Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unique Mechanic: Gluckhaus

In a previous post I wrote about my need for a third unique mechanic to match up with chess pieces and playing cards. While I definitely agree with the commenter to that post (DL) who emphasized "Verisimilitude over realism," I always prefer to use something with actual history attached to it. It is just easier to create the verisimilitude desired if there's a body of mythology already created. To recap, I'm looking for a mechanic that evokes feelings of building or manipulating one's environment, or of refining raw natural items into worked goods.

One idea I came up with was adopting an old gambling game, "Gluckhaus." Gluckhaus was a German game where soldiers rolled 2d6 and got rewards based on what was rolled. 2 and 12 allowed the player to basically sweep the board, 4 goes to the house, and 7 always goes to the board. Other rolls lead the player to put a coin onto the square (if it is empty) or pick a coin up (if it is not).

My thought is that this arrangement leaves 7 squares unoccupied: 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11. This matches up nicely with all the sets of seven I've come up with already. One could allow the player to arrange seven tiles matching up with the seven planets onto the unoccupied board squares once per quest. The player then gets a number of tokens/coins equal to their technique square, analogous to the size of a card player's hand or chess piece army. The player can roll the dice and then put a coin on the corresponding square to occupy it.

Any coin that matches up with one of the seven planets could grant a standing bonus to anything associated with that planet including skills. Sacrifice a coin (remove it from the game altogether) and you can add that element to any scene, or change that sort of element in a scene. The 2 or 12 would clear the board as in the original game and return all coins to the player's hand, allowing the player to place them again. 7s could be used as a sort of generic "wildcard," perhaps offering a generic bonus to all mechanical skills or something of that nature.

This mechanic would allow players to build the "framework" they operate in for each quest. If you think it is going to be a warlike adventure, then Mars should probably go on a high frequency square like 6 or 8. If Water is going to be important, then maybe Venus goes on one of those squares. The player actually "builds" the board they'll play on throughout the adventure.

One downside to this mechanic is that it requires a lot of thought from the player up front: the critical part is arranging the seven bonus squares onto the right numbers, not the actual rolling of the dice. Also, one would have to create some sort of mechanic to prevent the player from just "spamming" everything down at once or multiple times to create the "ideal" setup of coins on the board. For example, you could give an initial large benefit (maybe playing the token allows the player to add something to the scene), then the static existing benefit, then another benefit when the coin is sacrificed.

I am not committed -- this was definitely just an idea for this sort of mechanic. I'm hoping to stumble across a Renaissance game that fits my theme a bit better. Medieval philosophy did not necessarily encourage themes like, "Man can change the physical world through application of human ingenuity," but the Renaissance seems like a better bet for that sort of idea.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Trifecta of Unique Mechanics

Regular readers are likely aware that I think mechanics and flavor have a lot to do with reinforcing game themes. There's a huge difference between leagues and kilometers for a medieval fantasy game. Likewise, whatever is gained as far as mechanical simplicity by unified core mechanics for everything loses something in unique flavor for each class or role.

In earlier posts I've written about a system of chess pieces for fighters as well as playing cards for magic. I also wrote about a "gambling" mechanic for roguish types.

Over time I've evolved my idea of major class roles into a trio: one associated with the body and probitates, one with the spirit and the liberal arts, and one with the mind and mechanical arts. I think my systems largely match up well. The chess set links nicely to the probitates, and the playing cards with all their symbolism and allegory to the liberal arts.

The area that does not have a thematic match is the mechanical arts and the mind related category. To me, the whole theme of the mechanical arts and the mind is that through human ingenuinty, man can transform his world. We transform clay into bricks for shelter or fortifications through architecture; we transform lamb's wool into clothes or padded armor through vesteria; we transform raw iron and timber into swords and shields with armaments. That does not imply a truly random, gambling sort of mechanic. Ideally, I'd have a game where the players focus on either transforming items into other items, or in transforming the board itself just as men transform their environment.

The trouble is that there is a rather limited list of medieval games from which to choose. I've already used playing cards and chess pieces. Most of the dice games are derived from knucklebones and are rather random. There are many ball or bowling games (marbles being the most table-appropriate), but I want to steer clear of games which require player physical skill. Other games include: Nine Men's Morris (tic tac toe's precursor), draughts (checkers), tables games (backgammon), the Game of the Goose (chutes and ladders), Tafl (viking chess), and fox & geese chase games.

None of those games really focus on transforming pieces or on changing the board itself. I considered using domineos, which features a "board" created by the players, but it isn't really period.

I have found another game which might fit my criteria, but that will have to wait for another post... In the meantime, if anyone is aware of any other period games which evoke the themes of human industry or transformation of raw material or the environment itself, I'd be very interested!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Air Combat

I've recently been looking for a decent set of modern air combat rules. I haven't been able to find anything to my liking -- things tend to be really complex, not even close to accurate, and/or otherwise not very good. Does anyone have any pointouts?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book of War: "They've got a cave troll"

Tonight we played another round of Book of War, Delta's excellent D&D mass combat game.

DW invested in two units of light infantry fodder, a unit of elite elf archers (invisble), a unit of dwarf heavy crossbows, and finally, some regular elf archers.

I built my 200-point army around one figure of trolls. In addition to the trolls, I had a unit of bugbears, a unit of worg riders, two units of cheap light infantry fodder and two units of cheap shortbowmen.

The map was full of rivers: we had at least two streams that needed to be crossed at any time. I rolled one square of woods, which I used to my advantage by placing on my side of the map. I figured all those nasty elves-es and hobbits would have lots of missile weapons and I needed terrain to hide in.

When the fight began, all I could observe were the dwarves. I rushed half of my fodder and bugbears into the woods and immediately encountered DW's light infantry, concealed in the treeline. I kept half the archers in reserve. The other units began to creep along hte edge of the woods, approaching the first river barrier.

DW's first turn was ugly. A unit of elvish archers popped out of the far side of the woods and another unit of invisible elf archers popped into being on the far side of the first river barrier. My lead units started taking heavy archery fire. My archers in the open were all killed in the first volley, while a column of light infantry somehow survived and kept morale. The troll was wounded.

I had my column of light infantry immediately charge, getting one figure into melee. The wounded troll sprinted for the treeline to regenerate under cover of the woods. The worg riders also moved into the woods. My remaining archers headed for cover in the treeline as well.

Meanwhile, in the woods, the fight turned my way. Between my rabble, the goblin archers (joining the fight in the woods as melee troops), my bugbears, and the newly arrived worg riders, I was able to surround and destroy the remaining light infantry over a few turns. Still, DW was able to decimate my light infantry and rout the archers.

In the open, DW had her elf archers in melee with the light infantry column flee and then killed all of the remaining troops in the open. Still -- those 12 points of light orcs bought valuable time for my valuable units and took one of her archery units out of the fight for a round while they fled.

The situation stabilized with my troll (all healed up) figure, and wounded worgs with bugbears in the woodline facing off against elf archers and dwarves. Rather than waiting for the bugbears -- trailing behind after finishing off the last of the halfling light foot -- I immediately charged the dwarves with my worgs and the non-elite elfs with the troll. The troll could get into melee, but the worgs were not due needing to ford a stream. Still, the worgs were able to get within 3" of the dwarves which meant that my opponent had to deal with friendly fire concerns.

