This is a play test of a campaign written for The Black Hack by Simon Forster. The Black Hack is a set of OSR rules by David Black. I have used The Black Hack to run my own fantasy campaign, The Chronicles Of The Latter Days Of Yarth and my group is familiar with the rules.
Because this is a play test document I will be including my thoughts on the adventure design as well as a narrative of play, this will necessarily involve SPOILERS. Please bear this in mind if you hope to play this adventure yourself.
Session 1: The Halls of Remembrance
The players begin at the bottom of a deep shaft standing amid the detritus of others like them. They have no memories of their lives other than knowing their names.
I handed each player a blank piece of A4 paper for their character sheet. They began with 4HP and a name which they chose. I used generic Greek shade miniatures to depict them in this part of the game.
The characters are dead and are making their way through limbo in order to earn a place in paradise or be consigned to the shade pits of the underworld.
Gus played by Giro
Remuz played by Karl
Zaboka played by Michaela
Ragnar played my Mark
As usual Felix joined us, he doesn't usually have a character but he likes to roll dice and chew pencils.
The characters rummaged around in the rubbish and found a couple of mostly useless items before some large spiders crawled down from above to investigate them.
Zaboka hit the one on her shoulder with a rock killing it instantly. This changed the spiders' tentative investigation into an attack.
Michaela rolled a critical hit as the first dice roll of the game (apart from the search rolls), was this an omen of great things?
When the characters first need to use one of their stats they generate them on the spot. They can either roll 3D6 or take a score of 12.
The party split half and half with only two risking rolls over the better than average 12 on offer.
After a short, brutal fight one character and four spiders lay dead.
As the characters caught their breath a cry from above alerted them to another plummeting body which landed next to them apparently unharmed from its fall.
Karl's first character (not Remuz) was put out of action by a spider at the start of the fight and rolled a 6 on his recovery so he died. Gus was also put OofA but he recovered.
A replacement for Karl's nameless and forgotten character arrived.
With four possible directions to explore Remuz and Ragnar headed south where they could see a body lying in the corridor.
Ragnar triggered a spear trap but neither were harmed and they salvaged the four spears to arm the entire party.
Deciding they'd rather have a door between them and any more spiders the party went west and found a room with food and drink laid out. They ate the restorative food, loaded up with what they could carry for later and took the single candle as a much needed light source before heading north.
as they neared the next room they could hear rapid ticking.
They found an odd creature perched on a shelf being menaced by a large spider. The creature was making the agitated ticking sounds. Without hesitating the party swarmed the spider.
As they fought the little creature scuttled off and disappeared in the darkness.
The spider was killed without causing any damage to the party.
This encounter was to have ramifications later. It set the tone for future encounters with the Tick-Tocks and coloured the players' perceptions about them.
Another thing that was becoming clear was the shortcomings of the 'class point' system.
As characters do things in this level of the dungeon they accumulate 'class points' that count towards the class they will become at the end of the level.
Fighting creatures gains you 'Fighter class points', picking locks etc gains you 'Thief class points', casting spells gains you 'Wizard class points' and praying or using a holy symbol gains you 'Cleric class points'.
The problem is that there's a lot of fighting compared to anything else. In fact, if the party doesn't find one of the very few spell scrolls, they won't have a wizard for later in the campaign. Likewise with the single holy symbol and having a cleric.
There are enough locks to pick and traps to find to probably ensure someone's a thief but because of the nature of the encounters everybody has to fight and accumulates fighter points pretty quickly.
Moving on from this encounter the party found a laboratory where Remuz found a Pyrotechnics spell scroll.
Once he had a spell Karl made sure he used it whenever he could. He rolled high intelligence luckily which was a gamble that paid off.
I'd explained the 'class point' system to the players because they needed to understand and make decisions based on it. This is very meta and might not be to some people's taste.
To my mind, the alternative is a party of fighters, some with lousy strength and dexterity, which is going to lead to a short campaign.
What if Karl had rolled a low intelligence? Well, with players aware of the system he could have given the scroll to a character with higher intelligence and they could become the wizard. If not, he's a poor wizard until levelling rolls raise his primary stat which isn't guaranteed.
This is a major decision point in how you run this game and needs to be considered taking the preferences of your players into consideration.
Heading south the party came to a smelly, sludge-filled room with precariously balanced planks perched on sunken furniture allowing access to the other exits.
They took one look at this room and went a different way.
They headed north again and found a room with clean water dripping down the walls.
Further searching revealed a gold coin which the party took even though money was low on their priorities.
as they left the room they encountered a group of Tick-Tocks moving down the corridor which they let pass unmolested finding the ticking the creatures gave off soothing and healing.
Because the party saved the Tick-Tock in room 10 their next encounter with them was going to be beneficial.
This was the only time a random encounter roll resulted in a creature encounter in the whole dungeon (and I rolled often).
This encounter reinforced the players' idea that the Tick-Tocks were nice and the spiders were bad which isn't entirely accurate. Again, this would have ramifications later.
