Archive for August, 2011

The players have all been asking for another round of Old School Hack, so tonight we gathered at the table and we played again.


Dwarvie the Shortbearded Facesmasher is the only PC that survived a walk through the Gauntlet, and she came out of it with a huge red gem the size of a dragon’s eye.

Sansalar the Cranky Elf Wanderer was true to her names-sake after her trip through the gauntlet and being ejected magically sans all her belongings. ALL of them.

The greedy thief, who also failed the Gauntlet, so grief-stricken over all the stolen property that was also stripped from  him as he was ejected from the Gauntlet, threw himself from a wooden bridge over a canyon near the entrance to the dungeon.

So our story tonight begins as Sansalar, now clothed in rags taken from a dead Orc, and Dwarvie started to head back toward town. Dwarvie stared into the gem because she saw something moving…

…it was a landscape, dark and red, with a volcano pouring out a river of lava. As she stared she felt the air around them warm up, almost like they were there…and then suddenly, they were. As quickly as their scenery had just changed on them, a goblin arrived, breathing hard, and asking if they had seen a short man running this way. Neither of them had, of course, so they decided to set out to explore the volcano to see if he ran into the cave at the base of the mountain.

In the lava river that flowed by, they saw (everyone at the table said it before I could) a lava shark! It looked Hungry.

As they approached the volcano, they could see a black billowing cloud coming out the top and swirling down toward them. The cloud got closer and they could tell it was not a cloud at all, but (again, everyone beat me to to it) giant bats! And they have little dark dervish riders on them, like little ninjas! They swooped down and swooshed and swirled around them, calling to each other to “take them out and get all their goods for the master.”

Dwarvie called out, “Come on Team, let’s get them!”

When a 4 year old playing a dwarf shouts the rallying cry at the table…that gets an awesome point!

The fight was an interesting one, with the the PCs all grabbing rocks and pitching them at the dark dervishes, knocking a couple off their mounts. These guys were carrying bows, so that did well to arm the Elf that had lost all her possessions in the Gauntlet.

Two riders swooped down to have their bats grab at Sansalar and Dwarfie, and pull them up into the “flying” arena. Sansalar got her shot off and missed just before she was grabbed and lifted into the sky. Dwarfie was missed, but then hit her target so hard that she also dazed the bat that came down for a rough landing right near her…which of course just begged for her to check out bat riding as a new sport. In shock at the weight and enthusiasm of his new rider, the bat labored back  up into the air after a successful Cunning roll.

Can you imagine a bat-riding, spikey-armored dwarf twirling her warhammer like Thor and flying right into the rest of the swarm of bat riders? Yeah, there will be trouble for the dark dervishes!

Meanwhile the Elf tries to make friends with the bat that has grabbed her. She has the Animal Friend talent, so this sounded pretty awesome, and she strikes up a conversation with the bat via high-pitched shrieks back and forth. After brief introductions, the conversation boils down to “Do you have better food than he does?” <long pause, knowing that her sole possessions now included a dervish bow and orc rags> “Uh, no, sorry.” “You may be nice and all, but he has the food.” So Sansalar shrugs as she is carried higher into the air.

The goblin has been firing arrows from a bow he picked up from a fallen dark dervish, too, and has been astoundingly accurate, rolling a 10 on his face die with nearly every shot. So in some cases, he not only shot the rider, but winged the bat in the process.

The number of bat riders is dwindling now, but the Goblin now targets the rider of the bat that has the elf. Without a rider, the bat lets go of Sansalar, and she awesomely flips down through the air to land gracefully on the back of another flying bat, and begins shrieking to it as well. This bat however, is completely taken by the elf and they become fast friends.

Dwarfie the Shortbearded Facesmasher lives up to her namesake and barrels through the remaining bat riders like a spinning bowling ball through pins. Lots of face smashing going on. She’s taking them out two at a time while they try to flee in fear. A short bit later, and the skies are clear. The bat carrying Dwarfie has come to its senses and dumped Dwarfie and flown away. Skrii is now Sansalar’s new friend, and the goblin has several new bows and arrows.

