Friday, 13 October 2017

Rules for Pets in the Black Hack

The longer I run David Black's stripped down old/new school D&Dish retro clone called The Black Hack, the more I find myself writing rules to suit the situations my players create and modify the game to our taste. The more I add and change the more I find myself with what looks like the beginnings of a great RPG that straddles the old school and new school well enough to function as a great little introductory fantasy RPG. That might fuel some posts for later, but for now here are the rules I created for running pets and animal companions in the Black Hack.

My players for my Keep on the Borderlands campaign went into the woods to see if they could find the dragon they heard about and only found the crazy hermit and his lion. They killed the hermit and then they tracked down the lion so they could use a Charm Monster potion on it. The warrior character treated it well and fed it more than the hermit did while they had it under control. I gave the player in control of the warrior a Charisma roll when the potion expired to befriend the lion. I figured with a 6 Charisma I was safe and the lion would just run away.

That's when they rolled a critical and the lion became their pet. Now I have rules for pets work in the Black Hack. These are the expanded and polished version of what I sketched out during that session so they could use their lion right away. They've worked well so far. If your players force you to make up rules for pets you can use these ones!

There is a Moebius image for every blogpost!

Creature companions/pets have three attributes besides their regular DMG, HD and HP: Action, Sense and Loyalty. The ACT and SEN attributes are based on the creature’s HD. ACT is 10 + HD  to a maximum of 16 and SEN is 10 + HD + (roll 2d6 and choose the lowest one) to a maximum of 18. LOY is a usage die and depends on how well trained and well treated the pet is before bad things start happening. A faithful dog that has been with the character for a few years will have LOY of d8 or even d10. A pack animal that was recently purchased will have a LOY of d4.

ACT is used for physical tests like dodging falling rocks or combat. SEN is used to notice something, track or any test that depends on the animal’s senses. LOY is tested any time something bad happens, such as the beast is wounded, mistreated or neglected when hungry. If the LOY result is a 1 or 2 on a d4 the animal will attempt to run away.

Pets and creature companions can play different roles during combat. One option is to attack independently using their ACT attribute. If used this way they risk damage from opponents if ACT rolls are failed. Another option is for them to fight with the character that owns them and add a +1 to their effective HD for the purposes of fighting powerful or multiple opponents. Pets could also harass and distract a single opponent to create an opening and allow the character that owns the pet to get Advantage on an attack. It depends on circumstances, but creativity should be rewarded.

Pets get one action or attack, the same as the characters. Their damage based on HD already reflects the results of using all their natural weapons.

Here’s an example notation of a lion that was charmed using potions and then became a pet:
ACT 15 SEN 15 LOY d8

DMG 1d10 HD 4+1 HP 18

This way all the rolls stay player facing while they roll against the stats their pets have when they take some kind of action. The loyalty die allows whoever is running the game to keep things from getting too out of hand. If the pet is being overused they can call for more loyalty rolls.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Especially if your try them out too! 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Eleven

The "dead" RPG I would like to see reborn is the old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system from TSR in the 1980s. It can't be declared truly dead since so many people are still playing it and all of the PDFs from its original run are free online. But it is out of print and no one is taking advantage of all the game design improvements of the last 30 years to tighten up the game and improve the play experience.

That's not a criticism of the game. It was both ahead of its time and a product of it. The resolution chart for success, in particular, was en vogue in game design for a while in the early 1980s but disappeared quickly. Still, much of what makes the game work well found its way into modern games like FATE. I wrote a post about that along time ago. The wonky experience system that is burned for luck is a feature I find in more games lately as well. The experience rewards themselves are a brilliant way to encourage play that gets the kind of situations that happen in Marvel comics all the time.

The infamous chart. I remember we had a cardboard wheel that worked the same as the chart for a while too.

The biggest barrier to a renewed Marvel Super Heroes game is licensing. Back in the 80s Marvel likely saw an RPG as a way to expand their market on the rising tide of D&D's insane success. Their properties also weren't worth what they are today, thanks to some outlandishly successful movies and small screen offerings. The recent Marvel Heroic RPG collapsed under the weight of the licensing agreement Margret Weiss Productions made to get it. Their game existed for a year before that dream died. There were other problems with the game, notably a lack of original character generation, but any other publisher is going to have to deal with a similar financial imbalance. RPGs have shrunk as a market and Marvel as an IP has gained a whole new level of success. The viral success necessary to afford to keep the license is difficult to manufacture.

That said, this is about what I want, rather than what I think can happen. I'd like to see the FASERIP rules streamlined and cleaned up a bit. It could be brought into the 21st century with a few tweaks. Maybe that chart could be replaced with a target number system? Maybe the percentile dice could be dumped for something more simple, like a D20? The details are less important than the core game moving forward and evolving.

