Whitehack proved to be quite an entertaining choice of game to run for Free RPG Day. Really, it provided a framework primarily for my GM style of largely ignoring the rules and forgetting the dice. However, what aspects of the game I did use ran well for me.
I like the positive and negative rolls. The hack of the Old School system has the standard six stats, but dispenses with skills, feats or similar by giving the character’s affiliations. These have a strong Fudge/Fate vibe (based on my experience), as they describe a general facet of the character that the player can turn to their benefit – or the GM can skew to their disadvantage.
So, a Dwarf character can have the affiliation ‘Dwarf’ against his Wisdom, for example. Firstly, the affiliation itself might be called out to signal possible views, lore or perceptions. You have Dwarf, therefore you’re likely to know about Dwarves… because you are on.
Secondly, rolls that call for Wisdom and might benefit from the affiliation can be highlighted by the player to the GM. So, the Dwarf might be travelling through underground tunnels and feel something’s amiss. If the GM calls for a roll or the player suggests one, he can note the affiliation – and here, mechanically, he benefits from a positive advantage. Instead of rolling a d20 – he rolls two, versus his Wisdom, and takes the better result.
Thirdly, the GM might induce bad times based on affiliation. For example, in the forest, a perception check using Wisdom may suffer a negative impact. The player again rolls two twenty-sided dice – but has to take the worst of the two rolls.
That’s the gist of things.
Anyway – affiliation also encompasses areas of study – like bombs – and spell effects – like ‘Impede Movement’ or ‘Hidden Ways’. At low level, a character with magical training might get away with weak effects or push for strong ones with a high cost. Spell costs hit points to cast – so that might mean a threat of death. If the player can come up with an excuse to reduce this cost – like a long casting time, rare spell component or a tricky ritual – the GM can reduce the HP impact.
Whitehack uses generic paths instead of classes – the Strong, the Wise and the Deft. They’re facet of the characters approach to his vocation, profession, or whatever. You could have a magic user fall into any of these categories – denoting a robust Paladin, a studious Sorcerer, or a sneaky gnome Alchemist. There’s fair room for variation.
Each path (or whatever the book actually calls them) has certain benefits. The Strong have slots for combat moves, while the Deft use them to exercise areas of expertise, and the Wise fill them with spells. The Deft and the Wise have active and inactive options in those slots to allow them to switch out day to day if the situation calls.
I created some rough character sheets and copied pregenerated characters off the back cover of the slim rulebook. I opted for one character from each path – and ended up playing a couple of encounters during the course of the day.
The kingdom has been threatened by a wizard who intends to foul the rivers with a noxious poison. The encounter started in the anteroom of the vat chamber, with flying gantries hanging over bubbling vats.
In the first game, which included a great kid playing with his own dice for the first time, the middle gantry gave way and the rubble draw ghoul-like corpse creatures from the noxious poison in the vats. When one character died and fell in, he emerged as a skeleton.
The kid, playing a bit of a rogue character, sneaked off and left the other two characters to draw the fire. He fired off a few crossbow shots (for which I ignored the reload time) before getting across to the other side of the cavernous room, and shutting down the vats. He escaped as the sole survivor, leaping the gap in the shattered gantry.
In the second game – an all female affair for the most part – they chose to skirt the edges of the cavernous chamber – and when the gantry collapsed, it draw the attention of guardian creatures from a doorway on the opposite side.
A mix of good and truly awful rolling led to dead ghouls and another collapsed gantry. When luck turned in their favour, it went from looking mighty grim to fostering a single ray of hope. In the end, all three escaped, though one character did so with a single hit point remaining.
Playing fast and loose, I didn’t pay much attention to the finer details of the classes – like the slots – and didn’t worry too much about anything. It was Free RPG Day and I wasn’t there to browbeat people with the letter of roleplaying law.
I had fun – and I’d certainly use the system again. In between games, I tried my best to assist customers with questions about games and chatted with a few people, including Haroon and Charlotte, who work there, and Emma, who played in the second game, press-ganged to come in and play by Haroon, and Guy, from my Monday gaming group.
The guys who played in the first game have played my Free RPG Day games for the past couple of years – and it was nice to see them again. Next year, I’ll try and run a proper adventure. I think I have been challenged to get a 13th Age game together.
I daresay I could spend my Saturday in many productive ways – but, this weekend, I felt really happy to spend most of my day in the centre of Manchester, loitering in a game / comic store. And, afterward, I enjoyed a great meal with my wife. Perfect.