Spontaneous Sorcery in ACKS

In Fight On! #1 there’s a neat little system which provides additional flexibility for Vancian spellcasters.

Basically the idea is that you can cast a watered down version of a prepared spell without losing it. Making someone yawn when you have Sleep prepared, etc.

I dig this.

However, the game I’m running right now is ACKS, which doesn’t actually use Vancian magic. Spellcasters have the same number of spell levels they can cast per day as in classic D&D, but they don’t need to prepare them. To balance this out the number of spells you can know is limited. (You can switch spells in and out of your repertoire so you don’t get stuck with a sucky spell forever, but it takes some time and money.)

So, I’m playing with the idea of allowing spellcasters in ACKS to “leave a spell hanging”, or “partially cast”. The idea is that if you have an unused spell slot left, by reserving it for a specific spell you can access the watered down cantrip version.

Ie. if you have at least one first level spell left for the day and you know Sleep, you can make someone yawn by almost casting Sleep. This reserves that spell slot for Sleep for the rest of the day, but you can make use of the yawn-inducement effect at will until you actually finish casting Sleep.

Some possible cantrips associated with 1st level spells:

  • Sleep: Make someone yawn or feel a bit tired.
  • Magic Missile: Zing someone for 0hp. Elementalists with fiery magic missiles can probably light candles with this.
  • Shield: Protection from rain or wind — about as good as an umbrella.
  • Floating Disk: Hold up a drink or a book.
  • Read languages: Change the apparent language in a book to another, as long as you know both.
  • Charm Person: Politeness grants you a fresh reaction roll.

On Maneuvers

In ACKS most special combat maneuvers incur a -4 to your Attack Throw, which is nice and consistent. I’m not sure the balance of risk and reward is right, though, especially as in some cases the defender gets a saving throw to boot. (I’m not really concerned with realism aspects: as long as something doesn’t strike me as egregiously wrong, it’s fine.)

When would I like to see combat maneuvers?

  • When there are tactical considerations in play: pushing someone into lava, avoiding being pushed into lava, keeping a larger force behind a chokepoint, forcing your way past a chokepoint, gaining high ground for a clear line of fire, etc. I think Force Back, especially if combined with Charge, is reasonably functional for this sort of thing, but I’m less convinced about Overrun.
  • When there are strategic considerations in play: getting to someone before they can pull a lever, capturing someone alive, etc. I think Disarm, Sunder, and non-lethal damage systems are mostly fine for this purpose. Wrestling… maybe.
  • When fighting an opponent with a superior AC, that you have a hard time hitting otherwise. Currently that’s not the way it works — if hitting someone is hard, pulling a maneuver is even harder.
  • When fighting an opponent that you need to take down fast, even if it requires pulling off something incredibly dangerous. Eg. when fighting someone who’s killing one PC per turn. Wrestling might work here as written.
  • Sometimes just for color.

Let’s see what I can cook up.

Closing In. You can use Closing In in lieu of normal Force Back, Overrun or Wrestling rules. When Closing In you suffer a -4 penalty to your AC till your next action. Additionally, you must succeed in an unmodified melee attack throw against your opponent. If they’ve yet to act this round they can attack you as you close in, even if their initiative is lower than yours. A successful attack on their part does normal damage and aborts your attempt to close in. You cannot Close In on someone who has already hit your this round. If you successfully close in, you’ve either overrun your opponent, forced them back, or have them in a wrestling hold. Massive size differences are factored in as penalties or bonuses to your initial attack roll.

Wrestling. In addition to the options listed in the core book, the dominant wrestler can automatically strike the held wrestler with a short weapon such as a dagger.

Opportune Maneuvers. Having thrown a natural 20 on an attack throw, roll a d6 and consult the following chart:

1 Disarm
2 Force Back
3 Knock Down
4 Overrun
5 Sunder
6 Wrestling

You’re presented with an opportune moment for that maneuver, and can choose to perform it instead of doing damage. The required attack throw is already considered to have succeeded, though the opponent is still entitled to save versus paralysis. In case of overrun, if you haven’t yet moved you can move past your opponent and attack another.

