Tuesday, May 12, 2020

BRAVE 1.5 Playtest Recap

For our last session, I got to playtest my current draft of Brave. It was pretty successful. I don't normally care for "game tales" myself but I'll share some of the experience here since this was an incredibly valuable learning experience for me.

Firstly, here's a link to the playtest doc the PCs used. I modified a handful of things specifically for this session because certain features might not be "ready" for testing yet, but this is the first time I've had a chance to play with the actual classes.

Here's a map that the PCs used for the session. This is an area called the Wyvern Marches, with modest Marion at the center of all the chaos. Each location is 3 miles (1 hour, generally) apart. Here's the quick-and-dirty 3-step travel procedure I used:
  1. PCs decide action ( a few standard options follow)
    • Investigate current area (Ref chooses a point of interest and adventure happens there)
    • Look for specific point of interest or encounter in current area (DC 15 WIS or INT if they don’t know the way)
    • Travel to adjacent area (encounter rolled this turn is for destination, not the location you're leaving)
    • Forage (WIS 17)
    • Rest
  2. Referee rolls 1d8 for encounter (results on a 1-4) or compels an encounter (if there's some special NPC present)
  3. Referee describes area, advances the clock an hour, and incorporates the encounter (if there is one) in that turn’s activity.
Each location had its own small random encounter table, and some of them did special effects. For example, traveling in the hills and mountain takes 2 hours each turn, and every 4 hours spent up in the mountain incurs 1 exhaustion.

The Party
  1. Waylon Drangoon, a flabby, Chaotic Knave 2/Warrior 1 with a magic speaking sword named Jezebel. A true reprobate. Also he talks like Foghorn Leghorn.
  2. Flint Coal, a Neutral Ranger with a crossbow and a gillie suit that he wore 100% of the time. He rolled "courageous" and "cowardly" as his virtue and vice, respectively. He decided to try sticking with it.
  3. Tatiana, a husky and beautiful Neutral Thief who specializes in forgery, social engineering, fraud, etc.
  4. Sir Roger Roger, a Chaotic Warrior who sure did like to kill.
  5. Thad, a Neutral Thief whose voice sounded like Xavier Renegade Angel.
I gave them a Level 6 Warrior named Old Man Jork as a mentor. He didn't really do much other than tag along and be confused at stuff, though. The Ranger's conclave was out in the woods and was never interacted with, but the Thieves got in touch with their guildmates a couple times. They were part of a guild called "The Tribe" that operates out of textile business (tailors, weavers, etc.) and is allegedly run by a talking tree.

The Shenanigans

Everyone started out with a description of the town and the region, a few rumors, and some hooks on where they could learn more. It immediately took off perfectly as I envisioned for Brave: they started reviewing their options, collecting details to inform their choice, debating about what quests they'd be best equipped to handle + would reward the most members, etc. Much of it was guided by them looking at their deeds list and trying to do what they thought could get them a level, which created the best Player-driven sandbox experience I've ever witnessed.

They ended up figuring out two options that would complement each other well. First, investigate the missing Erhurr family and their dumbass son (a wannabe knave) who's always showing off his fancy magic axe, hopefully acquire the axe for themselves, and then head out to the mountain to steal the wyvern's treasure hoard (since they've heard that the wyvern leaves each day to go pick the battlefield for more valuables). If they do run into the wyvern, the axe should help. After not finding dumbass at the pub like he normally is, they got directions to the Erhurr family farm and decided to head there.

On the way, they ran into a couple of wealthy pilgrims who needed directions to the monastery. Flint was happily ready to tell them for free, but Waylon interrupted and said there should be a price. The party debated until they came up with a better idea: personally escort the pilgrims there, a service that is both more helpful and more justifiable to charge for. Flint especially liked it because one of the Ranger's deeds is to escort people through the wilderness. The party decided to try tricking the pilgrims, who were unfamiliar with the area and wouldn't know better, by going really far out of the way to the monastery, and just conveniently stumbling onto a couple opportunities for adventure first.

