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.