The biggest challenge in using the rest of this “old school” game module I wrote over 10 year ago with Old School Hack was two-fold: 1) It’s a typical dungeon crawl, so one of the most fun and dynamic elements of combat, arenas, is difficult to apply, and 2) my players are all 10 and under, and had a huge amount of trouble with the puzzle/riddle in the gauntlet.

In the end, this meant that our 2nd session of Old School Hack was not nearly the success of the first one. But we played it through anyway, and the 4 year old is the only one that passed the puzzle challenge without any trouble. Ah, to be young and innocent! I will post more about the Gauntlet in a later post, but for now suffice it to say that it was a role-playing puzzle to challenge the PCs integrity. No dice rolls needed, just players role-playing. So the novice group of players, in general, blew it.  😉

But the few fights there were to be had were still pretty quick, but it seems the entire scope of possible arenas were limited to “Room” and “Hall”. Boring. There were still some interesting dynamics, from *my* perspective, though. With the Hall being a different arena, ranged attackers were able to stay out there and fire into the Room arena without fearing a melee attack in return. However, the monsters wanted to Move out to that arena, which gave Dwarfie a change to Impede if she wanted to. This makes for a fight that is very different from your normal “trading blows” D&D fight.

If I am understanding the rules correctly, players all basically declare their intent at the beginning of each round, and in my game we use the combat cards with the card holders (those are Awesome, so we use them!), so players put out the card that matches what they want to do, and we begin the round.

So if a player chooses to Attack (which is phase 5), but his intended target chooses to Move (phase 4), then he won’t have a target to attack when 5 rolls around! Likewise if you choose Impede (Phase 3) and no one Moves in 4 for you to impede, then while you are jockeying back and forth trying to keep people from running, they can Attack you in Phase 5, and you get to just grit your teeth back at them. Combat can have some dicey moments based on these kinds of rules.

I am interested in gathering ideas for scenes to use in future fights that have that fantastic dynamic of multiple arenas for players to move around in. Maybe there is room for them on the OSH Bestiary…if not, I will find a place to keep them.

I think it would be good to spend a little time here writing about some of the cool game mechanics that are included in Old School Hack. Initial observations begin with “this ain’t so old school” as you might think. I know Old School. And while there is something to be said about it, I think that in general, old school often means old-fashioned. Some think that is means simple, easy.

My background with RPGs begins in the 70s with Dungeons & Dragons and Tunnels & Trolls as a grade-schooler in Scottsdale, AZ. I was the one who gathered friends and introduced them to the game. I was always the DM. I learned the rules first and taught them to others. These pioneering games were not “easy” because they were foreign. But by most standards, they were pretty simple. There were only a few options, and you just picked between them, and were happy about it. As the industry developed thicker and thicker books hit the shelves that gave you virtually limitless options. And with that came complexity and slower games and combats.

Some people harken back to simpler times, when you could just sit down at the table with some graph paper and pencils, dice, and a single-sided character sheet–and just have some fun. In the quest to provide the ultimate system for your gaming experience, to present the most realistic, or genre-true, game mechanics, we have found ourselves sitting down at the table with stacks of reference books, giving the “walking encyclopedias” and “rules lawyers” a distinct advantage over everyone else, even the DM. I think many a comic strip has illustrated this very issue.

So here I am looking at a simple set of rules. I was able to read in very quickly (literally just minutes), much faster than the original D&D rules when I was a kid–which actually took re-reading several times before starting a game, and referencing often during play because it was so new to me.  Actually the experience of reading the original D&D rules was a lot more like my experience reading D&D4e rules.