You won't see one of these in the new game! :P

There are plenty of old adventures available from Classic Marvel Forever, but I'd like to see some new ones. How about a Marvel Cinematic Universe Sourcebook? That's a way to make a grab for new fans.

The Marvel Universe has grown and changed a lot since the game went out of print. It would be amazing to see what could be done with it all now.

Note: If you are reading along, you might notice that I'm skipping days here and there. Part of it comes from my schedule, which is quite busy in the summer, and part of it comes from me finding some of the topics uninspiring. I know I called this process microblogging and a big part of it for me is to rebuild my blogging habit, but I'm not going to pull something out of my ass or write a single paragraph for the sake of checking off a day.

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Nine

A good RPG for about 10 sessions is the Black Hack by David Black. It's a 20 page fantasy RPG with streamlined rules and a surprisingly robust system. I reviewed it in detail way back when, but here I'm going to focus on why it's good for 10 sessions.

While the system can handle any situation with a quick judgement the rules as written appear to break down in long term play. This isn't hard to change, and the Black Hack begs to bent to the whim of the table, but I figure for this question I should stick to the rules as written.

Part of the reason it's so good for a short campaign is character generation. Characters can easily be created in five to fifteen minutes so there is no reason you can't get right into the action in the first session. With time limited in the campaign you don't want to waste too much rolling characters.

Another point in its favour is the speed of the system. At 20 pages it's about as rules-light as you can go with D20 game. There is no time lost looking up rules, and there are no fiddly bits to slow down the players. They declare and action and test against a stat for success. That's it. This allows the group to cover a lot of ground in whatever adventure they are playing.

The advancement system is loose and can be as fast as one level per session. That means the characters end the campaign at level 10, the old name level from the original fantasy RPG. This means in only 10 sessions the PCs can develop all the way from zero to hero. That short development is something you aren't going to get with another traditional RPG rules as written.

The system is adaptable. You can use it with the list of monsters in the back to put together your own adventure or adapt on the fly anything made for the D&D family of systems. What it comes down to is the Black Hack is an easy choice for a short campaign, whatever your goal.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 - Day Eight

What is a good RPG for a two hour session? There's plenty of micro games and pocket mods that could fill a short session with some crazy fun, but I think one of the best games for a complete game in two hours is Classic Traveller.

I know I said Classic Traveller is game I wish I was playing in the Day One Post, but that's not why I think it's perfect for two hour session. I've played quite a few two-hour sessions and with Classic Traveller using the 76 Patrons adventure book.

76 Patrons is basically 76 adventure hooks with important features randomized on a D6. It could be a twist, a betrayal, a change to the maguffin. It doesn't matter, it means there are 76 times 6 (456) potential scenarios in that little black booklet. Each page has enough information laid out to improvise a good adventure scenario. They can be completed by a motivated group in less than two hours unless the GM pads them out with extra detail or complications.

Traveller itself allows for pretty much any kind of play. The galaxy is consists of endless isolated planets full of mystery and opportunities. The party can encounter any level of tech imaginable so there is no itch that can't be scratched in a short game.

Making characters in Classic Traveller can take a few minutes and be recorded on an index card. Despite this speed and brevity, the characters are amazingly fleshed out with a storied past and plenty of experience (or skills) to bring to bear on any situation. The six stats run from raw talent to education and social standing. This and a smattering of skills give the players everything they need to figure out how their characters fit into a pulp adventure, a careful exploration, a political intrigue, etc.

If you want a quick game, the core books from Classic Traveller along with the 76 Patrons supplement will get you a short evening of fun and adventure!

Friday, 4 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Four

Today's microblog topic, courtesy of #RPGaDAY2017, is the RPG I've played most since August 2016. I've easily played more 5e D&D than any other game in the past year.

I've played in a steady Sunday night game for a a couple of years or more. It's been pretty amazing. I managed to get my Warlock up to 16th level, the highest I've ever managed in 35 years of D&D. The system has adapted well to our dirty tricks under one of the best DMs I've played with. I've played a total of three characters in the campaign, but my Warlock is definitely my favourite. Had I know it would last so long, I might have chosen my class more carefully, but I have no regrets.

I ran 5e D&D campaigns for a couple of new groups of players. Both groups wanted me to specifically run "the new D&D" for them. Mostly because they had bought the books but didn't really understand how to use them. Partially because they wanted to play the new shiny D&D.

Philippe Caza
Outside of that, I've played all kinds of other games, from Marvel FASERIP to the Cypher System. Never as consistently or as long as D&D though.