The troll -- as can be expected -- started to tear through the elf archers in the open once in melee. Likewise, the worg riders took some hits but were able to pin the dwarves in melee. The bugbears started a long flanking march to spread out the field of fire, forcing the unengaged elite elf longbowmen to waste moves pivoting around to engage different enemies, which halved their fields of fire.

Things rapidly moved in my favor. The troll finished off the non-elite elf archers then moved to help the worgs with the dwarves, flanking them. The bugbears were able to force the stream and engage the elite archers in melee, and then the worgs and eventually troll surrounded the elite elves and cut them to pieces.


This was our most uneven fight. At the end of the battle, I still had over half of my original force (measured in points) left on the table. We spent a few minutes thinking about why and came up with a few answers.

First, my opponent didn't really realize the import of higher HD forces of woe. This was our first fight with elite units. In our past fights, if you hit a chaotic unit with a casualty they would probably fail their morale check (-1 chaotic, -1 for daylight for most units) and rout immediately. The units with more HD often lack the daylight weakness, get inherent bonuses from HD to their checks, and are harder to inflict casualties on in the first place. That makes them much stiffer than the usual rabble of goblins and orcs.

Next, the terrain really helped me out. I was able to strategically place woods as cover within one move on my side of the board as well as covering one of the key stream fords. I then piled more than 80% of my forces (measured by points) into the woods, quickly clearing out her light infantry and shielding me from her archer-heavy force. All of my units which survived to the end used the woods as cover to advance.

Third, the troll figure was very effective. It absorbed around 10 points of damage over the entire battle, but due to regeneration -- as well as being able to hide in the woods to recover HP -- it was barely wounded at the end game. If those ten points had been directed elsewhere, they probably would have been enough to rout off my bugbears and worgs. The thing I realize with the troll is that it is a defensive -- not an offensive -- powerhouse. I spent a bit over 1/3 of my points on this single figure and it attacks with only two dice per turn. Had I bought a horde of light infantry or archers I would have been throwing 25 dice per turn in the attack. However, the troll is really, really hard to kill. The good AC coupled with fast move, 6 HD and regeneration make it a pretty fearsome foe capable of taking a lot of hits. In comparison, the rabble routs as soon as you deal one hit to them.

Overall, a fun -- if lopsided -- battle. THe elves seized an early initiative and had I not had woods conveniently located as cover I think things would have been much different in outcome.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book of War: First Skirmish

DW and I just played our first skirmish of Book of War, a mass combat game that faithfully replicates D&D combat odds.

First thoughts: this game was easy to set up. DW and I learned the basic mechanics, set up our armies, built terrain, and played a skirmish in around an hour. Here's the quick AAR.

We used a 75 point buy. I purchased six medium infantry, organized into two platoons of 30 men each, three figures of medium horse (1 troop), and one figure of light infantry. DW purchased a mix of medium and light infantry, two figures of light horse and two of longbowmen.

The terrain ended up being a large open area in the center with forest along the East side and rear areas. On the opening moves, DW advanced her forces into the large open area, anchoring one flank on the woodline to the East. I moved my forces up through the trees -- except for one unit of light horse, lingering in the far south west of the battlefield among some trees. DW then waited for my attack.

I started by rushing out of the woodline with my light horse -- the horse managed to reach the longbowmen who were out on their own on DW's west flank in the open, and I lucked out, mowing down both figures with the initial attack. The longbowmen inflicted one hit as they got taken out, but I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw those highly lethal archers get taken out before they could fire.

My other forces -- slogging through the woods in the east -- were unable to support the light horse, and the poor skirmishers got mobbed and taken out by DW's own horsemen and light infantry the next turn. The light horse were able to inflict losses on the light infantry, though, routing them off the board.

We then mixed it up in the center of the field. Infantry started routing on both sides, but my medium infantry gave a good account against the light infantry before they routed. My forces fell back to the treeline as all of DW's infantry routed but recovered as her horse were preparing to ride them down. I was able to anchor the horse with one platoon of infantry then swing the second around to the flank and rear to finish them off.

At the end game, I had one figure of medium infantry tangling with DW's last figure of medium infantry. My other two figures of medium infantry were just recovering from a rout - -inflicted by the horse -- in the woods near my rear area. So, the battle was close -- 3 figures to 1.

DW and I agreed that the key factor was the fate of the longbowmen at the start of the game. If she had been able to get off one volley -- four dice -- it probably would have meant about two hits against my chain-mail clad forces. That would have brought the end game to a dead-even heat. If she'd gotten off two volleys she'd have had a slight advantage, and three would have made a decisive advantage.

Lessons learned: Horse have a significant movement advantage. More so than you're used to from playing tabletop games on smaller scales, really. My light horse burst from the treeline and ran down the longbowmen in just a single round. DW had left her longbowmen in the open so as to not take penalties for firing over the heads of her own troops, but my light horse really paid off in being able to run them down. Neither one of us really recognized just how fast they could move.

Questions to ponder:
- Just how much cover do trees give? We said that archers could not fire into the deep woods, and fire into the first 1" would incur a -1 to hit penalty from cover. Perhaps -1 to hit per inch would make sense.
- Do units get to attack on the first round they move into contact? That is, if a unit moves, ends its move next to the enemy, can it attack? We assumed yes, treating it like a charge.

Overall, we were quite intrigued. DW felt that routs occured too frequently. BTB, rabble have around a 50/50 chance to rout upon taking casualties. I felt this was ok, personally, but she didn't care for it. I think we'll be playing more!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book of War

I have been watching the evolution of Dan Collins' "Book of War" mass-combat system quite eagerly and just purchased a PDF copy. I'm looking forward to playing it and seeing how it works out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mini Quests: Thoughts on Team Cohesion

You may have noticed that the mini quests mechanic discussed over the last few weeks has a pattern: two events are related to your patron/deity/faith/god/house, two events are "team player" type things that help out the group, and two have the potential to get a bit angsty. For example, the air events to help friends survive darkest fears (whether they survive or not), the earthy tendency to be a money-grubbing selfish person, the water quests to go investigate places that a character of your level has no right to be, and the fire rewards for rivalry and bossiness could all spur some conflict.

That's intentional.

I get sick of the "special ops commando team" style of D&D play. This is a natural outgrowth of D&D: the game eventually becomes about high-stakes exploration and combat. The consequences for failure are character death, failure to earn XP, and loss of magic items. The mechanical rewards are all driven by being a bunch of ninja-esque badasses who can dungeon crawl as efficiently as possible. Loose cannons, intraparty squabbling, and dissent have no role in such a game. Yes, a good DM can work around those tendencies by rewarding other behaviors, but still, that sort of thing is kind of hardwired into the system.

Septimus explicitly rewards players for dabbling in behaviors that could be considered somewhat disruptive to group cohesion. It gives people reasons to lie or have hidden agendas. Most importantly, it allows them to do so without sacrificing advancement. The players can indulge in some less-than-optimized sessions where they develop their characters and relationships and still get rewarded and make progress towards their metagame goals.

