Welcome back to the weekly Tabletop Games thread! This thread is where we can talk about all kinds of RPGs, card games, board games, etc. Whether you gather around a physical table in the real world, or use a virtual space to play with friends who may live far away from you, this is where you can discuss your favorites, ask for and/or receive recommendations, recap your recent adventures, or even find some people to play games with!
This week’s prompt: Handsome Young Dugong is back with another TTPRG system overview of a new-school old-school game, the Bluehack.
What is it?
OSR, or the old-school renaissance, is an approach to TTRPGs that reflects the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. What this actually means can be a little nebulous, but in practice it usually amounts to fewer grandiose, high-powered adventures and more danger for player characters, realism in management, and roleplaying of all facets of an adventuring life. If you have to count the time left before your torch burns out or your whole party died at level 1 to a single gnome, you might be playing an OSR game. As the OSR movement evolved, some folks started modifying the rules of D&D clones to keep the spirit of the games, but with simplified or updated mechanics. This led to the hacks (the Black Hack, the Whitehack, the Basic hack, don’t ask me which one came first, I just knows what I reads on DriveThruRPG), including today’s topic, the Bluehack. The Bluehack is an OSR game made by a designer whose entire career is a love-letter to the Holmes Basic edition of D&D, often called the blue book.
What are the mechanics?
The main mechanic for the game is a d20 roll with the aim of rolling under a relevant stat. Roll under Strength or Dexterity for attack, roll under Wisdom or Intelligence for magic, and so on. You even roll under stats to avoid attacks; the DM doesn’t roll to hit. Aside from that, all the trappings of early D&D are there: classes, magic, hit dice, weapons, encumbrance, equipment that doesn’t seem that useful when you look at it on the list but then you kick yourself when you don’t have a ten-foot pole to flip a switch, the works.
What does the gameplay look like?
Nikolai the cleric and Erevell the fighter-mage huddle around a campfire, rummaging through their pack for their last rations. As luck would have it (or more accurately, as a usage die roll would have it), their last bit of bread had gotten wet when they tried to ford the river and has spoiled. Nikolai volunteers to forage around the area for some wild food, which the DM decides will be a Wisdom check. Nikolai rolls a 5, well under his wisdom of 13, and the DM describes his luck in finding a bush with the last blackberries of the season. As Nikolai fills his pouch, he overhears goblinish talk nearby, and the whimpers of a captive. Nikolai quickly summons Erevell, and they prepare to ambush the goblins, with Erevell removing any iron items from their person to allow them to spellcast. Bursting out of the underbrush, Nikolai charges the nearest goblin while Erevell casts an enlarge spell on themself. The DM has the two characters roll Dexterity checks to see if they get the drop on the goblins; Nikolai fails, but Erevell is fast enough to get their spell off. The DM has Erevell roll Intelligence to see if the spell slot is used – it isn’t – and then describes the shock of the goblins as a giant elf wielding a staff appears in the middle of their camp.
The Bluehack has two particular niches in the ecosystem of TTRPGs. The first is in its application as an easy to pick up, but complete, system that gives an old fashioned D&D experience. If I had a group that wanted to “play D&D” but had never seen the inside of a game shop, this would be the system I would use to introduce them to the hobby. The second niche is in the fact that it is an homage to the 1977 Holmes Basic game, and may bring about fond memories while still being able to use modern advantage and weapon damage rules.
- A masterclass in compact game design, it has almost everything you could need to run a game, including a bestiary, in 24 pages.
- Cheap pdf. You can buy a hard copy from Lulu, but this is really the sort of game you should print into a booklet and stitch or staple together
- Very much what you would expect from a D&D game without having to shell out money to Wizards of the Coast.
- Includes rules for converting other OSR (or even vintage D&D) monsters to use with the system.
- No player character sheet in the pdf.
- Some players may miss the fiddly bits of the OSR experience that were taken out for the unified mechanic.
- May be a little disappointing to people who like the superheroic nature of more recent editions as portrayed by popular podcasts.
- It is what it is, there are no additional books, classes, or modules for the system specifically. This is actually a plus for me, but your mileage may vary.
- If you want a podcast that shows what OSR gameplay looks like, give 3d6 Down the Line a try. It uses a different system (Old School Essentials), but is a good source of inspiration for an OSR campaign.
- If you aren’t sure where to start with the Bluehack, it’s hard to go wrong with a dungeon or hex crawl. Put a lot of emphasis on exploration, let the DM telegraph the dangers, and for the love of Bahamut, don’t forget to bring rope with you.
- I wouldn’t give your characters a lot of backstory right away because the game is pretty lethal at low levels.
Where can I find it?
The pdf can be found at DriveThruRPG and a print copy can be ordered from Lulu.
Thanks for the write-up, Dugong! If you would like to suggest a prompt or contribute a write-up of your own, let me know in the comments!