Thursday, December 26, 2013

18th Century Musings

I've lately been on an 18th century kick.  The American Revolution, Napoleonic wars, etc.

There are a few basic problems of scale associated with this era, though, for man-to-man adventuring.  The most obvious is that of range.  Here are some typical ranges for 18th century arms, rounded off for easy usage:

  • Musket:  Point Blank 60 yards / Effective 120 yards / Max 240 yards
  • Rifle:  Point Blank 100 yards / Effective 200 yards / Max 400 yards
  • 3 lb light cannon:  Point Blank 200 yards / Effective 400 yards / Max 800 yards
Compare those to your typical medieval game.  Long bows vs. point targets are typically effective to about 100 yards.  Most hurled weapons are being used far closer, and with indoors scenes dominating, hand to hand melee is king.  Moving the action to larger outdoor venues with firearms definitely changes the necessary scale.

The other issue is the rate of fire of such arms.  A musket could be fired around 4 times a minute by a well trained regular.
Marshal Maurice de Saxe wrote: "Light infantry should be able to fire 6 shots a minute, but under the stress of battle 4 should be allowed for."
Finally, rates of march remain similar across the eras.  The quick time march is about 85 yards/min, and double quick is 150 yards/min.  This is actually fairly rapid; it is a 5 MPH pace or a 12 minute mile.  Obviously a dead run is faster, but sustaining a 12 minute mile while loaded with gear on battlefield terrain under fire in formation is pretty legit.

With that data in hand, here are some examples of scales that could be appropriate:

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 20 seconds

With this scale, a "quick time" march would cover 3" per round, and a "double quick" about 5" per round.
  • I really like this as if you wanted to add a bit of randomness to movement, you could determine move distances with the roll of a D6.  For example, at the quick march, roll 2d6 and retain the best; at the double quick, roll 3d6 and retain the best.  Double sixes equals a move rate of 7" (8.5 minute miles), and rare triple sixes equals 8" move.
  • There is also a happy coincidence that the number of inches of movement equals the rate of move in MPH, which allows for easy conversion to overland adventuring scale.  "Quick time" = 3 MPH.
  • Horses would cover about 8-10" per round at a trot or gallop, which again is easily derived by rolling a D6+5 and allows similar conversion to MPH.
Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is easy; divide by ten.  For example, musket range would be 6/12/24".  Ranges would fit fairly easy on a typical table.  A yardstick worth of play area could probably be sufficient for most engagements.

The problem here is granularity of action and reloading rate.  With each round being 20 seconds, you need to allow a proficient musket user to load and fire at least once each round. Even that only gets you three shots per minute, which we know is shy of the historical case of 4-6 shots per minute.  So clearly we need some sort of provision to allow well-drilled regulars to occasionally squeeze in an extra shot; say, a 1/3 chance per round.

We also need to allow multiple actions per round (load and fire).  This is familiar to D&D players of 3E ("move & standard" actions) but I prefer simpler systems where everything is a full round action, personally.

One could do a variation on this for 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 15 seconds.  This would change your march rate to 2-4" per round, but could solve the rate of fire issue.

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 5 yards, 1 round = 10 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 3" per round, and a "double quick" about 5" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is a bit harder; divide by 20.  For example, musket range would be 12/24/48".

The shorter rounds helps solve our rate of fire problem.  If we allow load & fire each round, then we get six shots per round; if we throw in some sort of random "x" factor to occasionally mess up the process (say, loading requires passing a relatively easy skill check, but one which is failed from time to time) we can throttle that down to fewer shots per minute fairly easily.

With a more granular system of actions, you could require "load" and "fire" to each be full round actions.  That would still allow three shots per round.  We'd have to have some sort of "feat" or rules exception for well-drilled regulars that let them accelerate the load & fire process to get back up to our six-shots-per-minute best case, though.

The problem here is tabletop real estate required.  Now I need six feet of table to cover most probably scenarios.  Youch!

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 10 yards, 1 round = 10 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 1.5" per round, and a "double quick" about 2.5" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is easy again.  Loading is easy too.

The problem here is the move rates are very slow and small.  It almost necessitates some sort of battle grid, and even then we'd probably have to either round up to 2"/3" moves, or have some sort of mechanic that allows an extra 1" space to be moved every other round.  It would also be very difficult to work in any sort of reduced move rates, say, from difficult terrain.

1 figure = 1 man, 1" = 5 feet, 1 round = 6 seconds

With this scale, again a "quick time" march would cover 5" per round, and a "double quick" about 9" per round.  Conversion of weapon ranges to tabletop distances is a bit tougher, as we're going from yards to feet, but you could round the weapon ranges off.  Musketry would be at 36"/72"/144" though, which is the fatal flaw of this scale:  you need the length of a room just use use muskets, much less rifles or cannons!

This scale does resolve the granularity of action issue in that you could have loading be a full round action, and firing be a full round action, and get about five shots per minute.

Rules Lite Abstraction

You could also dispense with such scales altogether and go rules lite with some sort of range abstraction.  Say that characters are either in range, or they're not. 

I can see why man-to-man action is not popular to model in the 18th century context, except perhaps for naval battles where these issues are easier to manage!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Interesting Post on the "Trinity" vs. RPS

In my previous post I explored some class/role ideas.  It turns out that Richard Bartle, of MUD fame, has a post reaching similar conclusions.

