Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are Only Swords Smart? And, if Not, What does this Mean? Part II

  In the last entry in this longer-than-I-expected series on intelligent swords Ishowed that the DMG clearly shows that a lot of other things besides swords can be intelligent. I also spoke about the possibility that smart swords are smart at least in part to allow fighters to use magical abilities they otherwise couldn't.
  While you are free to disagree with me about why swords are smart so often the first point seems to create a puzzle; if it is relatively easy to give inanimate objects intelligence, why is it astonishingly rare outside of swords? I mean, sure, the idea of fighters needing an intelligent proxy to get magical effects to work explains the wealth of smart swords it doesn't explain the dearth of, say, intelligent staves.
  But you know what does explain why non-fighters have virtually no intelligent items?
  Personality Conflict.
  The more powerful the intelligent item the stronger an Ego it has. The intelligent item may very well strive with its wielder for control; when that happens the items compares its personality score [Ego + Intelligence] to the personality score of the wielder, which is [Intelligence + Charisma + Level of Experience] with the higher number winning.
  Since the average fighter probably has an average Intelligence and an average Charisma, they are often in a position where their Personality score is, effectively, 20 + Level so a powerful sword with a high Intelligence and a high Ego can only be safely wielded by a high-level fighter.
  As a matter of fact, this kinda' explains why so many powerful swords seem to be holy swords - with their absurdly high Charisma paladins can safely wield very powerful weapons at a much lower level because their number is, effectively, 30 + Level.
  I can hear you now. You're saying,
  "But, Rick, wizards need a high Intelligence. Indeed, to be capable of casting really high level spells - the sort you need to make the items we're talking about! - they need an Intelligence as high as a paladin's Charisma. You seem to be arguing for more intelligent items that aren't swords."
  Nope, the opposite, and here's why.
  Loss of hit points = temporary decrease in Personality score. Combined with the naturally high Ego scores that non-swords will tend to have and this means clerics and (especially) magic-users are at greater risk of losing a personality conflict at a key moment.
  Here's two examples.
  First, an actual character from my Blackstone campaign and his sword.
  The sword Gatekeeper was forged by a Mage House during the height of the Ruby Empire. This two-handed blade is +4 to hit and damage and has the ability to Detect Extra-Planar Creatures within 60' at all times. Its special purpose is to destroy extra-planar portals and creatures and once per week it can, on touch, close any form of extra-dimensional portal. Gatekeeper has a 13 Intelligence and is Chaotic Good. The sword's Ego is 10 giving it a personality score of 23.
  Doomsman is a 13th level fighter with a 12 Intelligence and a 15 Charisma. His personality score is 40.
   And here is an actual character plus a conjectural item.
  Altonar's Stave is a Staff of Power with an Intelligence of 17. Rather than having special powers, Altonar's Stave has just the normal capabilities of a Staff of Power plus it can read maps, Read Magic, and speak and read Common, Elvish, and Gnomish. It can also communicate with its wielder telepathically. Altonar's Stave is Lawful Neutral and has an Ego of 20 for a personality of 37!
  Lohr is a 14th level magic-user with an 18 Intelligence and a 10 Charisma. His personality score is 42.

  OK, so in each case the wielder can easily 'overpower' the personality of the item they are using, right?

  Let's look at Doomsman and Lohr a bit closer.
  Doomsman has a 16 Constitution and 70 hit points. His HP/level average is 5.
  Lohr has a 9 Constitution and 30 hit points. His HP/level average is 2.

  For Doomsman to have his Personality score drop low enough for Gatekeeper to dominate him he will need to lose more hit points than he has.
  For Lohr to have his Personality score drop low enough for Altonar's Stave to dominate him he will need to lose 12 hit points.
  So Doomsman really doesn't need to worry about Gatekeeper 'taking over' because he'll die first. But if Lohr loses more than 40% of his hit points the staff can 'take over'.

  Now, if we swap items so Lohr is struggling with Gatekeeper and Doomsman is striving with Altonar's Stave then Doomsman would have to lose 20 hit points to lose a personality struggle while Lohr would have to lose... 20.
  The drop in personality scores is much sharper for non-fighters.

  So it looks like the low average hit points of magic-users (and to a lesser extent, clerics) makes them vulnerable to losing personality contests with intelligent items as they take damage.

  We also have to consider another fact - since magic-users can use things like staves and wands without the need for a proxy the only was an intelligent item would be of use to them is if it were intelligent enough to be able to, oh, Read Magic, or speak and read many languages, etc. In short, for having intelligence in an item to benefit a magic-user the item must have a high Ego score, making the magic-user more susceptible to losing personality conflicts.

  So why aren't there more Staves of Power with magical intelligence? Its to dangerous!

  Next time: part III

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are Only Swords Smart? And, if Not, What does this Mean? Part I

  As I have looked at intelligent weapons for the last few (hectic) weeks we have to pause to ask - are only swords smart?
  There is always a simple way of answering this - what did Gary/the DMG say?
  The obvious examples of things with intelligence are artifacts;
 - Baba Yaga's hut has an intelligence score. Of course, it is an evil tardis with giant chicken legs, so... why not be smart, too?
  - The Orbs of Dragonkind each have an intelligence score and an ego score and can struggle with their wielders just like swords!
  OK, so that seems to show that not just swords can be smart!
  What's that? Did someone say "yeah, but those are artifacts so they don't count"?
  Well, I have heard that before - that artifacts and relics are so 'other' that you can't treat them as examples. I don't agree with it, but I will admit it has merit, so let's keep looking.
  How about the Figurine of Wondrous Power - Onyx Dog? It has an intelligence of 8-10 and can speak Common. This seems to imply it is much more than the spirit or intelligence of a dog. [Well, unless all it can say is "I love you"]
Quick Aside: Can you see it now? An adventuring party of 4 - a paladin named Frederick, Dymphna the low-Int cleric, Vell'Ma the mage, and Norville the Shaggy, the thief. Norville has an onyx dog that says things like 'ruh-roh, raggy, a rombie!'.
  Anyway; the onyx dog looks fairly clever, although it isn't as smart as a dim sword. No mention of an ego, so let's keep looking.