MAYBE! This is all untested as of yet. Still:

Opportune Maneuvers seems like a harmless injection of color and variation — I’m pretty confident it’s not a problem.

Allowing stabbity-stabbity with Wrestling suits me fine as well.

In Closing In AC -4 neatly mirrors -4 penalty to attack throw, and makes these maneuvers easier but riskier: currently they just have an opportunity cost. Replacing saving throw with attack throw makes fighters better at resisting this shit than mages, which also seems right.

So in principle I think they should be OK…

Guild of Dungeoneers – S01E03

Caverns of Thracia, part 3

Players: J, VM, HJ

Having lost all their henchmen during their last excursion new ones were needed. Rolf the Hood (J) used his contacts with the local brotherhood to hire a serious young thief called Slim. Darios (VM) decided not to waste any more money than necessary and hired Lug, an inveterate gambler who professed great skill and bravery.

At this point the friends realized they had no-one with any skill in healing with them — but happily they were able to spend of their loot to buy a few potions of healing, and Alia was lucky enough to locate a Blade-Initiate called Niphon, from the same temple as Mearra, who professed modest skill in that direction.

Slim was Rolf’s (or rather J’s) second henchman, so the hiring roll was waived. Since he had paid tribute to the local thieves guild from the last haul I let him just pick up a 1st level thief. (Rolf ended last session 1 XP shy of 3rd level.)

Darios had gotten two henchies killed last time, so VM was out of waived hiring rolls — and needed to show cash up front to find a hireling. As he had also blown most of his money on spells and healing potions (and was still left owing a favor to a wizard in the local elementalists circle…) he cheaped out and went for a 0-level townie to act as a lantern-bearer. I rolled his proficiencies, and he ended up with Gambling x 2, Intimidation, and Trapping. Lug is wonderful: he can’t light a fire or tie a rope, but beats most anyone in dice, and knows how to look threatening enough to get paid. :)

Question arose if can they find a cleric to hire? I figured 1st level fighters are dime a dozen, but Clerics wanting to hire out would be rarer. A few random rolls produced no clerics, but one Bladedancer was available — and since they have access to both Laying on Hands and Healing proficiencies, I ruled that’s what Alia found. Actual hiring roll was again waived as this was Alia’s (or HJ’s) second hireling.

Before they left Mitylene Rolf was contacted by someone in the thieves guild, who told him that apparently a tribesman had been asking about people who sounded a lot like Rolf & company. The rumour was from the beggars, but didn’t come with a good description — so identity of the seeker remained mysterious.

I had earlier asked J if Rolf is going to pay tithe to the local guild: as long as he doesn’t operate in the city he could get away without doing that, but would also have less in the way of contacts. He opted to pay, and was rewarded with an early warning — but of what remains to be seen.

Two days trek later they were again approaching the ruins of Thracia, but this time from a slightly more easterly direction, which brought them across what they surmised was the empty shell of an ancient mill: a stone structure surrounding rapid twin streams of water gushing from a cliff. Since the structure seemed relatively solid and defensible, a base camp was established there — a bit less than a mile from the entrance to the dungeon.

Crossing the ruins of Thracia they saw two gnolls guarding the entrance that had earlier had four gnolls on it. Since the other entrance seemed to lead to areas controlled by tribesmen, and they had reason to suspect the reception there might be even less gracious than last time, the party decided to ambush the gnolls. Patient observation revealed two more gnolls hidden in trees: half an hour later one of them apparently got bored with guard duty and urinated on top of the guard standing below him.

Rolf and Slim sneaked closer to be ready to strike, and Darios cast Sleep on the gnolls. They went out like light, and Rolf and Slim quickly finished them.

Rolf and Slim both actually blew their Hide in Shadows rolls, but the gnolls also blew their observations so catastrophe was averted.

Gnolls out of the picture the party lit their lanterns and descended down the stairs into the unknown. After 80′ of stairs they came to a room with a disgusting stench and several inches of bat guano on the floor — and faded scenes of worship painted on the walls. The bats were disturbed by their light, but did not attack, and seemed to be of the normal-sized variety anyhow.

