Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dwimmermount Project Update #50: Labyrinth Lord Version Restored, Release Schedule Set


What's the current status of the Dwimmermount project?
We are on track to deliver all the promises of this Kickstarter. In the last update I reported that Autarch would not be able to fulfill the Labyrinth Lord version of Dwimmermount, but this was due to miscommunication between James and I. We now have his approval to publish both the LL version and the Adventurer Conqueror King System version.

We'll use the LL version to present James' original vision for Dwimmermount. Working with his draft and notes on editing, and our conversations about further development, the LL version will present the dungeon according to the plan which would have led to a March release if personal issues had not intervened.

As discussed in the last update, the ACKS version will be driven by fans inspired by James' writing but adding further development and playtesting. To help with this, I've reached out to Michael Curtis, whose Stonehell Dungeon was described by Grognardia as "probably the best megadungeon published to date in any form". I'm glad to say that Mike will be lending a hand, and hope to announce some additional contributors in future updates.

When will rewards be delivered?
We will have the Labyrinth Lord version hardcovers and PDFs in time for Gen Con, on August 13, 2013 - you can pick them up from us there or have them shipped to you. The Adventurer Conqueror King System version hardcovers and PDFs will be delivered by Christmas, December 25, 2013. We expect that all the physical rewards - the separate map booklet, megadungeon tracker, and wilderness mat - and the illustration booklet bonus goal will be ready to ship along with either version of the books. The other bonus goals should be complete by the end of 2013.

What's new this week?
A guide to choosing between the two versions; a discussion of our approach to each one; and our responsibilities to you, this project, and the Kickstarter Terms of Service.

Which Version Should You Choose?

If you're at any reward level other than the $5 Henchman, you'll be getting the PDF of both the LL and ACKS version automatically. The need to choose between them only applies to hardcover rewards. Some of you pledged extra to get both versions, and we're glad we can now give 'em to you! If you later decide you want both versions but didn't pledge for it before, we're setting up a webstore at the Autarch site to process orders outside the Kickstarter system.

When you filled out the backer reward survey you already specified which version of the hardcover you wanted. This choice isn't binding; we've received plenty of requests to switch from LL to ACKS and visa versa. I will check with backers individually when each version is ready to go to the printer to confirm whether it's the one you want.

If you just get one version in hardcover, you might choose the LL version if:

you're already playing Labyrinth Lord, or a game in which platemail is AC 3 and leather is AC 7, and you don't want to use the LL conversion guide in the ACKS version
you want the version of Dwimmermount that's closest to James' original vision
you want your hardcover reward sooner rather than later

You might choose the ACKS version if:

you're already playing with the Adventurer Conqueror King System and don't want to use the ACKS conversion guide in the LL version
you're playing a game in which platemail is AC 16 and leather is AC 12, and want to make it easy to convert by just adding 10 to the ACKS AC
you want a version of Dwimmermount that reflects the ways fans inspired by James' writing about the megadungeon have adapted his draft to suit their needs in play
you don't mind waiting a little longer for that development and playtesting

How Do the Systems Differ?

Both Labyrinth Lord and Adventurer Conqueror King are inspired by what's often called B/X D&D - the Basic and Expert set versions of the original Dungeons & Dragons game, edited by Moldvay and Cook respectively.

LL is the older of the two systems, which the old-school renaissance reminds us should never be mistaken for "less good". Having been around longer means it's easier to find players for Labyrinth Lord, and the system is simpler and closer to the roots. ACKS is a "second wave" or "neo-clone," meaning that it owes a great deal to prior open game content (especially LL) but adds new material, including an economic framework designed to tie characters into the setting as they gain wealth and power.

Here's the description of a randomly selected room from James' original LL draft:

47. Map Room

This circular room contains mosaics on the floors, walls, and ceiling depicting the Thulian Empire at its height, with special emphasis given to forts and other military locales, with Dwimmermount being located prominently in the center of the floor. The room is currently occupied by 6 orcs, who come from Level 2A to explore. In their possession is a large sack containing 2000 gp and the some gems: two rhodochrosite (50 gp each), rock crystal (100 gp), sardonyx (75 gp), and a star rose quartz (100gp). Orcs (6) [AL C, MV 120' (40'), AC 6, HD 1, hp 8, 7, 6, 5 (x2), 1, #AT 1, D 1d6, SV F1, ML 8].