The latest D&D is a pretty good game. I like the addition of backgrounds. The different types of each class that are chosen between 2nd and 3rd level remind me of the kits from 2nd edition. The feats are no longer overwhelming and merely add some colour to a character. There are enough player facing choices that t's easy for two characters of the same class to be completely different in play. All in all, it's pretty good.

I do find it fiddly at times. I don't like how much I need to consult the books during play, but it's not too bad. It's far more streamlined than the 3rd and 3.X editions. Left to my own devices I would play something more old school, but the best edition of D&D is the edition someone else is willing to run for you.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

#RPGaDAY 2017 - Day Three

How do I find out about new RPGs?

How does anyone find out? There are few things gamers like to talk about more than games. There are a myriad of online spaces full of gamers talking about all things RPG. There are blogs, podcasts, forums, and plenty of pages and communities on social media.

Google Plus is still the best place to find out about new RPGs for me. Without fail someone will post a link to a review of a new RPG, a creator's game development blog, or a play report. I do it myself. There's so much information about new games I don't even follow all the links.

News travels fast on the internet. It's easy to find if you want to, and so many of us do. We all love to grab a new game, read it, see if there's something there that will give us an experience we want or haven't had in play before. Hoping to see if someone came up with anything new or good we can adapt to what we are already playing at our own table.

There are few things as gratifying as being surprised by a new game innovation. It's why we can't help ourselves. I have a library full of PDFs of RPGs, old and new. I have so many I had to pay for extra space in my Google Drive.

Following the line of thought from my last post, I still wonder how to get the news out to new players. Is it the online community for board gamers? Is it book stores? Are libraries the key?

That's a more interesting question to me. How do we get the word out past the confines of the RPG community? We're great at telling each other what's happening, but how do we find the people that don't know what they are missing?

I wish I knew.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

RPG a Day 2017: Day Two

The topic for day two of #RPGaDAY is what RPG I would like to see published. Since the ease of self-publishing and open licenses on so many RPG systems has led to a surge in the variety of RPGs available it feels like there is a game for almost every taste out there. When I run them, I find I still need to tweak things. Sometimes I massage a game's rules so much it's not really the game I started with but my tastes run toward pulp action with an element of danger in casting magic.

That doesn't mean I want a new pulp action fantasy game. It certainly couldn't hurt. I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes the kind of game I like, but that's not what I'd like to see published right now. I'd like to see a game published that is designed for and marketed to new players. The only game out at the moment that seems to even consider new players in its design is Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Every other game is aimed at people who are already players. That means the entire hobby rises and sinks on the success of D&D. The latest edition is pretty good, but it has some fiddly bits and 50 years of expectations as baggage. All of that might form a barrier to new players. Besides, I don't trust a bunch of corporate stooges with my hobby.

What I would like to see is a new game that doesn't have the baggage of 5e D&D that is designed to be easy to pick up and play for new people. I'd like to see a game that delivers all the wonder and excitement that can be packed into a fantasy RPG, with intuitive guidelines that allow for flexibility and don't have players consulting the book during play unless they are looking for something awesome.

I've been thinking about this since I started running the Black Hack for a new group of players. They love it and might try playing on their own if I could give them a rule book that they could run a game with. But the Black Hack is 20 streamlined pages designed for an experienced GM. The player facing parts are exceptional but there is nothing in there for the new GM.

We have all the talent in the DIY RPG/OSR/Indy RPG publishing scene to make a game that is a tool for play, an instruction book for learning how and an inspiration for years of fun. What we have less of is people with the will and money to market such a thing outside the RPG scene.

As long as your game has some good layout and art (or at least doesn't have bad art) you can count on making enough sales to recover whatever you put into it. If the game is good, you get lucky, or you get the word out to the RPG scene you could make a tidy profit from it. That means there is no incentive for a small publisher to spend the effort or money necessary to push outside the existing market. One of the results of that is we have all kinds of games. Some of these games come from amazing risks that make great RPGs that push game design forward. Others are pretty terrible. Most are somewhere in the middle, but suit a niche and make a group of players happy by catering to their particular tastes. Another result is we creators stay inside the bubble and new players looking for way into the hobby that isn't D&D don't have the options that were available in the 1980s.

I guess that means I'd like to see a whole bunch of games published. Games aimed at new players and different genres. Games made by gamers for new gamers they don't know.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

RPG a Day 2017: Day One

It's #RPGaDAY time again. I participated once before by covering all the topics in one giant omni-post. This time I'm going to try to do the challenge as written. One RPG topic a day, every day, for all of August.

Day One is the question: "What Published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?"


At the moment my gaming life is pretty rich. I play in a regular 5e D&D game. I'm playing good old Marvel FASERIP with my longtime group. I'm also running a streamlined version of the Black Hack for my kids and some of their friends. There's not much missing, but I do have a game I'd love to be playing right now: Classic Traveller.