I had actually expected that the characters use this entrance the first time around… two sessions ago. You never know. :)

There were two paths through the guano: one from the stairs leading to a doorway straight ahead, and one to another doorway to the right. After suffering a few humiliating slips into the guano and investigating a dead-end to the left and finding no signs of secret doors the group continued straight.

They came to a long hall lined with pillars, with a full foot of batshit on the floor — and thousands of bats in the ceiling, and flying all around them, reducing visibility to just a few feet. Still, they could make out lizard-like footprints in the guano — and signs of someone else having slipped as well. Finally they left the hall behind, and came to a small chapel at the end of it, where the remains of an ancient statue lay on the ground, with doors leading both to the left and right.

Trying to shush Lug who was displaying an unfortunate tendency to babble they listened at the doors. From the left door they hears scratching and mulching sounds, perhaps rats or some other vermin? Sounds coming from the right door reminded Rolf of the lizard-speech he hard hear during their last expedition.

They decided to avoid the possible confrontation with the lizardmen and told Lug to hold the lantern high and open the left door. Lug pushed the door in, gave a yelp and jumped back: the floor was teeming with monstrous centipedes. Some of them were eating something on the floor, but several headed for the door!

Alia was quickest and rushed to pull the door closed, but just as she did that several of the centipedes attacked her legs — most of them foiled by her new plate armor, but two of them managed to reach unprotected spots and bit in. As the door slammed shut she nearly fainted from the burning pain of the bites, but others were able to kill the two centipedes that had ended up on the wrong side of the door. As the pain receded she discovered her leg stiff, but still serviceable — but not up to running.

This was HJ’s first encounter with failing Save vs Poison — a relatively gentle one, since these centipedes were cribbed from S&W, which has a slightly less crippling poison than ACKS’ Giant Centipedes: short incapacitation followed by long-term slowed movement instead of long-term near-total incapacitation seemed more appropriate to me.

A bottle of burning oil was pitched through the door, and some while later a peek verified it had cleared most of the centipedes. Shooting arrows from the doorway it was possible to kill all but four of the creatures: a few stubborn ones lurked in a corner they could not get a clear line of fire to. A frontal assault cleared to remaining centipedes, but Alia was bit again, and could now hardly walk at all. It was good that they had a Niphon with them: channeling Ianna’s power she was able to heal Alia’s leg.

I was actually a bit nasty here: since I allowed Laying on Hands to heal the poison, it meant the party would move deeper into the dungeon with less healing available… but I also figured that the centipede poison is about as wussy as it gets, and made the ruling that almost any healing magic at all would cure it. Players take note: healing potions and laying on hands don’t generally neutralize poisons!

After dealing with the wounded and examining the room — which seemed a side chapel of some sort — the party decided to head out and return to the first chamber. However, just as they stepped out of the door the door opposite also opened, with a party of six lizardmen coming out! One of them was leaning on a spear with his foot in bandages, but the others seemed in good fighting trim.

This was the first random encounter in three sessions! Aside from some %-chance-things all random encounter rolls so far had whiffed. However, since it was specified that a group a lizardmen were in the room to the right, I decided to have them come out at the same moment instead of rolling for another group of monsters.

Most everyone on both sides was taken off guard, but Alia and Niphon rushed ahead — trying to contain the lizardmen in the room they were coming from. For a while things seemed pretty desperate: Rolf’s arrow almost hit Alia just before a lizardman’s club crushed his foot, knocking him out with sheer pain. Niphon was cut down, and though Alia managed to finish the lizardman she had earlier wounded they were still facing five of them… then Darios cast Sleep, and took out the rest of the opposition.

This was Rolf’s second brush with death — and the first time the new house rule on Mortal Wounds activated! J took advantage of the Rule of the D30, and rolled d20+d30 instead of d20+d6 — and got a 26+ result, the best possible. So he was functional at 1hp, but three toes shorter. (During the game I missed the fact that there are specific penalties assigned to being lamed in this manner, which is why Rolf didn’t later get his toes regrown. I’m pretty sure J will want to reconsider that come next session.)