  Then we get to Appendix H. I love appendix H because it implies so much! Gary tells us, rather casually, to simply take a few things from 'features' and a few things from 'attributes', randomly toss them together,and turn them into tricks.
  Why do I mention implications and stress how casual Gary was? Because Appendix H tells us, pretty clearly, that anything can have intelligence. From a pool of water to a machine to an illusion to FIRE - anything can be smart. Anything can have an intelligence score and, it is strongly implied, any smart thing has an alignment.


  Let's start with the obvious stuff, first.

  Intelligent daggers and staves shouldn't be a big stretch from swords. A dagger that can make its wielder Invisible once a day and can detect precious metals within 30' at will would be pretty valuable to a thief. A Robe of Eyes with its own intelligence could warn its wearer of creatures approaching while she slept. A smart Instant Fortress could act as its very own doorman, admitting people it knew without the owner being present.
  All pretty cool.

  But since this is obviously possible and obviously handy, why is it only really directly mentioned (and turned into a table) for swords? And why is it done for swords so often (after all, intelligent swords are almost 3% of all magic items)?

  Let's talk about magic item restrictions for a second..

  In 1e certain types of magic items are only usable by certain classes or class groups - a fighter can't use a Wand of Fire; a magic-user can't use Gauntlets of Swimming and Climbing, etc. This seems to imply that there is more than just power words or even force of will involved in activating certain magical items - there must be some sort of 'essence' associated with these items and their powers.
  Fighters seem to be the most restricted in this regard (I haven't done a real examination, this is just an impression). And many, of not most (or even all) of the powers seen in intelligent swords appear to be the sorts of powers a fighter could not use if the power was in, say, a wand.

  Here's my theory: the reason for the prevalence of intelligent swords is because the sword's intelligence is required to make the powers of the sword usable by a fighter. The intelligence of the sword is a form of proxy - since the fighter can't activate the sword's powers directly he, in the end, orders the sword to activate the power for him. The intelligence is, in a very real way, a workaround for the limitations faced by a fighter using a magical device.

  That seems to make sense for the powers that seem to mimic racial abilities, too. A human is never going to be able to use dwarven racial abilities. But a dwarven-forged sword with an intelligence could invoke those racial abilities on behalf of a human wielder.

  Suddenly intelligent swords with special magical powers make a lot more sense, don't they? And the fact that intelligent swords are the one thing really covered in any depth make more sense, too.

  Next: Part II

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The free copy of Far realms goes to - Hugh Acton!

Hugh, you won the free copy - send your email to
harbingercomms (at) gmail, etc.
And I will send you your code!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

Far Realms is Almost Done - Time for a Give Away!

  Far Realms is hard to quantify in terms of 'time to write'; it is mainly a collection of house rules from my 36+ year old AD&D 1e campaign turned into an OSRIC/OSR-friendly format. So on the one hand I could claim the book took 38 years to write (time from my first written house rule until now). On the other, I started the conversion about 18 months. It has been a great family project with the wife and 4 older sons enjoying the process as I took a little time most Saturdays to turn this into something other people can enjoy.
  And that is, in the end, what I hope for - that other people enjoy the book.

the back cover in black and white galley proof

It has alternate weapon specialization rules, additional abilities for thieves, assassins, druids, clerics, magic-users, and illusionists. I have an alternate initiative system, rules for upkeep and maintenance, and an OSR ruleset for disease and parasites.
  I have expanded a hireling or two and added the healer and merchant hirelings. I have 4 NPC-only classes (the Man-at-Arms, the Religious Brother, the Hedge Mage, and the Scoundrel), and I have 4 new PC classes (Barbarian, Bard, Nobleman, and Scout).
  There are rules for followers for barbarians and noblemen and expanded charts for fighter followers.
  Oh, and 33 pages of new spells.

The front cover in black and white galley proof

  We hope to have the final version up on RPGNow this weekend!
  Of course, we are going to give away a free copy - just leave a comment on this post (or on google+) promising to write a 5-star review and we'll add your name to the list (OK, you only have to promise to actually read it). On Sunday morning my 11 year old will pull one of the names from a hat and we will get the free copy to the winner!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

OK, So Your Sword is Smart - but What Kind of Smart?

  I've been talking about intelligent swords for a the last week or so and I want to move on to a question that I don't think was ever addressed in the main books - where does a sword's intelligence and alignment come from and what is the nature of its intelligence?
  Since I like to be contrary, let's start with - what is the nature of the intelligence within a magical sword?
  Personally, I can think of four broad possibilities:

  First, it is a fully sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Second, it is a semi-sentient or barely-sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Third, it is a non-sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Fourth, it isn't a true intelligence at all, but a 'trick of magic'.

  What I mean by 'a fully sentient intelligence from elsewhere' is - the creator of the weapon places the intelligence of a creature into the blade. This could be, oh, the soul of a person, angel, or devil as appropriate to the alignment of the blade.
  Archbishop Clemenza prayed over the elderly figure in the bed. Once a bold, dashing young man of fearsome strength and fulsome heart Sir Jerrod the paladin was greatly diminished by age. The aging paladin had come to the archbishop a year prior, begging the prelate for the chance to continue to serve the Church and fight evil. After prayer and a Commune spell the archbishop had begun preparing a sword. Now he stood ready - by his own desires Sir Jerrod's soul would go on to its reward but a small part of his mind and personality would stay on this plane within a new holy sword, spending decades more fighting evil....
  Zazzur the Red always felt most at peace surrounded by his own legions of the undead, but even the dread necromancer needed assistance other than that of zombies. He had spent weeks sacrificing prisoners to the fiends he served until the price had been paid. Now, as they last strokes of the hammer fell upon the fel sword being forged at his own command Zazzur summoned an imp. The tiny devil appeared, grinning, within the circle. Soon it would fulfill the dark pact by entering into the sword and giving the weapon a malevolent intelligence. Zazzur's captain of guards would be even more formidable than before, and more compliant to Zazzur's will....
  These weapons would be intelligent in a very real way; they could hold a conversation, provide (alignment and intelligence appropriate) advice, perhaps even recall periods of history or locations they had lived through.

