Saturday, May 8, 2010

Scales: Factors of 3.33?

The last few nights while falling asleep I've been consumed with thoughts of scales. I'm not exactly sure why. Part of it is probably intrigue with Delta's mass battle engine, and part of it is planning my own real world hexploration adventures.

Previously I've talked about using scales of 10 or something else. I kind of settled on these scales which are roughly factors of 7-10. However, I was thinking that scales of 3.333 might work even better. They have a few good points about them:
  • The factor of 10 -- pointed out by readers as a handy, easy to use value -- is preserved. Look at this sequence: 1, 3.3, 10, 33, 100, 333, 1000, etc... Every other number increases by 10. So mental math is easy: all you ever have to multiply by is 3 or 10.
  • A reasonable number of different powered elements can all be portrayed on one board. Say we want to do a mass battle with low level heroes. We can portray level 3 PCs as one figure. "Fireteams" of 3-5 zero levels can be portrayed as one figure. A giant of ~9 HD can be portrayed as a "superfigure;" it can appear in the same battle even though it is one scale higher, and is a reasonable challenge. A sea monster of 30 HD could also appear as an ultrafigure; if played largely as a solo figure it might be an extremely challenging threat that is barely within the realm of being handled, with luck and a lot of resources. Contrast this to the scales of 10: the next jump in scale up for a level 3 party would be 30 HD foes, which is not nearly as smooth a progression as a 9 HD giant.
  • This has major implications for surviveability (the "no heroes in war" phenomenon). If a 1 HD PC is facing off against a unit comprised of 10 men-at-arms, no duh, he's very likely to die. However, if a 1 HD PC is facing off against a unit comprised of 3 or 4, he is much more likely to survive. This allows you to reap one of the largest advantages of a sane scaling system: condensing encounters down. For example, say you want to play out searching for a campsite. You go to the scale of 1-turn (movement in furlongs) to map out a manor-sized area. The entire party is likely represented by 1-2 tokens at this scale unless they are high level. If the PCs come across an encounter, you have a few options: play it out at the segment-by-segment level (mandatory if it is a significant threat), arbitrarily reduce the party's resources (boring), or play it out at the higher level of scale. With a 1:10 figure system, that is not very exciting because anything that is a challenge (multiple tokens) is likely to kill all the PCs. But with the 1:3 system it is more feasible. You could have three tokens representing 18 HD worth of PCs/retainers/pack animals and two tokens representing 12 HD of orcs and one uber-token representing 12 HD of giant and play out an interesting battle withou the PCs automatically dying. The entire battle could be played out on the furlong/turn scale without needing to "zoom in" on the action.
The scales would look something like this in the world of 3.333. The new levels are added in bold:
  • 1 year (12 months)
  • 1 season (3 months)
  • 1 month: 48 leagues (consider rounding to 40, 45, or 50) -- ~850 x 1300 miles (empire or small continent)
  • 10 days: 18 leagues
  • 1 week: 12 leagues -- ~215 x 325 miles (kingdom)
  • 3 days: 6 leagues
  • 1 day: 2 leagues -- 36 x 54 miles (duchy?)
  • Morning/Afternoon/Night (1/3 of a day): 1 league, with one part usually reserved for downtime
  • 2 hour "chunks:" 2 miles (if you require 2 chunks/day for downtime)...or 0.5 leagues (if downtime is abstracted -- 12 x 18 miles or 9 x 13.5 miles (barony?)
  • 1 mini-chunk (~40 mins): 1/2 mile
  • 1 turn (~10 mins): 1 furlong (220 yards) -- 6/8 mile x 9/8 mile (manor)
  • 1 partial-turn (~3 minutes): 3.3 chains (~70 yards)
  • 1 minute (~60 seconds): 1 chain/4 rods (22 yards) -- ~130 x 200 yards (5 acres)
  • 1 round (~20 seconds): 1 rod (5.5 yards)
  • 1 segment (~6 seconds): 1 pace (~1.5 yards) -- 10 x 15 yards (perch, or 1/160th of an acre)
Everything works fairly smoothly except for weeks (which end up being 10 days long, not 7 days long) and years (which should be 10 months, not 12 months in length). Those can either be changed -- the fantasy world fits the mathematical necessities -- or adjusted slightly to make the slightly different scales work. The downside to this is that you get many more scales in the game. Instead of seven scales bringing you from segments to the strategic levels of play, you now have twice as many. However, there are significant gains in playability.

I think you could mitigate the excessive number of levels by clearly splitting the game into tiers; if you split the game into three broad tiers (tactical/operational/strategic for lack of better terms) then there would only be 5 or so scales in each tier, which is pretty much perfect for readily utilizing. For example, at the tactical level (think low level dungeon crawling), the entire party would be represented as ~3 tokens on a minute-by-minute scale much of the time while exploring a dungeon one chain at a time. For very difficult or important battles, you can zoom in to round-by-round (~9 friendly tokens on the map, representing each PC + their retainers/bodyguards, plus maybe a few extra tokens for important henchmen or the pack train) or even segment-by-segment action (~27 friendly tokens on the map -- representing every bodyguard, pack animal, and PC in explicit detail). For covering larger areas, you can zoom out to partial turns (where the party is represented as 1-2, honest, full strength tokens) or even turns (where the party is dramatically "undergunned" and represented as <1 full token).