måndag 4 mars 2019

Fever Swamp x Black Hack - An Actual Play Report, Chapter 1.


GAME: The Black Hack 2nd Ed. by David Black

SETTING: Fever Swamp by Luke Gearing



Disa as the Fighter "Pravoslav "Pravvo" Storáková"

Elliot as the Wizard "Eberhardt "Nubbe" Brúntz"

Jonas as the Cleric "Bohumil Storáková"


I had not intended to write a play-report when I started this adventure, so the details are muddy. This won't be a session-by-session retelling, and I might be missing something or misrepresenting stuff. If you are looking for a review: it is very good. This is going to be part a record of a fun mini-campaign and part musings on how stuff could've been done different. Mostly by me, but also stuff about the module and the system. I've decided to split it up into 2 (or more) chapters to keep each post from being overlong.

Part 1. Preparations and Translations

Fever Swamp, in Theory, doesn't require a lot of prep-work at all. It has a fairly clear presentation and hook. As is common with stuff that needs to convey a lot of information as efficiently as possible, everything is not completely obvious, but I'll give it an A+ on presentation. However, there was a bunch of stuff I wanted to communicate to the players before-hand, as well as some stuff to prep for my own piece of mind. 

Playing games in a second language is hard. Even with popular games like DnD 5E, you're basically speaking in two different languages at once, which can be a very difficult thing to navigate. You'll go from speaking Swedish to using some English term for a rule or item etc. It is not a huge problem, but it is awkward and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be. Any English-speaking party will have to do significantly less work than I did. It was actually kind of fun for me, though, as I had get my imagination going to come up with what a "Dredger" could possible be called in Swedish (I wound up using "Muddra").

I created a Google Doc for Environments and Monsters with convenient translations (I'm now realizing it is incomplete.) If you are Swedish and want to play Fever Swamp - here you go

Furthermore, only one of the players had previously played an OSR-style game (Elliot had played in a Rad-Hack game I GM'd). I made some general guidelines as to how Black Hack in particular worked, and how the playstyle in general is supposed to work. Along with this, I wrote a general introduction to the setting and some character creation tips. You can find it here (Swedish, obviously). 

As recommended, I rolled up 6 Tribes. The Tribe stuff was personally for me a pretty difficult thing to navigate, as I didn't want to include any obvious anti-Native stereotype or fall into colonial-type narratives about the characters I was portraying. I mostly did that by thinking about the type of rural community that exists in Finland historically and drawing from my own experiences, re-thinking what a "Tribe" was, etc. I mostly thought of them as survivors in a terrible place, with some mythic qualities to them. I don't have any specific advice if you feel a bit uncomfortable with how to present that kind of stuff except to trust your instinct, ask those who know better and to listen to your table.

I also rolled up the stats for all points of interest-monsters. This turned out to be useful - I can't imagine having to pause like that everytime they hit a POI. Since this was a Roll20 game, I made sure to upload the Random Encounters from the setting, the Black Hack reaction table, HD reference etc as GM-handouts. I used the hexmap (with POI marked out), the Ur-Corpse Ruin, and the Battlemap from Black Hack. 

Then I did some preliminary research - listened to Fear of a Black Dragon, watched Questing Beast and read Eric Vulgaris. It helps that I was already a "Swamp Aficionado" of sorts, deeply in love with all things moist and green. I read my Swamp Thing (check out the Bayou Entity if you want proof of my rather manic obsession with Mr Holland), watched Annihilation and did some google-researching about swamps in general. A main source of inspiration was the Werner Herzog movie "Aguirre - The Wrath of God", an (in my view) anti-colonial movie where a scary Klaus Kinsky-Conquistador goes mad trying to find a land of treasure while traveling on a boat through the Amazon.

Part 2. Swampcrawl House-Rules

I had a couple of house-rules for character creation, experience, resources and travel. They are as follows:

Character creation: 

Stats are rolled as standard, but if more than half the stats are under 6 they can be re-rolled (none of them needed to do this).