  When I talk of semi-, barely-, and not-intelligent from elsewhere I am talking about, oh, minor elemental spirits, lesser demons, devils, and angels akin to larvae, and the types of spirits that animate golems. 
  Grandmastersmith Beornthein continued to chant the prayer of joy in Old Dwarvish as the sword blade turned straw yellow along the back, cherry red on the edge. He felt the movement of the minor spirit from the living rock up through the anvil and into the blade. He switched tot he prayer of thanksgiving as he allowed the blade to cool and continued the prayer an hour later as he picked it up to hone the edge for the first time. As he grasped the tang he felt the whisper in his mind; the earth spirit, now a part of the sword, knew its duties and was ready to serve.
  Unlike the earlier mentions, these swords would be truly intelligent, more more akin to a very bright animal; they will understand their duties, even enjoy them; they will feel some emotions, etc. But their conversation will be limited to their tasks (and may be just 'feelings' communicated to their wielder) and they will have no real advice, history, etc. to share.
  The line between barely-sentient and non-sentient is going to be broad and hard to define but will probably be between speech/telepathy and just empathy.

  Finally, weapons that aren't truly intelligent at all but imitate it are going to exist.
  Alissa the Mage was done. The great debt she owed to the warrior was now paid in full with the blade she handed to him. It was as skillfully made as possible and enchanted as he wished. The warrior smiled with appreciation as he test the blade's balance. Holding is up he asked the sword itself,
  "Can you speak?"
  A faint voice, obviously from the blade but seemingly distant, answered in a flat tone devoid of emotion,
  "I can"
  "Who am I?" asked the warrior.
  "My master" responded the sword.
  Beaming, the warrior slipped the sword into its sheath and bowed to Alissa.
  The 'intelligence' of these weapons is much more akin to a computer program; a series of 'if, then' statements that have more to do with how a Magic Mouth delivers it message than with actual thought. These weapons are essentially incapable of a discussion, let alone advice or a personality.

  In my campaign all of these different types of intelligence are possible and exist. Typically the 'dumbest' intelligent swords are the third or fourth type of intelligence with the middle tier being second or third type and only the top blades (a 16 or 17 intelligence) being type one - but that can vary. A sword may have been more powerful and has declined with misuse, or it may grow from a simple type 4 into, over long years, a type 2 or even type 1 intelligence.

  Also, perhaps a sword with a 17 Intelligence and a Lawful Neutral alignment would 'play dumb' when wielded by a lawful Good or Lawful Evil owner. Sure, it is allowed, but the sword might not like it!

  And this leads us to personalities; a type one or two blade might very well have a developed personality and become, in a very real way, more like a hireling (or even henchman) than a tool or weapon. Think of the possibilities!

Next time - only swords?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Wandering Podcast with Random DMG

  We're trying a new format for our podcasts here at Don't Split the Party.
  We start with Random DMG - one of us opens the DMG to a random page and then we
  Wander wherever the discussion of the page takes us.
  The result?
  The Wandering Podcast
  Today's podcast is about invisibility, gnomes, illusionists, and why 1e 'feels different'.
  We hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Magic Item of the Week - Aspergillum of the Guardian

As I spend time working on more blathering about smart swords, enjoy this little bit from my campaign.

  St. Aeldred was one of the Three Missionaries to the Dwarves  and a fierce foe of evil. After his death he left behind not just relics but a legacy of protecting the weak and fighting the undead. Priests dedicated to his cause created a handful of magic items that resemble one of his his relics, the Apsergillum of St. Aeldred.
  An Aspergillum of the Guardian looks like any well-made aspergillum constructed of oak and silver. A Good cleric or religious brother, however, can call upon the Aspergillum to dispense a splash of holy water. This holy water will strike any single target within 60' of the wielder automatically and can even strike undead that are largely within the Ethereal plane (such as ghosts) as though there were wholly material. The being struck is drenched with enough holy water to have double normal effect, if any. A Lawful Good cleric or religious brother may use the Aspergillum up to three times a day, all other Good priests may use it only once a day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Dwarf Chieftain Has What?! Demi-Humans and Intelligent Swords

  All of the discussion in the last article led me and the sons to go through the DMG and Monster Manual (1e, of course) and do some more number crunching. We looked specifically at two things:

  1) the powers of swords with intelligence, and
  2) the number of magical swords in the hands of NPC demi-humans

  The results are very fun.
  First, the Primary Abilities chart has a surprising amount of powers that are, well, demi-human; they mimic the racial abilities of dwarves, elves, etc. Many of the rest of the powers on the Primary Abilities chart are clerical. 38% of the powers are demi-human and 53% are at least possibly clerical, if not exclusively clerical. Only 5% are arguably only arcane (the total isn't 100% because some results are 'see other table', etc.).
  About 95% of magical swords with special abilities only have Primary abilities so the implication is that about 90% of intelligent magical swords are made by demi-humans and/or clerics.

  That changes how I look at item creation, how about you?

  Gary tells us that demi-human NPCs can make magic items, even (maybe especially) powerful ones.
  Quick aside: ever notice that when Gary discusses the creation of really powerful items he mentions that they may have been the result of lost technology?
  And we know clerics can make magic items and, unlike magic-users, they don't risk the loss of constitution to do so.
  This makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Clerics and NPC demi-humans don't risk the loss of constitution to make permanent items - of course a great many weapons would be made by them! Suddenly all those +1 swords and axes make a bit more sense - it is either a cleric praying to God for a weapon to smite evil or a gnarled old dwarven smith chanting a battle hymn over an anvil as he shapes an axe head.