So OSH was very easy for my experienced game brain to take in, except for just a couple of the mechanics that I needed to take a little longer to absorb. The easy and familiar included:

  1. Class-based characters, where race *is* a class.
  2. Levels. The game covers Levels 1-4.
  3. Rolling Attributes, but they are only recorded as their “bonus” -2 to +5 by consulting a chart.
  4. Attack rolls, modified by attributes, and Armor Class (AC is target number to beat)
  5. Attribute checks, rolled and modified by the applicable attribute.
  6. Minions as 1-hit foes.
  7. Awesome Points, which are spent by players to get bonuses, avoid damage, etc.

The easy and new ideas included:

  1. Different attack rolls for different kinds of monsters
  2. Minions use a different to-hit roll, and another kind of roll when they can gang up.
  3. Attack rolls are made with 2d10 (or 3d10 in some cases, keeping the two highest).
  4. Attack rolls include one die as a “face die” which means you hit them in the face if you roll at 10 on that die.
  5. Turn sequence – 7 phases each round, with initiative being rolled only when necessary.
  6. Damage is either 1 hit or 2. A face hit adds +1
  7. Awesome Points, as experience, which must be spent in order to level up. Spending 12 APs let’s you level, but *all* players must spend 12 because the party must level together. This is my favorite mechanic because it makes teamwork FUN.  🙂

The new idea that needed a little time:

  1. Arenas. I kept seeing that as “areas” in my head. And when I corrected myself, I kept seeing gladiators in my head. I might have liked to call it Zones instead, just to avoid that bit of distraction.Arenas were hard to get until I ran a mock battle in my head. It’s just a way of splitting the field of battle up in to different places. This is a core element of fighting in the game that has a great deal to do with making combats dynamic and interesting…and manageable.

    This is actually an element that could and maybe even *should* be translated into other game systems. It has changed the way I think about combats in general, and when I am thinking up settings for combats, it becomes an important design element.

    Players are encouraged to narrate new arenas as well, adding additional dimension to each fight, and creating a “new place” to take the battles to. Ranged attacks can fire from one arena to adjacent arenas, but melee is confined to one arena at a time. Archers could then move to “high ground” such as “I climb the tree, moving to the treetops arena so that next round I can fire my bow in the arena below.”

    The concept of Arenas would make T&T infinitely more interesting to play. It would improve game play for a lot of systems I think.

    A single-arena combat becomes droll and boring. This is the single biggest drawback to using arenas. Normal dungeon crawls become significantly more uninteresting.

    I am reworking this old adventure I am running for my kids (Bellicose Keep) to give more varied settings and arenas, and thereby making combats to be had there much more interesting. I’ll post more about my changes later. Until then, happy gaming!

First a Little Background

Our first game night together with a new system called Old School Hack was a new experience for the players, and a resounding SUCCESS. This was the first time two players, Mikki and Destiny, had ever really played an RPG. Both have sat in before as observers, though, on previous games. Davon has experience with DnD4e, so this was new for him as well. The only other RPG experience the players have is that Mikki and Davon play DDO (D&D Online), which I don’t really count as role-playing experience.

Rolling Up Characters

We got together at the table and rolled up their characters. There were enough classes and variety to make everyone happy.

Destiny chose the Dwarf. Rolled an amazing 20 in front of me and got +5 Brawn. How perfect! I assisted with the rest of the character as she made all the important decisions about talents and such. I just jotted down a Dawrvish Warhammer and “Spikey Plate Armor and Heavy Shield” to keep the equipment simple and straightforward. We talked about her Name and Concept, and she decided on Dwarvie the Shortbearded Facesmasher. Quaint, no?

Mikki picked an Elf. The roll-up proved to be interesting as she rolled high on Brawn and Awareness and low and Charm. The rest of the character was also kept pretty simple and easygoing, and she chose Animal Friend for her Talent. She decided to go without armor and to just use the name of her Elf in DDO, and after discussion about her stats and class level title, she decided on her concept as well. Sansalar the Cranky Elven Wanderer.

Davon wanted to play a halfling rogue, so looked over both Goblin and Thief classes and chose Thief. Rolled stats were a pretty good fit, and he chose Endless daggers for his talent.  Also going without armor, he added a Rapier and Daggers to his load out, and wrapped up his character as “Chriss Goldfinger the Sneaky, Greedy Rogue”.

The Adventure Begins!

The adventure began in a small town tavern where the PCs had stopped in their travels because it was nearest to a ruined keep that is rumored by legend to bear a valuable treasure that might just contain what they are looking for. Chriss and Sansalar seek magical heirlooms that have been stolen from their family and lost in battle with monsters. Dwarvie just wants to spit in the eye of a dragon, so if there’s a dragon there, she’s good to go.

While relaxing and watching the stage act, an ogre wearing a brand new plumed, wide-brimmed hat entered the tavern and was followed by a small entourage of “snorts” as he called them. The little piggish grunties looked to be a cross of pot-bellied porkers and goblins. Everyone knew the ogre’s name immediately as he always referred to himself in the 3rd person as Trogus. He demanded a keg of ale to drink, some slop for his entourage, and began bragging about his new promotion that he was celebrating.

Lucky for the thief, who was at the bar and nearest the front door, he had a front row seat when Trogus pulled out his coin-pouch and poured out several gold coins and gems. He left a few gold on the counter and put all the rest back into his pouch. It was barely tucked back into the ogre’s belt before Chriss had liberated it and started heading toward the stairs up to the balcony and a quick escape.

But no. Trogus grabbed him by the shoulders, with one hand, while he bent down and breathed a nasty rotting cloud of stench into his face. “You like my new hat?” Trogus asked. Chriss succeeded in a Commitment Check to keep his lunch down.

“Uh..<cough, gag>, yeah. Where’d you get it?” Chriss replied.

“Some squishy man down street not need it no more. Hyuh, huh, haha!”

Trogus looked him over, and still stiff with fear, Chriss realized that Trogus had not noticed he had taken the pouch yet. Whew.

Trogus smiled with deadly breath and said, “I like your boots.” Chriss tried to offer them up hoping to distract him and allow his escape, but Trogus is no fool. Well, he is if that old addage applies, and the pouch as evidence of it, but in this case he pulled up one of his feet to illustrate, “But they no fit Trogus. Trogus feet too big!”

Wow. Chriss thought Trogus’ breath was the worst thing he had ever smelled, but then Trogus put his foot in Chriss’ face, and it broke new records. A failed check resulted in lunch and ale all over Trogus’ foot and leg. Crap!

The combat was creative and fun, and the idea of arenas was quickly absorbed and put to good use. A dense arena in the tavern on the main floor, with the bar, tables, and patrons. A tight arena awaited them up the stairs to the balcony. And there was always the open arena outside.

Dwarvie used a Protect to make sure that the Thief would make it up there safely. The elf fired an arrow at Trogus and missed. Chriss ran up the stairs into the tight balcony. All attacks that were aimed at the now-gone thief went to the Dwarf who took it all without even breathing hard. A 14 AC is formidable, even if it is an Ogre attacking. No counter attacks were made since everyone missed the Dwarf.

Sansalar the elf fired again, this time sticking the ogre in the arm. Three Snorts ran up the stairs after the Thief, who decided to make a new arena called “Chandelier”. Beautiful. However, a failed Daring check put the Thief back in the dense main floor arena, breaking a table in the process. However, he was awarded an Awesome Point for using a table to break his fall (but really for thinking up the Chandelier arena).

Trogus decided that the pokey dwarf was not a very smart target after missing her again and getting pricked by her armor (special effect, no damage). Dwarvie attacked back and hurt the Ogre because her warhammer was MADE for tavern brawls! Yeah! Trogus was now down 2 hits.

The Snort minions couldn’t touch the Dwarf this round, but wounded the Elf. The whole minion attack mechanic worked really well, I thought. 🙂 I thought it was interesting how the players basically ignored the minions, though, and kept attacking the ogre, even when the minions were actually wounding the unarmored elf almost every round.

The next round, the elf hit the stairs to the balcony while the Snorts up there climbed and jumped down after the Thief, who was, ironically, already leaping back up from the broken table to catch the bottom of the balcony and swing himself back up to the railing and prepare another jump to the chandelier.

Trogus and the remaining Snorts were unable to attack the Elf because she took off. (I think a Cunning check vs. Awareness would be good to impose on a fleeing character in melee in order to get to the new area unscathed. While an impede would prevent the Elf from fleeing, this would just allow some of these guys a chance to attack before the Elf succeeded in fully moving to the balcony arena. Maybe a failed check delays the move until 7.)

Destiny made a cool move this round by choosing to throw the Ogre through the wall into a new arena called “Kitchen”. Everyone thought the visual of a brawny dwarf picking up an 8 foot tall ogre and launching him through the wall was AWESOME. She got two awesome points for that, especially now that there was an “upside-down, ogre-shaped hole in the wall behind the bar”.

Destiny set Dwarvie up for a Push move the next round, while the Snorts that jumped down from the balcony frustratingly charged back up the stairs again in their wild-thief chase. The Elf on the balcony expected this to happen, so she swung over the balcony and down carefully to a table below. She had taken several hits so far and was just 2 away from getting knocked out or bleeding to death. Chriss, of course, leapt out to the chandelier again, and rolled really badly, but decided to use his innate ability to avoid falling again. Now safely dangling from the chandelier by his knees, he prepared some daggers to start throwing while swinging about.

Trogus tried to come back into the main floor arena through his new doorway he made, but a split-second later, a screaming, self-propelled (spikey) dwarf-bullet shot over the bar and sent them both back through the hole “Terrible” Terry Tate style. They smashed into a stove on the other side with the cook still trying to stir his pot of stew. He screamed and ran off. Everyone laughed and Destiny got another Awesome Point.

The next round Chriss threw a dagger at one of the Snorts, killing him and letting him perform a classic fall off the balcony, full-on spaghetti-western-style. The two remaining tried to jump onto his chandelier, both missed and conked out on the main floor when they hit the ground so ungracefully.

The Elf decided to use her longsword now against the Snorts surrounding her table, and got a face shot hit, splitting one skull in twain. Gross, she said, and had to wipe her blade off before continuing the fight. The Snorts got one more shot in on her, leaving her with no more hits to spare. One more and she was a gonner.

In the kitchen, Trogus won initiative and hit Dwarvie hard. Trogus was actually starting to get really mad about people ruining his celebration so I tossed in a few more AP’s and upped the damage, but Dwarvie’s shield saved the day and soaked it all up but one, which Dwarvie took with a smile. Ha!

Her return blow was not so ineffective as his…and 2 points later, the Ogre was toppled back into some sacks of flour creating a small explosion of white powder. He was done. So the next round the dwarf would check the Ogre to make sure, and see if he had any goods on him.

Two snorts had run into the kitchen to help, and when they saw the cloud of flour over the dead Trogus, they squeeled and ran back out. The remaining Snort joined it (his buddy had already “split” thanks to the Elf) and they ran wee-wee-wee…all the way home. (Sorry couldn’t help it).

Trogus was also carrying a map that Dwarvie found quite interesting…it leads directly to the ruins of Bellicose Keep and…TREASURE! Trogus was apparently just promoted to Chief Treasure Guard, and had this map to remind him where the treasure was so he could keep it safe by protecting the right place (or so the notes Trogus wrote on the map seem to indicate).

One more note worthy of saving till the end:

  • Davon is 10 years old.
  • Mikki is 9.
  • Destiny is 4.

My Star Players!

My kids are AWESOME Players! They are looking forward to the next game.

And so am I. 🙂