This isn’t really a design blog. However, I was intrigued by Jonathan Walton’s Murderland design contest and needed a place to post my entry. Here seemed as good a place as any. So without further ado I give you…
The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow
The primary inspiration for this game is Edward Gory’s “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” with a dash of the comic “Lenore.” The game is intended to produce a quick grim fairy tale about horrible children who bully each other into dangerous acts that likely lead to their demise. Enjoy!
A Quick Word on the Setting
Raven’s Hollow is located in a kind of Gothic fairytale landscape. Imagine dense rickety trees, rapidly flowing streams, caves in the hills and maybe the odd swamp or two. The village itself is mostly hovels inhabited by simple people but maybe far up the path is a lonely manner house or even an abandoned abbey. Hopefully this gives you enough flavor to get started.
This game has no GM so everyone should envision the child they’d like to play. You need little more than a name and a gender but it helps to have a fairly strong image of what your child looks like. You also need a bunch of six-sided dice. Each player needs three dice of one color (I like green). Three dice of another color (I like white) sit in the middle of the table and these dice represent the adults. Finally a single die of a third color (I like black) sits on the table and this die represents the ravens.
Some Social Advice about Narration
The game is intended to be fairly visual. So when the game says, “describe” or “narrate” you should do so in as florid and creepy a manner as you can muster. Remember the drawings of Edward Gory. And if you’re not familiar with the drawings of Edward Gory… get thee to the Internet, you’ve been missing out.
Someone needs to go first. It doesn’t matter who. This player is the Active Player. On an Active Player’s turn he does the following.
Describe where their character is.
Describe what their character is wearing.
Describe what their character is holding.
Describe what activity their character is doing.
All this describing must be solitary. The character can not be engaged with anyone else. They are alone.
Next, determine which player has the least dice. If there is a tie (like there is at the beginning of the game) everyone with equal dice rolls and the player who rolls lowest is chosen. If the rolls tie, roll again. This player is called the Bully Player. Note: If at this stage there is more than one player with NO dice, then the player who has least recently been the Bully Player (among the no dice players) gets to be the Bully Player.
The Bully Player then narrates how his character enters the scene just described by the Active Player. The two players can role-play out any interaction they like but eventually the Bully Player’s character must demand that the Active Player’s character engage in a risky activity that either endangers the Active Player’s character or endangers the adults.
The Active Player then has a choice. He can either have is character attempt the risky activity or give the Bully Player one of his dice. If he chooses to give over a die then the Bully Player describes how his character either takes what the Active Player’s character was holding or somehow spoils the activity the Active Player’s character was doing.
If the Active Player chooses to carry out the risky activity the procedure is different depending on whether the activity endangers his character or endangers the adults.
Endangering The Character
Demands that endanger the character are things like, “go put your head in that crocodile’s mouth” or “cross that old log at the top of the waterfall.” The Active Player should narrate any details he wishes leading up to the actual moment of performing the risky activity.
Then the Active Player rolls his dice and sums up the values. If his dice exceed ten (i.e. rolls eleven or greater) then his character survives the risk. The Active Player should narrate his character accomplishing this feat and The Bully Player should narrate his character’s reaction.
If the Active Player’s dice fall short of ten then his character dies performing the risky activity. The Active Player should narrate this demise. The Bully Player does NOT get to narrate his reaction. At this point the Active Player swaps his dice out for black dice and adds them to the collection of raven dice.
Before rolling the Active Player has two choices that might help him out. First, he can take a SINGLE die from the adults (if there are any dice left) and roll it with his own dice and add in the result. Second, he can take a SINGLE die from the ravens and roll it with is own dice and add in the result. He can do both of these if he wishes.
When taking the adult die nothing new need be immediately narrated. However, if a raven die is taken the Active Player must narrate a raven somewhere into the scene passively observing. In either case a successful roll is exactly the same as a successful roll without having taken any dice.
If the player takes either or both of these extra dice and still fails then his character doesn’t die and the the risky activity is interrupted by the intervention of the adults (if an adult die was taken), the raven (if a raven die was taken) or both (if both were taken). The Active Player narrates this intervention.
If an adult intervenes the Active Player’s character gets punished for doing such a foolish thing. The Active Player narrates this punishment and then gives up one of his dice to the adult die collection.
If a raven was part of the intervention the raven steals part of what the Active Player’s character was wearing in the process. The Active Player gets to narrate the intervention but the Bully Player gets to decide what was stolen. The Active Player then gives up a die to the raven die collection.
These lost die are separate from the original adult or raven dice taken which go back to their original collections regardless of the outcome.
Note: This means the Active Player could lose two dice if he took both modifier dice. However, if he does not have two dice to lose from his original pool then he can not take both dice to begin with. He must choose one.
Endangering The Adults
Demands that endanger the adults are things like, “go kick out the ladder from under Mr. Thatcher while he’s fixing his roof” or “go pour rat poison in Mrs. Baker’s pie filling.” The Active Player should narrate any details he wishes leading up to the actual moment of performing the risky activity.
The Active Player then rolls his dice and sums up the values. The Bully Player then picks up and rolls the collection of adult dice and sums the values. If the Active Player’s dice exceed the Bully Player’s dice (i.e. ties go to the adults) then his character performs the risk and doesn’t get caught. The Active Player should narrate his character accomplishing this feat which should include the demise of an adult as a consequence. The Bully Player should NOT narrate his character’s reaction. The active player also gets to take one of the adult dice as his own.