So they get to the family farm and find it ransacked. There are some important clues: the roof had been set on fire, valuables taken, and dicks gratified all over the place. Knaves? But the foot prints of the perpetrators seemed to indicate really short people. Halfling serfs who rose up against their landlord? But halflings have big feet, and these feet were both small AND had short strides. Then, they noticed that among all the family's stuff, no books were taken. History books, a family diary, a business ledger for running the farm, and even a writ of ownership. The PCs were slowly figuring out this place might have been attacked by goblins (who are, of course, terrified of writing). The Erhurr's door was marked with the Thieves' Guild symbol of theft insurance, but Tatiana pocketed the writ of ownership anyway just in case they discover that the whole family was killed. If so, she planned to forge a will passing it over to herself. So the Ranger wants to follow the tracks, and the party has to try to appeal to the pilgrims their sacred duty to follow up on this grizly mystery and hopefully set things right. The pilgrims at first aren't up for it, but the party decides they'll be moving on no matter what and the pilgrims are scared enough to travel on their own (especially now knowing that there are murderers about) that they give in.

As the party is passing into the mid hills, Waylon notices the wyvern fly overhead, right past them in the opposite direction. By golly it sure looks dangerous, but that gives them the time when the wyvern leaves its lair. They reach the end of the tracks, which lead into a hole beneath a dead tree overlooking a gully. From here, I used the one-page adventure Goblin Gully by Dyson Logos. It went well. Thad snuck up ahead and noticed the goblin guard in the tree (who I gave one of those old fashioned megaphones), but the goblin didn't notice him. So he decided to take the opportunity to kill the guard. The rest of the party didn't see the goblin so was confused why Thad started climbing the tree. But he did a good job and was able to stab the goblin from below, killing it instantly and silently. He ascended the tree, got a good view of the situation, and then grabbed the megaphone and shouted back at the party "HEY GUYS LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE SOME GOBLINS HERE" and instantly alerted every goblin to their presence. I love good roleplay.
Artist: Scrap Princess

So Flint watches over the gully with his crossbow, ready to shoot anything that crosses the bridge. Tatiana waits by the tree entrance, having first thrown a torch down into it, and now ready to cast a spell. The pilgrims hang back with Old Man Jork. The other three go into the cave, one with a torch in hand, and get ready to carefully bash some goblin skulls in. When the fight breaks out in Room 3, it lasts all of 1 round before Sir Roger Roger has decapitated a goblin and tossed its disembodied head through the statue mouth hole into Room 4, hearing the blood-curdling shrieks of the terrified goblins on the other side pretty much immediately. Every last goblin flees that direction, out onto the bridge, and one gets shot through the mouth with a crossbow bolt. Then, Tatiana (having heard the shrieking and now moved up to the gully's edge) casts Elemental Wall and forms an ice barrier blocking the goblins from exiting the bridge.

From here, the tension essentially breaks down. All the goblins drop their weapons and beg for mercy. One covered in pimples is put forth as a representative who can speak the human tongue. The group comes up with a solution to the standoff: command the goblins to go into the other half of the lair and kill the rest of their tribe, and in exchange they'll join in the quest for the wyvern's treasure. The more goblins dead, the less to share the treasure with, so kill as many of your tribe members as possible! Goblins raise one problem: we just threw out our weapons. PCs have a good suggestion: ask your tribe members if you can borrow their weapons right before the betrayal. It's double-brilliant because now they'll also be disarming their opponents. So the ice wall is dispelled and the goblins go to do their duty. The party listens for a few minutes, and starts hearing the chaos and bloodshed and screaming in Gobble (the goblin tongue). Then, three goblins emerge. One in red, one in green, and one in blue. Their names are Okey, Dokey, and Pokey. Apparently, none of the three were in the original group sent in, but as the survivors they are interested in taking up the offer anyway (the terms of which were gradually loudly articulated over the battle as it was happening). This was basically my way of just clearing out the rest of the dungeon early and simplifying things, and this is the only "combat" that happened for the party all session, so a big focus of our next session will be having more of a real battle at some point.

The goblins went to the barracks to grab their valuables and go "feed their pet." "What kind of pet?" the Ranger enthusiastically asks. "Squishy!" What on earth. But he goes down with them to check it out while the rest of the party goes up the rope to gather the treasure. They confirm that every Erhurr is dead (several of the bodies are at the bottom of the gully) and they find the axe (which Thad claims and no one contests). I think I decreased the amount of coinage found, though. Still needed them to be motivated for that wyvern hoard. But the three up there conspired to take a big cut of the coinage secretly and then bring the remainder down to show the other two and say, "we gotta split this 5 ways." Ranger discovers that the squishy pet is a black pudding, which he does a successful INT check to know has enough HD to qualify for a deed if he kills it. So he convinces the two Warriors to help him kill it while the Thieves would distract the three goblins. They set as many goblins and goblin-stuff on fire as possible and toss it down the hole, killing the pudding while it's trapped (weak to fire, see? Perfect solution). Everyone packs their stuff and gets ready to hit the road. The party tells the pilgrims "these goblins have decided to mend their ways and find the path of righteousness!" and it works fine.

