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Preview: Redbox Hack

Redbox Hack

Turning up the awesome

Updated: 2017-10-21T16:54:25.653-07:00




Several months ago I finished the final draft for RBH. Before I could finish typing out the first page of the new document it occurred to me that I just didn't like what the game had become. I'd ventured too far away from the original inspiration for the game. Hoping to find the original spark, I started carrying one of my early documents around with me at work, reading it occasionally and just allowing myself to daydream about the thing. Unfortunately, that spark never came back. After all this time, I think the inspiration for this thing has left me entirely.

If you are still tracking this blog, then you are indeed a hardcore fan of RBH. Thank you. I'm still tickled that I've been able to write a game that folks have enjoyed playing. It's a great feeling to hear about your actual play experiences. The doodles still make me smile.

I'm sorry that I can't give you a final polished product. But I'm sure you'll agree that the honest and unpolished thing that RBH is now is much better than forcing the name on a product that just doesn't carry the same vibe.

If you still have the inclination to do anything with RBH, such as translations, hacking, or small press publishing, then please consider the thing to be yours. Do what you'd like with the thing. It's my gift to you for all the feedback and support you've given.

Thank you and goodnight.


Talents & Classes? Check!


As of this evening I now have thirty five Talents and seven Classes to divide them between. That's the last item on my Big List O' Things To Fix. Which means that it's now time for me to start typing up a new document.

Just a little tease


Antoine was certainly spot-on when he said that the only way to make these new attributes was to make a list of the expected actions that I'd like to see PCs making in non-combat situations. It's also true that I'd need to start with the list of combat actions to pair them with.

Well, the combat actions are going to change a bit with RBH3. I don't have time right this minute to detail out exactly what they mean or why I've put them in, but I wanted to give you a little taste of what I've come up with anyway.

PUSH is replaced with ROUTE, where you can dictate the movement of an enemy even if you aren't in the same Arena.

SHOW-OFF becomes STUNT, mostly because I like the visual implications of a stunt more than I like that of showing off.

CHARGE becomes a standard action anyone can take. A CHARGE is like an attack, only you get to move, then attack. Until your next action anyone who attacks you gets +2 to hit.

Gotta fly!

The Attributes


I'm giving serious consideration to scrapping the current attributes. They work ok, but they aren't singing to me. They don't make me as happy as I think they could.

I have this tiny seed of an idea I'd like to explore. I'm having a bit of a hard time finding the words to describe it, so bear with me.

Vincent once wrote about how he intentionally authored the attributes for DITV so that increasing your character's capacity for one thing also increased their capacity for another thing. Like how increasing Acuity would make the character better at talking and gunfighting (iirc).

That's kinda what I've got in mind. Only I'm imagining something a bit more simple and direct. Imagine that RBH had three or four attributes and that each one had a direct tie in to combat. At the same time, each of those three or four attributes would also cover all the non-combat things I expect characters to get into: Like sneaking past guards and seducing the sons of kings.

Now the trick is going to be figuring out what those attributes might be.

Progress Continues


As of this afternoon I have 30 really good Talents. I need at least five more. If I could come up with twelve more, I'd be even happier.

I've re-scaled damage. The original damage scale was "one and sometimes two", but the creation of the Combat Token system let that get a bit out of hand. With a tweak to Heavy & Very Heavy weapons, as well as an adjustment to the cost of bonus damage from tokens, I think I now have a very satisfying "one, sometimes two, and very rarely three" scale.

Directly tied to that, I've re-scaled the HP for PCs, NPCs, and monsters. Each character or monster will have fewer HP, but with the damage under control, that should work out just fine.

And directly tied to that, I've also changed both the healing system (just a tiny bit) and the PC Death mechanism. I love having the death of a PC hovering over the game, but I decided that I'd like it better if there were a little less random chance and a little more conscious player investment.

I know there's going to be some pretty serious changes to combat, but I haven't really ironed all those bits out yet. I'm changing a few of the standard combat actions. Getting that bit right will make or break this new version. I'm also toying with the idea of removing the classic Initiative mechanism and replacing it with something that has more room for players to riff off of each other.

That's all for now.

