The Black Hack OSR

The Black Hack is a very simple and incredibly elegant role playing system created by David Black. I originally was introduced to this system by Matt from AFistfulOfDice over a year ago, and had forgotten about it until since. However, my wife, some friends and I went to a Pen&Paper convention the other day and while I was debating if I wanted to go as a DM, I had flashbacks about this system.

The Black Hack is a simple and fun RPG system

I ended up not being a DM at the event, but had loads of fun as a player with a DM that allowed all my crazy shenanigans. He had us play his own RPG system that was interesting and refreshing. After that session, I knew I wanted to give The Black Hack a go with my players. We have been playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition since 2013 and have slowly felt burnt out at times. Playing a different system has rekindled a flame in me that loves playing and tinkering with new things. I really enjoy playing with smart designs and thinking “oh, this makes so much sense!”, and I had those experiences both with the DM’s own system and with The Black Hack.

I also took a few cues from the event’s DM, as he had us define a goal for the party before we even started playing. My players love it when I create interesting stories and “railroad” them through it, but it is exhausting at times when I am always trying to outsmart myself. My wife especially will mostly figure out my NPC’s motivations and traps before I even give out most of the information, and while I love seeing her outsmart me, it always pushes me to think one step further. But by asking the party for their goal for a one shot, I could forget about it and just go with the flow, knowing that my players are getting mostly what they want.

My players ended up with a succubus-cleric, a pixie-thief and an orc-soldier. The black hack doesn’t have any stats for races like in D&D, so I told them to be whatever they wanted. I gave the Pixie player a “ring of growth” that they could wear for normal interactions and combat, but still transform into a tiny flying beast if they wished to (and they did on numerous occasions).

Next up was defining a party goal for the one shot. While they were talking about it, I prepared 3 NPC names with races and gender. Once they told me their goal is to open up their own tavern to make money, I had everything I needed for a session.

To keep this story somewhat short, I started the session by stating that their previous patron told the party that they could have his old run-down tavern in a small village he no longer uses, and told them they were now arriving at that village. They proceed to the location after asking for directions from locals, and find out that the previous patron’s ex-fiancée is living in the run-down building with her children. The party take pity of her situation, and decide to find another solution. While the succubus-cleric and pixie checked out the competition at the local tavern, the orc-soldier went to the mayor and asked about available property to buy. Among the locations was a cheapish run-down tavern that was infested with giant rats in the south of the village.

While the orc was busy, the other two stole from a local drunkard, who realised and attacked the party in the street to get his stolen gemstone back. This was our first experience with the combat of The Black Hat, and it was a lot of fun. It was easy, the players loved rolling for their attacks and those of the enemies, and it went well. After incapacitating two of the drunkard’s friends, the drunkard runs away and the local guard come and arrest the party for causing a fus in the street. To avoid being severely punished, the guard chief tasks the players with cleaning up the giant rats from the old tavern, giving them little choice in the matter, as they had no gold to pay for their fine anyway.

Next up was some investigation, some stealthing into the abandoned tavern, and some killing of giant rats. The Black Hat comes with a few monsters in it’s 23 page booklet, but it was easy for me to merge some various monster stats together to best fit giant rats (even making some of them poisonous).

The session ended before they could finish clearing out the abandoned tavern, but all the players had loads of fun with the system’s simplicity. The nicest thing for the players is that they could try everything and have a decent chance at it, since there is no “DC” to speak of: you either succeed your throw or you don’t.

All in all, I think I will try The Black Hat more in the future, especially for new players or larger groups. My biggest complaint with D&D 5e is that when you have 7 or more players, especially combat becomes a huge slog and is fun for no one. The Black Hack bypasses a lot of that by being simple and fast.

Building an online campaign manager

When I talk about an online campaign manager, tech-savy people will imagine I’m talking about some tool to track an online marketing campaign or other SEO related task. Luckily, the kind of campaign manager I’m talking about has nothing to do with search engines.

I’ve recently set out to build myself an online RPG campaign manager, or tool for helping me in my process of world building. I all started from a desire of my wife and I to start co-dungeon mastering a D&D game together, where one would be the dungeon master for a few sessions and the other a player, before switching the roles back and forth. I will write about that in a future post, but for now I wanted to concentrate on the tool we built together.

kanka.io is a labour of love. We started talking about the features we would need one evening and came up with the following requirements.

  • It should be online and be usable from both the phone and the computer.
  • We should be able to work on a campaign together.
  • A campaign should contains characters, locations, and session logs.
  • We should be able to organise our private campaigns in the same app, easily switching between the campaigns.
  • It should allow for updating pictures that we can then show the players.
  • We should easily be able to search through the created entities, and easily see what was recently modified.

Once the requirements were established, I hacked away using my favourite tools: Laravel and various plugins. I have always been a great fan of Laravel, but don’t get to use it at work, and hadn’t had a personal project for some time, so this was a perfect occasion to try out the 5.5 versions.

I went for an AdminLTE theme because that the one I use everyday at work and am most comfortable with, bypassing Laravel’s VueJS, but that is something I wish to come back to. For a future version of the app, I also wish to have a go at it with Angular, ReactNative or another fancy tool.

After a few weeks of developing the app, I had a first draft with which I was satisfied. The scope of tracked entities grew to the following:

  • Characters
  • Families
  • Locations
  • Organisations (cults, lobbies, revolutionaries etc)
  • Items
  • Notes
  • Journals

    kanka.io
    Kanka.io’s mobile dashboard

Almost every element has a free text “Type” value that can be used for sorting and searching. I debated for a while to make this a dropdown list of simply free text, but in the spirit of keeping it as flexible as possible, kept it as free text. I expect this to bite me in the future.

Now that the core was developed, I was eager to show it to my friends list to get some feedback. I quickly realised that my current hosting was an old Ubuntu 12.04, and didn’t support PHP 7 that Laravel required. After some quick googling, it ended up going for cloudWays. I didn’t want to spend time updating packages anymore, and there was an interesting $100 hallowing promo code available, so I took advantage of it when subscribing after a 3 day trial.

At the current time of writing, I have posted a link to my app to some friends and on a self-promotion thread on a subreddit. This has yet to transfer in any actual users, and finding said users will be for a next post, hopefully in a nearer future.

One last thing that I wish to talk about is the fact that I plan on keeping the app free. The code is even freely available on GitHub for people to wish to fork it. I hope to get enough people using it to set up a patron to cover the hosting costs. Now that I think about it, I should probably create a kanka.io category on this blog to keep track of progress!