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Friday 17 November 2023

[Free RPG Day 2023] Heckin’ Good Doggos

Now in its sixteenth year, Free RPG Day for 2023 took place on Saturday, June 24th. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3, Fil Baldowski at All Rolled Up, and others, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

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Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is the contribution to Free RPG Day 2023 from Wet Ink Games, best known as the publisher of horror roleplaying games, Never Going Home and Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall. In comparison, Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is anything other a horror roleplaying game. Heckin’ Good Doggos is a light, family friendly roleplaying game of canine anthropomorphism in which the player take the roles of family dogs who go on adventures which involve ‘Dogs doin’ Dog Stuff’ and being a ‘good doggo’, and Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is the quick-start for it. It contains the quick-start rules for the roleplaying game’s +One System, six ready-to-play pre-generated dog characters, and a full adventure, ‘Someone’s Last Day at the Track’. In order to play, a group will need a pool of six-sided dice and at least one deck of ordinary playing cards. One if there are less than five players, two if there are six players. In general, the +One System is not too complex, the idea of playing dogs will be familiar to almost everyone, and the scenario is fairly simple. The only possible downside to the scenario is that it takes place at a dog track, that is, a track where dogs are raced and there is gambling on the winners of each race. What this means is that the scenario takes place in a more adult setting than may be suitable for younger participants and that not everyone is going to familiar with what a dog track is.

A Good Doggo in Heckin’ Good Doggos is defined by his Breed, his Best Friend, three Attributes, Training, Paw Size, and Character Growth. Breed can be Cute, Friendly, Big, and Fast, and this allows the player to add a card to a Conflict without playing a card. For example, the Cute Breed allows a Heart card to be played and Fast a Club card. His Best Friend is his human owner or a human the dog knows and who has an occupation or equipment which the dog can call upon the human to use if necessary. Attributes are Brawn, Smarts, and Guts, each of which has three associated areas of Training. For example, ‘Sensing’, ‘Knowing’, and ‘Fiddling’ for Smarts. His Paw Size indicates how many cards his player can hold in his hand during play. Attributes range between one and ten, skills between one and five, and Paw Size between four and seven. Character growth is achieved at the end of an adventure and can give a dog a new skill, or improve an Attribute, Skill, or Paw Size. A dog also has a note to indicate how he helps and what his neighbourhood is like.

Mechanically, Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track and thus Heckin’ Good Doggos uses the +One System. This involves rolling a number of six-sided dice each to the skill being used. Each five or six rolled is a success. Harder tasks require more Successes. ‘+One Manipulations’ enable a player to change the outcome using points from the Attribute associated with the Skill. Prior to a roll, a manipulation can be made to add a die to a roll or even gain a skill in a previously untrained skill, if only temporarily. After the roll, to increase the value of a die roll by one—typically from a four to a five—and to reroll any number of dice. In addition to skill rolls, dogs can face Challenges, which are attempted by the whole pack as a group effort. They simply need to roll a number of Successes equal to the target number for the Challenge for the whole pack to succeed.

Playing cards in the +One System are played on a one-for-one basis rather than their value with each suite being tied to a narrative theme. These are Spades to friends and relationships, Hearts to cutes and being cute, Diamonds to Teeth and direct physical attacks, and Clubs to Paws and overcoming physical obstacles. Jokers can substitute for anyone of these and players begin play with four cards. All cards can be spent to help heal a dog, but normally they are used to resolve a conflict or add a Success. A player has to narrate how his dog takes advantage of the card’s theme in helping his dog overcome the conflict or Challenge.

Conflicts are like Challenges, but do not use dice, only the cards. Conflicts are also not necessarily fights, but situations that the dogs might have to defeat, escape, or otherwise end the conflict. The Narrator sets a Target Number in terms of the number of cards required, and the Target Number can vary not only in terms of difficulty, but also in how the Conflict can be resolved. For example, the dogs wants to get into a building where dog fights are being held. The Narrator might suggest that the dogs push past the bouncers on the door (three Clubs or Paws), but the bouncers will know they have got in; sneak in via a broken widow (four Clubs or Paws) and nobody knows they are in the building; and being friendly with the bouncers (four Spades or Friends). The objective is to provide the players and their Pack with options, and if the Pack lacks the right cards, they can play any card and narrate how its suit works to overcome the Conflict. However, this is likely to come at the cost of a consequence suffered.

In general, the rules are clearly explained and there are plenty of examples play as well. There is advice also on setting the tone of play and on using Safety Tools such as the X-Card.

Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track comes with six pre-generated dog Player Characters. There is a good mix of dog types, but the Narrator should be careful to makes sure that there are as many areas as possible of Training covered if there are fewer than five or six players.

The scenario in Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is the eponymous ‘Someone’s Last Day at the Track’ It takes place at the local dog track on the biggest race day of the year, the State Derby. The dogs have the opportunity to get in on their day, ideally with their Best Friends, mooch around for a bit, being a good doggo, sniffing about, and hopefully finding some good, if not necessarily wholesome treats to scarf down. There are the kennels to investigate, the concessions area, and the race track itself, but very quickly, the dogs will run into the track’s criminal fraternity—the dog gang under the stands! The leader of the dog gang wants to know who the fastest runner is going to be in the State Derby. Can the Player Character dogs find out or do they have other plans? It is a fairly simply plot, but this combined with the other doggy activities and learning the mechanics will provide a gaming group with a single session’s worth of play.

Physically, Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is brightly, cheerfully presented. The writing is clear and the illustrated of the various dogs are excellent. It is a pity that none of the character sheets for the dogs have illustrations, although it does leave room for the players to decide their own dog species. 

Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track is a good quick-start and a good introduction to Heckin’ Good Doggos. Its setting and its mechanics make it suitable for younger teenagers and older players and an experienced Narrator, especially one who has run some storytelling style games, will be able to grasp the +One System and explain how it works with ease. Overall, the setting and theme to Heckin’ Good Doggos – Someone’s Last Day at the Track will be familiar to almost everyone, making it very accessible, because everyone knows how to be a good dog, if only for an evening.

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