Of course, you don't want too much of that. So, none of the miniquests require you to be a selfish jerk. They just open the door to allow the possibility from time to time. Even that small opening might be enough though to generate a bit of healthy paranoia that then spurs genuine roleplaying as the players feel out each of their character's hidden agendas.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mini Quests: Sanguines

Our last and final quest set belongs to the Airey Sanguines. Air types are like Cholerics in that they prefer to deal with other players rather than the game world, but they are also like phlegmatics in that they prefer interaction to action. These were the hardest for me to come up with; traditional RPGs tend to not do a great job of rewarding out of character and in character interactions between players, and this mindset is also opposite of my own (I am more of an Earth "Act on Game World" type, so this approach is very foreign to me).

In the below quests, a "Friend" has a specific game mechanic meaning another player or an important NPC often controlled by another player (henchmen, familiars, and so on).


Quest Idea


Help a Friend complete a minor quest successfully


Discover something about a Friend that they didn't even know


Help a Friend face a darkest fear (whether or not they succeed... or survive...)


Discover something about a Friend that they don't want anyone to know


Complete task in accordance with your ruling planet or patron


Complete task in accordance with your exalted planet or patron

Note that the air type gets a lot of mileage out of helping the other players be forthcoming about their characters, as well as from fleshing out the other character's backstory. The Air character also has a lot of influence over the story; some of the quests revolve around essentially adding elements to the backstory of others. That serves as a potent check on the "acting" types who might otherwise be bossy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mini Quests: Cholerics

Fire characters -- or cholerics -- are similar to the earthy types in that they both like direct action. Unlike the earth types who focus on the game world, however, cholerics focus on their fellow players. These are the players who enjoy hatching the team plan, being a leader, or just plain being a bit bossy.


Quest Idea


Convince your allies to try to complete a major quest using your own plan


Identify another player who has misled others about a personal minor quest or objective, exploiting their allies for personal gain


Beat one of your Friends in a competition, duel, or wager of consequence


Complete another open minor quest of your own with help from your Friends


Complete task in accordance with your ruling planet or patron


Complete task in accordance with your exalted planet or patron

As such, their requests reward them for taking a proactive role. Note that there is no requirement to be open about your mini-quests. For example, the water person could get rewarded for researching Nosnra then lie to the party about the danger, spinning a 9 HD hill giant off as some lame 4 HD ogre. Either way it goes do, the water person gets their reward.

However, the fire types will end up with a quest to call out someone who has been misleading 1/6 of the time, so there is a minor "inquisition effect." That will serve as a check to keep the intrigue somewhat honest as well as reward the fire person for getting in the other player's chili from time to time.

Note that the fire person gets rewarded for being bossy, not just success: for example, quest #1 results in reward for the fire person whether the overall plan succeeds or not. However, in the long run, the fire person will probably be best off developing positive leadership techniques -- if they continually exploit the other players, they will find it hard to get the cooperation and competition that they need for further advancement.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mini Quests: Phlegmatics

Water-prime characters or phlegmatics interact with the environment. Whereas melancholics are interested in dominating the game world, water-types want to understand and explore.


Quest Idea


Explore a unique terrain feature (steps down, mountain peak, magic pool, etc)


Solve a puzzle, riddle, or conspiracy


Discover and research a specific monster at least two tiers higher than you


Gain access to a forbidden, secret, or hidden area


Complete task in accordance with your ruling planet or patron


Complete task in accordance with your exalted planet or patron

As such, the water quests are all about exploration. You don't have to defeat a hill giant as a level 2 character; you just have to find out everything interesting there is to know about some big dude named Nosnra who lives back in the woods. Unlike the earth quest to blaze a path and secure a trail/area, the water quest is just to explore or find a new feature. These types of topics should be familiar to D&D players as the core D&D rewards system focuses pretty heavily on these sorts of activities.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mini Quests: Melancholics

Earthy Melancholic characters should be played by players who like to act on the game world. Your standard "world builder" player who loves strongholds, dominating monsters, and hiring flunkies fits this mold.

The mini-quest table looks like this:


Quest Idea


Be the first to reach or secure a terrain feature (ascend to the peak of Mt. Doom, clear the NE quadrant of level 3 of the dungeon)


Defeat a specific monster


Blaze a trail between two locations (discover, clear, map, and escort)


Accumulate at least 3 coins of the tier higher than yours


Complete task in accordance with your ruling planet or patron


Complete task in accordance with your exalted planet or patron

The last two items would be related to your faith/god/patron. So if your character works for Poseidon, he might ask you to go do some stuff related to horses or the ocean. Pretty straightforward.

The DM should be expected to fill in the details of the quests. They should be level appropriate but not too easy, either. For example, it would be appropriate to have the second quest be, "Defeat Ragnar the Ogre," for a first or second level fighter. It is something that the character could feasibly do on their own, but it will be a lot easier if they can get some teamwork to help them out.

Notice that the quests all involve acting on the environment or dominating it in some way. The player is taming the wilderness, overcoming NPCs, or hoarding resources. If a player enjoys those tasks, then the system will reward them for doing them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mini Quests

In Septimus, one of the ability scores/traits is related to the classical elements or humours which were said to have defined a person's disposition. These traits affect the character but they're intended to be selected based on player preference; there should be little in game detriment to a group that fails to "cover all the bases" as far as the four humours go, unlike, say, playing a party with no cleric.

Part of this subsystem involves rewarding players for doing things that they find fun and interesting. One of the problems in traditional D&D is that the reward system revolves around interacting with and usually dominating the game world. You get XP for exploring dungeons and eventually for building strongholds. You do not get XP for helping your fellow players develop the story or for sowing interesting and dramatic strife among the team. You're basically leaving out rewards for half of your players out there.

Hence, the idea of mini-quests. Mini-quests are tied to one's humour. You get to open one quest for free in your primary humour. You can spend a perk (you'll have 1 to 3 perks if you have an above-average score in a trait) in any trait to open more if you like. Completing a quest yields XP (or perhaps some other benefit, like "Fate Points" if you care to use them). However, if you abandon a quest, however, there's a chance you'll lose an ability score point (you can get them back upon level up), similar to the effects of a grievous wound or major defeat.

Over the next few days I'll post my tables for each of the four humours.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Game of Thrones

I just discovered the HBO mini-series "Game of Thrones." It is really awesome, and I highly endorse it if you can find access (HBO, annoyingly, refuses to embrace Netflix, Hulu, or any sort of pay-on-demand service if you don't have a traditional cable subscription). I never read the Song of Fire and Ice books but it is really a very compelling world. I've ordered book #2 for my Kindle so I can continue onward.

In other news, I haven't abandoned this blog. After a long vacation "off the grid" with little access, I have been working 60-90 hours most weeks these days, so between the two of them my posting has been very light and will probably continue to be light to non-existent until Christmas or so when hopefully work lets up. For now I am focusing on sleeping, eating, clothing myself, and spending what little time I have with family so gaming is not even really on the priorities list although I do have some ideas still rattling around.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Phases for Combat Rounds

I had an interesting thought recently about an innovative way to do combat rounds and actions. The problem with OD&D is that it is too simple: they-go/we-go means a lot of action happens all at once, combat gets swingy, and it is hard to adjudicate exactly how many actions are too many.

