Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HMS Apollyon Exploration Rules and My take on the Overloaded Encounter Die

The Overloaded Encounter Die (and several other rules below) is an idea stolen directly from Brendan at Necropraxis, and one that I first enjoyed in his “Finchbox” game – a vaguely ancient Chinese sandbox populated with Matt Finch modules.  I have since adopted the die in my own Apollyon game, and it may be the single best element of that game, because it makes exploration tense/interesting, encourages player activity and allows disorganized GMs like myself to ‘keep track’ of several variables without complex GM facing subsystems.  It may be worth noting that this idea seems to have its origins in Torchbearer, which simply puts everything on a brutally efficient timer, so that player resources rapidly diminish.  

Weights and Measures for Scavengers Aboard the HMS Apollyon

As a system or a ‘hack’ of 1970’s era D&D The HMS APOLLYON aims for relatively flat power curves (for both characters and monsters) and a focus on survival exploration and treasure hunting rather than combat and heroics.  At the same time it’s the goal of the setting to focus on atmosphere and character development through play rather than mechanics, and so I have tried to use simple abstract mechanics rather than complex simulations for as many elements as possible.  

In exploration two, perhaps counter intuitive, subsystems work to increase the tension of delving into new areas, and atmosphere and simplify record keeping for both player and GM.  The first of these is an encumbrance system that may seem strict, or possibly ridiculous at first, but has in play proven to be helpful at giving explorer’s meaningful choices about what they choose to take with them into the hull, without requiring the sort of calculations by coin weight that classic D&D encumbrance either rapidly fall to the side or turn the game into an exercise in spreadsheet use.

The Second Element is the use of an “overloaded encounter” die for random encounters, where every exploration turn (traditionally 10 minutes of character time) results in something happening.  Each pip on the traditional D6 random encounter check (rolled every turn) has a result, and while one of those results is a random encounter, the other five represent either environmental events or a depletion of party resources.  Combined with an encumbrance system that makes resource management an actual element of gameplay and makes Strength a useful statistic for all sorts of adventurers.  

Rather than  tracking weight and size for each item carried by a character, HMS Apollyon uses a ‘significant item’ system of encumbrance.  Each item or small number of certain items carried by a character counts as a significant item for encumbrance purposes.  A character may carry as many significant items as their points of Strength.   This should make tracking items easy, and allow players and GMs the joy of dealing with actual decisions and risks based on what the party takes into the dungeon. 

Specific Item Considerations
Armor – Armor is a single significant item, as are helmets and shields.  Any penalties to movement or initiative are based on armor type and character armor skills, and are cumulative with any encumbrance penalties.

Specialist’s Tools – Kits of Specialist Tools (alchemist’s kits, doctor’s bags, thieves tools and engineer’s kits) take up a single significant item slot and are useful because they contain many small useful items.  If a player searches their specialist’s equipment for a specific item they will likely find it if it is something fairly commonplace and reasonable for the profession or specialty to possesses.  A scholar’s kit will have writing materials, chalk, charcoal for rubbings and a magnifying glass.  A doctor’s bag will contain scalpels, sedatives, sutures, scissors and bandages.  Rarer, valuable or less likely items (does an alchemist have quicksilver or is a doctor carrying poison?) require a Wisdom check and ultimately GM approval.  These items are available in a limited number, and for each item taken out and used the kit will be diminished by one point (all kits start with 10 points) which can be replenished for 10GP in a civilized area. Secondly, a specialist’s kit does not contain extraordinary amounts of these items, for example, an Engineer’s toolbox, will certainly have an oilcan and enough oil to grease the hinges on a near infinite number of doors, it is unlikely to contain enough oil to cover more then a single 10’ x 10’ area with slippery grease.

Coins and Gems – Small items (usually of value) such as coins are not especially encumbering, something that makes them much more desirable to Scavengers then large works of art ort industrial materials. Scavengers are assumed to each carry a purse, money belt or similar item, and unless they are carrying more than 1,000 coins and gems this is not a significant item. Each 1,000 coins (or fraction of 1,000 coins after the first 1,000) is a significant item for encumbrance purposes.  Jewelry is likewise an insignificant item, unless it’s something big and special (like a heavy crown), as it can usually be worn and is rarely very heavy. 

Firearms– It should be noted that Firearms, especially the readily available black powder weapons, are significant item intensive.  Black powder weapons require a powder horn or flask in addition to their ball ammunition.  Even bullets are perhaps unrealistically space consuming, a deliberate mechanical dodge to make firearm usage a choice to weigh rather than a necessity or unalloyed benefit. 

Bulky Items – Large Items such as statuary, rolled up carpets or crates of canned food will take up multiple ‘significant items slots’ or if big and bulky enough simply grant the character encumbered or even burdened status.

Exhaustion and Encumbrance
A character is ‘encumbered’ when they are carrying more than their Strength score in in items.  This results in a -1 to initiative and a minus 2 to any Dexterity checks to flee combat.  I a chase these characters will be assumed to be slower than unencumbered enemies and will likely be caught. A character carrying more than 1.5 times their Strength worth of significant items is ‘burdened’ and fights at a -2 to all rolls and -2 to armor class.  They cannot disengage from melee combat or flee effectively in this state.

Characters who are ‘exhausted are treated as if they are ‘encumbered’ and if they keep moving after exhaustion on the next exhaustion roll (see below) will become enfeebled, as if they were ‘burdened’.

A single lantern or torch will rarely provide enough light for an adventuring party, as a general rule a torch allows visibility for 30’ and lantern 40’ and a candle 10’, but to effectively fight and explore scavenger’s (at least those who lack dark vision) require sufficient light.  A lantern provides sufficient light for four, a torch three and a candle only for one.  Fighting in dim light (if the party lacks sufficient light sources for some reason) gives a -1 to all melee rolls and a -2 to all ranged attacks (Just as blindness or complete darkness gives a -4 to all ranged attacks and causes ranged attacks to automatically miss).

Light sources are also visible at a distance, but luckily the gangways of the Apollyon tend to have frequent turns and the air is rarely free of obscuring dust, fog or mist so players should expect that there light sources will be visible for only twice the distance they provide vision (i.e. only 20 feet for a candle, and 80 feet for a lantern). 

Random Encounters
The Random Encounter die is simple, and covers not only encounters with monsters but: light sources, character exhaustion, spell duration, and external events. 
Roll on Random Encounter table for wandering monster.  Roll for surprise, encounter range (1D4 -1 melee, 2-short, 3-medium, 4 long), and monster reaction.
Roll on Random Encounter table for clue, non-combat encounter  or event and incorporate it immediately (if a sound or similar indication of outside activity) or place it in a nearby location as appropriate.
Light Exhaustion
A randomly determined torch, candle or other improvised light source gutters and burns out. 
Light Exhaustion (lantern)
A randomly determined lantern or other advanced light source is depleted or burns out (lanterns require two Light exhaustion rolls before they are empty) 
Spell Exhaustion
Any and all active short duration spells are exhausted, long duration spells are reduced by one duration point.
Character Exhaustion
The party is tired and one of its (usually three before exhaustion sets in) exhaustion points is lost.  Exhaustion may be recovered from with two turns of safe rest for each pip if the character has food and drink available (does not deplete water skins or rations), or by the use of a full ration and a turn of rest.