Dark Lord: Troll King

So, it’s been two weeks since this site had content, mostly because I’ve been running around putting out fires for a while after everything went belly up over in my actual real life. So let’s put up some more Dark Lord stuff while I procrastinate editing more Chrono Cross episodes. After my friend got me a Google Chart that crunched all the probabilities for me, I was able to discern that the stat pre-requisites needed to be tweaked slightly, which is why these ones are a bit different from the Lich King prereqs.

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Dark Lord: The Lich King

So I spent some time tinkering with the idea about combining Ars Magica wizard plus grogs with Paranoia competitive party members. Though originally planned for a vampire sire and his childer, I’ve decided to port the idea over to medieval fantasy, because that genre unfailingly gets more traction. Seriously, just look at the difference in popularity between Dungeon World and Apocalypse World. Dungeon World is not a better game than Apocalypse World, but Dungeon World is in Roll20’s top ten most popular games and Apocalypse World is like twenty spots below.

Anyways, the Lich King is one of six dark lords that a player can play as in Dark Lord, with the other five being the Troll King, the Fey Queen, the Demon Lord, the Black Prince, and an arctic themed one that will either be the Frost Giant Jarl or the Ice Queen. Either way, we’re focused on the Lich King right now, and his domain in the crypts. When the Lich King is in focus, the other players roll 3d6 in order six times to generate their grog’s stat line. They’ll be sticking with that grog until they perish, at which point they’ll roll up a new one. After rolling, they compare their stats to the following to see what kind of class they can play:

-Lich King (dark lord). Has debuffs and can raise mindless undead minions controlled directly by himself. Good against hero-type enemies (single, powerful enemy with high AC and low or no DR who can be buried under crit-seeking goons).

-Death Knight (lieutenant). Requires 16 CON, 14 STR, 12 CHA (0.3%). Undead knight, hits hard, moves fast, good defenses, bad at swarms (compare Black Prince).

-Necromancer Acolyte (elite). Requires 16 INT (4.6%). Weaker version of Lich King.

-Vampire Duelist (elite). Requires 14 DEX, 12 CHA (6.1%). Glass cannon, moves fast, hits hard, folds quickly under enemy damage, can ignore enemy AoOs. Good for bringing down a squishy but dangerous backline enemy, can hopefully survive the retaliation long enough to get away.

-Vampire Blood Mage (elite). Requires 14 INT, 12 CHA (6.1%). Control and leech healing magic, squishy but has no reason to leave the backline.

-Ghoul Bruiser (elite). Requires 14 CON, 12 STR (6.1%). Slow but powerful, works well with a Blood Mage to keep evasive enemies close enough to nom on, can also serve as bodyguard keeping squishy vampires close enough that anyone who wants to attack them will face retaliation from the bruiser.

-Ghoul Assassin (elite). Requires something like 14 DEX, 12 CON (6.1%). Waits patiently, analyzing a foe with bonus, move, or even full round actions before striking for massive damage. Moves slow, can take a beating.

-Skeleton Infantry (troop). Requires something like 11 STR, 11 CON (25%). Congratulations on not being fodder. Mainly you are tough and are basically a bishop in chess, in that your main purpose is to make the battlefield harder for enemies to traverse by threatening lots of squares. You probably have a reach weapon and then a long sword or something as a backup.

-Skeleton Archer (troop). Requisites are 11 DEX, 11 CON (25%). Reasonably accurate and hits harder than infantry or fodder, but not as hard as a bruiser, assassin, or duelist.

-Skeleton Fodder (fodder). No stat requirements. You’re probably screwed, but you get some kind of prize for reaching higher levels with one of these nobodies. Or you can charge headlong into the first trap-filled corridor or powerful enemy party you find and hope your fragile bone body crumbles to dust so you can reroll.

