplification of combat, and that works for a lot of people. It just doesn’t work for me, and from our sales figures, it doesn’t work for a lot of people.

But we were talking about adventurers vs. soldiers, right? Yep. The question is: Should the difference between adventurers and soldiers be 70 to 8 or 36 to 30? If you have any respect for the warrior NPCs, I think it has to be 36 to 30.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Official Announcement: Legend Quest Omnibus

We are now confident enough in our release date that we are willing to make the official announcement:

Legend Quest Omnibus Edition will be released October 2016!

So what’s “omnibus edition”? We’ve taken the Legend Quest rule book, Book of Wishes, Optional Weaponry and all of the optional rules that were published in various supplements, city books, and quests and bundled them altogether into one massive book. But wait! There’s more!

We’ve also gone through and clarified rules that either we thought might be a bit vague or we’ve had questions on over the years. We’ve also had the original game designer John Josten go through the entire book and add his comments here and there. He’s been doing this the whole time, and he’s giving you the inside scoop on some of the best strategies for PCs and NPCs as well as how to make the game run smoothly. PLUS!! Optional Rules! Yes, for the first time ever, we’re publishing the optional rules to Legend Quest, previously only seen by the play testers and designers. This means the critical charts and the fumble charts (both combat and magical) will be there as well as all manner of other tweaks these folks have been adding into the game over the years. But they are clearly marked as optional rules, so you can take them or leave them - your choice.

Need more? Well, how many of you have the rules to The Forgotten Hunt? These are in there too - the rules for using Legend Quest in the modern day including firearms, explosives (yes, the blast radius rules), and vehicles. We did leave out the campaign stuff about the modern day dinosaurs, but the rules are in there.

Why now? 2016 is the 25th anniversary of Legend Quest. Yep! two and a half decades of “a real gem of a game, one of the best systems I’ve ever seen”. (That’s a quote from the Dragon Magazine review of the game back in 1992, don’t quote me on the date, but the quote is dead on!) So this is our silver anniversary, but we’re not calling it the silver edition, because we called the digital version the “gold edition” and that feels like going backwards. “Omnibus” is both better and actually descriptive, so be on the lookout for Legend Quest - Omnibus Edition!

Keep watching this blog for news, or go to the Legend Quest page on our website and follow the progress there.

Team Cap - and why it’s RPG

First of all: Team Cap all the way!! No question about it! But why, and how these same principles can affect your RPG: (This is all based on the movie and not the comics. No spoilers!)

First - Team Cap represents personal responsibility, not rule by the Nanny State. Team Iron Man is all about letting other people tell you what to do, but Team Cap is freedom. I think the Watchmen showed us what it’s like when “supers” do the government’s bidding, as did Martial Law. Cap is right - He cannot allow himself to be controlled by the UN and allow them to dictate what he can and cannot do. Let’s be practical here, the UN has Cuba, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE on its “human rights” council. Are these the people who should be deciding when it is a humanitarian effort to go and save someone? (I know, it would probably be the security council, but they don’t seem to have any obviously stupid members at the moment.)

Second - Iron Man is an ass, and not in a good way. Sometimes you need a real @$$hole to make decisions, because they can make the tough calls, but the mere fact that TBolt Ross and Tony Stark think it’s a good idea is enough reason not to do it.

Lastly - Trying to avoid spoilers, even though you should all know this stuff, but ... Cap’s team is fighting for someone that they all know is effectively innocent. Getting angry at him is sort of like destroying a gun after an evil person has used it. The gun was not at fault and had it not been for that gun, the evil person would have found some other way to do what they wanted. So getting pissed at the innocent is what we do now?

How does this affect your game worlds? First, there is a difference between a soldier and an adventurer. Adventurers are far more mercenary. They follow far fewer laws and social conventions. They do as they please mainly because they can. And governments (and others) find them useful for this reason. Just like we still use mercenaries today. Oh, I’m sorry, paid military consultants.

Soldiers are different. Typically you need to convince them that they are right. There are a lot of soldiers in history who chose not to follow orders when they felt those orders were morally wrong. Yet there are a lot of soldiers who did things that today we see as evil, because at the time someone convinced them that it was the right thing to do. With all respect towards our fighting men and women, they are rarely given a choice about the morality of the conflict, but that does not mean that they have not been convinced that it was good or just.