AD&D is a far end of the spectrum in that it has far too many rules to keep it simple. You need a college degree (well, maybe a minor) in D&D to run it properly. 3.5 and many other games use iterative one-after-the-another initiative which is a "silent killer."

The following thoughts are my attempt to keep the best of all worlds. Each round is divided into three phases: Fight, Move, and Communicate. I've done some tactical work and those are the three things you need to be effective on a battlefield (well, really it is shoot instead of fight, but hey, close enough), and those are the things that should be happening regularly in combat, so that's what our system will care about.

At the start of the round, we check initiative and then generally go in an "us and them" fashion each phase as such (assuming A wins initiative):

FIGHT -- Side A
FIGHT -- Side B
MOVE -- Side A
MOVE -- Side B

If there are three or more factions then just extrapolate. The key is that everyone resolves a phase before moving on. Very few things will break our "sequencing."

Each character gets one simple action per phase. They generally get to upgrade one simple action to a complex action each round. A simple action involves precalculated, rapidly used scores. There are no situational modifiers (unless they apply to the whole side) nor are there any random dice tossed. Complex actions involve situational modifiers and randomized dice throwing. Thus, players will need to decide in which phase they want to use their complex action.

Characters have a derived proficiency score for each key action. For example, in the fight phase, we have:
  • Melee
  • Shoot (Range)
  • Dodge
If using a dice pool system, the proficiency score is the size of dice in the pool, capped at 6; the pool has to get to 21 dice to get a simple score of 7 (unlikely to say the least). If using a D20 system, it should be a fixed number representing a somewhat less than average roll (for example, 7+THAC0 level-based to-hit bonus). I'll use my dice pool system (which has Target Numbers from 3 to 8 for the most part, for reference's sake) in further examples.

So, our character -- let's say he's a swashbuckler -- might have Melee 3, Shoot 2, Dodge 3. If taking a simple action, he can automatically hit anything with an AC or Target Number of 3 using his melee attack. He misses if it is 4 or higher. So, our swashbuckler can skewer rats or zombies all day, similar to the "fighter sweep" of yore. This frees up his complex action for rapid movement or lots of special communication.

However, say, he's up against a nimble, worthy opponent, like, say, an unusually aggressive lion. Hitting TN 3 won't cut it. In this case, he uses a complex action. Instead of just taking a "3," he gets to roll 3d6 and retain the highest (using my core mechanic). On average he'll hit around TN 4.75 or so, with a possibility to hit TN 8! The player can even argue for a situational bonus, perhaps due to terrain or some other circumstances.

Of course, if he uses his "complex action" in the fight phase, then when we get to movement, he's relatively anchored. He's stuck with moving two or three hexes -- whatever his simple move score is -- instead of rolling 2d6 or 3d6 to move several more.

The communicate phase encompasses all other actions. Rallying followers, giving orders to mooks, casting spells, using many other skills, and so on.

Wrinkle: Free Dice. As a wrinkle, each player begins an encounter with one "Free Die." This die may be added to any active die roll, or it can increase a simple score by one. If a player ends a round without using a complex action, they gain one free die. If they end a phase without spending a simple action, there is a 1/6 chance they gain a free die. Players may not accumulate more free dice than some number between 1 and 7 (tied to an attribute or something). The DM also gets free dice, and furthermore, he can share them freely among monsters to minimize bookkeeping.

Wrinkle: Extra Action. You could occasionally grant extra complex actions. This is a pretty sizable boon. Of course, you don't get extra dice. The character can spend both complex actions in the same round but must split his available dice however he wishes. I'm still thinking this through, and wondering if the extra action should only translate to a simple action (thus, you could have a Complex & a Simple action in the same phase, or two complex actions in two different phases).

Wrinkle: Minions & Actions. Minions don't often get to take complex actions. Instead, they can either take a simple action or they can lend their dice to another's pool, encouraging them to gang up on foes. Some "leader" type monsters may grant an action to a nearby minion, which then makes the players decide whether they need to take out the leader (to cut off the actions) or take out minions (easier to kill, rapidly reduces the dice thrown at them each round and reduces the odds of a hit). Bodyguards for players and other such NPCs work the same way.


This system has several effects. First, it forces players to dynamically allocate limited resources. Each round they must decide where to take their complex action. They must also manage free dice, and decide when it is best to sit tight, do nothing, and take a breather (to get more free dice) and when to go for broke.

This also evens out "screen time." Calculating situational modifiers, rolling dice, and then evaluating the results are by far more time consuming. This is a common complaint for many fighter types in OD&D and AD&D; they get to roll one d20 and if they hit they get to roll damage, once per round. Meanwhile, clerics are chucking 2d6 to turn undead, mages are throwing fireballs for fistfuls of D6 of damage, and in general it feels like everyone else is rolling more dice. With this system everyone gets about the same number of random rolls to play with each round, regardless of how good they are at a specific task.

We get rid of most of the need for AD&D's rules about weapon length, ranged attacks, etc. The "fight" phase goes first, so if you aren't in melee when the round begins, you pretty clearly don't get a chance to strike unless you have a ranged weapon handy, unless we implement some sort of "charge" action in the move phase, or unless we have some sort of rules for readying or holding actions in reserve "out of phase." A really simple one would be, "You can take an inappropriate action during a phase, however, it must be fueled by free dice." Another would be allowing common sense "readied" actions (for example, readying to receive a charge by striking however runs in, or readying to swat someone if they try to cast a spell). If your action never triggers at least you get the comfort of building up your free dice pool.

I think it would be interesting to present different options to players. For example, you could play one of these three variants:
  • All proactively used simple scores (and thus all dice pools for active rolls) are increased by one, all the time.
  • You get (A) one extra simple action or (B) may upgrade one simple action to a complex one, every round.
  • All reactively used simple scores -- such as Dodge -- are increased by one, all the time. This also increases dice pools when using these skills actively, as when one is doing a "full round dodge."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I recently wrote about the trouble of dice pool mechanics with large number of participants to roll for. I presented some solutions such as using a new mechanic, changing the way you roll for things (using "rerolls," for example), or just not giving mooks situational modifiers.

I think there may be a more creative way to attack this issue: allow mooks (and/or others) to combine their dice pools. One of the great things about the Septimus core mechanic is that it has diminishing returns built in. Adding new dice -- especially beyond three or four in the pool -- has fairly negligible results. It will never hurt the players to let the monsters pool their attacks.

So, say we have five goblin archers that all throw two dice in the attack. Instead of having them roll six attacks with two dice each, you could have them roll one attack with 10 dice. They're almost certain to hit (avg result of 6.648, 98% of hitting TN5, 83.84% of hitting TN6, 51.54% of hitting TN7), but will only inflict one wound. Let's compare the number of successes when (1) rolling five attacks of 2d6 and (2) rolling one attack of 10d6.

4 5 6 7 8
5x2d6 3.75 2.75 1.50 0.14 0.00
1x10d6 1.00 0.98 0.83 0.52 0.23

As you can see, the DM is much better off rolling separate attacks until the TN gets to 7. Then he's best off with one giant 10d6 dice pool to try and land a hit. That's the diminishing returns in action. The plus is that it is a "bank error in the PCs" favor. I'm generally ok with those. The downside is that there's no incentive to economize time at the table under most circumstances, and if the DM decides to screw the players he could all of a sudden land three times as much damage as they're expecting.