  I mentioned in the last post that one of the reasons most intelligent swords are Good is because good creators are more motivated to do so and good wielders are less likely to kill the sword maker.
  Another reason most intelligent swords are good is because a large number of the creators of intelligent swords are demi-humans.

  The Extraordinary Powers chart, however, is very, very different. Only 6% of these powers are racial (and gnomish, at that!) and 6% are exclusively clerical. The other 82% are arcane (like above, the total isn't 100% because some results are 'choose', etc.).
  This implies that the 1% of swords that are really smart and really powerful are made by magic-users or illusionists.
  This also makes a lot of sense. If a wizard is going to give up a point of constitution (or an illusionist give up years of life) he probably isn't going to make a +1 sword, he is going to make as powerful a weapon as he can!

  Last, but certainly not least, we looked at the Special Purpose powers. As I mentioned previously, only about 3 in 1,000 magical swords have a Special Purpose and the Special Purpose powers are pretty much evenly divided between magic-users and clerics, although clerics have a bit of an edge.
  Say it with me - this makes sense. Really, really powerful clerics and magic-users that can make a powerful swords probably would, but clerics would be more likely to do so because they don't face the same penalties.

  After we did this analysis we did some number crunching on the demi-human listings in the Monster Manual. In the middle of this we realized something; the fact that only humans and demi-humans have specific listings for individual magic weapons, etc. while humanoids do not is entirely consistent with what we are learning by examining these charts - demi-humans and humans can much more readily make enchanted items! While we can assume that shamans and witch-doctors can and do make magic items these are probably almost always scrolls and potions; they rely upon evil humans and gifts from extra-planar creatures for the magic items they do not steal.
  [my oldest son is creating a supplement with write-ups for humanoid shamans and witch-doctors and item creation rules for them]
  Anyway, after crunching the numbers we discovered the following things to be statistically so;

  - 1 out of 2 large dwarven lairs has an intelligent magical sword (this is because dwarves prefer axes and hammers, or the number would be higher)
  - 2 out of 3 large halfling lairs have an intelligent magical sword
  - Each large gnome lair has an intelligent magical sword
  - Each large elven lair has an intelligent magical sword

  As I said in the first post  - HOLY MOLEY! This really changes how we look at NPC demi-humans, doesn't it? After all, it looks like each and every elven chieftain has an intelligent sword!

More on smart weapons next!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why are so many Smart Swords Good? More on Intelligent Weapons

  Some of the numbers from my first post on this topic are a little surprising: 25% of all magical swords have at least a special ability, an alignment, and an intelligence score; talking swords are as statistically likely as potions of healing; good-aligned characters can use many more intelligent weapons than evil-aligned characters.
  I want to talk about that last fact for a little bit today.
  If you analyze the distribution of aligned swords by the ethical axis (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic) it looks like this:

  Chaotic: 20%
  Lawful: 35%
  Neutral: 45%

  So intelligent swords skew slightly toward Neutral, then Lawful, and are Chaotic least often.

  If you analyze the distribution of aligned swords by the moral axis (good, neutral, evil) it looks like this:

  Evil: 15%
  Neutral: 35%
  Good: 50%

  Showing that intelligent swords are mostly Good, then Neutral with few being Evil.  The single largest grouping of sword alignment (as the first post showed) is Lawful Good.

  So it appears that the majority of wizards and clerics who make magical swords with special abilities are, themselves, Good - 25% of the time specifically Lawful Good!
  Why do I assume this? Well, I don't think a Lawful Evil mage would craft a Neutral Good sword. As a matter of fact, he might not be able to!  The very nature of alignment means that a Chaotic Good crafter might make a Chaotic Neutral weapon and might make a Neutral Good weapon, but almost certainly will only make a Chaotic Good weapon, and this would hold true for each other alignment, too.
  Depending on the specific origins of the alignment and intelligence of the weapon and method of placing them in the sword (which is a future post) they might be restricted to only making weapons that match their own alignment.
  We can also assume that since druids can make magic items, and druids can use swords (scimitars count) that a rather large percentage of the True Neutral swords are actually scimitars for druids or other swords made by druids for followers, allies, etc. If we do this it implies that the overwhelming majority of non-Druid-crafted intelligent swords are made by good guys.

  But - why? Are most magical swords made by good guys or is it just that most intelligent magical swords are made by good guys?

  My oldest son has a theory - quality over quantity.
  Or as he put it,
  "An Evil Overlord Dark Wizard all in black with lambent red eyes is going to crank out a bunch of +1 swords for his Horde of Mooks. His lieutenant is going to be a Charmed Half-Ogre with a +3 club of Dwarf Crushing and his scout is going to be a Shadow Demon from an Iron Flask."
  "The white-robed Advisor to Good Kings is going to forge a mighty implement of Good to be wielded by the king's best knight, a man who is a paragon of virtue and honesty."
  I tend to agree. After all, let's look at the overall Evil vs. Good picture in AD&D.
  Quick aside: I tend to play the same 'game' as the Hill Cantons - the DMG, etc. are always right. I tend to find that if you look around you will see that not only do the odd bits actually work, they often make sense and have an internal consistency.
  Orcs and such? Large numbers of scum with lots of low-level thugs.
  Elves and such? Fewer troops overall but with an edge in quality and their leaders are fewer, but individually tougher.
  Demons and Devils? Lots and lots of (relatively) low powered mooks all over.
  Celestials? A handful of big guns like Planetars and Solars.
  Bad guys? Uhhh - fighters and assassins.
  Good guys? Paladins.
  Paladins are rare. If you roll 3d6 in order as Gary intended only 1 in 1,000 stats sets will qualify for paladin. If you just look at my past articles on the implications of the henchman rules you'll see that NPC paladins are much rarer than that. That being the case, why are there so many Holy Avengers?
  Because Good is about a few elite, well-equipped, highly-trained specialists both dealing out a great deal of damage and being able to survive a great deal of damage.