Talents & the Classes


One of the things I've discovered about the Talents between the time I wrote RBH2 and now is that all Talents that are strictly combat-oriented suck. That is, if a Talent has no useful purpose in non-combat situations, I find it boring.

Honestly, that surprised me a little bit. When I was writing up those Talents I thought that a small smattering of combat only powers would be really nice. I was wrong. Which just goes to show what you can learn about yourself when your game design meets self-reflective actual play.

So, added to my list of creative constraints for creating new Talents is "Must be fun for non-combat situations. Gaining an advantage in combat situations is optional." The footnote to that constraint being "Talents that can support or create interesting non-combat situations are double-plus good. (Like Homunculus or Guild Contacts)"

I then went through all the Talents currently in the game and noted which ones I felt were already good, which ones were possibly fixable, and which ones needed to just get dropped. Chalk Door, Rock Music, and Illusions are all (for example) strong enough to stick around. On the other hand, every one of the Warrior's Talents needs to go.

Since Warrior was the only class where I suddenly had to start from scratch, it made sense to me to focus there first. I sat down with one of my trusty notebooks and scribbled "RBH3: Warrior Talents" at the top of the page and just started writing down everything that came to mind. After an afternoon & evening of working on nothing but that I had a single Talent I thought worthy of the game. Which was pretty dissapointing. I'd even tried enlisting Lisa to help again. But we just couldn't get anywhere.

Finally I decided I'd just sit down and let myself come up with any new Talent that would fit my constraints, nevermind if it fit into a particular Class or not. I poured out lots more ideas onto paper, but still only came up with one that I'm sure I'll enjoy using. But I have high hopes for that method. I have high hopes that, given a bit of time and inspiration, I can come up with 35 individual cool Talents.

But can I make them fit into the seven classes I've already come up with? Or do I need them to fit into those seven particular classes? Ah, see, that's where my brain is now. If I come up with those 35 cool Talents, and those Talents help define the world and it's situations, then shouldn't I be able to organize the 35 by theme and assign new classes to them?

Maybe. We'll see.



Inspiration is a funny creature. Sometimes it's a demon that tears at your brain 'till you write a thousand pages and sometimes it's a ghost who won't visit you no matter how much you beg.

This morning I was looking over my printed copy of RBH2 and kind of daydreaming about the session of Supercrew I recently GM'd. BAM! Inspiration. I wrote a fresh outline of what I need to do to make RBH3 happen and then immediately followed that with about five pages of actual mechanism changes.

With a constant flow of inspiration, I may be ready to present RBH3 in just a couple weeks. Keep your fingers crossed that the demon sticks around for a while.

What if I removed Connections?


Hey all, I'm back. I fixed those links there and they lead to the 2nd edition rules and character sheet again. No updates yet.

But I think I just had a really good idea. I'm going to remove "connections" from Arenas. Instead of having a map of circles connected by lines, where the circles indicate arenas and the lines indicate ways of getting from one to the other, one can instead move from any one Arena to any other Arena with a single action.

Say what?

Yeah. Naturally, the move must still be consistant within the fiction. BUT! As we all already know, that fiction is fluid and subject to change by means of a player taking the Move action with their character.

For example: Your character moves from the Courtyard, to the Stairs, to the Balcony, establishing each as Arenas, and further establishing a connection C-S-B. But what if someone wanted to move from the Courtyard to the Balcony in a single move? Simple! You just have to describe how your character manages to bypass the stairs. Does he run up the side of the tower with Bird Feet? Or make the jump in a single leap via their amazing Daring? That's for you to describe and for your fellow players to agree to.

That leads me to another bit of rule that I don't think I've let you in on yet. See, we were just kinda playing around with the thing this past spring and I never really decided how I wanted to impliment it: Requiring a successful Attribute roll to enter an Arena.

In one particular session we decided that a particular arena was "hidden". One had to make a successful Alertness roll (vs. 8 IIRC) before one could enter the arena. There was another Arena, a crumbling aquaduct, that was difficult to scale, and so required a successful Daring roll to enter.

Those two rules solve most of the issues I was having when we played last. I just have one more really important thing to resove with the combat rules, then I can re-tune the Talents to fit the new system, and I'll have a 3rd edition ready for playtest.