But the party is slightly injured, has a lot on their hands, has a chance for three members to level up, and isn't sure when the wyvern returns (as they don't want to get snuck up on in the middle of the theft). So they decide to actually head to the monastery and call it a day, finishing the pilgrimage escort and keeping an eye out behind them for the wyvern's return (which they witnessed and noted the time of). I decided to rule that, for this playtest, their level-up would only take 1 day instead of a week so that we could keep the train running. So I technically haven't yet fully playtested my leveling system since we haven't seen how the "stable of characters" model plays yet. They get some payment from the pilgrims and negotiate a price to stay at the monastery.

The next day they return for the hoard, and the party moves onto the mountains and has a terrain hazard as a random encounter. Rockfall while climbing, a few people get squished by boulders. Okey is killed, and Flint needs help getting out from under his. Incurs a level of exhaustion, which was a convenient way for me to introduce the mechanic. Wasn't a huge problem yet but they all immediately saw the potential for that to be a pain in the ass. And, in fact, I had everyone incur a level of exhaustion the next turn since they had spent 4 hours in the mountains at that point. They make sure to do the whole job during the window of time they expect the wyvern to be gone, and even wait just outside the entrance of the lair to watch it exit first. The treasure hoard is pretty sweet, and they realize it would be enough for the Thieves to get a deed for pulling off a big heist, which I hadn't even thought of. The big challenge here was that all the treasure was seeped in liquid wyvern toxin, so they had to figure out a way to handle it all safely. They ended up taking apart a tent owned by Waylon and using it as a sack, and they had the goblins do most of the handling while Flint helped with gloves on. Flint had to trade off all of his money to be trusted to Thad (one of the thieves who took too big a share previously), because he ran out of slots from the exhaustion incurred from the boulders and being high up in the mountain. It was fun and took some creative thinking on their part. In fact, they spent a good 20 minutes figuring out the logistics of sorting out all the treasure, trying to figure out who would benefit from the magic stuff best and how to weigh that against shares of coinage, how they'd eventually clean some of this stuff, and how they could move around things in people's item slots. To my surprise, they had fun. KNAVE works!

They started heading back up north to bring their stuff to the monastery and hopefully get it cleaned. On the way, in the hills, they ran into a band of dwarven miners who smelled all that silver and gold and were really interested. Waylon had an idea: bribe the dwarves 100 silver and then say, "see that mountain behind us? That we just came from? There's more where that came from!" and got the dwarves to stop bothering them. The rest of the party was uneasy about giving away so much money but they realized the brilliance of the idea: if the wyvern came looking for that treasure, it would be thrown off their path. Especially since it can't rely on following the trail of poison anymore, since now the dwarves have some. Anyway, I meta-gamed and told the players straight up that I had fully intended for the wyvern to come hunting them but I'll allow the dwarves to just get killed instead.

The party asked the monks for help cleaning their stuff, who said they could sell the party their two doses of antitoxin (each good for 1 slot's worth of stuff). Clever thinking followed. They used antitoxin on their spell scroll and spell book (Control Weather), and then used the spellbook to create a raincloud over a little dish of all the coinage/jewelry and gradually wash it out over night. They knew they didn't want to run water over the scroll and book because it could damage them, but it would be good enough for all the metal stuff. Anyway, this night the two Thieves level up, which gave everyone in the party 1 level since beginning. Tatiana wanted a Bag of Holding like Thad's but figured it wouldn't make sense to get it at the monastery, so I said "we'll delay that benefit until you can get back to Marion, go to a tailor, and pick it up from a guildmate there." This was an important lesson though: having leveling take a week of downtime helps explain stuff like this seamlessly, instead of being an issue.

Left to right: Sir Roger Roger, Waylon, Thad, Tatiana, and Flint
The next day, the party wants to head back to Marion but is wary of the Misty Garden, which they've been told "tends to be kind of fucky." They paid a monk to escort them through, and so I allowed that to help keep them from experiencing the fuckiest things. They ran into a sprite, which asked them a riddle and threatened to curse them for every wrong guess. They took their time and were extremely careful and got it right on their first "try," but the real consequence was that two hours passed in the few minutes they spent thinking, part of the magic weirdness of the Misty Garden. They got to town easily enough, though, and we finished off the session with some simple downtime stuff. People bought and sold crap as needed, which I let them do with the rules doc on their own. Tatiana wanted to cash in the deed to the Erhurr family farm, and I said she'd have to talk to the local Lord to do that, which I expect to be the hook of the next session. They also decided to opt for this instead of buying property with cash, which they noticed they can technically afford now.