Niphon’s roll wasn’t nearly as good, and she would die in a day if not healed to 1hp from her current -5hp before that. Given that a potion of Cure Light Wounds heals only 1d6+1 points, and that she was the only one with any skill at healing in the party, I was pretty sure she would be a goner, but…

Concerned for Niphon’s life Alia pulled out her healing potion and used it on her henchwoman. The potion worked wonders, the Bladedancer came to — in surprisingly good condition. She would need some rest to recover fully, but was out of the danger.

HJ decided to use her roll on the d30 to heal Niphon, so instead of recovering d6+1 she got d30+1 points back… and HJ rolled 30! Strictly by the book Niphon should have recovered to 1hp, and would still need a weeks rest before being fit for duty, but I felt I had to acknowledge the combination of the awesome roll and use of the d30 to save an NPC’s life — so I upgraded Niphon’s status by one row on the Mortal Wounds table which meant she would only need a night’s rest given the magical healing. She was still left with a trick knee, though.

After examining the room the lizardmen had vacated, and the remains of the statue in the main chapel — which yielded the head of the statue in good condition — the party decided to beat a retreat instead of pressing their luck. No-one intercepted the party on their way out, and they reached their base camp in safety.

After a night’s rest, still feeling worse for wear, they decided to spend the day recovering from their wounds. The rest was interrupted by a group of Pixies who stole a mirror from Rolf’s pack, and a ceremonial scarf from Niphon’s — but nothing more serious occurred, so as the day turned towards evening they decided to return to the dungeon.

Second random encounter — and the first one in Wilderness! I’m starting to wonder about my dice, though: I’ve at this point rolled them for encounters an ungodly number of times over three sessions, and gotten only two hits so far. :) The luck continued with the encounter, since pixies are probably one of the least dangerous encounters they could have gotten… I should note here that I’m not using the 4+ encounter roll from ACKS for the jungle around Thracian ruins, but a 6+. Should they move deeper into jungle it would the regulation 4+ instead.

Since they had rested a night and a day I let them have their healing rolls at the end of the day instead of requiring them to wait till next morning — which would have of course required another random encounter roll…

Back among the ruins, the entrance they had used was unguarded. With some trepidation they descended back among the bats, and took a quick detour to check if the bodies of the lizardmen were still where they had left them. Gone, with some possibly gnollish footprints to be seen in the guano. There was some speculation if the gnolls and lizardmen were allies or not, but with no further clues there was no way to know.

Returning to the first chamber they took the door on the right, and moved deeper. The corridor snaked about, twisting and turning. Around one corner they could hear a faint sound of wood on stone. A quick peek showed a short empty stretch of corridor, and another turning. Figuring the noise must come from behind the next corner they blinkered their lantern to show only the least glimmer of light, and moved cautiously forward.

Slim and Niphon were bringing up the rear. As Slim stepped around the bend the flagstone under his foot sank and sounded a terrifying CLICK, which was immediately followed by two spears streaking out from the wall behind him. Alia had the reflexes to throw herself flat, but the rest did not. The first spear narrowly missed Slim and Darios in front of him, harmlessly flew over Alia, finally thunking against the opposite wall. The second spear, however, impaled Slim. Blood gushed from his mouth.

After a quick examination Niphon pronounced that Slim was mortally wounded, and that unless they were carrying healing magics she was not aware of, there was no way to save his life.

Slim was at -10hp, and while his Mortal Wounds roll was good, it wasn’t good enough. He was to die within a day unless healed back to 1hp. Niphon could at most restore 5hp to him in that time with her arts, and since the characters had not confided in her about their remaining two healing potions there was little she could do. No one volunteered their potion…

At this point I at least was really starting to like the way my Mortal Wounds house rule worked. (1) I had once again been able to tell just what happened immediately, (2) the healer didn’t have to waste her meager resources on a hopeless case, (3) -10hp was an appropriately huge deal, since it gave -10 to the Mortal Wounds roll.

Niphon quickly gave Slim last rites of Ianna, and kissed him on the lips while slitting his throat.

I figured this was the approach the more militant arm of the goddess of Love and War would take.

