Posts Tagged ‘ reviews ’

The Cthulhu Hack: A Read-Through Review

If you don’t own Paul Baldowski’s The Cthulhu Hack, buy it now. You can learn more about this wonderful game by visiting www.justcrunch.com. I’ll wait here until your done.

Now that you’re back, take a look at Mr. Baldowski’s work, a clever hack of David Black’s The Black Hack, an inspired role-playing game for dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure. In just a little more than 40 pages, The Cthulhu Hack gives you a complete game that launches its players into deadly conflict with the soul-shrivelling horrors of a Lovecraftian world.

The game’s core mechanic — roll a Save on a d20 that is below a specific value — determines success or failure of everything and everyone, including blood-crazed Cultists and sanity-blasting Shoggoths. Like Dungeon World, another favorite game of mine, the players rather than the GM, make almost all the rolls, including actions related to whether that mad Cultist’s machete painfully slices through muscle or harmlessly through air.

Add to the core mechanic features such as Usage Dice, Advantages, and Disadvantages to this simple, flexible core mechanic, and these simple rules cover everything from clue finding, suspect interrogating, ammo tracking, and sanity losing. It is the latter aspect of The Cthulhu Hack that I’ve been looking for for years, but more on sanity later.

Usage Dice cover resource management. For example, all investigators have a Flashlight Die that represents that investigators resources when he “needs to spot, uncover, trip over, research, stumble [upon], recall or otherwise discover something” (to quote the rules). When this comes up, the player rolls his investigator’s Flashlight Die. If the die comes up a 1 or 2, it decreases in size (from d8 to d6, for example). If a d4 Usage Die comes up a 1 or 2, the investigator is out of that resource. Nota Bene: A 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the investigator fails. It means he succeeds, but at a cost (represented by the Usage Die decreasing in size).

An Advantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and choose whichever die result he prefers. A Disadvantage means the player rolls 2d20 for a Save and the GM chooses whichever die result he prefers. I’ve read this mechanic comes from D&D 5E. Regardless of its origin, it’s a great rule that replaces charts full of situational modifiers. Does your investigator have to sneak across a squeaky, dilapidated floor made of water-damaged boards? No need to consult a chart of stealth modifiers. The GM simply rules that your investigator is at a Disadvantage to do so.

I’ve played horror games before, and most I’ve played use some sort of fear or sanity point mechanic that tends to be both cumbersome and tedious, as well as requiring several pages of text to explain. The Cthulhu Hack handles sanity (or the lack thereof) as a Usage Die detailed by little more than one page of rules. Seriously. I could cut-and-paste the sanity rules into a document, fiddle with font and size and margins, and fit all of the sanity rules on one side of a single page.

The Cthulhu Hack stands severed head and mangled shoulders above every other game of its genre that I’ve read or played. Get some friends together and have them choose from one of five Classes and add one of 30 occupations. Creating an investigator is snap, and the rules for antagonists facilitate making them up more or less on the fly if necessary, which makes it easier for the GM to put more thought into the story rather than the stats behind the story.

Speaking of investigators, a sample character follows this paragraph. Ability scores (which make up the aforementioned Saves) are generated by rolling 3d6. “If a player rolls a Save with a value of 15 or more the next must be rolled with 2d6+2. After that continue with 3d6 until the end or another 15+ is rolled. Once the player rolls all six, she can choose to swap around” (to quote the rules again).

Dr. Horatio Phelps
Occupation: Archaeologist
Class/Level: Adventurer/1

STR 7, DEX 7, CON 9, WIS 15, INT 16, CHA 8

Hit Points: 9
Hit Die: d8
Sanity Die: d8
Armed Damage: 1d6
Improvised Damage: 1d4
Flashlights/Smokes: d8/d6

Special: Roll with Advantage when making a CON Save to avoid damage from poison, drugs, alcohol, or paralysis. Once per game session, apply powers of deduction and reasoning to reach an apposite conclusion.

Postscript: The last Sunday of this month, I’m hosting a dinner-and-gaming night featuring The Cthulhu Hack and a short adventure I’m writing entitled The Strange Case of the Bell Witch Bootleggers. I intend to post a playtest review a day or two later.

July 12th, 2016  in RPG 1 Comment »

Gearing Up for Fate?

The twice-monthly (or thereabouts) sessions of Man Day Adventures have been through a few game systems over the years: AD&D (2nd edition), the d20 System (3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder), Sine Nomine’s excellent Stars Without Number, brief excursions into d20 Modern, Swords & Wizardry, and Mutants & Masterminds, and, most recently, the fabulous Dungeon World for a rollicking campaign under the auspices of three GMs.