  Bad guys tend to rely upon large numbers and rapid replenishment of forces. They hit you with wave after wave of ill-trained, poorly-equipped sword fodder and if they lose, well, there are more where that came from!
  [As I was writing this Wombat wrote a cool post at his Den of Gaming Iniquity. Worth a read!].

  So why are so many swords Good? because good guys have more motication to make them and can trust their wielders to not turn on the creators!

  The next article will be about more implications of the DMG and MM.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Planetary Assault Operations: A White Paper

  A blast from the past, this was originally written for Freelance Traveller in 2002! It is largely unchanged since then.


There are a number of references to planetary sieges and the taking/retaking of planets by opposing navies in the Traveller Canon, especially during the Frontier Wars. And while the Imperium mainly controls the space between the stars, there are times when the enemy isn't only in space. And while a hostile planet can be interdicted, bombed, and talked to from orbit, only troops on the ground can truly control it. This paper is my attempt to explain how I think a planetary assault would work and how one could be set up in a campaign as background, plot device, or adventure. I have also included a brief glossary at the end of the paper.

Assumptions and Givens

  1. This is my opinion and IYTU YMMV. Much of this is based upon my knowledge of airborne operation as a former member of a U.S. Army Airborne unit.
  2. I am using the Third Imperium from about the time of the Fifth Frontier War as a baseline for the assaulting force; this implies an average TL-13 with a top TL-15. Switching this to other races should be relatively simple and I will include some notes.
  3. I am primarily a CT GM, but I will include references to other milieux. I hope to keep this as generic as possible.
  4. I am assuming that the Imperial Army will undertake large-scale planetary actions. IMO, Imperial Marines are 'johnny-on-the-spot'; they are the visible might of the Imperium and deal with brush fires. In large-scale actions they will concentrate on 'traditional' marine roles - boarding actions and quick assaults. With 'organic' support (artillery, medical units, etc.) and heavy units the Imperial Army and its colonial units are going to be the major players in ground actions.
  5. The relative superiority of near-space by the navy of the attacking force is a given. Without close orbit superiority planetary assaults are effectively doomed. This does not mean that the attacker must absolutely control close orbit, just that they must be capable of projecting great force into near orbit at specific times.
  6. Specific tactics will vary based upon the tech level of the planetary forces. Against foes of TL-0 through TL-5 or so the Marines just set down in grav vehicles and move out. While a large TL-5 army with heavy support could actually mount a credible defense against TL-15 marines in battle dress, they will not prevail. At higher tech levels, however, you can face serious opposition as those large armies gain nuclear weapons and more sophisticated armor and aircraft. I have divided assault procedures into TL-6 through TL-10 and TL-10+.
  7. I am taking it as a given is that military forces will generally be smaller as tech level increases. This will, of course, vary based upon law level, political stability, war footing, etc. But just as many modern armies are smaller than they were in previous generations, I am assuming that the increased efficiency of higher tech levels will reduce the number of sophonts under arms.
  8. This all assumes that the attacking force actually wants to capture the planet mostly intact. If there is no interest in preserving the structures, resources, or population, I assume that a heavy orbital bombardment until the defenders were unable to resist would be sufficient.

Planetary Assaults

A clear military objective is the key to clear military success. The ultimate goal of a planetary assault is to control the planet. In order to do this, the military objectives should be (not necessarily in order):
  1. Render defending military forces unable to effectively resist ('combat ineffective').
  2. Control or neutralize the defender's governmental or administrative functions.
  3. Control or contain major population centers.
  4. Secure means of resupply/reinforcement of attacking/occupying force.
Initially naval forces will conduct ortillery attacks against strategic targets. Defensive emplacements, command and control centers, sensor clusters, military bases, and downports will be primary targets. It is also highly likely that general infrastructure will be targeted to reduce the enemy's will to resist. Civil engineering (dams, mass transit, etc.) will be targeted. Depending on the level of resistance and the volume of ortillery fire available it is possible to reduce a planetary population to using flashlights and shipping water in trucks in a week.
The initial phase of ground assault is usually the use of drop troops (also called jump troops). Inserted from orbit, drop troops rely upon surprise, speed, and violence to secure a landing zone ('LZ'). Once secured, the landing zone is used to land heavy weapons, grav vehicles, landing ships, etc., etc. A secured LZ is called an 'orbit head'. The orbit head(s) are the start points for ground attacks against defenders and can quickly transform into the equivalent of a class C starport.
The main ground assault is performed by a mix of light and heavy infantry, mechanized infantry (infantry and g-carriers), armor, artillery, and support units. Because of the mix of units the force as a whole is called a 'combined arms army' or just 'combarm'.
Assuming the ground assault is successful, there are follow-on units that help secure the planet. Ranging from psychological warfare units to military journalists, these units strive to replace the destroyed or removed infrastructure and government of the planet with the tools of the Imperium.
Although it may be unusual to think of an operation as large as attacking a planet as tactical, but to a military force capable of such an action it is. The most critical decision is; where to insert drop troops? While this should remain fluid to allow changes based upon the differences from one operation to the next, it is often very advantageous to insert an orbit head near a population center of the defenders. In addition to allowing the operation to immediately threaten defenders, it will reduce the ability of the defending military to respond with full force without endangering their own populace. The simultaneous insertion of multiple orbit heads is also preferred. This will force the defenders to split their forces and the attention of their command staff. The use of deadfall ordnance at the same time can add confusion since gravity bombs can easily be configured to 'look' like drop pods to sensors.
Drop Troop Insertion
The most critical period of planetary assault is the insertion of drop troops. Although supported by orbital fire the drop troops are very exposed to defenders and can suffer significant losses before reaching the ground.
To increase their chances of securing an orbit head they are accompanied by a number of tools configured to resemble troop pods to sensors.
The first such tools are 'Landing Zone Preparation Devices', also known as daisy cutters or Sylean scythes. These explosive devices are the first pods fired and are designed to mimic troop pods. About one third of these devices detonate about the LZ and use gravity lensed explosives to direct a concussive cone toward the surface. The massive overpressure is designed to detonate any mines in the LZ and knock down most plant life and structures. The remaining devices detonate on impact and are grav-focused to concentrate their force in a 3-meter high plane parallel to the surface, flattening any remaining foliage and obstacles.
The most common devices that drop amongst the troops are jammers. In addition to radio and radar jammers, there are also meaconers (devices that distort navigation signals, i.e., give false GPS results), repeaters (devices that record defenders' radio communications and repeat them over on over on a number of frequencies), and mimics (devices that send electronic and radar 'chatter' that resembles the defender's communications but give false data).
Also accompanying the drop pods on the outer fringes are defense pods. These grav-stabilized devices have radar/lidar sensors and a laser cannon, all powered by a fusion generator. These air defense systems are designed to shoot down enemy aerospace fighters, missiles, etc. Once they are on the planetary surface they will continue in this role until out of power or shut down by the drop troops.
Last but not least, each squad will have an equipment pod. The equipment will vary based upon each squad's particular mission, but will include heavy weapons, air defense systems, telecomm gear, and combat engineering tools.

