Originally inspired by Wargaming with Dragons* and Demographics and Hiring**. Which I somehow managed to bookmark without saving the source, so I don’t know who to credit. But obviously ACKS is filling some of the same design space.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of running a hexcrawl game where players start with 1st level characters as normal, but 20 men at arms as well, and deal directly with overland travel and combat from day one. So there’d be dungeons and lairs on the map to deal with as normal, but dealing with wandering monsters, brigands and free mercenaries (but I repeat myself; the 30 Years’ War is a real world influence) would be a major part of play as well.
So essentially an open-ended wargame in D&D. I figure I’d put out a big hexmap for the players, just make the major landmarks common knowledge, and see what they do.
Anyone done this? Any advice, best practices, or just table stories?
I’m getting hung up on a couple of things. First, how much ready opposition to provide, and how much in the way of quests. I’ve seen sandboxes go better when there’s some initial direction to get your feet under you (or rebel against) than when the GM just says “go forth and sandbox!”
Second, how to pitch this. I’m not converting a regular game group or night, but I do have a large pool of people I’ve played with or GM’d for. So I can handle drop-ins or differing player groups just by asking them to agree on a mission to cooperate on. But more modern style games (3.5/Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Shadowrun, others) have been the biggest draws in this community.
how thoroughly have you combed the forums and/or did you back the domains @ war kickstarter and therefore have access to the playtest document?
In a thread somewhere amid all this, I once ruminated on shrinking the scale of war down from 120/60/20 to 30/15/5. I never really had much opportunity to implement it though, as my play-by-post campaign has a mere 2 player-characters who have just crested level 4, and you would likely want to be at least level 5.
As for just straight up using men-at-arms, my players gathered up about a dozen mercenaries early on with their funds and did some wilderness travel with them for a period of time, though they eventually opted to disband them once they got a decent stable of higher level henchmen.
I found the rules for what to actually do with mercenaries, going by only the core rulebook, to be somewhat inadequate. I treated them as characters with no proficiencies and no stat bonuses or penalties, but otherwise operating at an AC and damage as a level 0/level 1 (depending on veterancy) fighter.
The long and short of it is that you really want the domains at war rules, specifically campaigns, which i think will give you the best baseline for how to start hacking your own thing together.
Unfortunately I missed the kickstarter entirely. So I’ll be waiting for it to be available at retail, but I’m fuzzy on when that is. Between my play experience with Labyrinth Lord and play reports like Kiero’s, I’m willing to start by rolling bunches of d20s, but I can see I’d want DaW sooner or later.
And I’ve lurked the forums off and on for some time, but I may go back through now that I know what I’m interested in.
I’m not opposed to mercs having proficiencies, though possibly keying off what the PCs are able to train/drill in.
Hopefully soon, a printing proof version was shared with the backers, but that was before the Dwimmermount backers got various uncomfortable objects lodged in various orifices, after which point the Autarch team has been scrambling to help complete that ill-fated kickstarter.
of course I made that snide comment and promptly get emailed the next day about backer copies of the PDFs. It looks like the product should be on sale at GenCon, though I’m not sure if that’s just the physical copy. I would expect you’d be able to get the PDF no later than then, possibly sooner if you keep your ear to the ground.
As someone suggested elsewhere, Xenophon's Anabasis isn't a bad starting inspiration.
Take a multi-ethnic/polyglot mercenary force. Bring them to the very heart of a vast and powerful empire. Put them on the wrong side of a succession crisis in said empire. They suddenly find themselves thousands of miles from home, surrounded by enemies, and needing to work together and fight battle after battle, scrounging for supplies along the way, to survive and reach home.
For mercenaries, treat them as Normal Men - that means four General Proficiencies. If you're going to have a game with lots of people with the same class, don't skimp on the best differentiator ACKS gives you. That being Proficiencies.
I'd recommend starting the PCs at 2nd or even 3rd level, unless you've already got a process in place for replacing them. 1st level characters are too fragile for something that's going to involve regular large-scale combat. Maybe allow them a 1st level henchman as potential backup option as well.
Once you're underway, perhaps drop-ins can play a henchman or merc, depending on how frequently they turn up?
That is an awesome campaign concept. It gives the players an initial direction, but so much room for changes and different approaches to achieving it. Do they try to get together some money or local support to facilitate the trip home? Do they just try to trek through a hostile land? Do they end up getting involved in local politics again? (They just don’t learn, do they?)
I’m probably going to steal that idea and develop a campaign skeleton in one of my settings for it - maybe my Viking setting… the PCs could be the equivalent of Varangians in a far-off land, and might attempt a reversal of my older campaign idea, sailing the Varangian trade route to Constantinople…
Echoes of Glen Cook’s The Black Company, maybe?
Yeah, Varangians and Black Company both sprang to mind. It does sound like an awesome campaign.
Or the Chain of Dogs from the Malazan series. An army shepherds many times its size in refugees across a hostile continent, being whittled down bit by bit at every step.
The Black Company would work, as would Duke Phelan’s Company from Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion. Or the Order of Tomanak from David Weber’s War God’s Own.
Oof. That was a hell of an ending on that one.