I blogged about Classic Traveller once before. Since then the game has grown on me. It is a brilliant bit of design! It's a simple, skills-based system that makes science fiction adventure easy to do.

I like the way the loose, implied setting can be adapted to any idea the group has for the kind of game they want. It's easy to take inspiration from so much of the genre to build your setting or add detail to the implied setting until it feels right. That's why I love the original three little black books. In them, the galaxy represents infinite possibility. Anything can happen out in the vastness of space! There are dangers, opportunities and adventure out there with no reason to ever stop.

Traveller characters are experienced adventurers with the right stuff. That means the Traveller character generation is a process of creating a past for each character. This approach is brilliant for science fiction where character knowledge and experience are the tools used to overcome obstacles.

A lot of chaff is thrown at the possibility of Traveller characters dying during character generation, but it turns the process into a game in itself. A gamble with the highest of stakes! Push things too far, and that character that you are starting to like might wind up dead! Don't go far enough and you won't have the skills you need to survive in play! It's also fast enough that starting over is no huge burden. There are even some great online random character generators out there that allow you to make a character (sometimes even a dead one) in seconds.

There are piles of classic books available, but the game I want to play is in the 3 LBBs, Charts and Tables, Citizens of the Imperium and 76 Patrons. That's my dream set for the long Traveller campaign I haven't played yet.

That is why I want to play it so bad! I found Traveller only a few years ago, when I bought the charity bundle. So far I've only had short runs and one-shots with the game. Just enough to let me know how much I like it and what I want to do with it. I know I want a crumbling galactic empire, like in the Foundation Series, mixed with the oppressive regime desperately clinging to the remains of power like Blake's 7, mixed with the wild sci-fi adventure tourism of Doctor Who, all held together with the cynical opportunism of FireFly. The Traveller umbrella can cover it all and more!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Outsiders - 200 Word RPG Contest

I decided to give the 200 Word RPG Contest a whirl. It turns out that’s too short for my design aesthetic. I can either create a robust resolution mechanic or deliver tone and atmosphere information, but I can’t do both. I think 300 words might do the trick (my first draft came in at 279 words) but I’m guessing that wouldn’t be much of a contest.
The choice itself is interesting. It shows what each designer feels needs to be locked down. Anything we leave out is given to the people at the table to handle. We trust they will make the right choices for their table or don’t feel those choices will significantly change the experience we are going for. I’d love to have a conversation with the many designers about each of the games to find out why they chose to cut and what was left out.
For me, I found the editing process made my little game better, but there was no room for examples which I find help with clarity. At 200 words, tight rules is an understatement.
I've had horror on the brain lately. My inspiration for Outsiders came from Lovecraftian horror and urban fantasy such as Forever Knight, Dresden Files, Blood Ties etc. I love the the idea that once you see the things hiding in the shadows you are drawn into a whole new dangerous world. After that first contact you keep coming into contact with the supernatural until it kills you.
I tried to convey as much of the genre idea as possible with the space I had, but it boiled down mostly to word choice since I gave space to the shortest mechanic I could develop that would handle the game I wanted to play. The mechanic itself gives some information on how things should go since it is weighted toward failure and failure comes with a snowball effect.