One way to control this is possibly through the economy of actions. Maybe the DM gets a limited number of attacks to split amongst all the monsters however he wishes, the number being based on the leadership and morale of the enemy force. If he only has three attacks, and he's got the five goblin archers, a cave troll, and a worg to play with, he'll probably want to attack once with the troll, once with the worg, then pool all the goblins together. This has the nice effect of modeling "fog and friction" and rewarding effective command and control "force multipliers." For example, say the DM could also add a non-combatant shaman that gives his force one extra attack each round. Now the PCs have a strategic choice: do they take out mooks to reduce the number of attacks getting chucked at them, target the leader-shaman to reduce the effectiveness of the enemy's dice, or hit the heavy hitters to take them out of the fight?


Another option is to let the players roll. For example, maybe instead of having monsters roll to hit a player, the player needs to roll against a fixed TN to "dodge" the monster. A very accurate monster might have a higher TN, whereas a weaker or less precise one might have a lower TN. I like putting rolls into the hands of players quite a bit, but this can lead to some wonkiness if there are players on both sides of a conflict.

It also doesn't solve the time consuming need to roll many dice pools over and over; in fact, it might make it worse (especially with a slow player!), although players might not mind slowing down the action if they throw more dice. You could introduce a rule that says that adding more monsters increases the TN. For example, maybe dodging an arrow from one goblin archer is TN4, but two is TN5, four archers in TN6, eight archers is TN7, and so on. I'd have to work out the math to see exactly how that progression should work out.

Mechanics and Efficiency

I really like the math behind my proposed core mechanic (in short: roll a pool of D6s, retain the highest, boxcars = 7). It works great for PCs and singleton foes. However, in a playtest I came up against a problem: it doesn't work well for hordes of mooks.

In traditional D&D, if you have a half dozen goblin archers you just roll six D20s to see if they hit. Likewise, if the wizard hits a squad of orcs with a fireball, you just roll a fistful of D20s to see if they save. With the dice pool mechanic, you generally have to roll one monster at a time unless they have a pool of "one;" if you color code your D6s, perhaps 2-3 at a time.

One work around would be to treat the dice pool as a "reroll." For example, say each monster has a dice pool of 2D. You could roll 1d6 for each of them and then reroll for any that failed on the first check. That is probably faster than setting up a color coded dice pool but still requires two steps. Another "solution" would be to limit situational bonuses or modifiers given to mooks; maybe part of being a mook is that you don't get modifiers to your dice pool.

I also recently thought of another simple dice mechanic that uses D6s but gives a bit more fidelity at the top of the scale: Exploding dice.
  • Roll a D6 vs. a TN.
  • If you roll a 6, roll again. If you get a 5 or a 6, then add 1 to your result. If you get another 6, roll again.
That gives an approximately 1/20 chance of getting a 7, and a 1% of getting an 8. That is, setting a TN of "7" is basically like saying, "You need a hail-mary natural 20 to hit this TN."

1 (16%)
2 (16%)
3 (16%)
4 (16%)
5 (16%)
6 (10%)
7 (5%)
8 (1%)

The problem is that it doesn't scale well with modifiers. A straight +1 modifier is fairly huge, as it doubles the chances of getting a 7 and quintuples the chance of getting an 8. You could reduce the number at which a highly skilled individual's dice "explode." For example, if you get to roll again on a 5 or a 6 then the distribution looks like this:

1 (16%)
2 (16%)
3 (16%)
4 (16%)
5 (10%)
6 (15%)
7 (5%)
8 (1%)

That leads to a somewhat wonky distribution, though, where 6 is more likely than 5.

Odds of getting a 6: .166
Odds of getting a 5 or a 6: .333
.166 * .333 = 5.5%

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alternate OD&D Fighting Man

Here is a Fighter I've been working on for some time. It is currently oriented towards a Swords & Wizardy power level -- and I'll use that nomenclature -- although it could be easily modified for AD&D.

The Fighting Man (Alternate)
XP: As stock Fighting Man with 10% XP penalty.
Hit Dice: As stock Cleric.
Saves: As stock Fighting Man.
Technique: Technique measures the sophistication of a fighting man's "bag of tricks." In general, new players (i.e., beginners) should start with low technique scores. Advanced players should begin with moderate to high Technique. There are thus two ways to handle this attribute.
  • Technique as a Derivative of Wisdom (w/ Advanced Group): Utilize the fighter's Wisdom score for Technique. Convert the 3-18 WIS score to a modifier per the following conversions: 0-1 (1), 3-5 (2), 6-8 (3), 9-12 (4), 13-15 (5), 16-18 (6), 19-21 (7). Using this option, the DM should consider allowing Wisdom scores to be increased over the course of the campaign or supplying items which increase the derived Technique attribute as player skill improves.
  • Technique as a function of Level (w/ Basic Group): Utilize the fighter's level divided by two +1 to determine the Technique score. For example, Level 1-2 (1), 3-4 (2), 5-6 (3), 7-8 (4), 9-10 (5), 11-12 (6), 13-14 (7), etc. If the campaign will progress to higher levels (for example, ~20) then use intervals of three levels to spread out progression so that technique tops out around 7.

Reserve: At the start of each major adventure or quest, place one entire side of a chess set (i.e. all white or all black pieces) into a bag or pool and shuffle them. These pieces are known as the "reserve." When the reserve is gone, it is gone, so a player must be careful to ration their pieces throughout the adventure.
Draw Hand: At the start of the quest, the player randomly draws a number of pieces equal to their technique score from their reserve into their "hand." Special: For each henchman in the fighter's employ, reduce the initial hand size by one.
Put Pieces into Play: Players may put pieces into play out of their hand in three ways. First, they may use them to hire retainers. Second, they may deploy them to provide static benefits.
Recruit: Throughout an adventure, players have an opportunity to draw new pieces from their pool into their hand. Whenever a milestone is reached, the player rolls 1d6. If the die roll is greater than or equal to their Technique score, then they may draw a new piece from their reserve into their hand. A milestone should occur approximately six times per Adventure/Major Quest. The GM may also allow a recruitment roll to occur after appropriate rest has occurred. The size of the hand may not exceed the Technique score (i.e. it is beneficial to use pieces regularly); if the hand is too large to draw a new piece, the player may see what they drew and put a piece in their hand back into the Reserve (i.e., swap them).
The Graveyard: Once a piece is in the graveyard, it is out of play for the adventure. It cannot be put back into the reserve until the next quest. Note that pawns can be promoted into any piece, but it may take time.

Benefits of Pieces

Hiring Retainers: First, players may expend pieces from their hand in order to hire a retainer. In order to do this, play the piece directly onto the board and expend a salary in silver pieces equal to the below formula:
Level ^ 2 per Day (Hazard Pay) or per Week (Garrison Pay)

The new retainer has a 1 in 6 chance of showing up each combat round (dice until they arrive if it is relevant). They will be appropriate to the setting. In the underdark, they might be an escaped slave or defecting foe. In a village, it might be a militiaman. In any event, the combat statistics will generally adhere to those below.
  • PAWN (Light Infantry): Pawns are light foot troops representing lightly armed and armored militia, peltasts and other such expendable rabble. Still, even an inexperienced militiaman can show promise and be promoted.