The party travelled further south and came to a room covered in scratches except for the southern wall.
Deciding that this meant danger was going to come from the south everyone held back whilst Remuz investigated.
Remuz discovered a secret alcove containing a stash of weapons and everybody upgraded.
Searching successfully for the secret alcove added a 'Thief class point' to Remus' tally when he really wanted Wizard points. No one else was willing to risk the search however.
The weapons were class specific which the players worked out and divided amongst themselves appropriately which pushed all their class point totals in the desired directions a little,
There was a redistribution of other items like the lock picks as well at this point as future roles were further cemented.
Continuing east the party came to a desecrated temple.
Zaboka took a holy symbol from the body of a priestess and, once everyone had aided in tidying the place up a little, prayed successfully at the altar which resulted in her receiving a blessing.
Everyone else prayed too but only Gus received a blessing.
This was worth a couple of Cleric points for Michaela which she was happy with. The blessing that conferred advantage on all rolls for the rest of the session was far more valuable.
This is the only clericy thing the players found in the whole level however and if she wanted to become a cleric later (which she did) Micheala knew she's have to hold back on the other things.
This is quite limiting for a player and more variety or options for other classes above fighting and searching for fighters and thieves would have been welcomed.
Some low level undead ready for turning would be nice. They could be added to the battlefield room (Room 15) quite easily (as it happens my players missed that room out entirely).
The characters continued along the bottom of the map, eventually looping north again and arriving at a huge pit.
Despite the crumbling and dangerous pit edge they made their way safely further north to a room where they retrieved a large spear from an impaled body and found some much-needed and very welcome armour.
Moving further north they picked the lock of a door that led into a large room full of spider webs and wind chimes.
Without a second thought Remuz cast his Pyrotechnics spell to send the candle flame into the webs as an expanding ball of fire which incinerated them.
As the webs burned and crisped hundreds of small spiders dropped onto the floor, some burning but many still very much alive and very angry.
The characters were swarmed instantly.
Remuz cast his spell again and destroyed the spider swarms with fire before they could do much damage.
Karl rolled a critical success for his second fire spell, more wizard points for him and a quick end to a fight that the party were ill equipped to survive.
The party conferred for a while here as they ate the last of their rations and , with two door to choose from both leading north, decided to go back through the wet room so they could get more water and proceed from there.
Picking another lock they entered a smaller room with a Tick-Tock sitting at a table watching a door intently. It ignored the characters when they tried to talk to it so they investigated the door it was staring at instead.
Behind the door they found an old man trapped inside a chalk circle drawn on the floor. Distrusting him and worried by the increased ticking from the Tick-Tock the party paid no attention to his entreaties to be set free and moved on, leaving the man to an uncertain fate.
Poor Sheckles, doomed to stay in his circle prison for eternity and the party denied a second wizard.
This was inevitable because the party viewed the Tick-Tocks as friendly never having had a bad encounter with them. The Tick-Tock's increasing distress when they opened the door to Sheckle's prison and the chalk circle made the players think Sheckles was dangerous when he really wasn't and he didn't have a hope in hell (literally?) of convincing them otherwise.
The party continued north to a hall of mirrors where, overcome with vanity probably, Ragnar managed to pull his reflection from the glass. The reflection, kitted out in full warrior's gear, attacked immediately but the whole party joined in to take it down before it could harm anyone.
After this the characters continued on without giving the other beckoning reflections a second thought.
This room required charisma checks so everybody rolled. I don't think anyone chose to take the 12. Only Mark failed the check and made contact with his double and with 4-1 odds against it and the party gaining the initiative it didn't stand a chance.
Most fights in The Black Hack are over quickly one way or another we've found.
The party entered a large room lit with braziers with a huge bronze bull blocking the exit and, realising this was the big fight, launched into the attack immediately.
It's supposed to be a big dog but I had the bull next to me and the braziers are meant to be candles but, again, the braziers are the default option for room lighting for me.
I decided before we started that I wasn't going to prepare anything specially for this campaign as far as miniatures and scenery goes. I've no idea what future chapters hold but I'm pretty sure I can make do with something I've got.
When I'm writing my own stuff preparing the miniatures and building/sourcing scenery are a big part of the fun but for adventures written by other people (which I run rarely) I try to make do.
With plenty of fire around the room Remuz went to town with his spell and everyone else pitched in with stabby stuff. The bull lasted a very short time, lightly injuring a couple of characters before crashing dead to the floor.
The large iron door on the far side of the room grated open revealing steps that led upwards.
As the characters passed through the door memories of their past lives returned and they looked forward to facing whatever new challenges awaited them with renewed vigour.
Eventually everybody became the class they wanted which was nice. Final rolls were made for untested stats and now we're all set to tackle the next level in a couple of weeks.
All-in-all it was a good game and everyone had fun. Everyone liked the 'choose a class by doing stuff' approach but agreed that it would have been nice to have more options.
Personally I found the layout and presentation of the adventure to be good and it was easy to run without needing any extra notes.
So far, so good, we're all looking forward to the next session.