"Hello Mother"  
The Outsiders RPG:
The world is threatened by a reality few ever understand is even real. The history of the fight is passed down from generation to generation in stories. As people controlled more of the world and pushed light and order into the darkness and chaos those histories became mere stories, twisted and perverted in the name of entertainment. There is little value in them now as anything other than a warning. Those who know what is hidden protect the world. These characters run by the players are known as Outsiders. Everything else in the world is run by the player that creates the scenarios and judges the results of die rolls. This player is known as the Other.
Character Generation is open and simple. Characters are a brief, written description outlining look, attitudes, background, skills and experience with the supernatural. To keep things reasonable it makes sense to restrict the character sheet to the size of a half sheet of notebook paper or an index card. During the process, the players share these descriptions and makes changes to their histories to link them to each other. They can be regular humans or be supernatural themselves depending on what kind of game everyone wants to play. The other can use them as inspiration for the scenarios and threats presented to the players.
Gameplay depends on a handful of dice.
When a character tries something where failure would be interesting the player makes an Action Roll. The player rolls one, two, or three D6s if their character is Unprepared, Ready, or Prepared (respectively) based on their character description and previous actions. Being prepared could be a matter of experience, such as an ex-soldier always being ready to fight or a matter of planning such as a librarian stepping into a blind spot in the stacks and readying a weapon in ambush.
The Other rolls one, two, or three D6s for Stressful, Hard, or Longshot actions (respectively). What each of these levels of difficulty represents will be different with each group and how they want their game to play. For myself, something like picking a lock under a time constraint is Stressful, throwing a baseball across a room to push a small idol off an altar is Hard, and throwing a heavy candlestick across a room to knock the dagger out of a priest’s hand is a Longshot.
The player succeeds with one die higher than the Other’s highest. Two higher is a success with a bonus and three higher is a critical success. A bonus can be a better than expected result, such as the idol in example above rolling away into the darkness and being lost. A critical success is basically the best outcome you can imagine, such as the the priest in the example above getting knocked unconscious after taking the candlestick to the head intead of the hand.
A tie means success with a deadlock or a Difficulty. The player can chose to hold the action in a deadlock or take on a penalty to succeed in whatever they are doing. Maybe the person picking a lock could succeed, but sprain their wrist in the process to distracted by the pain until they deal with it or break their pick leaving them unable to open any more locks.
Two dice under the Other’s top die is failure and Difficulty. Three under takes a character out of the action until they can sort themselves out or be cared for (KOed, flees in terror, mark makes public scene, etc).
Difficulty can be something that affects the game such as losing something important, but is commonly a die added to Other rolls against that character. Difficulty is mental, emotional or physical stress that reduces character performance shown with coins or tokens placed on the character sheet and removed through meaningful character action. How they are removed depends on how they are received. First aid will do little to patch up a bad scare or a loss of face in a social situation, but it perfect for a physical injury. Therapy will do nothing for a broken arm but is perfect for psychological stress. An evening of rest in a bar with the rest of the group might be applied as a cure for many ills.
The Other will present the scenarios in the form of rumours, cries for help or whatever else will attack the attention of the players. The players will decide their priorities and have their characters deal with whatever threats or mysteries seem the most credible or important.

"The Pit"

That’s the complete game at approximately 750 words. There’s no need for character advancement since you play the character that you want to play. I like it as a pickup game for those times when a player fails to show to a regular game session.
I like the resolution system for an open system. I may use it for more short game designs.

If you are interested in the 200 Word RPG Contest they are accepting submissions until the end of day Eastern Time on April 23rd. If you’d like to see the 200 word version of The Outsiders RPG, I'm positing it here as a JPEG, but you'll also find it with the rest of the submitted games here.

200 Word Draft of The Outsiders RPG, click on the image to make it big enough to read. =)

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Moulding Young Minds and Other Madness

This post was supposed to be the third session report of my D&D campaign with my daughters but I'll be combining several weeks of play into this post to bring you all up to speed and talk about a few of the developments.

We're still using The Black Hack by David Black along with the legendary D&D Module, B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. I've made changes to both since we started but the biggest change is the expansion of the group.

I volunteered to watch my friend's son while she took her daughter to the clinic one evening and since it was D&D night, after supper I asked him if he wanted to play. Carter had never even heard of Dungeons and Dragons so I described it as "like a video game, but everything happens in your head." He thought that sounded cool so we rolled up a character. He decided on a Warrior named Dabber. When he rolled four for his Charisma he asked if his character could be missing an eye with a big scar and loose flap of skin. I was a little worried I'd need to draw that so I suggested a scar with a metal plate nailed into his skull to hide his empty socket. Carter thought that was a great idea and we were off!

The Black Hack Character Sheet for Dabber, the Warrior played by Carter, 9

Getting him to the rest of the party was easy enough, he simply followed the trail of corpses in the goblin cave to the supply room where the girl's characters were finishing up a short rest. Their rest had been interrupted early on by some hobgoblins coming through a secret door, but they were ready to go. They accepted their new party member since he was a bad-ass looking warrior and the Conjurer was tired of getting wailed on in combat.

It didn't take them long to find the seat of power for the goblin caves. I swapped out the original chieftain, honour guard and mates for a goblin queen and her retinue in her nest. I described it like something out of a HR Giger painting and they ate it up. The kids loved the large, bloated queen with her chain-mail stretched across her heavy body, swinging her great-axe at them while shouting in goblin. The large black eggs stuck to the walls and floor where goblins hatched as full-sized and functioning adults was alien and great scenery for them to work with as they moved around the room fighting the queen's honour guard.

They managed to kill the queen and ran through the last of the honour guard after she surrendered. Not much for mercy, these kids. My daughters also argued over who got to stab the goblins that fell to the Sleep spells because they both wanted to do it.

That was also the session where they started chanting, "One, one, one!" while rolling important hits in hopes of encouraging a crit.

With their huge treasure hall they were able to buy better armour and spend a month at the Keep trying to learn the Goblin and Giant languages from some people they found who were willing to teach them for a fee. They made their Intelligence tests at the end of the month and each added the language they had studied to their respective character sheets. Then they made another delve into the goblin caves only to find a giant spider had taken up residence in the common hall.

