Monday 31 July 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #197: When Can You Split the Party?

Five hexes northwest, three southwest of Alakran.


Another vacant hex, another opportunity to slip in a more or less normal opinionated blog post.

"Don't split the party" is a traditional refrain in adventure roleplaying, and the rare adage that applies both in-character -- as tactical advice -- and out-of-character -- as table advice. When some characters go off to do their thing, there is only one gamemaster, and the others are left spinning their wheels, so it's an issue of enjoyment. It's also an issue of table logistics, as the two sub-parties need to have information kept from each other until they reunite. Easier to solve online, but harder in-person, with awkward moves to separate rooms and the GM running back and forth between the two.

And yet ... for every rule there is an exception. When you have a player who wants to take their character off-scene and do something separately, there is an opening for a healthy party split through one-on-one play. Some people might tut-tut, thinking that humoring the player just creates a diva syndrome and envy in the others. I haven't experienced this, though. All the split-offs met these conditions:

1. They involve one player.

2. They are resolved outside the party's joint time.

3. They involve a player with different playstyle from the rest of the group. 

I've maintained that diversity of play approaches in a group is a strength, not a weakness, of games, and has to be mechanically accommodated. Solo play is one way to do this. Let's go to the case studies.

Case 1 is an "impulsive" player-type in a party that got swept up in a local conflict between a free city and a neighboring kingdom, and wanted to do some scouting of one of the kingdom's bases. The stealthy mission was accomplished in online play (pre-roll20).

Case 2 is a story-driven player who wanted to explore their romantic relationship with an NPC merchant and do some world-discovery along the way. As part of downtime, the pair went on the NPC's northern mercantile run, a trip lasting about a week and exposing much of the map in that area. The romance suffered from the trip -- such are the ways of dice, or indeed, of long trips with someone with whom you're used to shorter interludes -- but the solo play was highly satisfying.

Cases 3 and 4 involve the same super-impulsive player who never met a dimensional portal they didn't jump through. The first jump, into Jennell Jaquays' deathtrap room from the Tomb of Borshak, was resolved through online play. This player survived but the other players were in the dark, until their further investigations of the tomb found the roon in question. The reunion was fairly smoothly done.

The second jump was into the portal of a teleportation device operated by a group of goblins. 4th level bard/warlock in 5th edition vs. a room full of 25 goblins, the goblin leader and two bodyguards. How that went ... has been resolved, but has yet to be known to the rest of the party. Suffice it to say that in order to keep the impulsive player in the game, their "B" character will be joining the party.

So, splitting the party can be fun under a few specific conditions that don't interrput normal group party play. Keep this in mind -- all rules can and should be broken if you understand their underlying principles!

Sunday 30 July 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #196: Village of Barzanke and a Village Randomizer

Four hexes northwest, four southwest of Alakran.


I've been using a number of random and semi-random means to give character to villages, especially the large number of villages dotting the prosperous landscape of Dulsharna. These include a table of economic activities given the terrain, and the more freeform use of the Perchance adjective-noun generator; for example, "darling persona" which I generated right now might bring to mind an NPC who is all sweetness and flattery but in a hard-to-define fake way; no doppelganger or scheming monster, just a kind of void behind them.

If we bring together a bunch of these ideas then a d12 mega-table might be born, rolling once per 100 inhabitants (or with larger populations, three times per 1000) for a set of particularities fit for any settlement.

1: Concentration on one kind of economic activity

2: Excellence in one kind of economic activity

3: Peculiar form of one kind of economic activity

4: Strange absence of one kind of economic activity

5: Memorable feature, openly visible

6: Memorable feature, secret or hidden

7: General mood or character of settlement; use Perchance adjective generator

8: Memorable NPC, leader of settlement

9: Memorable NPC, citizen of settlement

10: Distinctive treasure object

11: Distinctive festival or ritual

12: Distinctive taboo or custom

For some of these I have further tables or consult Perchance. Let's look at Berzanke. It sits at the border between the grasslands of Targatana to the southwest and the desert. We'll say it has about 200 souls so we roll for two distinctive characteristics. A 2 and a 10!

Something about these people's economy is really excellent quality. Barley, that's it! The grains of a flawless whiteness (third try on Perchance) the go into making sacred bread and beer for the feasts of Mitra.

As for the treasure object, let's say it's a utilized lifeline -- deeply treasured, secret, and hidden under the village's crude shrine to Mitra of the Sands, it is a simple cord with copper sparkles on a black threading of some kind of hair, tied into a loop at the end. It can store up to three raise dead spells but is currently out of charges, though still radiates a faint necromantic magic. The villagers remember its last few failures and will be hugely grateful if visitors figure out the reason for its failure, and perhaps engineer a trade of white barley to a temple for the restoration of one of its precious charges.

Saturday 29 July 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #195: The Never-Retreating Spearpoints of Dawn

Three hexes northwest, five southwest of Alakran.


Another memorable specialist company of Wahattu, the Spearpoints are a unit of struthiary -- cavalry mounted on flightless birds. This fortress is named Lequnna-Qinnu, the Receptive Roost. The company overall number 72, six squadrons of 10 level 1 soldiers with level 3 and 5 officers, and one lance (2 squadrons) is garrisoned here, in a tower similar to the Earth-Cleaving Crescents' but with an outer fence, riding area, corral, and stables for the birds. The  commander divides his time between this place, the other fortress to the south (Samu-Danannu, the Ruddy Momentum), and the main fortress of the southeastern Wahatti army, Sun's Greeting Castle, located westward. His name is Bir-Drada -- yes, sometimes you just have to come up with a name in the heat of the moment -- and the lieutenant of this fortress' lance is Kanugu.

Riding "axe-beak" terror birds with vermillion and orange plumage, descendants of the legendary steed Keledra the "Solar Phoenix", this elite struthiary unit mingles upper-crust scions and ruthlessly skilled social climbers. The fiction that they are a hunt club, maintained to allay the historical concerns of Urighem about rebel armies, is never more transparent than today. A pride of lions insolently lairs within an hour's ride of their headquarters, more mascots than quarry.

A Dawn trooper fairly bristles with armaments: a long lance and its replacement, six javelins, curved tulwar sabre, longbow, and (excessively) one dagger holstered on each snakeskin gaiter. True to their name, they never retreat but are sometimes known to strategically redeploy or engage the enemy in retrograde manoeuvre. Their badge is a burnished copper solar disc with six spearpoints in lieu of rays.

They are fierce rivals of the other elite struthiary of Wahattu, the Unstainable Honour Guard of the Royal Venery, peacock-plumed ponces who garrison in the capital and dye their mounts purple -- in contradiction of their very name and in pathetic imitation of the natural pedigree of Keledra! Specifically, Bir-Drada and the commander of the Venery have both gotten into their head that they need a bird with all-black plumage to be their mount, and the search for that bird threatens to inflame the already fraught rivalry.