Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Dawn: Anticipation

Precis: I'm starting my new mass battles fantasy game tonight and reflecting on some decisions and campaign features while I wait.

I'm running the first session of New Dawn tonight. As usual, I'm excited about the start of a new game but can't do much about it until the game actually starts. So I'll post some thoughts about it.

Zero to Hero in 1.4 seconds

I don't normally like Zero to Hero style games. They're an RPG convention, for reasons good and bad, but I prefer starting with more experienced heroes that are comparatively static. On the player side, I like playing the character I want to play at the start of the game, not having to wait for several sessions for the character to grow into my desired concept. On the GM side, static characters from the start of the game make it easier to plot challenges since the character abilities don't change. Similarly, record keeping is easier because the characters don't change much.

New Dawn is a Zero to Hero game. But it's a Zero to Hero game with a turbo-supercharger and nitrous oxide. The first fight of the first session pits the PCs wearing leather armor and wielding stone weapons against an orc patrol in heavy plate armor with good steel weapons. I expect it will be a brutal fight, and only the facts that the PCs have advantage in numbers and skill and set up an ambush will allow them to triumph. But after that first fight, the PCs will have heavy plate armor and good steel weapons. Within short order - hopefully at the end of the first session or the second at the latest - they'll be lords of a collection of little villages. And by the third or fourth session, they'll start getting fine weapons and armor as they become the lords of county and collecting the tax income from 30000 people. It's a very fast ramp up.

Your Money Is Meaningless

One of the odd consequences of a military game is that money is somewhat meaningless on a personal scale. The cost of outfitting a single squad of standard Medium Infantry - the backbone of the armies - is $30K, which normally in Dungeon Fantasy is the kind of money you find at the end of a fairly successful delve. The PCs can expect to outfit hundreds, if not thousands, of Medium Infantry squads over the course of the game. One less Medium Infantry squad isn't going to effect the outcome of the mid-game battles, but it's enough money to give a single PC some very high quality gear. Similarly, the cost of buying a single war elephant is $400K, which buys a full set of very high end armor. It wouldn't be unreasonable for the PCs to get forty war elephants (Hannibal had that many during the Punic Wars), or to get 30 or so and have everyone wearing the best armor money can buy.

As part of the game is supposed to include Dungeon Fantasy style delving, this is going to be a weird dynamic. The vast wealth from totally looting a typical dungeon isn't enough to buy a the horses and armor for a squadron of heavy cavalry, and delving isn't as profitable as sitting around for a couple of months and letting the tax money roll in. There might be other reasons to delve, such as finding lost forgotten magics or acquiring military units that can't be found any other way, but money isn't a motivator.

I could come up with some kind of complicated rule that limited how much tax money the PCs could spend on themselves, but I'd rather embrace the dynamic. It's part of the Zero to Hero in 1.4 seconds concept: the PCs aren't going to spend much time grubbing for gear.

Troupe Style Play

I originally wanted to have a single character per player, but my players ganged up on me and decided they wanted two characters apiece. That way, everyone could get the role they wanted, even with a lot of overlap in roles. Each player can only have one active character at a time, in general, though that rule is going to be relaxed at times.

Another element of troupe style play is bit parts for players. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, but there are going times when one or two PCs are the focus of the action and rather than leave all the other players with nothing to do, they're going to get bit parts. The most obvious instance of this will be Detailed Actions in the Mass Combat minigame, when a single PC gets to fight a little melee with the assistance of his bodyguards or whatever, but I expect I'll do the same when one of the spies needs to infiltrate a castle and non-stealthy PCs need to be left behind. People without characters appropriate for infiltration will get to play some sneaky bit parts. Who knows? If a bit part gets enough screen time, it might become a low point value PC permanently.

Disadvantages That Bite

Another thing that's come up while preparing for the game is that there a lot of disadvantages that are normally free points but that, in the context of a military game, are much more likely to hurt. Several people took Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents, which in my Dungeon Fantasy games is normally such a weak disadvantage that it should really be a quirk. It just doesn't come up much. In a military game, it has teeth: you have to avoid collateral damage, it's hard to besiege a town (starving innocent town folk is definitely forbidden), and even starting a war with a neutral party in order to get access to a needed resource isn't allowed. I like the change, but I was surprised by the number of PCs that took Pacifism: Cannot Harm Innocents and I'm curious how it will work out in play. Soldier's Code of Honor, another disadvantage that several PCs, has similar restrictions.

A Multinational Approach

I swear I didn't suggest this or really do much to encourage it, but as it worked out, the PCs come from a multitude of races and nations that, while generally agreeing to defeat the evil Empire, have their own agendas. This obviously sets up some plot hooks down the road and meshes with some of my hidden plans, but wasn't planned by me. Currently, the group includes a fae, some humans, a kobold, a minotaur, and a squallite (a kind of wood-elf thing), with possibly one more race in +Uhuk of the Guard's second character.

I'm somewhat surprised that the "normal" non-human races aren't present. There aren't any dwarves, elves, or halflings, though minotaur, fae, and kobold are all conceptually similar. That might just be a side effect of the kind of people I game with. It simplified some things for me, though, in terms of long term campaign planning.

Cast of Characters

The full list of characters is on the wiki, but here's a quick summary:
Hloomawl: +Uhuk of the Guard's minotaur champion/herald.
Nesta: +Eric Schmidt's human spymaster/thief.
Trahaern: +Eric Schmidt's human general/trapper.
Michael: +Eilmyn Davidson's squallite scout.
Skyler: +Eilmyn Davidson's human champion/war captain.
Aisling: +Kevin Smyth's fae nymph ambassador/war captain.
Ariana: +Kevin Smyth's human priest.
Greex: Kiara's kobold spymaster/thief.
Nayla: Kiara's human imbued scout.

Greex was original one of Kevin's concepts, but Kiara liked the idea and took the character. Uhuk is supposedly making a sorcerer but I haven't seen anything yet.

It's a pretty good mix. I'm a little sad that there are two spymaster/thief characters, but it's a reasonable combination so I can't really blame people. I also wish there were more spellcaster types, but neither Divine Favor nor Sorcery are particularly effective with only 50 points to start so I can't blame people for skipping those roles.

I'm excited, and really looking forward to tonight's session.

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