Friday, May 23, 2014

Caving, Fear, Skills, and Throws

The oppression of my lunchtime creativity continues apace back in the real world! A quick missive slipped under the bars of responsibility:

On vacation this Spring Break, the wife and I went on a "Wild Cave Tour", at Cosmic Cavern in Arkansas.

The cavern itself is an opening of the 'Kimberling Fault Line' according to our guide. I'm not getting a lot of actual government/etc. results to get it's range online.

You do see the fault line in the ceiling in several places. It is dormant. There are several long soda straw formations in the cave, some of the longest known, in fact. - They take a century to grow an inch, any movement at all would have snapped most of them. The longest, a 9-footer, would have taken ten thousand years to connect to the floor; and would have broken at some point if there was any movement.

The bottom of most of the cavern is 'bottomless' lakes - they drift down into the aquifer at some point.

There's a public tour that should suffice for most sane people. I highly recommend it, in fact, it's a beautiful cave with wonderful formations.

But, there's this Wild Cave Tour.

I'll spare you the story, I don't think I'm good at telling it. Needless to say, there was a vast difference in experience between our guide and us.

It is a beautiful cavern; and our guide had a deep knowledge of it, and a clear passion for the methods and art of caving, as well as of the cave itself. The man was hard-core; very skilled; doing things that my pasty butt at an office job only sees on TV. He drug me and my wife through that with the patience of the very stones he knew so well, and we did things we didn't think we could do.

I can't speak highly enough of him. Nor of the cave itself, it is a geological treasure. I highly recommend the public tour, and the Wild Cave Tour if you think you've got the goods to do it.

It took us a little over 3 hours to do the cave. We traveled less than a quarter mile, I'd bet.

Take what we did, the physical challenges, out into a mall. Put that foam on the floor, make it safety compliant, strap people to the ceiling with bungee so they can't fall. Sell a $2 ticket to climb through. You'll wonder why I'm even bothering with this post.

Nobody writes about mall rock walls.

Fix it, then. Turn off the lights. Make that mall pitch black; none more black. A darkness that's hard to get in your house these days, where everything has a power LED.  Grab a helmet and a head lamp. Make sure everything's wet, slippery; make sure there's constant dripping everywhere. Make sure your boots are slick from clay and from submersion. Make sure you're not dropping onto gym mat foam - make it rocks and cold, deep water and crevasses you can snap your leg in.

Make the penalty for failure significant and brutal - the logistics of getting a man out of there with a broken leg or two eludes me.

Make sure your best friend is there with you, doing the same things. Make that friend your wife. Make her the mother of your children, so that the only two people on the planet those kids need are stuck in that spot together.

I'm standing there on a ledge, not even a ledge - a 30 degree angled flowstone formation - having just slipped a bit and caught myself. I know a probable outcome is flipping over a rope - that merely offers the suggestion of safety, it does nothing - like a chump and hoping to God I don't knock my head on a rock on the way down to the water 20 feet away. I know my wife has to do the same thing. It's an uncomfortable mixture of many different types of fear that I haven't necessarily needed to subject myself to.

I face "actuarial dangers" every day. Driving to work, taking a shower, lighting strikes, meteorites, all those daily bullshit accidents.

I did this on purpose, though.

Just that statement right there is a finely crafted fear you don't get everyday. The "I did this to myself" sort of fear that only strikes when you're on a slippery ledge in a dark cave over a bottomless lake.

I should talk about something gaming related. I think those in the know call it a 'Joesky Tax'.

I don't have a physical attribute over 9, I'm sure. Lifestyle and specific maladies have all but ensured that. I don't have Climb Walls, I don't even have equipment. We didn't bring our normal hiking gear on vacation with us. I walked in there without an extra light.

What skill check is my DM calling for there on that ledge? In my honest opinion, I'm doing nothing but saving versus Petrification and Paralysis to not stop; give up; go back. I'm saving versus having children. Versus not quite having my affairs in order if both of us go; having an office job - a lot of modern things that don't map to the classic 5 saving throws.

There's a hell of an idea for a modern Papers & Paychecks game: Save vs Your Children Not Succeeding.

You know who else does that? Our guide.

He's in a hell of a lot better shape than us and has much more experience doing this. He comes back here for fun when he's not leading a tour around. I would too if I could; I'd finally get good at it. Off hours, he and another one of the guys are busy exploring more and seeing where they can dig out new areas. He's got kids as well.

But he's as careful as I am; perhaps even more, since he knows how to be careful here better. This is his job.

How does he fall off the ledge? Assume this is a new area for him. Does a handhold break? Maybe, but he's choosing handholds he knows from experience shouldn't. Slippery footing? Sure, but I haven't seen him slip once, and he's got better boots for this than I do.

So, setting aside the fact that he has better physical attributes than I do, our guide is just plain better at applying them than I am.

In DND, that is modeled precisely in the attack throw. Modified by STR or DEX, it goes up as you rise in levels, and tells you how good you are at applying those two attributes in combat, even if they're low or you're penalized.

Mutants and Masterminds 3E, or, if you're of an age, Marvel Super Heroes and the FASERIP system, both handle your fighting ability as an ability score. Neither are level based, but it's an interesting concept.

We can turn that around, I think.

The Attack Throw is your ability to apply your STR or DEX for fighting.

Let's say a Strength Throw is your ability to apply your STR to the environment - climbing, pushing, moving, breaking things.

An Agility Throw could be your ability to apply your DEX to the environment - sneaking, balancing, dodging other acrobatics.

An Intellect Throw may be your ability to apply your INT to the environment - deciphering script, recalling lore, disabling devices, searching a room.

What of the rest? I'm not sure I have a use case for those. Constitution is a relatively passive ability - the environment tests itself against it. Charisma can be argued to be the same way, and, honestly, I'm not looking to replace reaction rolls. Wisdom has always been a bit vague, as well - both a measure of inner power (in the divine magic sense), common sense, and animal instinct all at once.

Or, one could do:

A Physical Throw is  your ability to apply your STR or DEX to the environment.

A Mental Throw is your ability to apply your INT or WIS to the environment.

That leaves Constitution and Charisma as the only "passive" statistics, and ties into the duality of the Attack Throw modifiers.

We could then apply progressions to the 4 class types, as defined through the ACKS Player's Companion, for both those throws.

Thief skills need be nothing but proficiency-style bonuses to those throws - much like Weapon Style: Single Weapon gives you a +1 to hit with a one-handed melee weapon, thieves would get bonuses to Physical Throws or Mental Throws when doing certain thief tasks, perhaps in the style of the +1/+2/+3 progression that Swashbuckling gives to your AC.

That way lies spreadsheets, and those aren't ready yet. Next time.