The d12


Hi everybody. It's been a while since I've posted. But, except for a few weeks last month where my mind was fully occupied with camping, RBH hasn't been far from my thoughts.

If you're reading this, then you're probably a dedicated fan of this thing. Thank you. You rock.

I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on the use of the d12. I've had lots of folks tell me that they don't like it, or that they thought the system would be better off without it. I understand and respect that opinion, but I don't agree with it.

I love the way the d12 works in this system. Not just the way the math works with the attributes, but also the very fact that you do have to switch between your dice when you're killing and when you're, you know... doing anything besides killing. That's right: I like the fact that you have to switch dice. It feels good. It's a switching-gears feeling that I think is appropriate and fun.

If you use a d10 in place of the d12, you may not be screwing with the math much, but you are certainly going to loose that gear-switching-feeling.

And hey, be honest with me, the reason why you're balking at the d12 is because you don't have as many sitting around you're house, isn't it? I mean, if you had as many d12s as you had d10s, would you feel the same way?

Food for thought.

What not to do?


Been scribbling lots and lots of notes for RBH over the past week or two. And more than once I've found myself stopping, sitting back, and wondering "Is this what I want to do with this game?"

See, I've got all these wonderful options, a bulging sack of idea-lewt if you will, and they don't all work together. Some of it, most of it, has to get thrown away. And it's hard to make the decision about what goes and what stays. Like, I've got these great ideas for how I want the setting to be presented and how the character classes should interact with that material. And those ideas keep pestering me to change up the classes and their powers pretty significantly. But then I look at all those changes and I start wondering if I'll starting to loose my connection to the simplicity that makes the game cool.

I don't know. I'm still working on it. I'll keep you updated.

RBH 3 - Not yet, but soon


The past few weeks, say six of them, I've been kinda low on creative juices. I just haven't felt like designing much. Which is okay and normal for me. When I hit a slump like this I just do a bit of refueling. I read a lot. I watch a lot of film and television. I play a lot of games. Eventually something sparks my imagination again and off I go.

I can't say that I'm off and running yet. Not really. But I did pick up one of my ragged composition notebooks today and started scribbling some notes about RBH. I have some really big ideas about how I want to change it. Not all the changes came to me immediately. I still have lots and lots of work to do.

If you're still following along with this project, then awesome. Thanks for your support. I never really expected to get any. I love it. And I promise that you, the loyal friend of RBH will have something new to look at soon.

Yari Master


Recently Antoine related a tale to me of two players taking the Yari Master talent. Apparently these players found that it's particularly useful to perform a Show Off action in conjunction with their attack.

That's a problem.

It's not a problem because it's powerful. I want the talents to be powerful. It's a problem because it's boring. It encourages the Yari Master characters to be islands of efficiency instead of part of a team. That sucks. It also sucks because it lets players make a big-assed attack all by their lonesome on their very first turn. The monsters don't even get a chance to be all scary!

In the next iteration of the rules, that version of Yari Master will be gone. This is what I'm considering replacing it with:

Yari Master
When your character makes an attack with a reach weapon you may immediately make an additional free attack with that same weapon against another target. If your second attack is successful you may make a third attack, and so on. However, you may not attack the same target twice in the same action. Once you miss or are out of targets, you're done.

I'm still scratching my chin over the awesomeness of this version. Will it be cool or will it suck when the yari master character kills off an entire arena's worth of mooks in one turn? Playtesting will tell.


Changed my mind!

After a couple hours of contemplation, I decided that the new Yari Master ability sucks. Sucks bad. I can name at least two good reasons why it should be tossed right now. Instead, I offer you yet another version of the same talent.

Yari Master
When you attack with a reach weapon you may make two attacks instead of one.

Very simple and to the point.

Hacking the Hack


There's this interesting thing happening around this game. It seems like everyone who's excited about it wants to change it. Certainly it's not the first time this has happened to a game. But it is a first for me.

On the one hand it's a little dissapointing. I'd be happier if everyone were excited about it the way I wrote it. But, when it comes right down to it, I can take it for the compliment that it is. When I think about the hack-hacking in the right light, it makes me smile. It almost certainly means that I've done something right with this design.