So how common are any of these classes to actually show up in a basic Lich King party with no upgrades? This common:

00.3% are Death Knights
04.6% are Necromancer Acolytes
05.6% are Vampire Duelists
05.6% are Vampire Blood Mages
01.0% can be Vampire Duelists or Blood Mages
05.6% are Ghoul Bruisers
05.6% are Ghoul Assassins
01.0% can be Ghoul Bruisers or Ghoul Assassins
29.0% can be elites of any kind
05.6% are Skeleton Infantry
04.9% are Skeleton Archers
10.5% can be Skeleton Infantry or Skeleton Archers
21.0% can’t be elites but can be troops
49.7% must be Skeleton Fodder

25.0% can be Skeleton Infantry. Of those, 1.5% each can be a Necromancer Acolyte, 0.3% qualify as Death Knights, 6.1% can be Ghoul Bruisers (i.e. everyone who qualifies as a Ghoul Bruiser qualifies as Skeleton Infantry), 3.0% can be Ghoul Assassins, 1.5% each can be Vampire Duelists or Vampire Blood Mages. 5.6% can be Skeleton Archers as well, and the remaining 5.6% must be Skeleton Infantry.

25.0% can be Skeleton Archers. Of those, 1.5% can be a Necromancer Acolyte, 0.1% can be a Death Knight, 6.1% can be Ghoul Assassins (all Ghoul Assassins could be Skeleton Archers), 3.0% can be Ghoul Bruisers or Vampire Duelists, 1.5% can be Vampire Blood Mages, 4.9% can be Skeleton Infantry as well, and the remaining 4.9% must be Skeleton Archers.

That summary there looks like it took ten minutes on the back of a napkin, but it was seriously like two hours of effort. A friend says she’s working on something that will automate this, which is good, because there’s already a major flaw that will require some revision: Even without any upgrades at all, elites are more common (30% of all spawns) than troops (20% of all spawns). My current plan is to add one more requisite stat at 10 to each elite, which should shift the probabilities down towards 20% elites, and hopefully the troops will absorb the 10% the elites vacated. If fodder end up eating too much of that 10%, some new troop types might be needed that key off of stats besides CON, STR, and DEX. Currently thinking Necromancer Cultist (12 INT, 10 WIS) and/or Vampire Thrall (10 CHA, 10 DEX, 10 INT), both of which have probabilities in the same neighborhood as the 11/11 sets that the skeleton troops have. I’m not looking forward to spending another two hours crunching numbers to see whether or not the two new troop types are necessary or not, and I am especially not looking forward to spending two hours crunching numbers at least once per dark lord type (this assumes that my first guess is correct every time).

Alternative Party Structures

The overwhelming majority of tabletop RPGs rely on the same basic party paradigm that’s been with us since the hobby was some house rules for Chainmail: Three to seven dudes with varying skills work together to accomplish some shared goal. Even if the goal is something mercenary, like amassing wealth, it’s a conceit of the game that the party will work together rather than double-crossing each other for a bigger share, and the game goes very poorly if that conceit is ignored[1]. Even if one person is very noble and idealistic and another is very mercenary and cynical, it’s assumed that this is going to be a buddy cop story where the two overcome their differences and learn to work together (and also there’s a third guy, but he doesn’t roleplay so much, mostly just swings his sword at the orcs).

There’s a reason that’s the norm and it’s a good one, it’s hard to mess that up. Everyone is on the same team, no one has any reason to get in anyone else’s way. There’s alternative party structures, though, ones so rare that they can be referred to by the name of the game that created them, because they have never been reused. You might think that this is because they are evolutionary dead ends, but I don’t think that’s accurate. These alternative party structures are interesting and refreshing and while I doubt that they’ll eclipse the original D&D structure for me, there are many games that seem eminently better suited to some other kind of party structure, but which use the classic D&D instead, just on pure momentum, I guess.

The first party structure is what I’m going to call the Paranoia Party, although in this case there is another game that tried the same basic concept, which is good, because it helps shed Paranoia’s party structure from all of its other quirks (Paranoia has a lot of innovative ideas going on, and a lot of it doesn’t really work well for anything else but a dark comedy about dystopias run by paranoid AI that may or may not be a commentary on megalomaniac GMs). That game is Great Ork Gods, and while I think the rules on that game are tragically too sparse to be interesting for longer than one session, I love its more pure and undistracted development of the Paranoia Party.