Tech Levels 6 through 10

While never easy, planetary assaults against worlds at tech levels 6 through 10 are less difficult.
Defending forces do not have access to meson weapons or powered battle dress. Also, the heavier man-portable weapons are not found at these tech levels.
As mentioned above, however, a large force with the support of nuclear weapons can mount a stiff resistance. The attackers must be sure that orbiting ships can provide nuclear damper support until the drop troop can set up their own. The drop troops themselves will be optimized to repel a large number of attackers with little special attention to heavy weapons. The average trooper in battle dress with an FGMP can deal with a great many main battle tanks of a TL-8 army, after all.
The defenders will also have less sophisticated sensors, making deception more effective. Combined, these make it likely that there will be more deadfall ordnance attacks and fewer actual orbit heads (no more than one per continent, likely only one or two).

Tech Levels 11 and higher

When the defenders approach or equal the technical ability of the attacker the risks become greater.
The inherent advantage possessed by the defenders forces the attackers to take greater risks. The high mobility and concentrated firepower of high-tech forces almost compels the attacker to try and overwhelm defenses with the number of attacks.
The best option for the attacker is to release a near-flurry of troop drops and deadfall attacks combined with heavy ortillery barrages. Preparatory ortillery must especially focus on meson sites and aerospace fighter bases. The drop troops must be prepared to face a number of threats, including grav armor and meson gun artillery.

Special Note

The use of nuclear weapons to generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effect is very common during planetary assaults. Against TL-6 through 10 defenders this can be a devastating attack. And the effect against high tech opponents can be more severe than may be assumed. Although most TL-11+ electronics (especially military electronics) are shielded against EMP effects it will still temporarily overload most sensors, increasing the survivability of drop troops as they enter the atmosphere. Also, while civilian communications systems may be shielded, often their antennae are not. While the means of communication will remain intact after an EMP attack, large areas of communications blackout will exist until antennae are replaced. This will add to the fear and confusion of the defenders.

Support Operations

Intelligence preparation can be a critical force multiplier in planetary assaults, especially against high tech level defenses. In addition to the routine strategic intelligence gathered by Imperial Intelligence, a planetary assault requires an in depth analysis of tactical response measures, apparent willingness of defenders to endanger their own populace, and overall readiness of the defenders ground forces. Effective counter-intelligence operations can also increase the levels of tactical and strategic surprise of the attacking force.
Commando operations in support of a planetary assault are extremely dangerous and prone to failure. However, when they are successful they can have a considerable impact upon the defender's will and ability to fight. For these reasons, they are often popular with players. If strategic surprise can be obtained commandos can be infiltrated and supplied in a large number of ways.
Their initial targets will generally be command and control, telecommunications, and strategic defense systems. The following scenario is a demonstration of the potential impact of successful commando operations in support of planetary assault:
Three commando squads are infiltrated onto a TL-13 world in advance of a planetary assault. Arriving as workers, tourists, and ship crew, they are supplied with a full combat load, including battle dress, smuggled in by intelligence operatives. In a coordinated series of attacks, two major telecomm hubs are sabotaged by pre-set explosives, a similar attack damages the refueling facilities of the major aerospace defense center, and teams of commandos in battledress armed with FGMPs assault the members of the planetary government, planetary defense commanders, and a deep meson site that defends a section of the planet. During the resulting confusion reports are received that an enemy fleet has jumped in-system and is on vector for planetary orbit. In addition to potentially neutralizing the defender's civil and military commanders and seriously disrupting planetary defenses these actions could very well panic the defenders, degrading their ability to fight.
While the first step is getting troops on the ground, the key to winning is supplying and reinforcing those troops. As soon as the orbit head is secured the follow on forces must begin to arrive. Initially these forces will be as 'heavy' as possible, i.e., g-carriers, grav tanks, and artillery pieces, preferably in large landing ships. This will be followed by a mix of combat and support units.
The job of the Navy is not over once the troop pods are fired. Without continued naval support the ground offensive will almost certainly fail. In addition to continued ortillery, naval aerospace fighters can provide direct close support to ground troops and engage tactical targets in the enemy's rear areas. Marines can conduct assaults against orbital facilities and can even be deployed by drop ships in support of threatened ground forces. If done properly, combined Army/Navy operations can achieve true vertical envelopment.

