Thursday, May 26, 2016

Black Hack Session 1 in Ravensburg

Cast of Characters

Andros Grey (+Tim Shorts), Level 1 Cleric
Athena of the Forest (+Ken H), Level 1 Warrior
Beryl Wayfarer (Athena's NPC Henchman), Level 1 Conjurer
Boris Bonesnapper (Andros' NPC Henchman), Level 1 Warrior


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I've been itching to run a Wednesday night game in Ravensburg using The Black Hack rules. Our first session suffered delays due to illness (last week) and computer difficulties (last night). But we eventually got the computer stuff sorted out and got in about half a session or so.

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We began with a cliché start in The Shady Dragon tavern where the PCs encountered Big Willie, the Bartender, Andrea Nadsnip, a severely burned and battered warrior telling the tale of her recent encounter with a dragon, and Finneas Flogg, a wealthy businessman crying into his beer.

The PCs learned that during Andrea's fight with the dragon, she was betrayed by her two henchmen, One-Eyed Jimmy and Ugly Sue. In mid fight, the traitors disengaged, snatched two dragon eggs and ran off in different directions. Andrea ultimately beat the dragon but not before being seriously wounded. Too battered to hunt the henchmen down herself, she's offered a bounty on each of them and on each stolen egg.

The PCs also talk to Finneas Flogg, a well-dressed, bejeweled merchant, whose three daughters were kidnapped while they were visiting their mother's grave in Last Repose cemetery. He's willing to pay handsomely for their safe recovery, and will even guide the PCs to the exact spot his daughters disappeared.

The PCs follow Finneas into the graveyard to a mausoleum with no name and a door that's ajar. Out step three female ghouls, who turn out to be Finneas' "daughters" and who attack the party as Finneas' appearance (and odor) changes to reveal that he too is a ghoul. Andros attempts to banish them and succeeds with the weaker "daughters" who run screaming into the night. But he fails with Finneas himself.

In the subsequent melee, the henchman Boris Bonesnapper is severely wounded (but not paralyzed), and Andros the cleric suffers a critical hit from Finneas' claw that takes him out of action in one blow and leaves him disfigured (charisma reduced to 4).

Fortunately, Athena is a keen shot, and in the end, Finneas goes down looking like a pin cushion.


The party pick up Finneas' coin purse and jewelry (a tidy sum!) and take a quick rest to recuperate before investigating the shimmering glow now emanating from the open door of the mausoleum.

Inside, they find a dragon egg and the half-eaten body of Ugly Sue, one of Andrea Nadsnip's treacherous henchmen. In a niche in the back wall is a swirling mass of grey-black smoke. From behind it come wretched, pained and pleading voices: "Help! You must release us! Don't leave us here!"

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And there the session ended as we hit our usual closing time. We're on a break next week, but we pick up the week after that. The PCs succeeded in leveling up and so they will start our next session at level 2.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Experimenting in Ravensburg: Abstract Combat

The final thing I've experimented with in my Ravensburg Swords & Wizardry game with Brie is combat. I've done this in three ways, importing two ideas from The Black Hack, and one idea from Sly Flourish's advice on narrative combat here and here.


Imported Idea #1: The Black Hack's Single Stat for Monsters

One of the ideas I like in The Black Hack is that monsters have one stat – hit dice. Or more correctly, hit dice are the monsters' one defining stat, the stat from which all other stats derive. In other words, hit points, armor, and damage dealt are all determined by a monster's hit dice. This makes things ridiculously simple both in terms of prep and in terms of not having to consult anything in play for monster numbers. I brought this into my Swords & Wizardry game by adapting it like so:


So my stat blocks look something like this: 

Orc (1 HD)    or    Skeleton (1 HD, immune to sleep/charm)

Now I might not use this for bosses or other special monsters, but it's great for all the mooks.


Imported Idea #2: The Black Hack's Distance System

Instead of using actual measurements for movement and weapon ranges, I've brought The Black Hack's four abstract distance bands into play – close, nearby, far-away, distant. Some people question the need for four bands, but the four-band set-up makes sense to me. Close approximates hand-to-hand range, nearby approximates thrown-weapon range, far-away approximates projectile weapon range, and distant represents people and things visible but out of range. Add to that The Black Hack's simple movement rules for switching from band to band and I'm set. This too has worked well as a tweak to our Swords & Wizardry game.


Imported Idea #3: Sly Flourish's Final Fantasy Combat Style.

In his posts on running narrative combat here and here, Sly Flourish gives a number of really good tips for that type of play. One that I carried away into our Swords & Wizardry game was what he calls the "Final Fantasy Battle Layout." The battlemat Brie and I've been using for it looks like this: 

(yes, it's a piece of blank grey felt)

"In older Final Fantasy games, combat occurred between a line of PCs on the right side of the screen and a line of monsters on the left side. There was no movement or engagement between PCs and monsters, the PCs simply chose which they would attack and the monsters did the same. We can arrange our own table layout the same way, using miniatures mainly to show who is up front, who is in the back, and who is enaged with who." – Sly Flourish's Guide to Narrative Combat in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

And so that's what we've been doing.

The three of these things combined have really quickened the pace of our play. The other thing they've done is situate the focus of the action in our heads, rather than on the tabletop. Now +Tim Shorts and +Ken H  get to be my second batch of guinea pigs tomorrow night when we take a run at The Black Hack for the first time, which I've set up to run using all the elements from my Ravensburg experiments with Brie.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Experimenting in Ravensburg: Abstraction of Location

Another thing I've been experimenting with in my Ravensburg games with Brie is the abstraction of location.

In a number of posts from around the time when we began our campaign, I grumbled about the awkwardness of mapping in face-to-face games. This led to me getting more and more abstract until finally I arrived at systematically creating simpler "single site" locations (like the Circle of Standing Stones in my previous post) that require no mapping during play. Even dungeons are small, maybe two to four rooms. This works well with the 3 x 5 card approach, since each site goes on one card.

I've been keeping larger locations abstract as well, by making the few maps I have ungridded. Here for example is Ravensburg:


Here is the country of Harrow in which it is located:


And here is the continent of Oberon surrounding the Kingdom of Harrow:


Abstracting the locations in these ways picks up the pace in comparison with other games I've run. In this evening's session, Brie's character and her henchmen went from Ravensburg to Willowgrove to a strange lamp post up the road out of town (that matched one in a snow globe Olivia found in Willowgrove) to a Bugbear camp in the woods upriver and back to Willowgrove, with about five encounters along the way.

This increase in pace is due to there being no hex-by-hex or room-by-room exploration. The trade-off is that since there's no real exploration possible, I have to make sure NPCs give the PC's party very clear directions as to where things are located so it makes sense for the party to simply "go there."

And while I obviously can't put an entire "dungeon's worth" of stuff in one location, I find I am putting more things in a single site than I otherwise would have with more of a hex-by-hex or room-by-room set-up. So there is less "stuff" to interact with in a way overall, but each individual location has more "stuff" to interact with than the individual rooms or hexes I would design in a hex-by-hex or room-by-room format.

All in all, these forms of abstraction have worked quite well for me in recent sessions. Combat is shifted to become very abstract/narrative in nature, but is still tactical -- just not in a positional maneuvering way as in a board game or minis game. Combat abstraction though is another beast, and I'll ramble on about that in an upcoming post.