So Team Iron Man wants to actually be super soldiers, but Team Cap (who is the “super soldier”) recognizes that sometimes an army is the wrong tool to use. I believe strongly in personal responsibility and personal freedom. I am actually pretty libertarian in my political views and typically feel that those who do no harm to others should be left to do as they please. I get that Team Cap is ready to take responsibility for what they are doing and make decisions on their own. If Cap kills someone, he should be held responsible. If someone dies while Cap is defeating a wild robot bent on murdering every human in the world, well as much as I may grieve for the families of the fallen, Cap just saved your asses, and gratitude may be the right thing, as opposed to a civil lawsuit.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men or Why you need to know what the loser wanted

In my game world there was a major war, about 25 years ago game time. During this war, the military powerhouse of the continent tried to conquer the rest of the continent. In retrospect, I’ve had difficulty explaining why they failed. I can tell you some of the reasons: I was using a bad game that treated adventurers as gods and “regular guys” (including soldiers) as wheat to be mowed. I was young and wanted the player characters to be so important that they dominated everything. One fireball (and they had plenty) could kill huge numbers of “bad guys”.

OK, well, I’ve retconned a lot of what happened in that pivotal battle, including adding some unknown actions from competing global secret societies (see my earlier post). But part of what I now have to think about is, “What did they think they were going to do anyway?” I mean, they went trudging off to war, expecting to conquer the continent. OK, by my own descriptions, they had ten years to plan the whole thing. Ten years to study the targets, their logistics, and every other aspect of what was going to happen. Admittedly, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, but they would have known that too. Just because I was an ignorant child, doesn’t mean that they should have been.

So now I find myself thinking through what they planned to accomplish. I think it matters, because it should speak to how they prepared and some of the actions they took while doing it. I had always said that they were attempting to take their targets as whole as possible. There was no burning of the crops or salting of the fields. They knew they were going to need those crops to feed their soldiers through the winter. But now I need to elaborate on that a bit more. Now I need to determine how far and how fast they planned to go.

This might seem silly, trying at this point to figure out what they would have accomplished if things had gone their way, but I think it’s important. First, it needs to be logical that they would have taken the actions that they did. Otherwise the entire city is run by morons. Also, by knowing what they thought would work, and what actions they took to get there, I will better know exactly how they were as they retreated. One of those things is that I have frequently gone back and forth on whether or not they had provisions on their way home. If they planned to hunker down in their newly conquered territory and then reap the harvested crops of that region, they may not have had ample stores. If they planned to keep moving, that go-go-go attitude would have needed to have been fueled by even more supplies. This matters because as I write the recent history of the small towns and villages they would have encountered on their retreat, I need to know how desperate the soldiers were. If they were starving, they would have attacked villages, whether or not they could easily win. If they were properly outfitted, discipline would have been better.

It also matters for those cities that would have been attacked. They now owe a debt of gratitude to the small city that held off the huge army. Politics and attitudes would be completely different if it became know that a particular city was next on the list and would have fallen shortly after. That does affect the game world.

It also matters because the folks back home would have been expecting certain things from the attacking forces. Would they have already been lining up replacement horses for cavalry units, expecting to deliver them in the spring? Would they have been manufacturing arrows? Which cities were they going after and what preparations were being made? One of the cities they did take is on a river, and is upriver from another major city. Were they planning on going after the huge coastal trade port that same year? the next year? Were they building barges? I think these are pretty important things to know, because they can have ramifications. And why do I care about ramifications? Because ramifications lead to missions!

What missions? If they had built barges (they didn’t, but if they had), then they would have tapped the lumber from that area for that season as well as leaving barges lying around. That might have led to any old guy getting his hands on a military barge and becoming a river merchant, or maybe a river pirate. If they were starving on the way home (and clearly some would have been), they would have raided villages. So now personal treasures and perhaps slaves are back at the home city and there are villagers who will want them back. (Think Nazis stealing art treasures.) A less disciplined retreat also means an army stretched across miles and miles of terrain, an army where pockets can be defeated by clever ambushes. That means fewer soldiers returned home and the home army needed to work quickly to build back up, especially if they were expecting a retaliatory strike. More, it means that ambushed squads would have been looted and those weapons and armor are now available in black markets across the entire region, instead of just in the attacked city. Maybe some of the soldiers traded their equipment for food. What happened to the deserters? If the aggressors never intended to attack a particular city, then the deserters might be more welcome there, or at least not outright attacked. If it is known that a particular city was the next target, they would treat any deserters as enemies of the state.

This is just one example of how knowing what the plans were will help you see how it affected the world. I wish I had been smart enough thirty years ago to have thought through all of this, but I didn’t. Older and wiser now. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes instead of making your own.