Unfortunately, I can't help with those hack-hacks. I have to keep myself seperated from them so I can finish my version of the game. Getting mixed up in thinking about converting it over to a western, or pulp, or some other flavor of fantasy would only cause me to loose track of what needs work in the heart of the game.

Actual Play: Awesome Tokens


This past weekend we played RBH. It was my first opportunity to play the thing since we chatted about rules changes in the coffee shop near Andy's place.

It turns out that the Awesome Token modification proposed by Mark is terrific. It not only provides exactly the kind of narration I was hoping to evoke from the players, but it also has some wonderful emergent properties. I don't even know how to describe them. I kinda felt them. I could just sense this vibe that the tokens were leading us places that I didn't even imagine when I wrote the old spotlight token version. It was a very groovy feeling.

Thanks Mark.

Calling all playtesters


We've got a whole bunch of folks playing this thing now. Some folks are playing the game as I wrote it and others are making their own hack out of it. If you are playing it as I wrote it, I'd like to ask a little bit of a long-term favor from you.

What I'd like to do is I'd like to make sure every single Talent and Monster Power gets a test-drive. Preferably at least two tests for each.

You can help by telling us what Talents and Powers were used in your games and how much fun they were (or weren't). I'll keep tabs on which ones have been tested and which ones haven't.

This will go a long way toward making RBH a solid and dependable game.

Armor Class bonuses


Yikes. I just realized I forgot to make something important very clear in the text.

+1 Armor Class does not mean add 1 to the target number for you to be hit. I means your armor class goes up one category. If you aren't wearing any armor and you're weilding a Reach weapon, then your Armor Class is Light. Meaning the TN to hit you is 10, not 9.

Same thing with the monster powers of Thick Skin and Hard to See.

That's how you can get an armor class of Uber. But Uber +1 AC still equals Uber. 16 is the best possible TN to be hit.

The Mook Rules


After a bit of a discussion with Sean about giving a monster the power to turn into a bunch of mooks, I started really thinking about the mook rules.

A Mook always has crappy weapons. They have no favored arenas and no special effects.

A Mook only gets 1d10 to attack. Unless they’re attacking as a group. In that case, roll a number of d10s equal to the number of Mooks in the attack, adding together the best two.

Mooks never have face dice.

Mooks only have 1 hit point each. When you do more than 1 damage to a single mook, you kill a number of mooks equal to the damage dealt. Assuming there are that many mooks in the arena.

The primary reason I wrote these rules was so I could have one big-bad villain or monster accompanied by a bunch of lackeys, without having to roll separately for the attacks of each of the lackeys. I think the rules work really well for that use. But let's take a moment to compare the mooks to monsters and regular NPCs.

A single mook is just waiting to be killed. With only one die to attack and no special weapons, the poor guy just can't dish out any damage. He needs friends to help out.

Five mooks have the HP equivalent of a regular NPC. They still don't have cool weapons, so that means no favored arenas or special abilities. But five mooks attacking the same enemy means 5d10 to attack. That's an average roll of 18, which hits every armor class. Or... the five mooks don't necessarily have to attack the same enemy. You could have two useful attacks, one at 2d10 and the other at 3d10. So, in this case it's pretty clear that five mooks can potentially do more damage than an NPC with similar attributes. But, as the mooks take damage, they loose their capacity to return fire. The NPC does not.

When you take those thoughts and compare 10 mooks against a monster, then things get really interesting. Now, mooks don't get powers and monsters should have WAY MORE attribute points than any mook ever could, but what about the ability of 10 mooks to make 5 attacks? Or two 3d10 attacks plus a single 4d10 attack? That's pretty solid. Mooks can definitely start out dangerous in the right numbers.

So how do we take the mook rules and apply them to a monster that can turn into a swarm of something?

After careful consideration, I wouldn't. I cannot think of any way to apply those rules to a monster without making it uber-powerful. Every time I try it turns out like crap. And I've been trying to write something like this since the first iteration of the game. It was a monster power called "Plural" back then, and it was pretty lame.