In a Paranoia Party, the party as a whole has a single goal, but players are competing with one another to accomplish that goal. In Paranoia, the goal is to accomplish whatever mission the party has been given, but you compete with other players to take credit for all successes and deflect blame for all failures. The easiest way to do this is to be the only survivor of the mission, so no one will be around to contradict your story at the debriefing. What makes this tricky is that everyone has six clones, so you either have to kill everyone else juuust before the debriefing, so that their replacements arrive after it’s over and just in time to be executed for treason, or else you just have to kill all of your party members six times. In Great Ork Gods, the goal is to come out the end of an adventure with the most glory (called Oog in the game, for some reason) by killing powerful foes, accomplishing specific objectives of your troll overlord (or whoever’s in charge), and there is a pool of glory for surviving to the end of the session that’s split between any player who didn’t ever have their ork killed and replaced. If you die, you generate a whole new orc with his glory set to the minimum standard of 1 (or 2 if you pick a name that offends the gods – this isn’t always wise).

Both Paranoia and Great Ork Gods have a sort of Fate point, but which can only be used to hinder another player’s rolls, not improve your own. In Paranoia XP, these are called Perversity Points[2], and in Great Ork Gods it’s called Spite. We’re going with Spite because it’s easier and communicates the idea. Spite is the main tool that can be used to prevent a clear leader, someone who has more glory or who’s lost fewer clones than everyone else, from staying in the lead indefinitely. Like being the most powerful person on the board in Risk, it’s actually the most dangerous place to be because you’re the most likely target of an alliance.

Great Ork Gods refines this concept with an innovation Paranoia doesn’t have. In Great Ork Gods, the GM decides which of seven skills is appropriate to roll in any given situation like normal, but he doesn’t set the difficulty. Instead, the player who’s been assigned to the relevant ork god assigns a difficulty of easy, medium, or hard. If they’re using a skill governed by their own god, the difficulty is easy automatically (though it can be modified if other players spend Spite). Why would anyone set the difficulty to anything but Hard for a rival ork, though? Because if an ork succeeds at a skill check governed by a god assigned to another player, that other player gains Spite. This leads to Mario Kart balancing. Players in a weak position are given easy difficulties because it lets other players build up Spite without empowering a more threatening rival, and then they turn around and spend that Spite to jack up the difficulty of the lead player’s skill checks, even when it’s for one of the lead player’s own gods. Someone who’s just had his ork killed and lost all his glory will get a bunch of Bullet Bill and Starman power ups, and someone who’s about to soak up the entire survivor glory pool because he’s the only one who hasn’t died at least once is going to get sniped by a blue shell.

You don’t have to chew up the GM’s role in the game to do this (not that this is necessarily a bad thing). You could have every player have a pool of, say, five Fate points, three curses and two blessings. Every time you spend a curse to harm another player, you flip it over to get a blessing. Every time you bless another player’s roll, you flip it over to get a curse. You can only bless people’s rolls in certain situations, with different players having different portfolios just like the ork gods, but you can curse whenever you want. This encourages players to bless every single roll made in their portfolio by a weak player, in order to build up a reserve of curses so that they won’t run out at a critical moment and possibly be forced to bless more powerful rivals to replenish their supply.

A game that this isn’t used for but would benefit from it is Vampire: the Masquerade. Although direct PvP murder should not be such a prominent feature as it is in Great Ork Gods or especially Paranoia, the idea of competing for the favor of your sire or the prince or whoever (and you could set up a campaign structure that starts with neonates answering to their sire and has them outgrow him only to find themselves caught in a near-identical relationship with a primogen, and then a prince, and then a justiciar) is extremely evocative of the backstabbing intrigue that vampires get up to. If you don’t succeed in your task, the best you can do is try and deflect blame onto your allies, but at the same time you must sabotage your vampiric siblings to stop them from stealing all the glory, and you may have secret missions given you by other factions within the city’s kindred population, missions which may contradict your siblings’ own secret missions or even your primary objective, and then you might have some scheme of your own brewing on top of all that.

The second alternate party structure I want to talk about is the Ars Magica Party. In Ars Magica, everyone plays a wizard. You do not, however, spend very much time in a party together. Instead, each wizard has his own wizard monastery and his own set of non-magical grunts who are not nearly as cool as him. The wizards might work together to some ultimate goal, like defeating a common enemy or completing some kind of megaproject, but they don’t spend a whole lot of time actually in the same room as one another and wizards will probably spend a lot of time pursuing their personal projects, perhaps even to the total exclusion of whatever the common goal is supposed to be. Wizards don’t compete against one another, but they don’t have to be team players, either.