Apparently Carter talked about D&D and how much fun he had non-stop for a week. Since it worked out for everyone's schedule I offered to take him and his older sister on Wednesday so they all could play. Hailey was a little wary since Carter's excited descriptions made zero sense to her, but since my youngest, Pascale, was playing she said she'd try it out.

Hailey rolled up a character with both a high Strength and Dexterity. She decided to play a Thief like Pascale's character but wanted to use a giant, two-handed hammer. Since weapon damage is by class in The Black Hack and I had thrown out the weapon restrictions on day one anyway, I saw no reason to say no to her idea. Erie started tiptoeing around the caves with a giant hammer on her shoulder.

Erie, the maul-wielding Thief played by Hailey, 10

The group spent time bribing the ogre (now that they could talk to him) for safe passage and using their sneak attack on the hobgoblins that they found behind the secret door in the store room. My oldest, Chloe, thought it was hilarious that the hobgoblins had looted all the stuff from the goblins that the party wasn't able to carry in the previous session.

They tangled with the Hobgoblin Queen and ended up in a huge fight since coming in the back door allowed the bad guys to raise the alarm. The crazy fight stretched over several rooms and took the better part of the session. Two characters where knocked Out of Action, but the cleric's spells held out long enough to get them on their feet again and good rolls left them no worse for wear. Dabber ended up going toe-to-toe in an epic battle with the Hobgoblin Queen. She was immense and had as many hit points as the ogre from earlier that they were afraid to fight as a group. He held her off in her throne room until the rest of the party was able to mop up everyone else and pitch in.

Old Wojeb, the NPC Cleric they like having around even though his
abysmal strength and occasional cowardice make him kind of useless.

The kids poked around the room until they found all the treasure, but didn't even bother opening the doors to the rookery, or searching for the secret door into the complex. They were all satisfied with the crazy combat and wanted to get their characters back to the keep to sell their loot and heal up.

The next session they went back in through the goblin caves to get back into the hobgoblin lair to chase down the rumour about a captured merchant. They decided they weren't going to chance sneaking past the ogre's cave now that tow of them had chain-mail and they weren't paying the ogre any more money. Instead they drew him out into the open where they delayed him with a wand of web they had and filled him full of arrows before closing for melee. Some good rolling kept the party safe from thrown boulders and they took him down. They stripped of his outfit in the hopes of getting some gold for the bear pelts he was wearing.

This time they found the rookery. My 13-year-old felt pretty silly about not finding it or the secret door the first time. They destroyed the eggs and made their way into the armoury. They found out that telling the guards they had killed the queen was a bad idea but won that fight too.

Olys, the Conjurer played by Chloe, 13

They wanted to tap and scratch at every wall in the hopes of finding secret door but also wanted to be stealthy and sneak around. When I pointed out it was impossible to do both they decided on stealth.

The funniest part of the session is when my oldest decided to bluff the goblins preparing the hall for a feast into believing that they had paid the queen for the return of one of the prisoners and had gotten turned around in the caves. My youngest was trying to goad her sister into casting Sleep instead, "I don't think it's very heroic to lie to them."

Snekava, the Thief played by Pascale, 9

They pulled it off and got directions to the prisoners. A short battle and a running fight later and they were high-tailing it out of the ravine and heading for the Keep.

So far they've cleared out the goblins, the ogre and crippled the hobgoblins. It should be interesting to see where they go next. At this point they still trust the chaos priest spy at the Keep and have promised to come and get him to help them if they ever find any chaos altars, worshipers or relics.

As far as the rules go, I found the 4D6 HD for the Sleep spell was hugely overpowered when spell slots are only lost on a bad roll. I decided to use the LotFP version with only 2D8 HD affected by the Sleep. It's working out much better.

When we started I used the ablative armour with the recovery on short rests. I found it worked OK, but I slowly phased it out in favour of the damage reduction optional rule, starting with shields first and eventually moving to all the armour as damage reduction. The damage reduction solves the shield problem and speeds things up a bit. The monsters still get extra hit points from armour because hitting for zero damage is not fun!

The party is shaping up! They only have a handful of low-powered magic items, but they are well equipped now that two of them have plate mail and everyone else has exactly what they need. The Conjurer has added a spell to her spell book and the party has a townhouse rented inside the walls of the Keep for the next month. They are building relationships with the NPCs in the Keep and getting a feel for the Caves of Chaos. The characters are second and third level and they've all had a couple of stats increase while leveling.

All four are having the time of their lives and can't wait to play again!


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Bloodthirsty Children!

It turns out my daughters have something of a bloodthirsty streak. My ruthless little gamers are quickly becoming the scourge of the minions of chaos!