Now if, back in 1978, you'd told me that there were going to be three main character classes in future MMOs, I would probably have assumed some kind of rock/paper/scissors relationship among them for reasons of balance. Archers beat infantry, cavalry beat archers, infantry beat cavalry — that sort of thing. I don't believe for a moment I'd have gone with what we have, which is the "trinity" of tank, heals and dps....
He goes on to explain that the "tank" role came from MUDs (early online RPGs) that lacked positional systems.  Everyone was either in a room, or not in the room.  Therefore, there was a need for aggro management:  ergo, the tank.

D&D has traditionally handled this as wargames do, with pathfinding or keeping track of locations.  This requires greater granularity and fidelity, though, in that you need to track locations of pieces, usually with minis.  It also starts to break down in some scenarios.

I am reminded of G2, Gary Gygax's module about frost giants.  Maybe I am a huge jerk, but as DM I used a lot of missile fire (as the dungeon key suggests) from the giants, and I played the ogre magi to their maximum potential.  Heavy missile fire which can essentially ignore the strong "front line" tanks and the threat of flying invisible ogre magi with AOE spells like Cone of Frost made some sort of "taunt" ability necessary.  The player running a paladin role played this to the hilt and sought out a magic sword with the "Taunt" spell built in.  The other fighter went with the "whack giants with a two handed sword dealing 3d6 damage" route so they had to pay attention to him.

The point is that if the system allows enemies to ignore the tank for some reason then we're back in the early-MUD DPS-Tank-Healer trinity conundrum again.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Class Roles: Quartets, the Trinity, and Duality

One of the topics I brainstormed on was the idea of character classes.  A lot of my game design ideas are focused around character creation.  Classes are an integral part of that, obviously.

Right up front, I want to acknowledge that it is possible to have fun games with class-less systems, or systems which have loosely defined roles such as World of Darkness.  However, for the lighter sorts of games I am enjoying these days, a class system is helpful because it helps everyone find their role in the game quickly, speeds character creation, and generally helps everyone "grok" what is going on.


D&D 4E was an interesting example of a lot of ideas.  One of the core character creation rules in 4E was character roles.  Each class filled one of four niches:  Striker (DPS), Defender (Tank), Leader (Healer/Support), and Controller (debuffer/crowd control).  Characters could generally "lean" towards a second role, in effect "majoring" in one and "minoring" in a second.

One problem that becomes apparent rapidly though is that if you have four roles, and each are considered vital, then you need more players to fill them all.  At a minimum, you need two players and they must each Major and Minor in different roles:  for example, a Paladin (Defender/Leader) could pair up with a striker that minors in controller (or vice versa).  Really, most typical groups will need five folks to cover each of the core four roles adequately.

1E AD&D was similar in that the core four roles were cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief.  In reality, you could often dispense with several of those, though, as there were more ways to skin a cat.  For example, if you were short on fighters it was usually possible to hire men-at-arms as bodyguards.

Personally, I play RPGs rarely these days and often with a small group.  I would prefer a mechanical system with fewer roles so that two or three players can cover down on everything.  That means that the classes need to be less rigid, or you need fewer of them.


MMOs like WoW have popularized what has come to be known as the "holy trinity" of DPS, Tank, and Healer.  This allows a smaller group to cover all the roles, in theory.  In practice, it seems like the average group size in WoW still tended towards five, with a common line up being three strikers, a healer, and a tank.

The Holy Trinity has a few strengths.  As mentioned, you need fewer players for a viable group (more on that later).  Due to recent popularity, it is easily understood by players and GMs alike, and players know immediately what they are "supposed" to do.  Even players who don't do MMOs can figure it out rapidly:  I personally think immediately of American football, which has an offensive team, a defensive team, and a special team.

Some downsides include:

  • These roles don't really match historical combat lineups.  For example, in ancient combat you had heavy infantry (like pike formations), medium infantry (Roman legions with swordsmen), light infantry (velites), cavalry (of various types), archers, and so on.  In the Napoleonic era you had light infantry skirmishers, line or medium/heavy infantry, artillery, and cavalry.  They don't necessarily fit neatly into a trio.  The trio is entirely based on game rules, not reality.
  • The roles fall apart in a PvP environment, or if the "enemy" uses the same system.  I'm not a big WoW player, but as I understand it, healers and tanks are fairly useless in PvP.  You'd have to balance the trio more like "Rock Paper Scissors" for it to work in a PvP setting.
  • The "tank" role only makes sense with an artificial aggro mechanism to force foes to attack the target which is hardest to kill.  Traditional D&D uses minis and battlefield positioning to allow tanks to block an enemy; MMOs used aggro due to poor pathfinding algorithms and latency issues.

Two classes would be the minimum to have a non-trivial choice in character creation.  EVE Online does this, with basically choices between tank (defense) and spank (offense).

I find such a system to be a bit too simple, personally.

I've got a few more thoughts on this front but my wrists are killing me, so I'm calling it quits for now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back -- a little!

I just wanted to announce that the blog is back.  A little.

It has been a busy year.  I traveled out of the country on business for months, moved into a new position at work, and got some carpal tunnel syndrome which is really cutting into computer time.  I was able to manage a rocking summer road trip though and did a lot of talking with old friends and brainstorming on game stuff.  I'll see what I can put down onto useful paper here, if my wrists allow.