So, instead, I offer a different idea for a monster who can become a swarm of something:

Swarm - This monster can turn itself into a tight knit swarm of smaller beasts. While in swarm-form the monster has +1 Armor Class and treats any arena like a favored arena. The monster may not assume swarm form when it has 5 HP or less. The monster automatically fails all Eloquence rolls when in swarm form.

It's more complex than the other monster abilities, but I think it's on par with them, power-wise. What do you think?

I invite you to doodle.


I'm realling digging the hack. I think it deserves a bit of artwork. But not too professional of artwork. I've got this idea. I want to invite you to create an actual play report of your RBH games in doodle form. Draw stick figures of your warrior chopping the head off a dragon. Or a scribble of the city you just leveled. Put a caption on it. Then scan it and send it to me. I'll take my favorites and put them into the rules.

Consider this:
1. I only want doodles about actual play sessions.
2. If you are really good at drawing, take it down a notch. I want doodles, not kick-ass artwork.

I'm gonna do some doodles too, but I think it would be really awesome if all the artwork in this thing was nothing but fan work.

New character sheet.


I cranked out an updated character sheet this morning. Unfortunately, I didn't have the original layout document to work with, so I had to start from scratch. Somehow the new sheet isn't quite as elegant as the old one. I'll see what I can do to improve on it later on. But, for now, you'll have a sheet with the new rules reflected on it.

RBH2 Character Sheet

It's back!


Tonight, with plenty of help, I've finished the second edition of the Red Box Hack. Tonight or tomorrow I'll be working on a new character sheet and a monster/npc sheet. Take a peek and tell me what you think. Also, let me know if I've missed anything terribly important. Or, you know, if I've suddenly broken your favorite part of the game.

The New PDF

Not dead. Just sleeping


It's been a while since I've put the RBH notes in front of myself. Partly because my computer crashed at the end of October, and I lost all my original notes. But mostly because I've had so many other projects on my plate at once.

But a couple of random fans woke my Hack-inspiration-bug this week and I'm back on it. If you haven't already seen it, check out their actual play post here.

So, I've decided that I'm going to put my nose back on this particular gindstone and try to have a new and improved document available by the end of the week.

The initiative system


It works ok, but I think it could be tuned up just a bit.

There's three things I'd like to do that are all connected:
1. Spread out the responsibility for tracking who's turn it is.
2. Use a big-visual cue for keeping track of who goes & when.
3. Insert a mechanism that allows for some greater player to player strategizing.

You know how things usually go with the turn-by-turn initiative system? The GM tells the first player to go. The first player resolves their action and tells the GM that they are done. Then the GM tells the second player that it's their turn.

I think that we can make the system a little less cumbersome by asking the first player to be responsible for informing the second player that their turn has arrived. Why does the GM have to moderate that announcement?

When we played those few sessions of Agon, we used playing cards to 'label' each player's turn. I did something similar, but less effective, to that in the last playtest. I'm thinking I'd like to go back to the playing cards, and even come up with some kind of little stands for them, so everyone at the table can see what your initiative score is. This would also make it easier for the first player to identifiy the second player, facilitating that change of responsibility.

Finally, I think it would be totally cool if players were allowed to "swap initiative". Player one wants to go after player two? Why not? They just swap their initiative cards before either one has acted in any particular turn. Combined with the Awesome Token system, players can now arrange themselves for the most interesting combinations. But the initative roll remains important for determining where the monsters go in the order.


I plotted against Errol Flynn, but Mark finally killed him for me.


Lisa, Mark, Andy, and I were sitting about, talking about gaming the other night. We were specifically there to talk about TBZ, but you know how gaming minds wander.

So we ended up sparing a few minues for the Hack. I mentioned how I had a half-made fix in mind. I laid it out for Mark & Andy, and about two seconds later Mark fixed it so that it's awesome. Check it out:

First, what the tokens do.
The single "Spotlight Token" is out. In it's place are an unlimited number of tokens. Let's call them "Awesome Tokens" for now. Or "ATs". You'll start out any particular combat with zero ATs. If you have any tokens when you make an attack roll (successful or not) you may use the tokens to accentuate that roll. Each token may be used as a +2 to hit modifier or a +1 damage modifier.