The way this works is that players take turns playing their wizard, and while one person is playing their wizard, everyone else plays a grog in that wizard’s retinue. A grog is a muggle, and their muggle skills pale in comparison to the power commanded by the wizard. Grogs are expendable, if one dies, an NPC from the monastery is promoted to replace them. Your real character is your wizard, and all the grogs you play are just giving you something to do while you wait for your turn.

The obvious downside to this is that you have to be willing to be patient. In a group of four players, you have to be willing to play three hours of a four hour session as underpowered cannon fodder, although on the flip side you also get to spend one hour having other players be your underpowered cannon fodder. The less often you play, the worse this deal is going to be. If you play three times a week, it’s not as big an imposition to spend less time as your wizard than if you play once a month.

It has a lot of advantages, though. Firstly, it’s the only way to properly represent a party whose schtick is that each member wields significant authority. Having tokens on the battlemap who are your minions is not significantly different from having tokens on the battlemap who are the minions of a king, to whom you are also a minion. Spending five minutes on some guild management mini-game isn’t that different from just allocating XP. They’re perfectly acceptable compromises for a classic party, but the advantage of the Ars Magica party is that when the GM says “Rakthar the Vermillion, it’s the beginning of autumn and you’re in your monastery, what do you do,” your response can be “organize an expedition to the Elemental Plane of Fire to retrieve fire mana with which to forge a flametongue” and then you have an actual adventure where you go and do that with your minions, the other players. For however long your turn lasts, you are actually in charge, and when your turn is over, your party isn’t handed over for someone else to completely change course, you go play as a minion in someone else’s party. Your party will be exactly where you left it when you get back to it, and you can keep doing whatever you want with it.

The main thing that Ars Magica lacks is some means of advancing your wizard’s agenda while playing a grog without having every grog you play be a sleeper agent for your wizard. This could be solved by allowing players to accumulate some kind of abstract resource as grogs, like Fate, which they can then spend as their wizard as a free bonus or rerolls on skill checks or for more of some kind of “concentration” resource spent on magical experiments and item creation and the like in their monastery. I’m undecided whether it would be better to have the wizard assign Fate to his grogs from some kind of limited pool or to have the GM do it. If the former, probably for the best to have the amount of Fate available for each wizard to hand out be almost, but not quite, equal to the number of grogs, so that it can’t just be distributed evenly (otherwise there will be lots of social pressure to do just that, which defeats the point), and also it should definitely not be the same pool of Fate that they have to spend from their own grog work.

This is another party structure that Vampire: the Masquerade would benefit from. Playing now as older and more powerful vampires, you switch off between playing as a powerful sire with childer of your own and playing as the childe of another player (perhaps playing in the Paranoia paradigm, where you receive Fate only if you win more favor from your sire than any other (surviving) childe).

Holy Hercules that sounds amazing. One second, I’m gonna go tinker with this.

[1]Usually. Sometimes it works out and it’s awesome, but that’s dangerous and should only be left to trained professionals. Don’t try this at home, kids.

[2]I don’t know much about other versions of the game, except that Paranoia 5th edition doesn’t exist.

Let’s Play Chrono Cross: Cat Vader

This video brought to you by time travel.

Let’s Play Chrono Cross: Worst Security Ever

You might expect that recording or editing or even uploading a Let’s Play would be the hardest part. You’d be wrong, though. The part that I mess up most regularly is apparently copy/pasting the embed link into a blog post.

Let’s Play Chrono Cross 7 We Fought The Law And The Law Lost

We’ve skipped a few episodes here, because while my YouTube upload schedule has remained consistent, I don’t always remember to post it to the blog. You can find the missing episodes through my YouTube channel.

Let’s Play Chrono Cross: Professor Chamomile’s Live Tutorial

So clearly this blog isn’t being updated regularly without some kind of source of easy content on my part. That source of easy content is going to be a Chrono Cross Let’s Play between myself, who knows the game pretty much inside and out, and my younger brother Annon E. Mouse, who has never played it before in his life. Mouse will be at the controls, and I’ll be guiding him to all the stupidest party members. Continue reading

Quiet Time in TTRPGs

So that December reboot thing hasn’t really been going according to plan, has it? I’m sure my audience of regulars is horribly disappointed.

