Saturday, June 13, 2020

Of The Lavender Hack [Review. part 1]

I had the fortune to recently acquire "Lavender Hack Tarantula Hawk Wasp Edition" A Grand Strategy Fantasy RPG with rules for getting lost, going broke, losing friends, and making questionable assumptions about magic by Phil Lewis from DriveThruRPG. It is an intriguing, quirky, and comprehensive RPG influenced by a host of other games such as Black Hack, Dungeon World and Dungeons and Dragons.

First things first it's a little quirky with delightful public domain art by Francois Rabelais that has a curious marginalia-esque style.  The rules have extensive designer notes that do fine job of explaining the "why" of the rules throughout.  The editing could surely be tighter as the designer admits in the credits but it's not a distraction from the quality within even though it's not all done yet. This game is definitely written to a reader that is familiar with OSR style RPGs.

The Core Rules gives us the standard ability scores rolled on 3d6 with the modifiers in the range of -3 to +3 which are going to come into play with Tests rolled on a d20 that allow for a fair degree of success with results from a fumble to a critical success (Fumble, Miss, Weak Success, Strong Success, and Critical Success). The now familiar advantage/disadvantage mechanic is applied to the tests and saves. There are general procedures to overcome adversity and create advantage  that show how pretty much anything uncertain or interesting can be resolved using the graduated successes mentioned above, I like how the guidelines to create advantage (i.e. aid other characters) is considered a core procedure worth spelling out early in the rules and throughout the rules the cooperative nature of cooperative play by multiple PCs is brought up in situation after situation.

The Usage Die is a general purpose tracking mechanic that gets used extensively in Lavender Hack where the usage die may reflect amount of something or the quality of something from d2(0) to d12. The usage test and shifting values come up a lot in these rules.  The d2(0) is the worst stage of the usage die and is really making a saving throw for the item/score in question.  Some events and rolling low on any usage die roll will cause the usage die to be stepped down. The usage die is essential to track resources within the game. Resources are consumables broadly defined as gear, food, light, and fellowship defined for the entire company (the party) of characters. There are a variety of mini games within the rules that alter when and why to worry about these resources. 

Characters are defined by their ability scores, character class, and aspect. The classes are broadly defined as Strong, Wise, and Deft with each having starting backgrounds, equipment, starting features and advanced features (which become available as a character levels up).  There are 20 spells given in the rules each with results that can vary by how well the test is made when casting the spell and clear guidelines on how to import spells from other OSR games. A characters aspect is essentially their "sign" and each defines domains of influence and curses for the character. A character may add a relevant resource usage die to any test that relates to a character aspect. Each character has a goal at any point in play which offers a strong bonus to a test tied to that goal and relates to a character's ambition track.  Once characters are created it;s time to gather them up in a company and set the company respurce dice to d8's and start exploring.

Valuables and equipment get a decent amount of attention. Valuables in the game is tracked with a value score from 1 to 10 with the lower values being time to a usage die.  There's a clear value in copper and gold given in each of these steps but it's meant to be generally vague with different factions in the campaign putting different emphasis on what is valuable to them. Encumbrance is tracked only for significant items with each character also being assumed to be carrying their share of company resources. These company resources are (as mentioned earlier) Gear, Food, Light, and Fellowship. The gear resource is used tp track all the normal and unusual gear a character may need that isn't particularly valuable or mission specific. Food and light usage are fairly obvious but the Fellowship resource is one not normally paid much attention to in games I've seen and I am impressed by it's presence in these rules. Fellowship determines the social cohesiveness of the company and has serious impact in some parts of the game and certainly influences how retainers/hirelings relate to the rest of the company. Weapons, armor, Land Transport, and Ocean Transport all get needed coverage. Armor can block damage and it wears out as do weapons as per the usage rules ever-present within the game.

(more to come)