Monday, January 27, 2014

Catching Up With The Iron Coast

So, I'm really supposed to be on vacation right now. The gorgeous wife and I left for our ski weekend(ish) only to have our van breakdown barely halfway there. So, until about an hour ago when we finally got home, we were stranded in Saginaw, MI, which sort of nowhere, but everyone we encountered was really nice and understanding. So, instead of being drunk and playing Scribblish, Settlers of Catan & Cards Against Humanity right now, I'm on my couch with my wife watching last week's Parks & Rec with a bottle of whiskey, a bowl of popcorn and a remarkably friendly cat who missed us terribly last night. And so, as Parks & Rec ends and the season finale of Dracula sets in, let's make use of our time together and catch up with the Iron Coast.

It's been awhile since I've talked about the Iron Coast. Sure, there have been tangentially related to the Iron Coast, in particular my write up for the "posskum" (giant opossums ridden by the vermen of the Iron Coast) and recent Henchmen Week posts, but there hasn't been a good, solid update on what Team Viking Jesus has been up to for quite a long time. Since September, really. Right when the guys had finished off their excursion into the Lichway.

The Long Road To Sakriskyn

As Team Viking Jesus geared up for its next adventure, the party thief, Oosh, announced that he would be taking his leave of the party for some time to establish an "orphanage." And yes, he would, of course, be installing a vault with a safe if any of the other PCs would like to deposit some of their filthy lucre with him while they go off gallivanting across the Iron Coast. In the real world, Oosh's player, +Paul Linkowski was going on maternity leave from gaming as fhe prepared to be a dad for the something-th time over. Congrats, Paul!

The party went through the inbetween adventure checklist, buying stupid things that they'd had on their wishlists, filling up ye olde wyzarde bonge with unknowne substances, hiring some new henchmen and all other sorts of general carousery and debauch. After the party weighed its options and rumors that it had collected over the course of the previous adventure (and carousing), the party decided to head off across country to the nearby barony of Sakriskyn where the beleaguered Baron of Sakriskyn (but he's of an Iskurlandik persuasion, so he calls himself a "Thane") was said to be having trouble with the local vermen population. Setting off across the countryside, I found myself DMing a group on its first hexcrawl.

Hexcrawl Classic

I'm not terribly experienced with hexcrawling. Travel had always been the sort of thing that got handwaved back in the day, or very simplified down to some random encounter checks, so I've not had much experience running a hexcrawl or playing in one. All of my modern understanding on how to hexcrawl comes from recent readings in OSR theory and wisdom. Given the scale in ACKS (6 mile ordinary scale hexes, 24 mile macro hexes and then scaling up from there), they actually didn't have far to crawl to get to Sakriskyn. Since most of the terrain was hilly and +Matt Woodard's cleric of Viking Jesus, Artur, brought along a cart and team of horses, travel really slowed to a, well, crawl. In order to help the players feel like they were actually accomplishing something and not just rushing from hex A ("roll to not get lost, roll for encounters") to hex B ("same thing, okay done, you're there"), I zoomed in on the hex scale to 1 mile per hex.

The scale change was pretty convenient for me because I bought this great double-sided hex paper from Black Blade Publishing at GenCon this year (at the Pacesetter/OSR booth, in case you were wondering). So, this remarkably convenient hexpaper has larger hexes divided into smaller hexes on each side (you know, like hex paper does); on one side, there are four small hexes per larger hex and on the other its six small hexes per each larger. Since the scales I'm concerned with most of the time are 6-mile hexes and 24-mile hexes, it makes an awful lot of sense to use the 4 small hex per 1 larger side for the 6/24-mile side, allowing me to use the 6 small hex per 1 larger side for something different. Scaling things downward logically, each of the smaller hexes here are 1 mile while the larger ones become 6 mile. I feel like that was a very complicated explanation. Here's the deal: one side, the small hexes are 6 miles each, other side it's 1 mile hexes.

With the players moving around one mile hexes, the passage of time actually becomes pretty easy to sort out. They're moving slowly due to Artur's cart, and different types of hexes (plain, hills, swamp, etc.) all get travelled through at different rates. Also, if there's a road present (here's a hint: there probably isn't), that'll speed things up, too. The math here has been simple and the effects are enjoyable, particularly since the players are really scouring these hexes for details. It has always felt to me that movement on a 6-mile scale would make it really easy to miss details; on a 1-mile scale, as long as the PCs aren't asleep at the wheel, they should be able to find most details. It's been pretty damn cool so far.

A Note For The Observant

If you're an old school BX sort of gamer, you might have noticed that the name of the barony to which the PCs were headed is called "Sakriskyn" is awfully similar to "Sukiskyn" in B10: Night's Dark Terror. Yup. That's the module the players are enjoying right now. With some details mangled (here, Sakriskyn is a barony instead of the homestead that Sukiskyn is, there are vermen not goblins and so on) in favor of the Iron Coast campaign, most of the same stuff is here. There were still three tribes of humanoids attacking Sakriskyn when the players showed up (oh, and I ditched the whole thing with the horses, that wouldn't have held my players' interest), but tribes of vermen (you know, the ones that got mentioned in the rumor that sent the players off on this tangent in the first place). Also, after the players helped the Thane's forces repel the vermen, they set off across the countryside in the cause of vengeance (officially requested and sanctioned vengeance on behalf of the Thane) rather than just looking for some stupid horses.

The players have been collecting some pieces of the overall puzzle, and also some pieces of different puzzles that seem to have ended up in this box. What's been fun is that they've been trying to put them all together in one cohesive whole. For the sake of the story and the fact that several of the Iron Coast players actually take the time to read the blog here, so I can't quite go into too many details. At this point, the adventurers are criss-crossing the barony, trying to find survivors of the verman attacks or, even better, to find the verman warrens themselves. Up until last session, they had found very little, but then, in a verman warren, they found a map that shows an ominous tower in the nearby mountains (that separate the Orphan Baronies from the Orroztalani nation) with the symbol of a black ring that they've learned has some connection with the whomever worked the vermen up into attacking Sakriskyn in the first place.

In about a week, we'll see what the players do with the knowledge they've accumulated so far.