N-Hour Sequence

The N-hour sequence is a planning tool for military commanders, logistics planners, and political leaders. It is a rough outline of what will happen and when during a particular type of attack. The initial letter may change to determine what type of attack the sequence is for (for example, a ground attack plan can be called a G-hour sequence while a boarding action against an orbital spaceport could be an M-hour sequence). And certain times can be very broad or based entirely upon the success or failure of a different operation. They key to using an N-hour sequence is to remember that it is a tool, not the plan.
This N-hour sequence is, by necessity, abbreviated. It does not include frontier refueling, naval actions on approach to the planet, or orbital combat and boarding actions. It also omits a great many logistical steps that would be included in a 'real' sequence, as well as the preparatory steps that occur before the assault fleet enters jumpspace. Again, this is a rough estimation to give an idea of the flow of battle:
  • N minus 2 weeks: Assault squadron enters jumpspace.
  • N minus 1 week: Assault squadron enters normal space in target system.
  • N minus 2 days: Ortillery bombardment begins.
  • N minus 16 hours: Decoy deadfall ordnance attacks begin.
  • N minus 8 hours: Naval aerospace fighters increase tempo of attacks against tactical surface targets.
  • N minus 6 hours: Decision phase - commanders determine if planetary defenses are suppressed enough to allow close orbit insertion of drop ships. If so, drop ships move into close orbit. Bombardment ships direct their fire to both overwhelm defenders and clear a number of possible landing zones.
  • N minus 2 hours: Drop troops finish insertion preparation.
  • N minus 30 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if landing zones are prepared and the drop troops are likely to secure an orbit head. If so, drop troops are secured for insertion and troop carriers prepare for drop.
  • N minus 15 minutes: Naval forces trigger EMP effects.
  • N minus 5 minutes: Secondary EMP effects are triggered to disable automated responses. Naval forces begin blanket jamming from close orbit.
  • N-Hour: Simultaneous insertion of drop troops begins, accompanied by numerous decoy insertions with deadfall ordnance accompanied by jammer pods. Naval aerospace fighters deploy for close air support.
  • N+1 minute: Naval bombardment shifted to cover approaches to landing zones.
  • N+4 minutes: Landing zone prepped by daisy cutters.
  • N+5 minutes: Drop troops begin reaching surface. Drop ships begin move to high orbit.
  • N+7 minutes: Drop troops begin deploying to secure orbit head.
  • N+10 minutes: Drop troops finish landing on surface. Drop troops begin deployment of heavy weapons and support equipment. Aerospace fighters initiate close air support.
  • N+15 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if orbit head is secure. If so, landing ships with armor and mechanized forces begin planetary insertion.
  • N+20 minutes: Drop troops complete deployment of heavy weapons and support equipment.
  • N+25 minutes: Drop troops complete initial defensive positions.
  • N+35 minutes: Landing ships begin to reach the planetary surface. Mechanized and armor forces begin to deploy.
  • N+45 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if orbit head is ready for deployment of support elements. If so, landing ships begin cycling support units and equipment to the orbit head.
  • N+1 hour: Combarm begins offensive operations.
It should be obvious that the N-Hour sequence needs to be flexible. Planets with dense atmospheres will require more time for drop troops to reach the surface than planets that have no atmosphere, for example. Deployment of follow on forces may be delayed if there is a threat of significant air defense by the defenders. The number of changes that may need to be made are almost infinite. Recognizing this uncertainty, called 'the fog of war', and being able to anticipate and react to change without panic is what separates good commanders from great generals.

Non-Imperial Forces

The Zhodani are very likely to use warbots exclusively in their initial insertion. They have very good warbot technology and prefer to risk machines over their own soldiers. With the capabilities of their elite psionic troops, they are also highly likely to mount a number of commando raids in support of their use of drop troops.
While the Hivers are unlikely to ever engage in planetary assault, if it necessary they will almost certainly use a variety of warbots in every phase of the operation.
After the Rim War the Solomani have a fair amount of experience with planetary assault operations. They will probably use tactics very similar to Imperial forces, but with a greater emphasis on commando operations to offset any advantages in manpower and technology.
Aslan forces are very professional and capable. They will tend to have more landing zones in an attempt to overwhelm defenders with the number of threats rather than with a small number of highly massed forces.
The nature of Vargr command and control means that their planetary assault operations will be less organized. They may actually have waves of insertions coming at different times rather than a mass drop and may have trouble coordinating naval support for ground troops. On the other hand, their desire for personal glory and achievement means that they are more likely to initiate 'breakout' actions where they focus on specific target rather than engaging defenders directly. This can force the defenders to commit a significant portion of their forces to protecting targets rather than repelling invaders.
Mercenary Units
While it is extremely unlikely that mercenaries would undertake a full-scale planetary assault, they may occasionally be hired to perform small-scale operations that are very similar in execution, if not scope or breadth of support. And mercenary units in the wrong sub-sector at the wrong time may end up 'assisting' colonial or imperial units during a planetary assault.