Since Character Races aren't a part of Black Hack, nor seem to be a part of the setting in Fever Swamp, I decided to remove decision-paralysis and make character race a rollable option. They rolled 1d8, result 1-6 means they were human, 7 that they were dwarves, 8 that they were elves. (All of them turned out to be human).

The characters were either of Germanic of Czech naming conventions. 

Backgrounds - I wanted to do my own kind of silly/quirky background stuff as opposed to the Black Hack backgrounds. They probably make even less sense in English, because several of them are references to Swedish media or alliteration (or nonsense). Roll 1d6:

  1. Born on a mountain, raised in a cave
  2. Street rat who loves carrots (Bohumil/Pravoslav)
  3. Rich kid on class journey - down the economic ladder
  4. Bakers child who only wants to eat cinnamon buns
  5. Sausage-maker who hates guards
  6. My parents are frogs, but I'm not. What the fuck?


For milestone XP, I decided to make one Hex one XP. This led to a pretty fast leveling that I thought I desired but needed to moderate after a bit. Going forward, I'd use only POI as XP past level 4. I'd be interested to roll this purely on gold-as-XP, because players had more treasure than they knew what to do with at the end of it all, making exploration less of an option.

Resources, hirelings, loot and survival:

All resources and loot are held in common (except if specifically requested to be held as a personal item.) I definitely intended an upper limit for the common loot, but I don't seem to have that written down and my players didn't seem to keep track of it. Oh well!

They started with 1d4 hirelings following the rules of Black Hack. I let them start out at HD1 for the beginning. I quickly realized that the rules for NPCs/Monsters in Black Hack were a bit too loose, making NPC vs NPC/NPC vs Monster interaction kind of arbitrary GM fiat. I didn't want to be able to arbitrarily get my players hirelings killed, nor did I want them to have plot armor. I took to making rulings by "flipping a coin" or 1d2 to see if NPCs succeeded in attacking, defending or other stuff. The only addition to that rule is that the player could roll charisma once per round to make one hireling do their bidding during combat.

I LOVE doing binary results whenever player skills aren't involved. The effects are immediately understandable and the tension is high. However, I'd check with your table if they'd like to have hirelings more statted out.

I used the treasure table/what's on the corpse table from Black Hack for whenever loot wasn't specified in the module.

Each Hex, the players rolled their Water/Food Usage Die to see how they are managing their food, and 1d10 to see if they contracted a disease. If they rolled a 1 on the disease-roll they'd roll constitution (as an alternative to save vs disease) and then I'd roll a d10 to see what they contracted.

Using up all Water/Food meant taking extra time to preform quickly narrated scouting mission to hunt, purify water or find a way to filter the water. (More on this later.)

For ships, they started with two canoes.

Spells and prayers:

The Wizard and Cleric have to seek out new spells in Black Hack. I decided to attach certain randomly generated spells in certain POI or taught by random Magic-Users and Shamans. I decided which level they could roll for and they rolled a d4 on that levels spell-list to see which. 

Corpse Pile:

I rolled 1d8 every other day to see where the Corpse Pile (the horrific travelling hex of undead that moves around the map) would go. On a 1-6, the pile would move toward one of the sides, on a 7-8 the pile would stay put. (They never directly interacted with the Corpse Pile, but they saw it's effects.)

Part 3. The Characters and their Beginnings.

The party consisted of two brothers, Pravoslav and Bohumil, two older street rats, and Nubbe, the aggressively Germanic Wizard with a penchant for pastries. Pravoslav was in the national guard, Bohumil was in a sect of the official religion, with Nubbe being the youngling of the group, fresh out of Wizard school. 

They had with them 4 hirelings (though more where to come..), Albert Kratochvil the Torchbearer, Blazena Straková, the Tradeswoman, Katerina Hamplová the Armourer, and the late Johana Majerová, the Sailor. 

They arrived at the settlement of Clink with the promise of gold and glory from the official Nilfenberg government. They were approached by Jasmine about going to find out about the Water-Dead God in the Ur-Corpse Ruin. With very little promting, they set out on their journey. 

But that's a story for next time.... 

Continued in Chapter 2! 

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