    HP: 1 (always; a passed save that normally results in 1/2 damage results in no damage to a pawn). Save: As fighter -4. To Hit: As fighter -4. Damage: Level/3 + 1 (ranged, short range hurled weapons only), Level/3 + 1d6 (melee). AC: 13 + 1/3 Level. Move: 12"/4 spaces. Special: Promotion, Sacrifice, Formation, and Fodder.

    Promotion (Special): Each time a Milestone occurs, there is a 1 in six chance that a Pawn may be promoted to another piece.
    Formation (Special): Pawns gain +1 to hit, +1 saves, and +1 AC for each adjacent Pawn. This stacks with multiple pawns.
    Fodder (Special): Cost 1/2 normal wages to recruit.
    Sacrifice (Special): At any time, sacrifice a Pawn. Another piece regains 1d6 HP per three levels.

  • BISHOP (Archer): Bishops represent missile troops such as archers, crossbowman, slingers, and so on.

    HP: 1/level. Save: As fighter -2. To Hit: As fighter -2. Damage: Level/3 + 1d6 (ranged, medium range projectiles), Level/3 (melee). AC: 13 + 1/3 Level. Move: 9"/4 spaces. Special: Select either Fodder, Longbowman, Crossbowman, or Provide Arms.

    Fodder (Special): Cost 1/2 normal wages to recruit. Represents slingers with non-specialized arms.
    Longbowman (Special): Use long range projectiles instead of medium.
    Crossbowman (Special): +2 to hit vs. armored targets.
    Provide Arms (Special): Sacrifice the Bishop. Another piece on the board gains a ranged attack equal to the base Bishop.

  • KNIGHT (Light Horse): Knights represent light horsemen, or, if dismounted, light skirmishers.

    HP: 2/level. Save: As fighter -2. To Hit: As fighter -2. Damage: Level/3 (ranged, short range projectiles), Level/3 + 1d6 (melee). AC: 13 + 1/3 Level. Move: 24"/8 spaces (outdoors), 12"/4 spaces (indoors), +2 AC vs. Opportunity Attacks. Special: Provide Mount, Charge.

    Provide Mount (Sacrifice): Sacrifice the Knight. Another piece on the board gains the Knight's movement rate and AC bonus vs. Opportunity Attacks.
    Charge: The Knight charges, gaining +1d6 damage on a single melee attacks. This power may only be used once.

  • Rook (Shield Bearer): Rooks represent heavily armored, slow moving troops that protect others. Equipped with only light weapons, they wear chain and bear heavy shields.

    HP: 2/level. Save: As fighter -2. To Hit: As fighter -2. Damage: Level/3 (ranged, short range projectiles), Level/3 (melee). AC: 15 + 1/3 Level. Move: 9"/3 spaces. Special: Provide Cover, Shield Wall.

    Provide Cover (Sacrifice): Sacrifice the Rook. Another piece may reroll a failed saving throw or negate 1d6 damage/three levels.
    Shield Wall: One ally adjacent to the Rook gains +2 AC.

  • Queen (Heavy Infantry): Queens represent heavy troops, armed and armored with the best available gear.

    HP: 3/level. Save: As fighter -2. To Hit: As fighter -2. Damage: Level/3 (ranged, short range projectiles), Level/3 + 1d6 (melee). AC: 17 + 1/3 Level. Move: 6"/2 spaces. Special (Choose one): Pikes, Swords, Maces, Two-Hander, Fodder.

    Swords: +1 to hit.
    Pikes: -1 AC. The Queen uses a polearm, gaining reach (first strike) as well as any other benefits accorded to spears, such as double damage vs. charging foes.
    Maces: +2 to hit vs. heavily armored foes.
    Two Hander: -1 AC. +1d6 melee damage. Represents massive two handed weapons.

  • King (Specialist): Kings are something of a wildcard. They may represent specialists who don't always have a combat role. While physically frail they can have interesting benefits. They represent inspiring prophets to be protected, archaeologists exploring ruins, and other unique and interesting individuals who may provide benefits if they can be kept alive. The DM and player are encouraged to be creative when a King is put into play. The king still costs funds to recruit and maintain; this represents money spent keeping the finicky specialist happy.

    HP: 1/level. Save: As fighter -4. To Hit: As fighter -4. Damage: Level/3 (ranged, short range projectiles), Level/3 (melee). AC: 12 + 1/3 Level. Move: 9"/3 spaces. Special: Inspiring, Reward.

    Fodder (Special): Cost 1/2 normal wages to recruit.
    Inspiring: Adjacent allies gain +2 damage, +2 saves.
    Reward: For each milestone reached while the king is deployed and actively adventuring with the party, place 1 token on the king. During any rest, remove a token for a benefit. Some example benefits:

    The King represents a merchant couriering valuable goods. He rewards the party with Level ^ 2 in SP.
    The King represents an archaeologist interested in exploring ruins. He rewards the party by answering one question or providing a clue, similar to a Commune/Legend Lore spell.
    The King represents an alchemist. He gladly hands over a useful portion or item.
    The King represents a sacred prophet. The party gains extra XP for escorting him.

Deploying Pieces: A Fighting Man may also deploy pawns to gain a static benefit which is usually a "buff." These pawns cannot be directly attacked or otherwise affected. The player may voluntarily sacrifice any deployed piece at any time. In this case, the player immediately gains a significant benefit but the piece goes to the graveyard. There is no limit to the number of pieces deployed at any given time, but benefits do not stack.

  • Pawn: Gain a bonus when dealing with any non-combat skill check.

    En Passant (Sacrifice): Make an Opportunity Attack (yes, you can make a second). If your game doesn't use OA's, then the DM will allow this to be used whenever an adjacent foe opens themselves to an attack (fumbles, moves uncautiously, uses a ranged attack in melee, etc).
    Promote (Special): Each time a Milestone occurs, there is a one in six chance that a Pawn may be promoted to another piece.

  • Knight: Gain +2 AC vs. Opportunity Attacks.

    Dash (Sacrifice): Make a full move, immediately, at any time. The +2 bonus vs. AC increases to +4.

  • Bishop: Gain +2 damage on all ranged attacks.

    Sharpshooter (Sacrifice): During your turn, make an extra ranged attack. The attack ignores all penalties from cover and concealment. If it hits, it deals +1d6 damage. You may not move during this turn unless it is a charge.

  • Rook: Gain +2 to saves and +2 to AC.

    Shields Shall be Splintered (Sacrifice): An enemy that just hit you must reroll their successful attack.
    Second Chance (Sacrifice): If you just failed a save, roll again.

  • Queen: Roll initiative twice each round and take the result you prefer. If your DM does not reroll initiative each round, then you are considered to have "first strike" and may go first each combat.

    Gambit (Sacrifice): During your turn, make an extra melee attack with +2 to hit. If it hits, the attack deals +1d6 damage. You may not move during this turn unless it is a charge.

  • King: All adjacent allies gain +2 to saves.

