Monday, September 28, 2015

The Sinister Stone of Sakkara: Released

Sakkara is out in PDF.

I expect POD/etc. to follow once backers have their physical product.

My review of it is here - a review still valid as the final product was completed before the Kickstarter launched. Matthew Skail did a great job of reinterpreting the classic B2 module for the themes of ACKS and the Auran Empire setting.

A few extra highlights:
  • The module shows you how to outfit the supplies for a fortification, from water supply to horse feed. That's good info to have for any number of occasions.
  • Autarch's crisp look and feel continues in this product - clear text cleanly presented, the best in the small publisher business. I will mention this for every product they put out. (except Dwimmermount, and I lamented it's absence there)
  • Two landscape pieces by Jeff Brown, one of the fort and one of the adventure site, really stand out - both color two-page spreads. More landscapes should be used.
  • Michael Syrigos and William McAusland fill out the art with various black and white sketches; all well done and evoking the feel of the Auran setting. 

That's 80 pages of a campaign kickoff for $5 in PDF - I don't know why it's all Crazy Alex pricing over there all the time but there you have it. 

Back to Blackmarsh in the next episode. I unpacked my Wacom pen+tablet and I was feeling artsy so the map showing realm hexes claimed is delayed while I get that out of my system, instead of just using the map included with the product like a normal person. On the plus side I feel like I almost have an acceptable method for drawing forests.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

ACKS Blackmarsh (1)

Did I mention I moved? My office is just now mostly back together, and I've turned on my computer for the first time since May. So I've ensconced myself in the warm glow of LCDs and I've done some fiddling with ACKS, which I haven't done for quite some time.

For various reasons I found myself looking back again at Rob Conley's Blackmarsh, a free and open little sandbox document.

Since I'm in a PbP game on Autarch's forums that's using it, I started to wonder what it would look like if the tenets of ACKS were applied to it.

I've had a Dwimmermount map project languishing unposted for quite some time - it may behoove me to jump back in with something a touch smaller to get myself restarted on that. Plus, Blackmarsh can merge with the Dwimmermount map on Blackmarsh's southern edge.

And, as the PbP game made me realize, DM's azoth and BM's viz may as well be the same thing, though I think you'd want to have DM's version be more 'pure' given the central themes of the place.

You know, before I get started, I should probably say something about the product itself.

Released in 2011, Blackmarsh is a small sandbox, 19 by 27 hexes, containing the titular swamp and a list of settlements, lairs, and ruins (about ~80). The town of "Castle Blackmarsh" is mapped and detailed. Ostensibly written for Delving Deeper, an excellent rework of the original game, it's compatible with anything marginally like D&D.

There's a wide variety of monster lairs, including must-have dragons, and the ever-present threat of an old evil 'probably' destroyed. The civilized races are presented from many different factions, 7 on the board in all.

Just enough detail is given for a Judge to springboard their own ideas - reading through this for the first time in several years, I'm finding myself wanting to grab a group and run it.

Actually - let me wind that back a bit. I came across Rob Conley's blog and Blackmarsh very early on when I was coming back to D&D, and I downloaded and read through it. At the time, I accepted it at essentially face value - a hexcrawl - and set it aside.

3 or so years later, having some hundreds of OSR and other blogs on my reading list, having read a wide range of thoughts, practices, and products, I come back to it today with a new appreciation for what Blackmarsh provides.

For what it's worth, this set of posts will be very much like a record of steps taken to reconcile a non-ACKS setting with ACKS rules.

