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Saturday 21 January 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: Pitcrawler

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?
The Pitcrawler Quickstart is a quick-start for a fantasy roleplaying game inspired by classic Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf solo adventure books, but instead of being a ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ game, it is designed to be played by two players. One is the Adventurer; the other is the Games Master.

The Pitcrawler Quickstart includes a basic version of the full game, but covers rules of Adventurer creation, an explanation of the rules and the roleplaying game’s implied setting, a table for creating scenario titles as inspiration, and four sample scenarios.

It is a twenty-seven-page, full colour booklet.

It is published by MacGuffin and Company.

How long will it take to play?
Each of the scenarios in the Pitcrawler Quickstart can be played through in a single session.

Who do you play?
One player is the Adventurer, but not a Wizard. The other player is the Games Master.

How is a Player Character defined?
The Player Character has five qualities. These are Face, Feet, Fingers, Fists, and Heart. Each is rated by a die type, from a four-sided die to a twelve-sided die. The die type attached to each quality is determined randomly. He starts play with seven Hit Points, a Background, three areas of Expertise, a Companion, and some equipment. The Backgrounds, which indicate what the Adventurer did before he came a Pitcrawler, include Artist, Burglar, Crop Farmer, Gravedigger, Mayor, and Sailor. Each Background provides two items of equipment and two areas of Expertise, one of which is mandatory, the other the player can choose. The third is determined randomly. The Background also provides some equipment, two other items are determined randomly, and the player choses a weapon.

The Companion assists with particular types of tests and can perform a particular ability once per scenario. For example, the Priest can assist with tests of willpower and pass a Complicated Heart test for the Adventurer once per scenario. The player should name the Companion and explain why the Companion is accompanying the Adventurer.

How do the mechanics work?
To undertake an action, the Adventurer’s player rolls an appropriate quality and aims to equal to or higher than a Difficulty set by the Game Master. The Difficulty ranges from three or Simple to eighteen or Inconceivable. When a quality die is rolled, it can explode, which means that it is possible for the Adventurer to overcome a challenge even if the die type is low. In addition, the difficulty of the test can be lowered one step if the Adventurer has a relevant Expertise, a Useful item, or is Assisted by a Companion or NPC willing to help.

Failure can lead to loss of Hit Points and/or a consequence which will send the scenario in a different direction. A critical success grants the Adventurer an extra reward.

If failure is likely, the Adventurer can instead ‘Put his heart Into It’ and his player roll the Heart quality die and add it to the total. If the roll is a failure, it is counted as a critical failure.

One clever mechanic is that of ‘Thumbs’, which apes the keeping of the thumb on a previous page in a solo adventure book as the player explores an option on another. In effect, this allows the player to turn back the clock in the scenario to a reset point and there make a different choice. A player can have up to five Thumbs depending upon the difficulty of the play.

In addition, the Game Master is advised to present actual physical or mental puzzles that the player as the Adventurer must solve at the table.

How does combat work?
Combat uses the same mechanics. Most weapons use the Fists quality to roll attacks, except where greater finesse is needed, in which case it is Feet instead. Fingers is used for missile attacks. If the quality roll is successful, the Adventurer inflicts a point of damage, more if it is a critical success. Failures mean that the Adventurer suffers damage. Enemies typically have one Hit Point each, so will be killed on a successful attack. Critical damage is inflicted against multiple opponents. 

How does magic work?
The Adventurer cannot cast magic in Pitcrawler. It is entirely the province of Wizards and their potentially world changing powers. The Adventurer can use arcane items.

What do you play?
There is no given world or world lore in the Pitcrawler Quickstart. It is presumed to be over-the-top grim fantasy, but one which eschews ‘Old School’ elements with its traditional treatment of females and races, alignments, and its play styles. It instead replaces these with Wizards who are powerful magicians capable of changing the world around them, not always to the benefit of the inhabitants. Wizards are also very rich and their tombs are often worth plundering. Wizards are sufficiently powerful that as a group they could destroy a minor god and even face down a major one!

The Pitcrawler Quickstart includes four sample scenarios. These include a raid on a tomb, an attempt to escape a murder-dungeon, a retrieval mission to recover a clockwork device from a swamp, and a retrieval mission on an island surrounded by a rainbow sea with the different colours having different magical effects.

Is there anything missing?
The Pitcrawler Quickstart could have done with more advice for the Game Master on running the individual scenarios and presenting the content to the player as well as mixing in the puzzles and traps, and giving the player meaningful choices.

Is it easy to prepare?
The rules are easy to grasp, but the preparation required by the Game Master could have been supported better.

Is it worth it?
The Pitcrawler Quickstart provides plenty of content to play with and it does something that few roleplaying games do and that is present a roleplaying game for one-on-one play. It is underwritten in terms of support for the Game Master, who will need to work a bit harder to prepare it for her player.

Where can you get it?
The Pitcrawler Quickstart is available here.

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