    King's Castle (Sacrifice): Also requires a Rook to be Sacrificed. Swap places with an ally or piece no more than 1/2 your speed away. You and the ally both regain 1 HP per level and gain +2 AC until the end of your next turn.
    Rally the Troops (Sacrifice): Roll 1d6 for every three levels. Heal allies you can see by this amount. Apportion D6s of healing however you see fit. Any troops which have failed morale are entitled to a new check to rally.

DM Notes

Milestone Placement: Placing milestones is the most important aspect of this variant fighter and requires careful thought. In general, six milestones per quest is the breakeven point for different Technique levels. If there are more than six milestones, then lower Technique scores have somewhat of an advantage as they will pull ahead due to their superior ability to recuit. If there are few milestones, then high Technique scores which start with many chessmen in the hand will be superior.

Examples of Milestones include defeating any opponent with a name (i.e. hated foes, sub-bosses, etc), achieving a secondary objective, particularly good play, as rewards similar to treasure, etc. The DM should consider placing at least 2d6 milestones throughout their dungeon key, expecting the players to actually find approximately 1/3 of them, and be willing to occasionally throw in 1-2 milestones per session "ad hoc." Milestones should not be automatic rewards for surviving combats. Indeed, they should not be awarded for most wandering monster encounters. Milestones should be viewed as a reward that motivates players to achieve secondary objectives which further the plot and adventure.

It is not inappropriate to hint (appropriately, in game) that certain achievements may result in a milestone award in order to steer players that way. For example, the elves may speak of a pool in the forest which has restorative properties if drunk from by a weary traveler. Finding this pool is a milestone, regardless of whether the players fight three random encounters on the way there or none at all.

If you are stingy with awarding milestones for in-game objectives, consider granting milestones for rest. Very stingy DMs or those running free-form campaigns with few obvious objectives might award a milestone for every full night or day of rest. DMs that prefer an action-packed campaign with defined plot might only award rest for a full day of rest (taking Sunday off), a longer period like a week, or even a restorative stay at an inn in town (also a good way to siphon money from adventurers!).

The Power of the Dark Side (Optional Rule): This system may be tied to alignment.
  • Chaotic characters may only use the black pieces. Retainers will tend to be chaotic ne'er dowells (rogues, brigands, humanoids, mongrels, etc) with all the social consequences that entails. All chaotic hired retainers gain +2 damage. If a Fighting Man has any black piece deployed, he exudes an aura of dread equal to his charisma score in inches that gives -2 to saving throws. This aura includes allies.
  • Lawful characters may only use the white pieces. Retainers will tend to be law and order types such as militia, men-at-arms, good demihumans, etc. All lawful hired retainers gain +2 morale and +2 to saves. If a Fighting Man has any white piece deployed, he exudes an aura of charity equal to his charisma score in inches. He may allow any ally within this aura to gain the benefit of his deployed piece instead of himself. The benefit may be changed from round to round by taking time equal to a normal move.
  • Neutral characters may use either set of chess pieces, but they must select one army at the start of the adventure and use it until the conclusion of the adventure. Their aura radius is halved and the bonus to damage/morale/saves is halved (+1 instead of +2), however. Excessive use of one army or the other may change the character's alignment.
Specialization (Option): The player may choose to specialize in any type of piece (except for pawns). Whenever a milestone occurs, the player may declare that they are promoting normally (1/6 chance to convert a pawn into any piece) or they may declare a specialist promote, in which case there is a 2/6 chance to promote the pawn into the designated specialist piece. For example, an archer could specialize in Bishops. This makes it easy for them to rapidly promote pawns into Bishops which aid their ranged attacks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fighters and Unique Mechanics

I'm really happy with the unique mechanics I've developed for "elemental" (clerical?) magic as well as roguish gamblers. They aren't perfect, but I think they do a great job of using unique mechanics to support a special "feeling" for each character class or role.

I came up with another for "fighting men:" chess pieces! Chess pieces are great because they are very common gaming equipment as well as inexpensive: a set of basic plastic chessmen can be had for <$5. Basically, the fighting man starts with a 1/2 set worth of chessmen (i.e. all the blacks or all the whites). The fighting man may deploy a piece in order to gain a static, lasting benefit. He may sacrifice the piece in order to gain a burst benefit. And finally, he can deploy a piece to "summon" a hireling, man-at-arms, or other helpful ally.

The number of pieces that can be present at any given time should be limited, probably to an attribute -3.

However, once a piece is deployed, it cannot be "recalled;" if the player wants to get rid of it, it must be sacrificed. I'm not exactly sure how pieces should be restored; I am inclined to think that it should only be between adventures. After all, there are 20 pieces so they should last awhile.

Here's an example:

PAWN: Representative of foot soldiers. Some medieval scholars likened each pawn to a medieval profession, usually those of a commoner or artisan.
  • Deployed: +1D to any mechanical art. At the end of each encounter, there is a 1/3 chance that a deployed pawn can be promoted to any other piece.
  • Sacrifice: En-Passant. Lash out at a foe that disregards your zone of control and gain +1D on an opportunity attack.
  • Summon: Minion, basic man-at-arms
One could also do something with the white vs. black pieces, similar to the red vs. black cards.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Civ V Gameplay Report: The Good

I haven't been posting much lately. Work has been extremely busy, I'm working on some night school, and we may be moving in the near future. Plus, I got Civilization V. As fans of the series know, the Civ games are very good at destroying your free time. Here's some notes on gameplay.

First off, the good.
  • City States. The first iterations of Civ had barbarians that roamed the land; they generally had no cities unless they managed to capture one from a player (rare). In Civ 4, we saw Barbarian Cities. If left alone in an unexplored corner of the map, the Barbarians would set up an actual bonafide city that could be captured. The problem with this is that you couldn't interact with them, and everyone was at war with them all the time.

    Civ V introduces minor players called "city states." City States can be interacted with diplomatically. They always like gold and gifts of units, but they will also ask for you to complete missions like connecting to them with roads, defending them from predatory Civs, or doing their dirty work to take out another City State. They are also actually useful to have around: militaristic ones give you up-to-date useful military units and tend to pump out a lot of units that will fight on your side against your enemies, cultured ones give your empire culture which can otherwise be hard to get, and maritime civs give you food.

    If you are allied with a city state, they will also give you access to strategic resources. This is great; in previous iterations of the game, if your empire didn't have a key resource like Coal you could bet dollars to donuts you'd better go to war to get it or risk losing. Now, you can maintain relations with a City State that has the right resource.
  • Barbarians. Rather than spawning out of the fog of war, barbarians come from camps which pretty actively spew out units. This makes it much more strategic to set up a defensive line rather than just exploring like crazy.
  • Fewer Cities. In the past, generally the more cities you had, the better, unless corruption became crippling. Small empires can be quite viable in Civ 5, which is nice if you don't care to manage two dozen cities. Cities also work a larger area which means that they tend to be further apart, which also means fewer cities are viable.
  • Less strongly specialized cities. Civ IV used "National Wonders" which each civ could build once to encourage specialized cities. This was encouraged because each city could only build two and they had major multipliers tied to them. That is, you'd have a science city, a money city, a factory city, etc. I always stressed out about making sure I put the right wonder in the right place, and often waited until too late in the game to make sure that my ironworks was next to coal, iron, or both. Civ V still has national wonders but most of them just provide a static bonus ("+X gold") as opposed to a multiplier. You can also build as many as you want in one city, again making a one-city game viable. This is a good balance, I think.
  • Military. Unit stacking and the stack of doom is gone. Ranged units actually have a range. Units don't battle to the death, and may survive two or three attacks (or more, if dug in and having combat advantages). There are now strategic, operational, and tactical elements to combat. Additionally, units out of garrison cost a lot more in upkeep than units in garrison. This creates a quite realistic "mobilization" phase to many conflicts; in peacetime, you want your units spread out garrisoning cities, but in war you need to spend a few turns to mobilize and get them to the front. All in all I'm fairly pleased with the changes.
  • Infrastructure upkeep. Roads now cost gold to maintain. This keeps you from spamming roads everywhere, which is not realistic and also is annoying.
All of the elements come together to form some really interesting interactions. Here's an anecdote from a recent game.