Glossary of Terms

Aerospace fighters
Space fighters capable of atmospheric operations.
Air Defense
All defensive measures designed to destroy attacking enemy aircraft or missiles within a planet's envelope of atmosphere, or to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of such attack.
Armor units
Refers to tank forces.
Artillery unit
A military unit composed of artillery pieces and their support crews.
Assault ships
Heavily armed and armored small craft capable of atmospheric operations, usually with the capability of transporting ground forces. Often used to escort landing ships when there is a high threat of air defense. Sometimes used to land ground troops in enemy-controlled terrain.
Close aerospace support
The use of aerospace fighters and assault ships to attack enemy ground forces that are close to or in combat with friendly ground forces.
Abbreviation for Combined arms army.
Combat ineffective
A unit or group of units that is not longer capable of combat operations for any reason.
Combined arms army
A large ground forces unit composed of infantry, armor, mechanized infantry, artillery, and support units capable of extended combat operations without external support.
Command and control
The issuance of orders by military commanders. Can also refer to the military commanders themselves.
Deadfall ordnance
Explosives devices that have no internal propulsion system. They can be launched on specific trajectories, but are usually released within a gravity well and allowed to fall.
Decision phase
A pre-planned time or place where a choice must be made between two or more military options by commanders.
Heavy infantry
Infantry with a greater than standard percentage of heavy weapons per unit. Usually refers to battle dress armored infantry.
Heavy units
In general refers to units with heavier weapons or with the ability to concentrate a great amount of fire in a small area in a short amount of time. Generally used to refer to battle dress infantry and tank units.
Information about an opposing force gathered through observation and analysis. Also refers to the process of gathering intelligence.
The deliberate radiation of electromagnetic energy for the purpose of preventing or reducing an enemy's effective use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and with the intent of degrading or neutralizing the enemy's combat capability.
Landing ships
Small craft or spaceships capable of atmospheric operations and surface landings that are configured to carry ground troops and equipment.
Landing zone
An area designated for drop troop or landing craft insertion.
Light infantry
Infantry units with a smaller than standard ratio of heavy weapons per unit. Such units also usually have a lighter than standard equipment load.
In its most comprehensive sense, those aspects of military operations which deal with:
  1. design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of materiel;
  2. movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel;
  3. acquisition or construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities; and
  4. acquisition or furnishing of services.
The process of broadcasting false navigation signals to give inaccurate measurements of locations, speed, distance, etc.
Mechanized infantry
Infantry units that enter combat zones riding in and fighting from lightly armored vehicles. Such units often have organic armor units.
The broadcast of radiation designed to appear as the broadcast of an opponent, but conveying false or misleading information. Also called Electromagnetic Intrusion.
Orbit head
A designated area in a hostile or threatened territory which, when seized and held, ensures the continuous landing of troops and materiel from orbit and provides the maneuver space necessary for projected operations. Normally it is the area seized in the assault phase of a planetary assault operation.
Organic support
Elements assigned to and forming an essential part of a military unit.
Heavy weapons fire from orbit; an abbreviation of orbital artillery.
The rebroadcast or reflection of electromagnetic energy for the purpose of preventing or reducing an enemy's effective use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The degree of dominance in the aerospace battle of one navy over another which permits the conduct of operations by the former and its related forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.
The degree of aerospace superiority wherein the opposing force is incapable of effective interference.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Smart Things, or How Many Magic Swords Are There?

  As Dave of KotDT points out, warriors like 'big-ass swords'.
  First, a little side note. I grew up in Muncie, Indiana and was introduced to gaming (at a young age) on the Ball State Campus. I am very pleased to have the rich gaming life of that town immortalized by Jolly Blackburn.
  There is just something special about a Holy Avenger, or a Giant Slayer, or a Sword of Sharpness. Naturally, the best of these also have special abilities. And the best of those have - an intelligence. Now, intelligent swords are a mixed blessing. A really powerful one can take over its owner in a number of ways and they can have a wide array of powers. Of course, there aren't many of them. If you are rolling for any magical items (some treasure types are limited to weapons and armor, etc) only 11% of magic items are magical swords. But 25% of all magical swords have some special ability!
  Second little side note. This means that, statistically speaking, swords with special abilities are just as common as +1 swords. That has some serious implications!
  And 11% of all magical swords can speak! Holy Moley, over 1.2% of all magic items are talking swords! That means, if you use the random treasure charts, talking swords are almost exactly as common as Potions of Healing.
  Let that sink in for a minute.

  Another interesting fact is that about 1.2% of all swords with special abilities have a Special Purpose, so 3 out of every 1,000 magical swords have a Special Purpose.
  So 1 in every 7,000 magical swords can Disintegrate at least some targets.

  A bit more directly applicable is the alignment chart. Here are the odds of a sword with a special ability having a particular alignment:

  Lawful Evil - 5%
  Neutral Evil - 5%
  Chaotic Evil - 5%
  Chaotic Good - 5%
  Lawful Neutral - 5%
  Chaotic Neutral - 10%
  Neutral - 20%
  Neutral Good - 20%
  Lawful Good - 25%

  Specific alignment swords (Lawful Good, True neutral, Chaotic evil, etc.) only want to be used by the same specific alignment while the 'mixed neutral' swords (neutral Good, Chaotic Neutral, etc.) allow anyone who matches the non-neutral element of their alignment to use them freely.
 So Neutral Evil characters can freely use 5% of all aligned swords; Lawful Evil characters can freely use 15% of all aligned swords; True Neutral characters can freely use 20% of all aligned swords; and Lawful Good characters may freely use 50% of all aligned swords.
  Advantage - the good guys.
  Implication - most aligned swords are made by/for good guys.

  Speaking of implications, let's talk about the implications of these bits in light of other rules and see what we can deduce about campaigns.

  In Appendix P: Creating a Party on the Spur of the Moment, we can deduce that both fighters and paladins have a 2.5% chance per level of having a sword with special abilities. Druids have a 1.75% chance of the same, assassins have a 1.25% chance, and thieves have a surprisingly high 2.75% chance.

  So that long set of rambling essays on the number of non-placed NPCs (the last of 6-7 posts is here)  comes in handy again!
  Ready for some crazy speculation using a ton of assumptions?
  Assuming that the per level odds of having items is correct AND
  Assuming these ratios are roughly true all over the gaming world AND
  Assuming a world population of the gaming world roughly equivalent to Earth in 1300 A.D.
  I conclude that my campaign world has roughly 12,300 magical swords in the possession of NPCs.

  As my oldest son pointed out, roughly half will be in Asialand, mostly in Chinaland. But this means that there are about 3,075 swords with special abilities and, of those, 1,230 or so can talk.
  It also means about 37 swords have a special purpose and 1 or 2 of those special purpose swords can Disintegrate at least something.


  Of course, 1,530+ of the aligned swords are usable by a Lawful Good character but only a little over 150 are usable by a Lawful Evil character.

  Since my campaign area is only a small portion of my campaign world, I need only actively fret about, oh, 30-32 NPC-held sword: 8 of them have special abilities and 3 can talk.

  No wonder the section on  followers specifically states a fighter's followers' swords do not have special abilities!

  In the next section we will continue to talk about magic swords and their implications!

Take a month off and see what happens

  Hello, everyone. I took a month off to have a birthday, edit and do layout on my new OSRIC supplement, and deal with a major job change.
  Thanks for your patience!