Thoughts on The Black Hack

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In place of the post about the Summoner class, I offer thoughts on the progress of converting my 30+ years of campaign notes into TBH form.

In editing the Summoner for the Black Hack, I discovered a major flaw. It wasn't in the system, that part is really simple. The issue was with the expanded bestiary. The new creatures range in HD from 1 to 20, but I realized that my choices for 20 became more complicated to explain that I wanted. The special abilities for the high end monsters were bordering on requiring more subsystems. That isn't worth it. This issue also crops up from time to time in my campaign conversion.

Rulings, Rules, and the Rest

Most of my issues revolve around changing my fiddly rulings into something more Hack-ish. Don't get me wrong, I am about rulings not rules at the table, but I write down those rulings so that I can be consistent. I moved away from writing down my rulings during the early stage of a White Star game I ran. The result was player confusion and hearing that my rulings keep changing. So while I won't waster time at the table with searching for the rules some huge tome of obscure options, I now review my rulings outside of game time. After some review, I write down a rule and then communicate it to the players. No one has really has an issue with it. Most of my questions now are about creating items to use in game, not rules to gain an advantage. It's a great situation when the players are not staring at a Basic Moves sheet, but are looking at me while describing what their character is doing.

In my mind, I forsee my tried and true gaming notebook transformed into a cohesive Tome of Everpresent Knowledge. Practically, I am converting things only during game prep, a span of time that is one hour maximum. I may never reach the ideal I see in my mind. I still am in the process of translating this same notebook into Swords & Wizardry format. As a result, I have some in the original MyD&D, much of it in Swords & Wizardry, a handful of things in Dungeon World, and the rest in The Black Hack stats. At this point, I should probably create a new follow-up post to I Made My Own Version entitled I Made My Own Flailsnails. We'll see.

Growing Pains

Conversion to TBH is only a problem when I decide to stay within the spirit of the rules in favor of adding yet another subsystem. In my heyday, I simply bolted on huge chunks other games into the rules. Yes, I had a FASERIP subsystem for my D&D game. (Thankfully, I lost it.) I saw abstracting anything as a taking too much effort and time. Nowadays, I want the entire system to make sense, at least nominally. I don't want to devote 75% of my brain to game rules anymore, I want to do a quick prep, use a 3 panel screen to detail how to adjudicate most things that can arise in a game, and enjoy stringing a series of random events together.

Again, my issues come back to trying to make things feel like TBH that in many ways are decidedly not TBH. Various type of dragon breath were one of the first issues I encountered. In my notebook I have them broken up into types (fire, acid, small rocks, feeblemind) and shapes (lines, cones, walls, random spots, etc). The TBH way of dealing with a dragon's fire breath was 1d4+2 Nearby creatures are affected. I figured that any breath weapon with a  cone shape would have the same effect. I then made a ruling that Line shapes of breath weapons would strike a single target, the first member of the party to fail the defensive combat test. The random spots type of breath weapon represents things like a shower of caustic liquid, a rain of super heated sparks, or swarms of semi-intelligent things that injected various nasty things. After attempting to convert my homebrewed subsystem, I realized that the regular combat resolution system would handle these situations just fine. I just needed to determine how to describe how such attacks missed the characters. Once I determined how to deal with the Conjure Elemental spell, I decided that the walls would be treated as a separate monster with the same number of hp as the dragon. The wall can only do damage if it is made out of fire., (The Wall of Fire spell already shows how to take care of that.)

The types of breath weapon only mattered for anything that didn't deal direct damage, like feeblemind, charm, sleep, etc. That was simple enough, use TBH's equivalent of the saving throw. When it came to breath weapons that affect etheral or astral travellers, I began working on yet another subsystem feeling like I had to then re-visit the astral and ethereal travel sections of my notes. I got discouraged thinking about the effort involved in creating Astral Travel and Etherealness spells and paring down the descriptions. After re-reading my notes on the silver cord and golden bowl (house rule about out of body travelling), I realized that all I really needed was a saving throw. I chose a WIS test and added a sentence about the consequences.

You Have a Dragon that Can Sever the Silver Cord with a Breath Weapon?

I am an unabashed completist. There are astral dragons that do not suffer cowards too afraid to enter bodily into the Shining Sea. There is a ghost dragon, The Lady of the Distant Shore, that is the only dragon born with a soul. Most dragons are so enamored of their hoard that they employ out-of-body travel (thus the golden bowl thing) all the time. My D&D Silver dragons can take elven form at will, but employ magic to take human shape. My S&W dragons are ranked by their own religion instead of color or alignment; they even have the equivalent of a paladin class. Dragon Magic operates under an entirely different casting system for those humans that choose to worship dragon gods instead of human ones.

I could go on.

And Now the Rest...

The biggest challenge has been magic items. Sure, you can have magic armor with lots of armor points, but would a warrior really allow a magic shield to be shattered? Wands and rings are easy enough, but do they have usage die? What about artifacts? Shouldn't magic weapons just give you Advantage instead of modifiers? What about speed potions? I'm still working on all of that.

All of that to say that despite the pains and my own inefficiency, I am enjoying the conversion process. The Star Knight variant classes I struggled to finish in S&W are easier now. My alien creation system makes sense. I know, I know, I'm talking about sci-fi instead of fantasy. My notebooks make few distinctions for genre so it runs together for me. 🙂

ue.