As July 2015 bears down on us, we prepare to bid a sad adieu to one of Man Day’s adventurers, who is leaving the U.S. for a new life in a foreign land. The consensus is that his final Man Day will be the final act of our Dungeon World campaign. Further, it seems most likely that our next game with be Fate Accelerated (or FAE), published under both the Open Gaming License and Creative Commons Attribution license by Evil Hat Productions.

To prepare for the upcoming new campaign, I trundled my virtual self to DriveThruRPG and purchased FAE. While I was there, I also picked up A Spark in Fate Core, published by Genesis of Legend Publishing. This latter product bills itself as a “Fate World Building Toolkit” and, since one Man Day adventurer had talked several times about using FAE to create a collaborative campaign world, it seemed like a well duh acquisition.

FAE claims that it can be used to play (just about?) any genre. The players get together, decide on a genre, and then make characters that fit that genre. I’ve run across this claim before (GURPS, for example), and I’ve almost always been at least somewhat underwhelmed. Often, it seems based on my experience, the system claims to work for (just about?) any genre, but then the system ends up working against that claim because the system itself is too rigidly defined.

Keeping in mind I’ve not played FAE yet, it does seem as if FAE avoid at least this pitfall. Characters are defined more by narrative hooks than by ability scores. These hooks come in three flavors: a high concept, which “is a single phrase or sentence that neatly sums up your character”; a trouble, which is that “one thing that always get you into trouble”; and at least one other aspect, which is something “really important or interesting about your character.” Characters also have approaches, which describe how characters accomplish tasks. Each of the six approaches are rated as a bonus ranging from +0 to +3. One character might be Flashy +3, whereas another character might be Careful +3. Lastly, FAE recommends each character start with one stunt, which “is a special trait that changes the way an approach works for your character.” Stunts either grant a bonus (usually +2) or else let the character ignore certain rules in a predefined circumstance.

Since the action resolution system starts and ends with narration built around some combination of high concepts, troubles, aspects, approaches, and stunts, a huge range of activities can be accounted for without dozens of pages of rules. For example, one of the sample characters, Reth of the Andrali Resistance, has “Suncaller of the Andral Desert” as a high concept. This lets him “magically call forth the power of fire.” FAE doesn’t include pages of fire spells or powers. Instead, Reth’s player would narrate Reth’s desired course of action, such as:

“I lunge at the robot, sheathing my body with flame, as I attempt to slam my foe.”

The player would then roll four Fate Dice, apply Reth’s Good (+3) Forceful modifier, and then compare the result to the robot’s defense total. The degree of success determines the results, ranging from failure to short-term benefit to damage to more damage plus a possible short-term benefit. Pretty much everything works more or less like this (narrate, roll, determine results). The use of Fate Points can further amplify results or even establish facts about a current scene.

In short, I kind of psyched to give FAE a test drive. There are oodles of reviews for the system out there, many of which do a better job explaining things than I do. Check them out.

So, what about A Spark in Fate Core? In short, it’s almost exactly what I hoped for. ASiFC offers a step-by-step method to collaborative world building that helps ensure all players at the table have a pretty much equal say.

This process starts by listing favorite media, such as a particular television show or comic book. Each player then explains the inspiration for his choice. For example, if I choose Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as my favorite, I would then expand on this choice by noting how much I like the all of the goofy supporting characters such as Cowboy Curtis and Billy Baloney. After all players have shared their favorite media and related inspiration, the group then decides on a genre that incorporates those media and inspirations. The genre should have a descriptor that shows how the group’s take on the genre stands apart from the genre’s most common examples.

This process of players taking turn sharing, arriving at group decisions, asking and answering questions, et cetera, continues until the world has a scale (small or large), a list of facts, a title, several Sparks (the system’s name for potential problems or sources of conflict), a group of Faces (important NPCs), and noteworthy places. The GM uses the Sparks to set up issues that impact the shared story. One Spark is a Legacy Issue; it used to be a problem, but now serves as history and culture. Another Spark is the Current Issue. This is the main focus of the campaign to start with. A third Spark is an Impending Issue. It’s not a problem yet, but it will be eventually.

The process described in ASiFC is simple enough, flexible, and truly collaborative. The downloadable PDF is free. If there had been a pay what you want option, I’d have paid for it. It’s worth at least a couple of bucks, and ASiFC‘s process is generic enough that it would work well with just about any game system.

June 17th, 2015  in Man-Day Adventures No Comments »