New on Desk #72 — The Dino Safari

I’m spending too much time writing these newsletters. Let’s see how quickly I can put one down!

Specific type of hexcrawling adventure

So, going back to D&D adventure models, hexcrawling — or rather, wilderness adventure — is the activity of having the adventuring party wander around the game world on some sort of mission. Typical reasons to be doing so include going from point A to point B, and wandering around in search of something. In either case the travels are complicated by encounters with the local inhabitants. Lots of fun, we’ve been doing a fair bit of that in the Coup over the last half year.

Monster hunting is a rarer sub-type of the wilderness adventure. The adventuring party tries to find monsters and monster lairs, and hunt them down for the associated rewards: valuable corpses, local community security, same reasons people have historically had for hunting great beasts.

Monster hunting is somewhat rare as an adventuring activity in my experience because the stars rarely align to make it as lucrative as dungeon crawling. Local community being aware and concerned by a nearby monster lair is fine as an adventure hook, of course, but that’s usually less of a general hunting activity and more of a four-footed dungeon raid McGuffin. Actual hunting tends to involve lower risks and rewards, and less structure, which might not appeal to players so much.

The D&D tradition has weird exceptions in this, of course. Back in Coup session #14 the party actually captured a giant weasel, a creature with the specific distinction of having a massively over-inflated pelt value (1k–5k GP, I think). Usually creatures do not have a listed value for their parts, but I’m generally happy to calculate economically backed values for them if players want to play a huntsman. (It’ll be silver and gold piece numbers for most creatures, nothing like the giant weasel. A wizard will appreciate the arcane uses for some body parts.) A successful dungeoneering party will probably find the hunting income to be beneath their notice, even if hunting income gained during adventuring time does indeed count for treasure XP.

So weasel pelts and griffon eggs and such are worth the hunting effort, but what the monster-hunting party will really want is a quest to motivate them (and reward XP). Either somebody who’ll pay them for the goblin ears (an oldie goldie from D&D’s charming box of race war tropes), or an actual ethos-based quest that’ll make the monster-hunting an inherent good. We’ve pretty much established that Rangers in the Selintan Valley (and most other parts of Flanaess) can get a general ideologically motivated quest for protecting the local community from monsters; at 100 XP per HD of threatening monster hunted, I’d say it’d be feasible for a Ranger-led posse to make some gains simply hunting dangerous creatures to get rid of them. Not much money in it, but rangers get traditional hospitality from local communities, so they’ll get by, and XP flows in.

Also, speaking of the structure of the monster hunting adventure: one reason for why monster hunting might not be popular is that the game doesn’t have very established processes for this. Same song as with many other adventure types, it’s difficult to make the activity gameable if there’s no structure. The group (or GM) knowing actual stuff about actual real-world hunting helps to an extent in making the project interesting and skill-based, but ultimately hunting adventures boil down to advanced wilderness expedition management; there’s no boardgame-like structure to be had the same way a dungeon map reveals new exciting rooms and gives a sense of progress that way. It’s similar to how lightning and marching order rules in dungeoneering are only meaningful for a more skilled group, except what is 30% of the game in the dungeon is like 80% of it in the wilderness; there simply isn’t a lot of game (ha ha) to be had in monster hunting unless you put a significant amount of wilderness knowledge into the game yourself. Without advanced expedition management a hunting mission is literally just a bunch of random encounter checks.

The peculiar virtues of the dinosaur safari

We’ve started adventuring at the Isle of Dread with our Tuesday Coup crew, and I’ve noticed that dinosaur safari has some pretty nice virtues for a low-level bolstering adventure. (That is, an adventure to take characters to 2nd level.) Check it out:

The traditional D&D dinosaur’s deal is that it’s got humongous HD, but not much in the way of special abilities. They’re very realistic for D&D monsters, basically just big animals that (for some reason) have more HD than dragons. This makes them relatively (relatively!) harmless, while being relatively rewarding to hunt.

As is usual in D&D, adventurers in Coup can gain some XP from encountering and defeating monsters. I call this “trauma XP”, you can gain points in the same category from other things as well. The formula for monster trauma XP is 10×[monster HD]2, so a party would gain 10 XP for defeating a 1 HD monster, 80 for defeating two 2 HD monsters, etc.

So consider the friendly Stegosaurus, herbivore with a prominent crest and a spiky tail. Weighting in at 5 tons and 11 HD, it’s a large dinosaur, if not one of the largest. Worth 1210 XP to defeat, 605 XP (50%) to encounter, 120 XP (10%) to just witness it from a distance (first time). Not bad!