In my last post I talked about running the first ever campaign for my daughters. We're using The Black Hack with the old D&D module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. This post is the first in a series of campaign play diaries of my daughter's first RPG campaign.

The first session went well, with the girls getting the lay of the land in the keep and interacting with the odd characters there. They spent some time asking around about the area and collecting rumours about The Caves of Chaos to the northeast. Unfortunately for them they picked up plenty of false rumours, including the one about "bree-yark" meaning "we surrender" in goblin. Random tables are a wonderful thing. Thanks to a critical success with their roll to find information, they managed to get some decent directions to The Caves of Chaos on top of their bundle of rumours, so they were able to find the valley without much trouble.

They had some luck on their first foray into the valley with all the caves and I rolled no encounter on their way in. The girls had heard there was magic armour in the southern caves so they started by sneaking into the entrance to the goblin caves.

They crept through the rough tunnels with care, avoiding one group of goblins walking through the halls by ducking down a dead-end passage. For all that sneaking around, when they found the goblin guardroom they decided to walk in with their weapons drawn and say: "Hi goblins! What's going on?"

While I loved that they strutted in there liked they owned the place, the response from the six goblins was negative. One pointed and shouted, "Bree-yark!"

At first the girls were excited, "They surrender? Wow!"

"No, not so much. They leap to their feet and charge at you with their spears raised," I said. "Looks like 'bree-yark' means attack or something like that."

Snekava let fly with an arrow and one-shotted the leading goblin in the face.
As the goblins closed, Wojeb whipped his rapier around like toddler going after a pinata. Most of the goblins went for Snekava and with three twenties, she was tasting the stone floor by the end of the round.

Snekava is even sneakier at level two!

It was looking bad for the group as the not so hand-to-hand characters tried to turn the tide back in their favour when Olys decided to use that Sleep spell she had prepared that morning. With that action the fight was over, but a failed intelligence check meant that Olys expended her spell slot for the day.

They placed Snekava on the table in the guardroom and Wojeb set about patching her up while Olys stabbed the crap out of the sleeping goblins with her dagger. Despite their desire to continue they realised they were not in any position to handle another fight. They looted the goblins and left the caves. They were lucky again and I rolled no encounter on their way out of the caves.

Once back at the keep they were pretty bummed about their poor performance in the caves. I've set the adventure in the old Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The Keep is on the Duke's Road just before it passes into the Black Peak Mountains. This information is relevant because it means the chapel in the keep is part of the Church of Karameikos. The party cleric is from the old Church of Traladara and was sent north to tend the old Traladaran shrine in the fountain square of the keep. The reason he is adventuring is he was given no funds for his mission and living in the keep is expensive.

The party managed to find a Traladaran priest who is staying at the keep. He was friendly and willing to heal Snekava for free as a favour to his fellow cleric. He also convinced the party of the dangers of touching any artefacts or altars of chaos. They promised to return to the keep and get him if they found anything like that in the caves. He was interested in their adventures and talkative. He was also surprised and grateful to learn about the old Traladaran shrine.

The next day they headed back to the caves with vengeance on their minds. They approached the goblin cave through the tree cover and spotted an ambush near the cave entrance. They used their longbows and made short work of the four waiting goblins.

They did better with the first guardroom this time and found the reinforced door to the hobgoblin lair. They heard what sounded like monsters too big and numerous to handle on the other side and decided to return, "When we're more experienced."

They found the second guardroom and entered with an actual plan this time. With no armour besides her shield, Snekava was finished with her bow and ready to mix it up with her sword from now on. They started the battle strong. Since the goblins were on alert, the goblin squad leader kicked over the water barrel and made for the hidden door with a large jingling sack.

Once it was clear the goblin was summoning help through the door, Olys decided it was time to use her sleep spell again. She rolled close to maximum on the 4D6 (twenty-one!) for the hit dice (HD) put to sleep. There are no restrictions on what creatures are affected by the spell in The Black Hack. That meant the Ogre coming through the door folded up like a cheap lawn chair and went to sleep along with the goblins.

They thought that even sleeping, the ogre was too big to kill outright, so after dispatching the goblins with their daggers, they left him alone and walked past into the lair. With no limit to their time, they searched all the nooks and crannies of the ogre's caves. Between his treasure and the gold the goblins had to pay him to fight, the girls hit the motherload!

They raced back to the keep, again with no encounter on the way out.

Once back at the keep they spent some money on better equipment, purchasing leather armour for Snekava and chain mail for the cleric. They basked in the glory of their success and partied in the keep's tavern, The Duke of Cups. I decided this was an effective milestone, having experienced both failure and success. They also had bested the ogre. They were thrilled when I told them they had levelled up!

Olys specialises in conjuring cans of whoop-ass!

