19 October 2013

The quest for Branwen the Fair, part 1

After one of the most hectic weeks I can remember for a while (various family members poorly throughout, guests whose three children under five have no English, late night open evening at school...) we stayed in today and I settled down to play Goblinquest with the two little 'uns. I wanted to give them a bit more of a traditional multi-level dungeon to work their way through, partly because the attention span of the youngest (3 and a half) is good enough now, and partly because I wanted to see what the survival rate is like over multiple encounters. In the end we played through three levels in about two and a half hours!

It had all started so well. Duke Lanfaul's daughter, the fair lady Branwen, was to be wed and all the King's court had been invited. So many had come that the guests were fitted in two to a room and in every nook and cranny, others had pitched pavilions outside the castle walls; all were rejoicing for Branwen and her husband to be, Sir Lucan. The late summer evening before the wedding day had been long and filled with dancing and feasting, so none were surprised when the sun was hovering above the horizon when they awoke. Then the panic set in; the sun was in the West. It was almost night. The entire castle and all the guests had slept the whole day through in an enchanted sleep... and Branwen was gone!

I love Burne-Jones. I sometimes think I'd like to live in his Arthurian paintings.

The only clue that could be found was a small flag draped across Branwen's empty bed with the arms of the fearsome Sir Reginald the Blackhearted, a man who was so wicked he was even said to allow goblins and other monsters to live in the caves around his castle and raid his own villages in return for their support in defending him. Furious at his treachery, and concerned for Branwen, the guest knights quickly swore an oath to rescue the lady Branwen from Sir Reginald and whichever sorcerer had helped him enchant them into slumber.

Riding hard, you have reached Sir Reginald's castle before any of the other knights. The gates are locked and barred and you daren't risk alerting him to your presence, so you scout around to find another entrance and you may be in luck: a cave entrance lies just before you...

Well, that was the intro (more or less) that my wannabe chivalric heroes received before they were allowed to pick up their dice and then they went at it with gusto. MiniRab#1 liked the idea of using a secret passage ("like in Wind in the Willows") and led the way with his crossbowman retainer alongside. There was a brief discussion about having enough light ("who will carry the torch") which made the OSR enthusiast in me very proud; they'll be asking for ten foot poles next!

A fairly bloody skirmish around the entrance with the goblin guards had me worried about the outcome of the quest (both knights were two or three dice down their combat scale already) but then things picked up. MiniRab#2 did a canny room entry, bursting through the door and stepping through to give his crossbowman a clear shot, which he took at maximum range rolling a natural 20 against a defence roll of 1 - I awarded an instant kill - and the remaining goblins were quickly sliced and diced. There was even a bit more tactical play from #2 "I want to move around the back of them so I can attack them and the archer can shoot them."

And that was the cave entrance level cleared, only a narrow set of dusty stairs leading upwards remained and our heroes, bloodied but unbowed, hurried aloft in search of the fair maiden...

This took them into the basement of the castle proper and their first encounter with Sir Reginald's footmen - which nearly did for MiniRab#2 who wandered off and got themselves cornered by a very lucky crossbowman that he eventually rushed and slaughtered ("Good, he was nasty"). Down several dice by now, the boys decided they should try and sneak through now to find the "princess" as they kept calling her before something dreadful happened to her - "No more fighting if we don't need to now, we've been hurt too much."

Their desire for speed meant they took the first stairs up they found, leaving half the level unexplored so they didn't find the spiral stairs up to the wizard's tower. Perhaps his foul necromantic deeds will still find a way to threaten their success...

Up through the castle they pressed only to be met by a hail of crossbow bolts which required some boldness to get close enough to get stuck in. In the aftermath of the melee which swirled between two rooms quite fluidly and naturally, the sound of hammering and shouting for help (sound effects ably provided by me) broke through the harsh metallic gasping of the knights and their retainers as they got their breath back and tied their wounds in rough bandages. "The princess!" thought MiniRab#1, "No," said MiniRab#2, "the voice was not right, it can't be a women." There then followed about five minutes of both boys doing impressions of men and women. Anyway, they finally decided to open the door to reveal a ragged man who introduced himself (a little bit of in-character stuff from yours truly) as a knight who had been imprisoned by Sir Reginald and offered his help as reward for his release. M-R#1 went straight into character without blinking and gave a persuasive argument to me ("Sir Geraith") to secure his help. Thus reinforced, the merry band smashed through a locked door to get to the next upwards leading staircase...

Playtest thoughts

  • Levelling up - accruing Hero Tokens to replace lost combat dice worked really well and smoothly
  • Instant kill - I liked this "on the fly" ruling where if you roll a natural maximum and your opponent rolls a one, they die straight out. Maybe this should only apply for baddies, perhaps for redshirts as well?
  • Retainer skill - I allowed them to pay double points to regain dice which did keep them in the game
  • Action tokens - with little people playing and multi-turn combats it's easy to lose track of the end of one turn and the start of the next. I think using a token to place on your character card at the start of each turn that you cash in so that each turn feels distinct and retainers not in combat don't get forgotten
  • It played really well! The boys loved it and wanted to play on so, when I didn't relent because they were getting tired, they ran off to the incomparably fair lady Mrs Rab to give her a blow by blow account.
  • The quest held together nicely, despite being at least semi-improvised, so I'll tidy up my rough notes and try and produce a Dyson-esque or Vulpinised map to share

I hope those of you with kids are getting to game with them,


  1. Some interesting ideas Rab on a game I still shamefully haven't managed to play yet. I've done some play-testing of Cavern Crawl with the family over the last fortnight and feel that they are now about as tight as I can make 'em.

  2. Don't feel bad, Gareth - I haven't managed a go at Cavern Crawl yet. Like you, though, I feel I've pretty much got the rules sorted now except for a sort of treasure/hiringretainers/progression mechanic which isn't quite right. Then it's on to kickstarter, loadsa money and early retirement!

  3. Started with an ogre and two goblin lackys against a Knight (Sir Devin) his retainer (Lumpy) and a badger (Doug). The badger slipped behind the ogre to attack but I didn't know how to apply a mechanic to rear attack so I didn't. I told my son if he attacked with all his guys at once he could add the results. It hit but once. He felt he had wasted to attacks.

    The fight lasted too long. I wanted to give the gobs low ac and hp. We also quickly abandoned rolling for movement since nobody had ranged weapons we just wanted to rush in.

    I awarded him 28 hero points saying one could be spent to bump up a die roll by one and two could raise damage. My next fight had a wizard with two skeletons. I hadn't thought about hero points making undead a snap.
    He jumped off a table and over a pit of flame but I didn't think to penalize him or grant some boon for ingenuity.

    He wanted to gain a level- deal damage faster. I want to try the other rules The goblin one.