View Full Version : Running a Xorvintaal Game

2008-03-07, 04:41 AM
Monster Manual 5 introduced this awesome template for dragons: the Dragons of the Great Game, which made dragons f-ing dragons instead of very large, very scaley, mediocer sorcerers.

But the Monster Manual left it up the GM to decide how, exactly, Xorvintaal was played. So I had this neat idea of "what if I could make some loose rules set whereby four people play the dragons and then have four more people who are just (humanoid) PCs that wander around the world?" The macro influences the micro and the micro influences the macro.

Before I get into the rules of Xorvintaal, I have tested this. And despite my complete inability to run a D&D game that's interesting and has content, these rules--for the most part--work. Just have four "dragons" you can tackle to the ground and slap around when you need game moves from them: one of mine hasn't been seen online in two and a half weeks (PC sessions normally are once a week and do enough that I need game moves once a week).

Posting this due to the fact that I'd like to hear about this being run this way and the amazing success story. All 8 of my players think this is really cool.

The basics:

Xorvintaal has its base rules in Risk--or any other Risk-like game. Units move around on a map, conquer territories and fight other units. At some level it's closer to Axis and Allies as there are "special" locations: cities and dragon lairs. Another comparison I made was Age of Wonders.

So working from there I made a map (http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~mmj29/Xorvintaal/XorvintaalMap2.png) and divided it up (http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~mmj29/Xorvintaal/XorvintaalMap2r.png) (and added roads, though in retrospect I didn't create any good "centers of trade"). My map was originally generated using Dwarf Fortress's world generator, cropped down to a "nice looking valley like area" and then traced. Latest version ( can create smaller worlds (default is 257x257 tiles and can take upwards of 15 minutes, pocket worlds--17x17--can take as few as 4 seconds though typicaly feature a mountain range, forest or hills, and ocean all running in vertical strips).

I haven't posted a map legend, but each symbol type is a race and the symbol denotes a city. I settled on 7 races to "make it easy" rules wise.
A3 is Dwarves
C1 is Harsaafs (Harssafs? I forget)
G1 is Lizardfolk
H1 is Salamanders (and the only ones on the map)
K1 is Elves
G6 is Orc
G7 is Human

Terrain is mountains (varring heights, denoted by color), forrest (denoted by trees), plains (grasssy section in the middle), hills (the...hilly things), swamp (the nice blue-green area by the lake/ocean), and desert (the yellow and red--no difference, DF just had "red sand" and "yellow sand" deserts). Oh, and the volcano where the salamanders are.

One of the things I wish about my map's grid is that I wish it was twice as dense, but the map would need to be twice as large (pixel dimentions) as at this size I have just enough room to store the info I need to on the map.

Units available to the dragons are all ECL 5, though I had to fudge some numbers so that they fit and were balanced--2 humans being equal to "one of anything else." Kind of a kludge, but it works. Each race has a prefered class or two (combining Scorc and Wizard, Scout and Ranger, Druid and Cleric), city income, unit cost, unit upkeep. Feel free to work out your own balance of numbers. I have an entire Excel spreadsheet of notes on just this and is really only good for my map. Plus another sheet of abstracted characters (one of each race/class combo). City tribute was up around 250ish per city, unit costs at roughly 200, with upkeeps averaging 20 (humans being 10 as "2 equal 1"). Each dragon also starts with spendable cash equal to 3 time his turn-ly income and a hoard equal to 100 times his turn-ly income. Turn-ly income was ~1500 on average (44 cities totaling 6140--some had more, some had less).

Only races that are controled (i.e. dragon owns a city of that race) can be bought, races bought in non-race city (except humans) cost +20%. Classes not favored by a race (except humans) cost +20% (or +40% for both).

More on units later.

The dragons I wanted to give a couple of Xorvintaal abilities, so I let them all be age category 9, which gave them 3. Mostly combative abilities, but allows for a nice juicy set of choices. Also made them CR-scary: PCs shouldn't be fighting them. Yet. I also removed alignment restrictions for them, let them be whatever they want. Had a few "bwa?" allignments, but whatever. Oddly, no Evils.

Claiming Territory:

This was some what of a strange algorithm, but mostly worked. Except when one player figured out how to really exploit it.

Pick a tile, this is where you first land and start asserting your dominance.

After everyone has a tile (order determined by a "how do you get the space you want first?" posed question and then having a list of expected answers that would give an ability check opposed by the other three--see farther down) then:

Each chooses three of the adjacent 8 tiles. Note which of these 3 it was, as it will matter.

Each chooses three of the remaining 5 adjacent tiles.

From the first chosen three, expand the tiles available for chosing in the 4 cardinal directions. Have them pick 3 of the available tiles (these new ones, plus the left over two from the first 8).

From the second chosen 3, expand in the 4 cardinals and add to the available. Choose 3.

Repeat this process, expand from set 3 and choose, expand from set 4 and choose...