The War with England

I was on a continent with England, Russia, and three minor city states. Russia and I had ganged up on England all game (with me egging Russia on to bleed Russia dry while I focused on my economy), but failed to conquer her. I eventually got a tactical edge and swept in for the kill, sweeping up London, which was quite a prize with many wonders of the world.

However, England had a city state allied with her, Budapest; Budapest (as England's client) was waging a proxy war with Genoa, who looked to me as their patron (and whose benefits I rather enjoyed). When England collapsed, Russia moved in with a sizable bribe and asserted protection over England's old ward, and the city-states continued to fight. I kind of wanted Budapest for myself, but was willing to let Russia run it for now; besides, I swept up the third city state -- Helsinki -- which was also a defunct English client shopping for a new patron, which happened to flank Russia and provide uranium which I figured might be useful in the future as I didn't have any other supplies.

Proxy War

However, I had a problem: Budapest was kicking Genoa's butt. Forever, their war was like a fight on the short bus; lots of flailing but not much damage. But, after England went down the tubes, I think Russia began funneling units to them. I began to give my older units into my client and the proxy war started to escalate. Eventually, things got desperate and my client was on the verge of collapse. I talked to Russia, gave them a small bribe, then entered the war against Budapest on behalf of my little buddy, delivering punishing airstrikes on Budapest's front line units, dropping paratroops into a defensive position next to the city, and pounding front units with naval fires (sound familiar?) in order to save Genoa.

I quickly dealt with Budapest's attack. Russia, alarmed, warned me that they weren't happy. At this point, I got greedy and went for the gold ring of capturing Budapest itself which I had wanted for some time rather than signing a cease fire or pulling back. I calculated that the Russians were not willing to risk war to protect their new client, and told Catherine to take a hike, as I figured I would complete the war in a turn before she could intervene. My economy was not in great shape as I was still assimilating the English cities so I used air power and a few tanks to quickly seize Budapest, leaving most of my heavy armor units in garrison in the cities, with a token border patrol force dug in on my border with Russia.

Russia Strikes

I miscalculated: Russia freaked out and declared war as her client folded. Additionally, America and another overseas power took exception to my actions and entered the fight with Russia. They saw me crush a major civ then roll over a minor city state and thought that I was a "bloodthirsty menace to the world;" plus, I think Russia put them up to it. Russia opened up with a nuke on my left flank followed by an armored column through the gap, driving towards the recently conquered city of London. The initial attack tore a whole in the left flank of my border watch, and my small navy was largely caught out in the open and badly mauled by Catherine's new allies.

Knocked back on my heels, I fought a slow delaying action that ended up against the walls of London until my armor could get mobilized out of the cities; I also struck back with my sizable but exhausted and damaged air force. After the two minor campaigns to defend Genoa and seize Budapest, a lot of the bomber and fighter wings were in the "yellow" already. Still, I had no options other than to call in airstrike after airstrike as Catherine's units threatened to break through in the center and right and as they surged up against city walls on the left.

Catherine also sent a large naval task force up against my ally with uranium. She pounded the city into oblivion and captured it within a few turns; I funneled a few units to Helsinki but they could only slow the inevitable. Still, with Catherine's navy busy up North, I managed to get a submarine and battleship out to sea, and using them to scout I managed to sink a few battleships that were foolhardy enough to venture within land-based air coverage as she sent her forces south. At this point, I abandoned the Manhattan project and threw the production into more conventional units.


It took me about three turns to bring up my armor divisions and artillery which was just in time, as my exhausted air wings were starting to be destroyed. A great general spawned just in time to help the armor units counterattack and cut off Catherine's advanced forces on the left flank and destroy the rear-echelon artillery and anti-aircraft guns. My armor then dug in and spent the next three turns bombarding the cut off forces into oblivion. I also managed to catch an American expeditionary force off the coast and savaged their convoy with air and submarine attacks before most of them could land to relieve Catherine's isolated army, which was crushed as I closed the pocket.

At this point, my armor divisons were damaged but my air, paratroops, and artillery were sound, and my navy was rapidly gaining superiority and forcing Russia's boats to hole up in an inland sea with only one entrance to the ocean. I surged forward and marched straight for Moscow, using massive artillery and airstrikes to wear down the city as my paratroops dug in on key high ground held off Catherine's relief column from reinforcing the city. As I seized Moscow, Catherine's war allies backed out on her and sued for peace on fair terms. Catherine also offered an olive branch but was not willing to give much up. I rejected her offer; she replied by dropping a second nuke on her own recently lost territory, which vaporized some of my paratroopers. It was too little too late though, and my mechanized units had dug in by the time her troops reached the doorstep.

Cut off from uranium, I had abandoned my Manhattan Project. I decided that a cease fire with Russia would just give her time to build more nukes, which was unacceptable. We had both taken a pounding but she had a sizeable navy holed up and a lot of ground forces up north racing down in my direction. With her continental monopoly on uranium, I would be at a major strategic disadvantage if she could catch her breath.

Total War

The war went on for some time, but accelerated as more major cities fell. I was careful to avoid alienating any of the other civs, and I think Russia's nuke attack backfired somewhat as others were hesitant to enter the war. Cut off from her fickle allies, having lost her capital, and having lost air superiority, I gained the upper hand. Her navy was destroyed in port as my land forces overran the coast; any ships that dared to sail were caught in the trap of the narrow strait and mercilessly ambushed by a waiting submarine wolfpack. Eventually, Helsinki was liberated and Catherine's last city fell.

While I fell behind the rest of the world in technology while duking it out with Catherine, the addition of her cities provided a boost to my economy once they were integrated. I managed to eventually eke out a space race victory.
So, all in all, there are some interesting interactions. The entire war came about unintentionally. Russia and I had been fairly firm allies all game. Even some squabbling over influence over city states and picking up the pieces of the English empire wasn't enough to destroy the entire relationship. However, ultimately a skirmish between our clients which grew into a "cold war" style proxy conflict eventually erupted into a full on war.

The elements of nuclear deterrence were also present. Russia knew I had no uranium and thus no nukes, so Catherine nuked me at the outset of the war. Why not? I had no good deterrent. She nuked me again once she was desperate for survival. I'll try to hit some of the bad and ugly points about Civ V later.