Also, assuming Stego turns into 40% of its body weight in meat, and you have the means to cure and transport it, you could have two thousand pounds of dinosaur meat for a neat ~100 GP in your hands there. Other body parts could also be of use, of course.

It may be the case that a low-level party does not have the means to hunt dinosaurs in reasonable safety, but impossible it is not. Our pal Stego, for instance, enjoys a rather high armour rating (in the Coup he’s pretty much immune to archery and most melee weapons, for instance), and he has a mighty tail whipping attack (and mass enough to trample humans), but he’s also slow and not exactly evolutionarily prepared to defend himself from things like pit traps or patient, massed missile fire. There might be ways for a human to outwit him without the usual Dumb & Dumpfknopf bigganumba routines — like say engaging in melee combat — and if there is, then a low-level party might be able to bring him down despite his formidable yet lop-sided strengths.

And even if you don’t, any campaign that allows adventurers to gain XP fractions merely for meeting these majestic beasts, even if not slaying them, will be seeing some pretty nice XP flow on the dino safari. It seems to me that given the right opportunity, dinosaurs specifically could form a worthwhile prey for a monster-hunting adventure at low levels. Even if you just meet a half dozen of them and bring down one over a few weeks of expedition, you’ll be feeding the crew both meat and XP. For a more historically realistic take, consider mammoths; they have similar strengths as targets. The noblest way to reach 2nd level, the way of our ancestors! (Not all humans descent from mammoth-hunters, but Finns probably do.)

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #22

We put the dino safari into practice last Tuesday, whence the feature topic today. The party, such as it is, consists of Temple of Doom initiates on an excursion to the Isle of Dread. As I discussed last week, the players had to formulate their own adventuring program for the ~3 weeks that they have time for on the Isle. The debate ultimately ended up with a relatively modest and safe dinosaur safari targeted on the southern half of the island, although the players did also leave the option open for a second party to leave for a deeper journey to the heart of darkness concurrently, should a slightly different crew of players want to do that next week. But for now, a straightforward dino hunt!

To summarize the profit motive: a substantial fraction of the party are physical cultivators, practitioners of a magic system that benefits from eating a dinosaur heart. Said characters would enjoy an award of 100 XP per HD for a dinosaur, should they bring one down and eat its heart to empower their cultivation. The rest of the team are in the hunt mainly in hopes of finding some easy treasure. There should be some on this island, right?

The expedition chose their landfall location carefully, in the juncture of the mountainous highlands and jungle on the western shore of the main island. While fresh water was easily found and some traps laid for prey, the party also found that travel is slow in the jungle, and getting lost easy. The land was mapped in short day trips around the camp site while waiting for signs of large animal life.

Devious local monkeys were encountered, but what really worked to the advantage of the party was the great mastodon that came to drink from the watering hole early one morning. While the mastodon trampled over the neat pit trap the expedition had toiled to create, ruining it, following its track also allowed the party straight and quick access to the craggy highlands north of their camp.

It started to seem like the area wouldn’t have any dinosaurs at all when a poorly considered ambush by two feral lizardmen broke the monotony. The party managed to notice the jungle-camouflaged lizardmen before they could do the “kidnap the last man in the line” thing on them. As one might expect at this point from the infamous Beast Society, the players were quick to conclude that lizardmen are clearly dinosaurs, and as 2 HD dinos their hearts should be eaten for cultivation purposes. Said and done!

Ascending over the cliffs, the party found their way into a swampy river delta not too far from their camp site. Here they met the majestic high point of the session, the Stegosaurus! This fine fellow was espied descending carefully down a gravelly, ramp-like cliff-side, clearly on his way to have a drink down in the swamp. The first real dinosaur (depending on your stand on lizardmen, I suppose) of the safari, a majestic 10+ HD beast!

The players were very careful about the huge Stego, but also keen to slay such a majestic beast. Their plan wasn’t a bad one, I thought: they maneuvered hunters with missile weapons (and one particularly crazy Warlock with an Eldritch Blast) around and up the slope while Stego was drinking, and then attempted to surprise him on the steepest part of the gradient when he was drudging back uphill. The idea was to encourage Stego to struggle and perhaps lose his footing, causing him to fall down the slope and back into the swamp. The rest of the party would then ambush him when he struggled to get up and whatnot. Bold, and the mechanics of the plan were basically sound!

In practical application we found that Stego has a rather laconic personality, he’s slow to anger, and therefore the odds of getting him to stumble weren’t so great after all. On the other hand, the players’ worries about Stego somehow just jumping or charging or launching spikes at them, or otherwise seizing initiative, were found unbased: the way I interpreted the physiology (as the GM and therefore our primary dinosaur expert in residence) of the Stego, I considered him relatively unable and unwilling to make quick movements even when rudely blasted by hellfire. Pestsome humans tried arrows as well, of course, but scoring an effective hit with those was basically impossible through the thick skin of the Stego.