Here was a fun thing: Waylon went around bragging and showing off the treasure and whatnot. People directed him to the Knave notice board, which he didn't know had an open dare to any Knave to go steal the wyvern's treasure (the PCs never bothered checking the board but the dare was there the whole time). So he gets treated like a hero and gets carried to the pub and everyone buys him tons of drinks. He decides to roll for Carousing, which I rationalize "even though everyone else is paying, you still lose a ton of money because they're stealing from you all night since they know you have treasure now." He failed a WIS check to recognize this danger beforehand so it was all in good fun. He woke up with a tattoo that was actually rad, which he decided would be a picture of him stealing the wyvern's hoard. Oh, and something sweet Tatiana did: actually paid the goblins 80 copper for their help and to keep them around and well fed.

Some other important takeaways:
  1. Normally my table's adventures focus on a lot of interpersonal drama and complicated relationships and big character moments but god damn my players are so good at becoming murder-hobos once encouraged. And they're alarmingly effective at it, too.
  2. Gotta see the Cleric in action, still. I'll also be providing a nearly-finished version of the Knight class in the next session as an option. We'll be getting at least one more player so that'll help.
  3. Deeds seemed to serve the exact purpose I wanted them to, and it went way better than I expected. This is the only time I've ever felt like I've run a "true" sandbox game. However, lots of fuzzy clarifications were needed about them. At first I thought I could just revisit the text's explanation and clear some things up there, but now I think the best thing to add is "the referee is expected and encouraged to make many rulings about deeds and how they should work, both broadly and on a case-by-case basis." That's kind of an implicit philosophy of OSR gaming in general but I think there's some benefit to spelling it out in this specific instance because it may otherwise look like there are gaps in the rules.
  4. Class skills worked really well. Every player was always looking for opportunities to use them, and even better, to use them creatively. A very pleasant surprise is that opportunities emerged on their own more than I expected. And of course, the focus on all play was still on equipment and inventory management, which also had depth of its own. I improvised the "all the treasure is seeped in poison" complication just to make the moment more interesting and less of a formality that should be handwaved, and it ended up being one of the coolest parts of the session and one of the most KNAVE moments I've ever seen.
  5. They liked class rank titles as a fun little bit of color. When the Ranger leveled up, I heard him enthusiastically say on mic "I'm a Courser now!" We all laughed at the end when Waylon became a "villainous ruffian." That said, my players helped me workshop some of the titles afterwards that they thought could be improved.
  6. They very quickly started investing into the setting and the local world and whatnot which is another property I was worried the rules wouldn't push towards enough but apparently does.
  7. I need to flesh out a lot more rules (while still keeping the game simple). My current draft has another page right before Combat, which is just titled "Rules for Adventure" and helps with the general stuff before getting into Combat and Magic. It currently has sections for Time, Light and Darkness, Healing, Eating, Potent Potables, Exhaustion, Reaction Rolls, and Alignment. This is an important page for me to get right, but I realized that most of it wouldn't be important for this playtest. Time could be fuzzed like normal, my players already know my rules for Light and Darkness as well as how old school Alignment works, I haven't started getting into the habit of using Reaction Rolls (and I want to try finding sensible modifiers for it, too), and Potent Potables is far from finished and not ready for testing.
  8. The only time Usage Dice were used, I think, was for the Ranger's crossbow bolts. And he forgot for the first couple and had to retroactively roll for them. This is a mechanic I'll need a chance to get more out of, because my players haven't really "experienced" yet. Especially the consequences, since he never rolled a 1 or 2.
  9. The players misread a TON of stuff in the Character Advancement section, so it probably needs revised.
  10. At some point I'm going to have to design a character sheet for this game which is daunting because it's growing increasingly apparent how challenging that may be.
  11. Class items might be too good of an option. Of course, characters only have so many inventory slots, so they definitely won't always pick class items. But for some reason I found myself surprised that every player chose a class item once. Maybe I'm just dumb. They are 4th level characters, after all. It probably makes sense that you'll choose a class item once within your first 4 levels.
All in all, a really good session. I'm looking forward to the next one.



  1. The PDF is no longer available, it's a pity, I've read your first playtest when you posted it and was curious to see how it evolved

    1. Whoopsie. Deleted it in my Google Drive to replace with the next iteration, forgot that I had it embedded here. Should be restored!