So: let's list the settlements in Blackmarsh, their rulers, and likely allegiances:

HexSettlementPopulationBlackmarsh - RulerBlackmarsh, Alliance
217Oldan Hold342DF6Dwarf, Bolzak
407Blackoak Castle170EF4M6Blackmarsh Rangers
409Strangeholms292H0Halfling, Blackmarsh Rangers
608Ashdown121F6Blackmarsh Rangers
610Greenton642H0Newcombe Halflings
804Stardell Falls503EF4M8Elf, Seat
912Blackmarsh Isle100-Blackmarsh
913Castle Blackmarsh1294EF4/M2Blackmarsh, Seat
1113Inuacus Keep50F10Blackmarsh
1305Muncaester895F4Ostrobard, Seat
1307Naomi, Sorceress-M9-
1309Wizard of the Isle-M18-
1518Norbury Castle120F9Grand Kingdom
1602Wessex Keep50F6Ostrobard/Muncaester
2505Castle Taldene200F9Vasan, Seat

A range of settlement sizes and alliances - by my reckoning, there's ~7 factions on the board - Dwarf, Blackmarsh Rangers, Halflings, Elves, Blackmarsh itself, Ostrobards, the Grand Kingdom, and the Vasan.

Hex 0912 is an unnamed island; settled by 100 men. I've deemed it Blackmarsh Isle, so I can use it as a settlement. I've listed the two named mages to keep track of them. I'm not yet sure how they're going to pan out - they obviously have some tower analogue, but no attached settlement or domain.

There's some argument to be made about the various relationships of Blackmarsh, the Rangers, and the Elves.  I expect the Rangers and Blackmarsh to be allied, if not quite vassaled. I also expect the Stardell elves aren't as nonplussed as they would seem with the whole Ranger/Blackmarsh idea.

Blackmarsh is extremely well set for 'overland' faction play, without it necessarily being lumbering empires clashing. That's great for ACKS - it's easy to see a group of players making their own mark on the map (or taking someone else's mark)

In converting this to ACKS, I'm making two assumptions for this first attempt:
  1. The population numbers given convert straight to families
  2. The hexes magically transmogrify to 6 mile hexes, rather than 5.
Let's see what that looks like, given the advice starting in ACKS pg229:

RealmSettlementHexPopulation (Families)TypeWhole Realm SizeSubrealm SizeRemaining PopulationRealm Hexes @300/hex
BlackmarshCastle Blackmarsh9131294Small City6470033150216
Jorvik1316481Small Town24050
Blackmarsh Isle912100Village5000
Inuacus Keep111350Hamlet2500
MuncaesterMuncaester1305895Large Town4475011550150
Wedmor1002255Large Village12750
Camden1302214Village 210700
Wessex Keep160250Hamlet2500
Blackmarsh RangersBlackoak Castle407170Village8500245029
VasanCastle Taldene2505200Village10000-35000184
Daretop2704415Large Village20750
Gamla2508405Large Village20250
Ysby241180Small Village4000
Grand KingdomNorbury Castle1518120Village600020
Bolzak (D)Oldan Hold217342Large Village1710057
Greywood (E)Stardell Falls804503Small Town2515084
Newcombe (H)Greenton610642Large Town32100107
Strangeholms (H)Strangeholms409292Large Village1460049
Total Hexes896

So - first problem is we have used up 896 hexes...of 500 available. (Note Vasan looks weird - because it's 'seat' isn't the largest settlement in that realm - as supported by the text. We'll get to that later)

I've done a few conversions of materials over the past couple  years, (none of which I've bothered to finish up and post so far...) and this is a pretty common problem. There's never enough space on the map to support the realms attached to the urban populations listed, so it becomes a game of adjustments and refactoring to get into something that fits.

The "default world" of non-ACKS'd D&D, I've noticed, whether this Blackmarsh or Dwimmermount or any number of small publisher or WoTC products is one of folks packed up into urban settlements, who leave during the day to run the farms that apparently feed all those people. It feels like an odd reverse-suburbia sometimes when you're trying to backtrack from the settlement populations.

It's (hopefully) likely we'll be able to pop up the population density and do some adjustments to our urban demographics to shrink down the realms to a manageable size for the map.

Next post, probably, though don't hold your breath. Taking longer than I would have thought to fully get settled here, due in no small part to the fact the old house is still up for sale, and that puts a bite in the budget.