Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Report back from one of the GMs at Longcon - Simon Burley, Two day Black Hack against the Reptile God

This was my second LongCon. Last year I was a player in two one day games which were both memorable - for different reasons. One of the games was refereed by an author offering his new "classic-style" dungeon module and I was struck how myself and a couple of old-school D&D players - returning to our roots - used our experience to terrific effect. It was like SAS D&D and it was great!

This year, I decided to offer to referee D&D myself - the classic module N1 - Against the Cult of the Reptile God. In my opinion, by far the best early module and one that everyone should experience at some point in their roleplaying lives.

Following the advice of John Dodd - and to sideline any issues regarding which exact version of D&D to use - I offered to run it using the new super-lite "The Black Hack" D&D clone.

The game was slow to attract players initially. However, the weekend before the convention, it suddenly booked out. For the most part, the players had not met before and they had different reasons for wanting to play. Some had played in other conventions with me. Some wanted to experience the classic adventure. Some were interested in trying out The Black Hack rules. And all of them just wanted to play a weekend of D&D.

The week running up to the convention was massive fun. Because The Black Hack is so cheap and accessible, everyone got their hands on the rules. I circulated a couple of house rules. Everyone  made their characters in a flurry of group emails.

We had:

Joseph Bugman - Dwarf Master Brewer
Blain Crimjaw - Human Cleric of the  Ram Clan
Philigri Chuddins - Hobbit Rascal
Adelion - Elven Conjuror
Master Curate Tideswell - Servant of Pholtus

I rounded out the group with a couple of NPC Warriors:

Elindel - an Elven archer
Bort - a street thug

The highlights of the preparation week were:

  • tying the characters' backgrounds together.
  • the players' subtle reworking of Bort's background. I'd presented him as a friend of Philigri, but it turned out he was really working for the local Thieves Guild. He'd been sent to bring the Hobbit in to account for her actions but had, somehow, found himself conned into taking part in an adventure.
  • The moment when, quite independently of me, the player characters started talking to each other. Not the players - the characters.

As they had signed on at the last minute, most of my players couldn't get rooms at the Garrison Hotel itself, but they seemed to have no problem finding other hotels nearby.

I arrived Friday evening and spent it chatting with the other early attendees in the bar. Some people chose to crack out a board game.

Saturday morning, after a short speech from John Dodd, we started. To get familiar with the rules and bond the group I threw the party straight into a short "beat up the goblins" scenario. (As a personal in-joke I downloaded and used the example dungeon from Matt Colville's YouTube series.) It was great.

Then we started the scenario proper. This was an absolute blast. Every character was chewing up the scenery. And, just like we'd done the previous year, their experience allowed them to cut directly to the heart of the mystery. It was a pleasure to see.

Two breaks, for lunch and tea, came far too quickly. The bar food at the Garrison remains superb. And the breaks took place at appropriate times in the plot.

I'll admit that, by the end of the Saturday this wonderful group of players had me on the ropes. They'd solved the mystery, sorted out the village, nailed the wilderness and were already into the final dungeon.

Overnight, I had time to marshal The Reptile God's resources. They knew the player characters were coming. The two Sunday sessions played out like a chess game between the characters and their opponents, building to an appropriate climax when they finally caught up with their Supernatural nemesis.

We finished mid afternoon on Sunday and said our goodbyes. For me, as referee, it had been a wonderful but challenging weekend. The players were all excellent and I look forward to meeting them again. The Black Hack rules had done their job. Whatever our background and preferred iteration of the game, we'd all been able to understand a common set of rules to run a classic adventure together. Great fun. I can't wait for LongCon 2017.