Leaving Slim’s corpse behind, hoping to recover it later, they continued. Around the next corner was another short stretch of hallway, a pair of doors to the right, at which point the corridor turned left. Listening at the door they were able to discern bestial grunts from within. Something in the rhythm of the grunts made them sound almost like “Wait for it… Not yet… Wait for it… Wait for it…”.

The characters chose not to wait, and kicked the doors in. In a small guardhouse-like space were six gnolls armed to the teeth, and ready to charge out the door. They had managed to knock the two closest the doors back a bit, but the others were primed for action. A brief inconclusive struggle and two sleep spells later the party was cutting the gnolls throats and emptying their pockets.

Ever cautiously they kept moving onwards. The corridor twisted and turned before coming to a long downward sloping stretch, which finally turned and became stairs leading deeper into bowels of the earth.

The stairs led to a rubble-filled cavern their lanterns could not fully illuminate. Keeping to the nearest wall they came to a short corridor which led to a room where a gnoll was sitting on a heap of refuse, cleaning his nails with a sword. Alia charged the gnoll, but could not take it down before it stood up to bang on a door and yell something, which provoked further noise and growls from the next room.

Lug covered in the corner holding the lantern as ever while Alia and Niphon engaged the gnoll in front of the doors. Niphon’s attempt to pin the gnoll against the doors failed, but Alia managed to wound it sorely. The gnoll clambered across the garbage heap and headed for the larger cavern — but Darios was in the way even though Rolf tried to push him clear.

His way blocked, the gnoll instead struck down Lug, plunging the room into near darkness. Niphon braced herself against the doors that were just then opening as Rolf grabbed Lug’s lamp from the floor while as Alia hit the gnoll, bringing it down. With Alia and Niphon struggling with all their might the others were able to spike the door sufficiently to contain the gnolls behind it at least for a while.

Niphon invoked the blessing of Ianna on Lug who was revived enough to walk, and the party beat a hasty retreat. On their way across the cavern they heard sounds of a fight from across the it to the right: bestial growls combined with some human cries. After some confusion they ran towards the noise, and came upon five tribesmen fighting five gnolls — and losing. These were not the elite tribal guards they had encountered earlier, but more lightly armored warriors getting slaughtered.

Rolf fired one of the gnolls in the back, causing it to turn their way. Alia engaged it as it rushed them, but was brutally cut down by the gnoll’s axe. The others were able to bring the gnoll down, and luckily the tribesmen were between them and the rest of the gnolls. After a brief but heated discussion if they should use a healing potion on Alia or try to carry her out she was given the potion and could limp on her own two leg — but she had trouble breathing and their speed wasn’t nearly as good as they would have liked. Still, they managed to flee the dungeon and return back to their base camp.

A few days later were back in Mitylene. The head they had recovered fetched a decent price, but with two healing potions used the expedition was in the red.

Niphon recommended Alia to chief Blade-Dancer of her order and she was granted healing at price normally reserved for parishioners and those in the service of the church. Her lungs were restored, but Ianna’s blessing left her voice hoarse and deep like a lion’s bellow, which most people find rather disconcerting.

First time Tampering With Mortality rules kicked in! That was pretty neat. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like them, but yeah, they rock. It took a bit of brainstorming how to interpret the side-effect appropriately, but H came up with a perfect solution.

While Alia was recovering from her ordeals and Darios was doing whatever it is that mages do, Rolf spent most of his remaining funds on booze and prostitutes.

As I stated earlier, J chose Rolf not to have his toes restored as I had not noticed the actual effects of laming: it might be that his partying gets retconned yet…

Not a bad session, but maybe not as great as the last one. That was pretty damn great. :)

The process of the party was pretty bumpy. Move forwards, run headfirst into wall. Stagger a bit, next wall. Ouch. Next wall…

Lug leveled up, and is now a 1st level Fighter! He will try to have Darios buy him some proper kit next time, as after some consideration he chose to remain in Darios’ service.

My time tracking could use a bit more discipline. It wasn’t off, but I’m not sure it was really accurate either. I need to print a sheet to use for it.