While Stego was let go for now (at least the expedition now knows his rough whereabouts!), the party continued to specifically look for lizard men in the swamp to get some more of that wholesome not-cannibalistic-at-all lizard meat. You find what you seek! This time, though, there were seven feral lizard men, rather more than the party had bargained for. Again with an ambush (almost like they’re ambush predators), this time from the water. The situation came very close to a total party kill, but the party won initiative, and the leader in a rare bout of altruism actually got into fisticuffs with the lizardmen to delay them sufficiently for the party to escape. A true hero, a true Austrian! (The character’s a physical cultivator, some sort of crossover between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Weismuller.)

That’s one of the literary themes of this expedition, by the way: the rumble in the jungle, gorilla guerrilla cultivators fighting in fisticuffs (on account of their bestial punch/punch/bite flurry of blows combat style) with feral lizard men (with their own claw/claw/bite, of course). It’s mammal vs saurian, just like in that summer blockbuster movie, King Kong vs. Godzilla!

When we next meet, the players will presumably have figured out what they want to accomplish on their island retreat. There are still characters who haven’t gotten the chance to taste the delicious sauropod flesh, and I could see the players having figured out a cunning plan or clever ploy over the week. The first session of safari taught us a lot about how things work here in the jungle, and there was certainly progress: seeing the mastodon, fighting Stego, fighting and even eating some lizard men, I think a few of the PCs gained over 300 XP from the session. Pretty good, all things considered!

Monday: Coup de Main #46

Meanwhile, the online Coup crew is having their own struggles with a more traditional type of adventure: the Waylost party (I’m using the name of the most prominent character in the party here, I suppose) has been maneuvering for a couple of sessions over at Castle Greyhawk, and things seem increasingly better and better in positioning terms: the party has found a path through the Castle Woods, and managed to conquer the castle barbican in a rare example of utter idiocy on the part of the opforce.

While the party were uncertain how to continue from here, the dungeon whisperers analyzed the barbican for secret doors and actually found a secret tunnel deeper into the dungeons underneath the Castle. This is certainly handy in solving the question of where to go next, even if it doesn’t do anything for questions like “how do we get home?” or “how do we maintain possession of the barbican while we go home?” Still, clear progress here.

This raccoon door (?) was the best visualization I could find of the kind of one-way door we were dealing with here.

The secret tunnel led to a door, and, well, I wouldn’t have expected it to have been as much of a problem as it ultimately proved to be. The door was of the rare one-way variety, a fact which the experienced dungeon delvers divined early on; if they simply went through the door and let it close after them, they couldn’t go back the same way. This was absolutely unacceptable for the party, so they decided to try to break the door before doing anything else. Unfortunately the door was extraordinarily heavy, made of stone, and with hinges to match. The party’s chosen method of door destruction was mainly trying to wedge their crowbar between the door and the wall in such a way as to force the hinges to deform and fall off.

(I have only refereed one-way doors I think one or two times before this, and this is the reaction they always get. I imagine that the conceit originates in a much more boardgamey original playstyle where the doors work “automatically”, so the GM just declares after you go through a door that it was one-way and doesn’t exist on this side. I can see how it’d be a great feature for dungeon structures. In my play the entire idea always gets stuck in the mechanics of how exactly the door is supposed to function, and why couldn’t characters notice the door’s nature and break it to prevent it from closing their route of retreat.)

So anyway, dice weren’t with us here, and the party ended up spending almost an hour of dungeon time (complete with noise-caused extra encounter checks) trying futilely to break this door. After 50 minutes the local giant rats finally noticed what these fellows were doing, inspiring them to retreat back into the tunnel. And that was our dungeon crawling session for the night.

The best part of the experience was when the party had been working on the door for 30 minutes (game time, again), and the hard frustrating work caused one of the adventurers to miss a step and get wedged in the door while the others were slamming it as hard as they could. 1d6 points of damage! The character unfortunately has too many HPs to die from that, otherwise we’d have gotten a new entry in the Hall of Dumbfuck Deaths.

At least they didn’t break my door. Not yet.

Session #47 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 17.5., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

State of the Productive Facilities

I’ve been writing CWPs this week. #2, Fighter Class, is pretty finished, and #9, Combat Rules, is halfway. I guess I’m still not quite happy with the writing speed, but that complaint gets old, so let’s just pretend that everything’s fine.

Also, got this newsletter done in slightly under 3k words. Very good.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *