Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: The Petal Hack

Okay, so I was perusing the cornucopia of gaming goodness which is DriveThruRPG, drawn there by their "Christmas in July" sale, and purchased several reasonable priced items.  One item I obtained, particularly reasonably priced in that it's free, was The Petal Hack.  The Petal Hack authored by Brett Slocum is a hack of the old Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT) game using The Black Hack rules.  The pdf is just 64 pages and yet it provides just about everything to play.  The only thing lacking is in-depth information about this unique campaign world but the introduction has links to several excellent sites which provide plenty of resources.  The Petal Hack takes all the cool elements from EPT and mates them up nicely with the simple mechanics from The Black Hack.

I bought the original EPT back in the late '70s.  I still have my boxed set with the extra full-color maps printed on thick plastic like shower curtains.  Alas, back then I was only able to talk my players into playing it once.  This version of the game is simple enough to jump into that I could probably get my current group to try it as an off-night game.  Brett did an amazing job in not only converting EPT to TBH, but also in fitting everything into a mere 64 pages, including cover, legal, etc.

I definitely recommend checking out The Petal Hack.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

First game of Dungeon World...some thoughts

So we threw together another session of gaming and BBQ today.  Since it was an "off" day with less than a quorum of our regular crew available we decided to not play one of the big campaigns.  I offered to run Dungeon World, using the Servants of the Cinder Queen adventure.  None of us had ever played DW before and apparently I was the only one who'd even heard of it, let alone read it.  But my crew was game to check it out and we plunged in.

I ran the game as GM and my five friends played, taking the Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, Barbarian, and Immolator.  The character sheets have a fair number of choices presented but since everything is right there on the sheet it's way faster than any game where you have to pass a book around or look up a bunch of stuff elsewhere.  I had everyone make a 2nd level character so they'd get to make at least one move choice beyond the fixed starting set at 1st level.

We started the adventure "in media res", with a quick prologue from me about what they learned in the village the previous day when they arrived and then starting the action just as they arrive at the destroyed monastery up on the plateau.  The game went very well--with purchased adventures I'm not always certain they'll work.  They visited pretty much all the locations, had a good chase scene pursuing the evil boss, lost him, then caught up with him just at the last moment to ruin his evil plan.  At the close all the characters either had enough XP to level up or were just one away.

From character creation to end it was about four hours, thus well structured for an evening or afternoon one-off, or a convention game slot.  I think everyone enjoyed the adventure although I don't think anyone was really super thrilled with the DW rules.

Some random thoughts:
  • A lot of things in DW are done sort of "backwards", so that in the end you get to the same place as you would with Swords & Wizardry or Pathfinder, but it feels like you were doing something in there wrong.
  • In a lot of places when someone rolled a 6 or less it was hard to come up with an appropriate "penalty".  A lot of the time a simple fail was enough, but DW urges the DM to do something creative with fails.
  • In a lot of cases the "bad things" which happen with a roll of 7~9 to balance the success are worse than the sort of blank space the game leaves with a roll of 6 less.  That often felt off, even if it worked okay in play.
  • We all found the Discern Realities move unsatisfying because the six fixed questions often didn't allow the players to ask the question they really needed, or led to them asking more questions than they needed just to "game" the fact that they had two more free questions to use.
  • Everyone found the lack of a "critical hit" disappointing (or is it in there somewhere and I just missed it?).  I realize this is meant to be a relatively "flat" game, so it fits the overall design intent, but it felt like one of those classes in school where the teacher starts the semester by saying "I don't give out As".  But really, the monsters all had so few hit points that you could kill them in one to two hits without criticals.
  • Even though everyone wrote down at least one inter-character bond they only got used a couple times in play.  This was partly because it was a new concept to remember but also because only some of my group are into character backgrounds like that.  I'm thinking that it would work better to give characters Instincts like the monsters have and give XP at session end if they follow an instinct in a dramatic way.
  • Characters get XP pretty often and I got the feeling that leveling up to the game's maximum of level 10 would not take too many sessions.  I've been evaluating DW as the basis for my next campaign but the leveling would need modification to run a really long campaign with it.
  • I liked that XP came organically during play, plus the short evaluation session at the table at the end.  As DM it is a chore to sit down after each session to determine the XP and DW totally cuts out all that work.
So overall I like a lot of the things DW does, but don't understand why so many of them are "backwards"--it's like doing something by looking in a mirror instead of just looking right at it.  But the core mechanic is solid and the overall simplicity of it all is very appealing.  I think with some house mods I could turn it into something I'd use for a big campaign.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Servants of the Cinder Queen for Dungeon World - via Belgium

Okay, so I jumped in to back a project by this crazy guy in Belgium called Bastien 'Acritarche' Wauthoz to do an edited and translated version of Servants of the Cinder Queen (La Serviteurs de la Reine des Cendres).  I saw this as an opportunity to 1) get an interesting-sounding adventure to show me a bit more about how Dungeon World is supposed to work, 2) practice my Belgian (which I was pleasantly surprised to find is remarkably similar to French), and 3) support some indie type gaming efforts out there.

My Phat Lootz
The project was funded through Ulule, which is just like Kickstarter.  For 25 Euros I got the adventure and an extra "forward" with some nice little additions and play aids tailored to the adventure.  The project funded quickly and I got my loot in a very reasonable amount of time.  One is always a bit nervous tossing money into one of these projects but Bastien came through for us like a champion.  He provided very good updates as things went along to keep us informed and excited.

The book is 24 pages plus the cover.  The art by Keny Widjaja is great.  It has a cartoony feel which I think goes well with the general vibe of Dungeon World and gives the story a unique feel.  The couple of maps are hand-drawn style which I have come to appreciate and enjoy.

The adventure is the classic "villagers are disappearing, find the bad guys are behind it, explore their lair, save the world" type, but in a very compact, clean package.  There are only a couple maps and a diagram to link the locations together, the rest being Theatre of the Mind.  There are only a few "monsters" so you don't get lost in pages of stats, and the two big baddies are explained in just enough detail.

After reading through this I now have a much better idea of what a Dungeon World adventure should look and feel like.  And, more importantly, I think this style of game works well with my actual DMing style.  I'll see if I can convince some of my players to try it out some time.