The d30-rule is very nice. I like it. It’s a keeper. I’m also so far happy with the oft-mentioned house rule for Mortal Wounds, but the jury is still out on that one.

I’m very curious to see what the characters do next time. The two obvious approaches into dungeon have now been at least partially mapped — and been discovered to be positively teeming with opposition. Motivation seems to be still pretty high: the haul they pulled out the previous time whetted everyone’s appetite.

The characters have started occasionally looking for secret doors, but have yet to discover any. It’ll also be interesting to see if they will start being more careful about traps…

Rolling Them Points

In my ACKS game the rule is that you roll for hit points on first level. No kickers, no “max hit die on first level”, no rerolls.

I don’t think playing a 1hp character on first level is that big a deal — quite the opposite, it’s awesome when you survive 1st level. However, there’s a side-effect I’ve experienced as a player that I don’t like at all.

I once played a magic-user who rolled 1 on the 1d4 for first level. That’s 1:4 chance. Then I rolled 1 for second level, for a cumulative chance of 1:16. When third level came up I rolled 1 again, which made for a 1:64 cumulative chance — so even though it sucked, it wasn’t even that unlikely. What really irked me about it was how those rolls carried irrevocably in to the future of the character. “Roll badly, and you’ll suffer for it forever.”

I still like rolling hit points, though.

So, a house rule: when leveling up you can either (1) add 1 HD + CON modifier hit points as usual, or you can (2) reroll all your hit dice, adding your CON modifier for each — and using the new score only if it’s better than the old one.

Using this rule for my magic user I would have rolled 2d4 for second level, which would have made having 2hp on level two a 1:64 chance, and 3d4 for level three would have made ending up with 3hp a cumulative 1:4096 chance. It could still have happened, but with odds like that at least I could have righteously felt snubbed by the gods.

So, there are no guarantees, but if you roll badly you get to reroll that hit die in the future — which biases the results against lowball results.

A big softie I am. Coddle players I do.

20 Questions from Brendan

Brendan of Untimately has a bunch of good questions.

  1. Ability scores generation method?
    3d6 in order, but you get to roll multiple sets. Details here.
  2. How are death and dying handled?
    Using slightly tweaked ACKS Mortal Wounds rules.
  3. What about raising the dead?
    If you belong to the church of the cleric that’s raising you: 500gp. If you’re a stranger it’ll cost more. If your reputation is shitty enough, a whole lot more — or they might just straight up refuse. ACKS Tampering with Mortality rules are in use, so you might not come back quite right.
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?
    As efficiently as possible. Henchmen can be promoted. Strangers can be met on the road. Re-inforcements picked up in town. Meta-game rule is that new characters are accepted initially. If they subsequently make themselves unwelcome, that’s on them.
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
    Individual, but groups of undifferentiated NPCs/monsters might all just get a single roll.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
    1 always fails. 20 always succeeds. If you have Weapon Focus, 20 is double damage. There’s also cleaving — and it doesn’t require a proficiency.
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
    You don’t get a hole in your head. If you don’t wear a helmet as part of an armor that should have one, your AC is one worse.
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
    Yes, unless you have the Precise Shooting proficiency. Details here.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
    You don’t have to run. You can stay to fight and die. It’s up to you.
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
    Strictly. Though ACKS encumbrance rules are fairly lax, really. You count stones: one big item is one stone, six smaller items are one stone, 1000 coins are one stone.
  13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
    XP is given out when you reach safety, so you never gain a level in the middle of action. No training. Spellcasters mostly get spells automatically — at least on lower levels.
  14. What do I get experience for?
    Treasure and monsters. Primarily treasure. Dungeon stocking has 4:1 ratio in gold/monster XP.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
    If you do something that would reveal the trap, you find it. You can also roll.
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
    Henchmen are a big part of the game. Morale and loyalty rules are in use.
  17. How do I identify magic items?
    There are proficiencies that allow that. In town you can show your stuff to a sage. A 9th level mage can research a magic item. There’s also always trial and error.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
    Yes. Even minor potions are pretty expensive, though, and availability is not guaranteed at all.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
    Starting from 5th level. RAW.
  20. What about splitting the party?
    If you want to.