If the Active Player’s dice fall short of the Bully Player’s dice then his character is caught by the adults who are so horrified that they send the character away from Raven’s Hollow. The Active Player should narrate where his character gets sent off to. The Bully Player does NOT get to narrate his reaction. At this point the Active Player swaps his dice out for black dice and adds them to the collection of raven dice.
Since this action is against the adults they can not help you and thus taking a die from them is not available. However the Active Player can still take a SINGLE die from the ravens. Again, upon doing so he should narrate a passive observing raven into the scene. Again, the consequences of successful outcome are unaltered.
If the Active Player takes a die from the ravens and still fails then the raven intervenes in some manner such that the character does not succeed in his risk but is not caught by the adults either. The Active Player gets to narrate this intervention, however no clothing snatching happens. The Active Player loses a die to the raven’s collection and returns the borrowed die.
After this sequence is resolved the player to the Active Player’s right becomes the new Active Player and the process is repeated.
If at the top of his turn the Active Player has NO dice his character is lost forever to the surrounding environment. Instead of picking a Bully Player the Active Player should simply narrate where his character becomes permanently lost to the environment. “Little Johnny lives with the bears in a cave” is a good example. A single black die should be added to the raven die collection when this happens.
If the last die is ever removed from the adult collection then the risky action taken by the Active Player’s character has caused a chain reaction that wipes out all the remaining adults. The Active Player gets to narrate this calamity. The children are now Orphans.
First of all, Bully Players may no longer demand actions that endanger the adults (there are none to endanger). Also, during actions which endanger the character no adult dice may be taken as modifiers (there none to intervene).
However, an even more significant thing happens when the children become Orphans. Without adult supervision the already cruel children of Raven’s Hollow become even crueler and may attack each other direction. The Bully Player may simply choose to have his character attack the Active Player’s character instead of making an endangering demand. Also the Active Player may choose to have his character attack the Bully Player in response to an endangering demand instead of surrendering a die.
It should be made clear that when two children attack each other one of them WILL meet his demise.
When two children attack each other, each player should narrate briefly what his character is doing. The player who instigated the attack narrates first. Then the two players simply roll their own dice and sum up the values. The character of the player with the lower roll meets his demise in the attack. The player of the defeated character gets to narrate what form his demise takes. The player of the defeated character replaces his dice with black dice and adds them to the raven collection.
In the event of a tie the struggle goes on for another round. The player who narrated second in the previous round gets to narrate what his character is doing followed by the other player narrating what his character is doing. The dice are then simply rerolled, round after round until no tie happens.
A Social Note About Direct Attacks
It is advised that the demise of a character during a direct attack be the result of an accident that occurs during the struggle. For some reason, children dying in absurd accidents is morbidly funny. Children murdering each other is not so funny. This is not a rule. Simply an observation for consideration.
You might have noticed that the ravens of Raven’s Hollow are keen observers and occasionally intervene in the affairs of children. The ravens are also fiercely judgmental. When a player has his character permanently removed from the game they become a Raven Player. Raven Players stop getting their turn as Active Player (as they have no character) but they still get to influence the game.
Just before ANY die roll and AFTER the Active Player has had his chance to take the single raven die modifier (on rolls where that is allowed), starting with the Raven Player closest to the Active Player’s right each Raven Player may take a die from the raven collection and contribute it to any die collection being rolled. The Raven Player should narrate how a raven is pro-actively intervening on that sides behalf. Continue going around the Raven Players until all the Raven Players have declined to contribute a die once or the raven collection runs out of dice. Once the situation is resolved all raven dice are returned to the collection.
Endgame occurs when there is only one child left. One of two things happens depending on whether the child is an Orphan or not.
The Adults Endgame
If the remaining player’s character is not an Orphan the adults of Raven’s Hollow finally wake up to the fact that something is not right with the children and go to confront the last child. The player who lost his character first gets to narrate what form this confrontation takes and rolls the dice in the adult collection. The player of the surviving character rolls his own dice with no chance at modifiers.
Before the roll the Raven Players take turns contributing dice to either side and narrating how the ravens intervene for that side again until they have all passed once or the raven collection in empty. The player rolling dice for the adults still gets to contribute as usual including contributing a dice against the adults. He is simply rolling for them.
Finally the dice are rolled. Ties go to the adults.
If the player of the surviving child wins the roll he gets to narrate a warm and fuzzy positive outcome of some kind for his child. Maybe the adults think it was all some kind of misunderstanding.
If the adults’ roll wins the players of the Ravens (like a jury) decide the negative fate of the child. Be as grim as you like.
The Orphan Endgame
If the remaining player’s character is an Orphan he suddenly finds himself alone in a forest full of judgmental ravens. At least SOME of these ravens aren’t going to like this child very much and decide to take action against him. The player who lost his character first gets to narrate what form this confrontation takes. He also picks up HALF (rounding down) the raven dice and rolls them. The player of the surviving character rolls his own dice with no chance at modifiers.
Before the roll the Raven Players take turns contributing dice to either side and narrating how the ravens intervene for that side again until they have all passed once or the raven collection is empty. The player rolling dice for hostile ravens still gets to contribute as usual including contributing a dice against the hostile ravens. He is simply rolling for them.
Finally the dice are rolled. Ties go the ravens.
If the player of the surviving child wins the roll he gets to narrate a warm and fuzzy positive outcome of some kind for his child. Maybe he somehow dominates the ravens and becomes some kind of raven master hermit.
If the ravens’ roll wins the players of the Ravens (like a jury) decide the negative fate of the child. Be as grim as you like.