For example: Say you need a 16 to hit (Uber Armor), but you only rolled a 13. You could use two tokens to boost your roll to a 17. Now you've hit. If you had any more tokens left over, you could then use them to increase your damage. Not that you need to roll under your target number to use tokens. Say you roll a 20. You've already got the Face Die bonus, and you've definately hit. You can use those two ATs to gain a +2 damage bonus instead of needing them to hit.

Did I make that more confusing than it needed to be?

How do you get these Tokens of Awesomeness?
This is the part that Mark made awesome. Roll 1d12 + [Attribute] against the AC chart (yes, the AC chart). If you hit the lowest number (8) you get 1 token. If you hit the next number up (10) you get two tokens. So on & so forth 'till you could theoretically get 5 tokens for rolling a 16. Naturally, you'd need at least a +4 modifier to your attribute to get that awesome roll, but hey, these tokens are pretty damned cool.

Also: If you manage to roll 7 or lower, you don't get any tokens at all. In fact, the monster (or one of the monsters) gets one instead. Whatever you were trying to do, you did it so badly that you gave your advantage away.

Also: When you earn tokens, you don't have to keep them for yourself. You can give them to other players.

Loose ends
There's two issues I haven't resolved yet.

1. What narration or fiction should this roll support? Crazy stunts? Out-maneuvering the monsters? Something cool and easy to narrate, I would hope.

2. What attribute should be tied to the roll. I definately want a specific one tied to it every roll. That's kinda important to me. But I don't know what that attribute should be. Daring? Wits? Something else entirely? I dunno. But I'm sure it'll be tightly tied to the first issue.

C. What to call the tokens & the associated action? Because "Awesome Tokens" isn't awesome enough. Or, at least, it's not really awesome color.

Killing Errol Flynn


The Errol Flynn / Spotlight token thing isn't doing the job I designed it to do. The initial desire that spawned the rule that eventually became the Errol Flynn thing was a desire to give the players a chance to author something dangerous and cool for their character, to gain an advantage in the combat, without having to change arenas.

Technically the EF action does do that. The problem is that once a player has the token, no one is really interested in taking it away from them. It's like the choice dries up. That's no good.

That immediately leads me to the conclusion that the advantage a player recieves from the action cannot be limited. Assuming we're talking about tokens, then what that means is there cannot be a limited number of tokens.

Hrm. I'm hitting a wall with this right now. I'll post this up, stew on it for a bit, and try posting again later on.

Time to tweak the Attributes


I wrote the current six attributes before I wrote the mechanisms that make use of them. While they worked respectably well in playtest, I think there's lots of room for improvement.

The ones that are working well are Daring, Alertness, and Size. I wouldn't mind looking for a different word for Alertness, but I'm otherwise happy with it's uses.

The ones that aren't working as well as I like are Fleetness, Wits, and Charisma.

Fleetness is the worst of the bunch. It's near completely useless. I had had this idea in mind about how some monsters or NPCs would be running from a fight and the PCs might want to catch them. But AP clued me in that Daring was a more fun attribute to use in the rare chases that might occur. After all, a chase across rooftops is way more kewl than a chase through an open field. And Daring implies the danger of the rooftops. Fleetness is out. It's gone.

Wits is not supposed to be a combat attribute. As a designer I don't want it getting mixed up in the combat sequences. However, as a player I want to use it to show how my quick-thinking characters can out-maneuver the big & dumb characters. And I'm not the only player that feels that way. I think the solution here is to replace Wits with an attribute that implies non-combat conflicts only. Wits is out. It's gone.

Charisma is totally useful and did everything I expected to do. Except add the flavor I was looking for. Charisma is kinda the catchall attribute for "When I'm trying to be friendly to people." Which is ok for some games. Not so much for this one. I mean, it works and all, but it's just not exactly what I'm looking for. Charisma is out. It's gone.

What I would like for my replacement attributes to do is to imply ways to manipulate and coerce NPCs without implying any bloody violence. Sexy violence maybe. But not bloody violence.

These are the three I'm considering using as replacements:

Hotness, Eloquence, & Stubbornness

I think they'll do what I want them to. Still letting them simmer in my brain though.