Here’s a question that’s been bugging me: Is there room for quiet time in TTRPGs? What I’m referring to is moments in video games right after an explosive set-piece battle when the player is given nothing to do except explore the level for a while, maybe find any spare collectibles they missed, and they can move on whenever they feel like they’re ready for more gunfighting. An important note is that quiet time is not when gameplay is drastically reduced or taken away entirely. Quiet time is not a lobby, especially not a lobby that doesn’t even have chat. It’s not a cut scene (even if it’s a quiet one) and it’s not following your NPC buddy as he walks from one door to another. Quiet time is exploring and taking in a level at your own pace, free of enemy interference. It serves a critical pacing purpose by deflating the tension so that tension can be built back up again, instead of turning into a Michael Bay style constant, fatiguing malaise of maximum energy that becomes dull. I was going to link a YouTube video by game design pundit and recovering hipster Chris Franklin on the subject, but I can’t find the damn thing, so my text explanation will have to do.

How could you translate this to TTRPGs? Direct conversion is clearly impossible. Collectibles just don’t make sense in a TTRPG, not in the way they serve as a vehicle for quiet time, anyway. You could have collectibles attached to random loot tables, like having some awesome magic item like a Ring of Three Wishes be split into components (say, seven golden balls each marked with between one and seven stars) and let players quest for them and that would essentially be a collectible quest, but you wouldn’t find those things by tediously dragging your token across each and every room of a cleared dungeon and rolling a new Perception check each time, and at the end wondering if you should run through every single room again just in case you missed one of those Perception checks. TTRPGs don’t have any sense of movement, which means there’s no sense of exploring the environment. You can have a sense of discovery still, of finding out what’s over the next ridge, but you can’t have a mini-game where you try to find a small and easy to miss thing in a large and complex level.

Unless, I guess, you have complex custom maps which are visually clear enough to communicate necessary information in fights but also visually complex enough that a keen-eyed player can spot a hidden magic item like it’s a hidden objects game. That would be cool and it would be quiet time, but is well outside the ability of most GMs to create, so it doesn’t really solve the problem.

What about roleplay? A bit of relaxed conversation can serve as quiet time, but this can end up feeling more like a loading screen or a cut scene than quiet time. You’re stuck listening to this NPC while the GM deflates the tension so he can build it back up – except the GM is also deflating the momentum, which is different and bad, because you don’t actually care to shoot the shit with these particular NPCs. If the climax that was just reached happens to be of emotional importance to one or more NPCs, or even if it’s only of importance to PCs and the NPC is just there to prompt a discussion about it, this can work great. PCs discuss how they’ve been affected by what just happened or what they just learned. It gives people a chance to establish their character, brings all the PCs’ motivations to the forefront (which helps remind players why they as individuals as well as their teammates care about the quest outside of the metagame reason that they showed up to play D&D and don’t want to leave early), and it releases some tension to give the GM something to build up to again.

You can’t always do this either, though. What if the PCs have little to talk about? What if the events weren’t much of an emotional blow for anyone? What if you’re playing through a published adventure, and it turns out that your motivation of “save the world from Tiamat” is going to keep through pretty much the entire thing, without much need for discussion? What if all your players but one have a barely sketched out motivation to play at all? Having NPCs along for the ride who all have emotional reactions to what’s going on threatens to turn the game into that NPC’s story instead of the party’s, and there’s no guarantee that any of your players will be able to out-soliloquy your NPCs and thus retain the spotlight.

Is there a way to add quiet time into a TTRPG that can be done with the average GM’s resources and skills without relying on the players to have sufficiently well-developed characters to carry a scene with just a little prompting? Bear in mind that the solution (if one exists) doesn’t necessarily have to involve roleplay at all, although I suspect that’s a fruitful avenue of investigation.

Let’s Play Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Summarized Ending

Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a much stronger finish than it does a middle. Castle Naerytar is an okay dungeon, the random encounters on the road are alright, but the lack of any particular involvement of the caravan makes it feel underwhelming, and I would’ve appreciated more guidance on what to do with all the other merchants and guards. Greenest was a great opening and Skyreach Castle is a great end, especially with the possibility that players can get their hands on a flying castle. That’s just awesome. My little brother did not actually pull that off, but it’s cool that they thought to leave the option open. Unfortunately, this ending is going to be botched up a bit by the several months of time between when it happened and when I’m writing about it, but it was filler to begin with, so it’s not a big deal.