Mechanically, this room description is little different in ACKS. ACKS AC is 9 - LL AC, so the orcs are AC 3. ACKS morale is a modifier equal to 8 - LL, so the orcs get +0 to their morale roll. Their statline in ACKS would also give their attack throw as 10+, meaning that they hit an unarmored foe on an unmodified d20 roll of 10 or better; this is functionally identical to looking it up with the LL combat tables or using a THAC0 system.
On the LL Version

We'll be able to publish the LL version sooner because the draft James completed in December is written for LL and it's at least 90% of the way to being a finished product. The remaining work to be done is editing (i.e. "and some gems" instead of "and the some" in the above room description); filling in some holes like the incomplete factions section; and doing the further development that I know from our conversations James intended to add, like statistics for the rival parties at higher levels and goals they would seek to pursue in the dungeon. James has agreed to pass on the playtest notes and editing work he's done to date, which will guide us going forward. We'll also use his actual play reports from Grognardia as guidance, and his designation of these posts as open game content means that we can incorporate NPCs and other details given there into the LL draft.

I know that many backers want to see Dwimmermount the way James would have done it, and I think right now Autarch is in the best position to deliver that. As we sorted out the misunderstanding reflected in the last update, James wrote that publishing his own version of Dwimmermount using LL "isn't something I have any plans to do soon (or perhaps at all)". We can't count on James' supervision as we carry out his intent for the last steps in the LL version, but as one of the next steps we agreed on in early December was to bring in a freelance editor, the plan was never for James to do it all himself. Most professional RPG projects benefit from having editors and developers who are separate from the author, because the original vision is often easier to see with the aid of some extra pairs of eyes.

On the ACKS Version

Although the mechanical conversion from LL to ACKS is straightforward, there are many places in the draft where it makes sense to bring in elements unique to ACKS. When I ran the map room in the example above for the kids in my ACKS afterschool class, they wondered where  these exploring orcs found the gems they were carrying. I decided that they had been encountered in the process of picking the shiniest bits out of the mosaic, and the kids wanted to complete the job. The ACKS merchandise tables let me define this loot as a load of semiprecious stones.

One of the design intents for these tables is to use player greed to get them interested in the setting, as having merchandise to trade encourages visiting different marketplaces in pursuit of favorable exchange rates. James' LL draft tells us that both Yethelreom and Muntburg have markets, but the ACKS conversion will need to provide demand modifiers using its mercantile trading rules to determine where these gems will fetch the best price. Determining these necessarily involves inventing details that go beyond James' text. Our goal for the ACKS version is to embrace this process.

The hand-written notes James created for his original campaign, as seen in the first bonus goal, were only meant for him to use in play. As he expanded these notes to create his LL draft, he made judgement calls about what additional information other people would need to know to run the dungeon. In the ACKS version, we'll run this process through one more iteration. During its extra development time, we'll be drawing the experiences of those who've used his draft in play. Our goal for a more far-reaching edit of James' text will be to focus on the elements that proved most useful at the table, and our aim in adding new content will be to integrate aspects of the existing draft in ways that create choices for players. To use the map room as an example, we'll create an illustration of the mosaic, extrapolating the map of the Thulian Empire from details James provided in the Wilderness section. Parties who thought to make a copy before looting the mosaic of its semi-precious stones (unlike my afterschool group) can use this handout to guide their wilderness explorations. To further enable player skill, the richest Thulian site will be marked by the area of the mosaic which used the most valuable stones; reaching this location will require reassembling that part of the map from the gems the orcs looted first.

In update #45, I said "In a scenario where a project has undergone substantial delays, the victory condition is to ultimately deliver something so much better than was originally promised that the people who stuck with it feel like winners for having stayed in the game." For me, being able to present these two different versions of Dwimmermount - one reflecting James' original approach, one showing how the OSR community has been inspired by his work - feels like a win. Which one you'll prefer is a matter of taste, but I'm glad to be able to offer both, and the fact that Dwimmermount will be entirely open content means that others will be able to pursue their own ideal versions .

On Responsibility

In the last update, it seemed that we wouldn't be able to fulfill one version of the rewards despite our best efforts. Autarch's responsibility as a Kickstarter creator led me to offer refunds, as per their page on accountability: "Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill."

Now that we are in a position where we can fulfill all rewards and have a schedule for their delivery, we're no longer required to offer refunds. Although I'd like to continue doing so, my first responsibility has to be to deliver the cool stuff you pledged for. We gauged how much cool stuff we could produce based on the pledges we received, and an ongoing refund policy would threaten our ability to do so. To make up for the delays to date, Autarch will be providing backers with coupons for twice the value of your pledge and fulfilling the additional Domains at War bonus goal. We're confident that we won't incur any further delay and can meet the Gen Con and Christmas schedule announced in this update.

Because I also have a responsibility to live up to my word, refund requests received up to now will still be honored even though the circumstances no longer apply. Kickstarter's refund policy says "We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill," and in the interest of protecting our ability to make the cool stuff we promised, that's my hope as well.



(So - LL and aCKS versions, LL summer release and ACKS winter release and of course, no further refunds but previous request will be honored)

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