The levelling process for the Black Hack was a blast with the kids. They rolled up the improvements to their characters with gusto! Cheering for each incremental bonus gained to their stats and hit points. My oldest, Chloe, actually managed to roll over her 17 intelligence so now Olys, her Conjurer, is a magical force to be reckoned with.

As far as first games go, it was a good one. The girls are hooked and it looks like my Wednesday nights are booked solid until the end of the winter.

Mechanically, I made a change to shields. They absorb damage every round, with small shields soaking 1 hit point of damage and large shields taking 2 points. The rest of the armour I left the same. It doesn't make a huge difference but it is nice for the shields to continue to be useful throughout all the fights. Otherwise, players could have their characters drop them after the first round. It also means characters will continue to use shields at higher levels when armour seems like not much of a big deal.

The other thing I'm considering is cutting the power of the Sleep Spell. At 4D6 hit dice it is always going to wipe a small group of opponents. There should be less certainty when it comes to using magic so I might use the 2D8 hit dice from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess version of the spell in the future.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Their First Campaign

I've gamed with my daughters in the past. So far we've played a few one-shots to try out or playtest games aimed at kids.

I tried to get them into D&D with the Mentzer Red Box a few years ago. Both of them loved the images and the ideas in the book. The youngest didn't really have the attention span for it at the time and the game died out after the first session. D&D is not much of a solo game.

My oldest (12) has been pushing me to play again so I asked my youngest (9) this weekend how she felt about trying D&D again. She was super-excited to play!

We made their characters Sunday evening. The level of engagement this time was on a completely different level. When they were younger I was using the art to draw them in and help find out what they'd like to play. This time around we talked it out. Part of that came from their maturity level and part of it came from my decision to use The Black Hack as the rules for our campaign. It has no pictures and the rules are so simple all we needed to talk about was class-based concepts and what they wanted their characters to be able to do.

They responded well to starting with rolling the stats to find out about their characters and learn what they were good at. From there we looked at the four classes, what they could do and which ones would be complemented by the strengths and weaknesses of their characters. We also talked about what each class excelled at.

The short one liked the idea of a sneaky character who does things quietly and carefully, so she was keen to play a Thief despite her character's low Dexterity. Fortunately The Black Hack allows for two stats to be switched around during character generation and she didn't care if anyone liked her character, so she traded her DEX and CHA around to get herself a grumpy thief to play.

I barely started to ask the tall one what she wanted to play when she exploded: "Conjurer!"

This girl wants to play a wizard. I think it comes from reading her the Earthsea trilogy when she was little. She rolled a 17 Intelligence for her character so no stats were swapped.

Names came next and after some talk about naming fantasy characters we ended up with Snekava the Thief and Olys the Conjurer.

Snekava the Thief "...because she's so sneaky!"
While the girls shopped for their equipment I rolled up a henchman to help support their characters and avoid the TPKs that come with a party of two. Wojeb the Cleric (AKA Ol' Wojeb) came out of a low STR and CON but relatively high WIS. He can't carry much more than a torch and a shield but his hit points are high enough he should make an effective meatshield.

For the campaign I think I'll start with B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. It's a good spot for it and the Caves of Chaos allow for all kinds of different approaches to dealing with its monstrous inhabitants. Besides, it's an iconic adventure with sandbox elements that I ran recently in 5th edition so there's little for me to do in terms of prep.

The iconic Keep on the Borderlands
As for the larger world, I'm not sure what I'll do for that. I'm considering setting it in the old D&D Known World setting on Mystara. I've already done all the work of sprinkling my favourite OSR and classic D&D adventures throughout the setting. I've also subbed out chunks of the setting with cooler stuff from the Hydra Collective. For all that, the world has a history that makes suspension of disbelief easy to achieve. No matter what I do, it's all new to them, so exploring it will blow their little minds!

As far as system goes, I chose The Black Hack for a few reasons. I've already seen that it's simplicity makes it attractive as a way to bring beginners into D&D style gaming. I also like how it uses some of the modern gaming mechanics like usage dice and advantage/disadvantage. I want my girls to benefit from the old school, but I don't want them trapped there! I also like how damage by class makes weapon restrictions irrelevant so I could let them use whatever weapons they wanted without messing up the game balance. The biggest thing that made me want to use it for my daughters is the level advancement. Every level they'll roll for each statistic to see if it increases. This kind of obvious character improvement is going to make levelling that much more exciting and keep them engaged in the campaign. It also means low stats are not a big deal since they are more likely to increase than high ones.

We've decided on Wednesday evenings for our games since my wife is out that night and both of the girls are home. I'm looking forward to campaign play with the girls. I can't wait to see what they discover about their characters as they change and grow through play!