The party met with Talis, who wanted to be the white wyrmspeaker and was rather put out at having been passed over for the job, and Talis agreed to give them the services of his four-armed troll buddy Trepsin to track down and kill Rezmir as a favor to Cyanwrath. Cyanwrath, in return, promised to kill the white wyrmspeaker and return his mask to Talis. If Severin, the red wyrmspeaker and leader of the entire cult, doesn’t like these shenanigans, Cyanwrath and Talis are staging a coup.

Talis reports that the party were killed and eaten by Trepsin to stop Rezmir from flying off with the castle immediately, and the party spends some time cleaning out the rest of Naerytar. Arvensis is killed, brought back at the temple of Malar found in Parnast, the town outside of which Skyreach Castle is currently hanging out. Malar is an evil god of the hunt worshiped by Trepsin, and he’s able to arrange with the Cleric to have Arvensis raised with no questions asked.

The party heads into the castle disguised as allies of Talis (which technically they are) and scouts the place out before ambushing and exterminating them. The party is critically underleveled at this point (the XP given out is just not enough for a standard party of five to keep up with the levels they’re supposed to be at), but they manage to ambush both Rezmir and Rath Modar while the castle is still on low alert. With the staff of fire and Hazirawn on their side, the party is able to fight off the vampire, his spawn, and a small army of ogres before barricading in for a long rest. Kobolds attempt to break into the room they’re hiding in while they rest, but the second a pick-ax strikes through the wall, Arvensis uses the opening to shoot a fireball from the staff. None of the kobold work crew survives, and the remaining kobolds refuse to take their place.

Rested up, the party is able to defeat the remaining enemies in the castle, including Blagothkus, but the dragon poses a serious problem. He’s directly guarding the treasure they came here to keep out of the cult’s hands, and the castle could be moving them closer to the cult’s ultimate hideout (it’s actually moving towards Rheged Glacier, which is the opposite direction from the Well of Dragons, but the party doesn’t know the location of the dragon cult’s hideout). After brainstorming a few different ways to disperse the treasure across the ground as the castle flies (much to the agitation of both Cyanwrath and Robyn), it’s finally agreed upon that the best plan is to position two of the castle’s ballistae in the ice tunnels with chains attached to their bolts. Arvensis will distract the dragon, then use the staff of fire and his own magic to shoot two fireballs and collapse the ice tunnel over the dragon’s head, whereupon the two ballistae will fire their bolts in an x-shape across the dragon’s back from behind. With the dragon’s head caught under the ice and his body restrained, he will be stuck and unable to turn around and confront the party with his terrifying breath weapon. The party can then attempt to stab it to death before he gets free.

Somewhat anti-climactically, this goes off without a hitch. The dragon dies, but soon afterwards the castle crashes into Reghed Glacier. Blagothkus was aiming for the frost giants camped nearby, but he’s starting to lose it and wound up crashlanding instead. The party stumbles, shaken but mostly unhurt, from the wreckage of Skyreach Castle into an unforgiving winter wasteland, having thwarted the dragon cult’s nefarious schemes for now, but having lost themselves miles and miles from civilization in the process.


It’s the first Monday of December, which means my November break is officially over. I’m going to cheat for today and count a post announcing the end of my inactivity as today’s post. I’ve also got some Anime Banzai photos that I never wound up sharing, and I have quite a few D&D sessions which I’ll probably just summarize. They’re mostly filler, anyway, and they’d probably make for better filler if they were original campaigns. I have campaign summaries for my Star Wars campaign ready to go, maybe I should post those sometime. I’m also hoping to wrap up Dinosaur Riding Barbarians’ alpha draft soon, so that’s exciting.

In any case, I’m back, stuff will be happening, not entirely sure what it will be. We’ll see when we get there.

Monuments Take Too Long In Pharaoh

Impressions Games used to make these city builder games themed around ancient civilizations and their mythologies. Their original was Caesar, which was about building various Roman cities throughout the history of the republic and empire and had less of a mythological theme than most of the others, and others included things like Emperor, about ancient China, Zeus: Master of Olympus, about ancient Greece, and Pharaoh, which was about ancient Egypt.