[url=http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~mmj29/Xorvintaal/Claims.html]This page (bay12games.com/dwarves) documented the process after each of the 4 dragons had chosen their 3 tiles. Not shown are the green available expantion tiles for each dragon. I had to pin a few tiles on Orange (a copper dragon) as she'd quickly broken my algorithm and would have otherwise claimed the entirety of the bottom 3 rows for herself. I also had to fudge for Silver (NE) and Red because they only had 5 initial tiles each. Silver moreso, as frequently he had only 3 to chose from. As a fix don't let a player's first tile be on the edge or within 2 from a corner. If using a double-dense grid, use this density for claims: it goes much faster.

Possible fix for the OMG-broken....choose 2 and wait until Turn 4 to expand on the first set? Forces a 4-way expansion instead of a 2-way. More blobular as intended? Map ended up sensical due to GM intervention.

Choosing the Turn Order:

This one took a bit of work--and if I could find my notes I could do more detail--but was based on "well, if they want to 'get there first' then they make a dex check." Ah here they are.

Stat used:
Get there first: Dex, then Con. Average ([2d20 + Str + Con] / 2).
Cunning: Int
Diplomacy: Cha
Bluff or Trickery: (Int + Cha) / 2
Decide carefully: Wis (can never be first)*
Beat face: Str
Well reasoned: Int (can never be first)*

*This is done to represent "I'm taking my time, I don't care if someone gets there first, I want the best spot." The bonus for doing this is that before chosing a tile they get some information about the land: what the cities are, how high are those mountains, is there a volcano? That kind of stuff. Either give the player some info or let them ask questions. Most people will "get there first," despite a dragon's lack of a Dex mod (the Con roll is to represent the endurence flying).

Exarchs and Exarch Tokens:

As suggested by the Monster Manual, tokens are in short supply for exarchs. I gave each dragon a pool of 50 to start and they can never have more than 75. Imbuing an exarch moves 5 tokens from the dragon's pool to the exarch. These 5 still count towards the 75 until the exarch spend them, then they return to the dragon 1/week (my game runs slow at one turn in a week, though unit movements are a little wack--this was to allow downtime for the PCs such that they did not advance the macrogame beyond my ability to predict by resting, healing, shopping, and galavanting about). Tokens also refresh when "something cool" happens. I never worked these details out, and left them up to Kudos Events. The Exarch burns 4 and wipes the floor of his opposition? Well, that got the dragon back a couple! He did good work, deserved to be rewarded when he reports his success. Dragon do something crafty? (I had a player want to buy rings of featherfall for a troop of dwarves so he could litterally fly them in and drop them on someone else's front steps--had she been able to do that that would have been worth a full 5 tokens IMO (never grant more than 5 at once, I'd say))

Unit Combat

I abstracted every class I could down to as few lines as possible just so I could have quick-and-dirty combat between groups of them. Casters got squished down to a party buff and an attack spell. Cleric/druids got a healing poke as well.

I used a d10 instead of a d20 and removed criticals to push things towards being faster (with a d10 make AC 5+yadda+yadda instead of 10+). I can run through a 5 on 5 battle in about 10 minutes: pick up 5 different colored d10s (each color associated with a unit) and roll. Compair to ACs of the defender. Pick up the damage dice, roll. Repeat. With <60 HP an doing 1dn + 6 or more damage makes combat pretty deadly. Units typically have none, little, massive, or dead levels of damage (it's odd, I've never had a unit at half health, they've either had 12/50 type hp levels or 38/50 hp).

Cities have a set defender lineup (4 archers, 2 fighters plus whatever other units are in it) and when defeated, the city is claimed for the attackers instantly. Other territory takes 5 turns of a "claiming" action to be taken (divided by the number of units (minimum 1), so a group of 5+ takes it in 1 turn). Other territory is basically useless at this point, but could conceivably have an impact on the nearby cities. Cut-off areas could also auto-fall to the surrounder (though the PCs in my game went and claimed N9 from Silver for Red, despite working for Copper--it's Copper's city in reality as she gets the money, but everyone thinks Red owns it--confused the hell out of everyone, as was the PCs intentions: Copper wants to sit back and let everyone else duke it out).

The Game Itself

Despite all the Risk-like rules, the game still is D&D and anything that goes on in D&D can go on in this game. You want to have units sneak about undetected? Send in the rogues! You want to search about for new lair possibilities? Scour the land! Dig a new lair? Sure! Find ancient haunted ruins that have long-lost relics? You bet!

Pile o' other rules (http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~mmj29/Xorvintaal/Rules.html), including building new lairs and unit movement speeds (double map density fixes most of the kludges presented).

Sadly few of my dragons are stratigically minded, so they haven't done much with their turns yet. Though due to Silver's lack of online presence the game has stagnated and everyone else has forgotten what they're doing.

I'm also a really bad adventure planner and can't make anything significantly over-arching for my PCs. Sure, they're doing work for their dragon, but how do I put something together which would span several sessions (and several macrogame turns!) solving? My GM is good at this, but he has his own world and game to run. I seem to be really good at mechanics and rules, logic and inner-workings, but terrible at telling a story.