For a game about building ancient cities, ancient Egypt seems like the perfect setting. Civilizations that were often at war, like the expansionist Romans or the Greek city-states constantly enmeshed in internecine warfare, necessarily gave the city-building a military feel. Military cities had a straightforward objective, to sustain a population and weapons manufacturing industry big enough to beat off enemy attacks for X years. Economic-themed cities had more general goals of reaching a population of X and a minimum prosperity of Y, and these were perfectly satisfactory gameplay challenges, but they lack the feeling of accomplishment.

“Your city will be sufficiently awesome once it has 7,000 people” doesn’t feel like a specific achievement the way “conquer the Macedonians” does, especially after doing it eighteen times. Different enemy armies can have different soldiers that require different combinations of cavalry, infantry, and archers to defeat (though the combat engine and unit diversity is certainly not on par with exclusively military focused games like Age of Empires), but getting however many people in the city is always the same. You set up housing blocks fed by enough goods and services that they will upgrade to high-level housing that can contain lots of people (you can’t upgrade housing directly, instead houses upgrade whenever they’re provided a specific good or service, so level 1 crude huts upgrade to level 2 sturdy huts when they have a supply of clean water from a well, level 2 upgrades to level 3 when they have a food supply, and so on). Your goal on this map is to do the same thing you did on the last map, but with a different set of starting resources and maybe slightly bigger. It’s not easy, and those different starting resources means that figuring out one city’s distribution network is not the same challenge as figuring out another’s, but games have framing stories for a reason and having the same objective over and over again gets old.

Ancient Egypt, however, has monuments. Most notably the pyramids, but also obelisks, the sphinx, giant sun temples, and so on. Here’s an economic objective that feels like a specific achievement and not some arbitrary population goal: Build a giant thing. Even if the process for building a pyramid and a sphinx are fundamentally a similar process of setting up an economic engine powerful enough to harvest or import necessary materials for decades, at the end of one you have a pyramid and at the end of the other you have a sphinx. Provided the pyramid city and the sphinx city have sufficiently different maps from one another that you can’t copy/paste a working city from one onto the other, the missions will feel different not just in how you get to the end, but also in the end you got to.

Here’s the problem: Building a prosperous, thriving city that can feed the engine of monumental construction takes like a decade, maybe two. Actually finishing the larger monuments can easily take double that time. You can build a pyramid faster if you have more miners to quarry stone, more peasants to drag the stone to the site, and more construction workers to turn that stone into a pyramid, but frequently you’re required to build a pyramid using materials that aren’t actually on your map, which means the bottleneck is the rate at which other cities are willing to sell you those resources. That rate is often pretty slow. Given the vast amount of resources required to build a pyramid, it can take decades of time just to import the materials. Even if you site the monument when your city is still just a collection of mud huts on the bank of the Nile clamoring for a steady food supply, and even if you can juggle building the city up while also building the monument (depending on what monument you’re building and what resources are on the map, this can range from pretty easy to a nightmare, but even in the best case scenario you have to make sure you don’t site the monument atop some of the often-scarce space nearby arable land that can be used for siting agricultural or residential areas), you will still have another two or three decades of sitting around and waiting for your monument to reach completion.

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Dinosaur Riding Barbarians: Classes

I’ve made a few posts about the setting for the game I’ve been working on, working name Dinosaur Riding Barbarians, and the “working for [whoever]” sections gave some idea of what you can actually do in this game. In the interests of providing a closer look at the game as a game, here’s a quick rundown of the ten classes that will probably be in the game. Not all of these classes have actually been designed yet, so some of them may prove unworkable once I get into the nuts and bolts, but I feel pretty confident about them.

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Warning: Low Content Incoming

Every November, my creative juices just kind of dry up a little. I’ve been meaning to talk to a psychiatrist about a possible seasonal depression problem for a while, but I’m not exactly swimming in wealth, so that hasn’t happened yet. In any case, since the month of November tends to be seriously low output for me and Stubbazubba is still in law school and very much too busy to contribute, I’m giving an advance warning that we may end up seeing schedule slippage significantly more serious than what came before, and that the blog posts I do write might be short and low quality. For example, they might be a warning about low quality posts for the following month without any relevant content at all.