Art by Timothy Connolly Benchleydale And Beyond

Long Island Sandbox, Part Three: Achievement Unlocked

[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles by Chandra Reyer and Timothy Connolly examining the relevance of analog games in a digital world and the third in a series regarding the Long Island sandbox Timothy runs.]

Achievement Cards

It dawned on me, whilst listening to the actual-play podcast Crit Juice, that Achievement Cards would be a fun catalyst to help our stripped-down 1e AD&D engine purr even better than it already does.  Inspiration really does sprout forth from the unlikeliest of places (at the unlikeliest of times.)  Who knew that a 4e actual-play podcast could have such an impact on this 1e AD&D loyalist?  DM David Crennen, and his hale Crit Juice adventurers in California, utilize a unique game mechanic known as the Drinking Gods.  It simply must be heard to be believed.  Highly recommended listening.

How to have Achievement Cards appear in our sandbox though, without unbalancing the game, was challenge number one.  It was decided that 4×6″ index cards would be used for our deck.  It would be a fifty-card deck at first, with green and purple ink (green for the lettering, and purple for the zig-zag.)  Expansions of the deck would occur naturally over time, as more ideas kept popping up for new cards (and as the revolving door of players at the FLGS meant that some of the cards weren’t likely to be seen very much again (or ever again, for that matter.))  The aforementioned green and purple inks were chosen for our first batch of cards, for no other reason than I had been reading Marc Silvestri’s INCREDIBLE HULK comics at the time.  Different coloured inks would eventually be used for each subsequent deck expansion, in an effort to “time-stamp” our deck’s progress, after a fashion, not unlike the way that the rings of a tree will tell you its age.

The deck of cards remains facedown, behind the DM screen.  Excellence in roleplay is rewarded with the unlocking of Achievement Cards.  These cards are not given out like candy.  They must be earned.  Superb roleplay is commonplace at our table.  To unlock an Achievement Card however, the player must really go above-and-beyond.  Making the DM laugh out loud is certainly one way to do it.  No easy task, that.  I’m a tough crowd.  Making the DM have a genuine “Wow!” moment is another tried-and-true way of going about it.  Making the DM have a “What the…?” moment usually seals the deal too, depending on the situation.

No more than one card can be unlocked at one time (unless a player unlocks the “Ahh, Sweet Mystery Of Life!” card, which enables the player to then select two more cards from the deck, keeping one of the two, whilst discarding the other.)  Cards do not expire, and sometimes we’ll see players hoarding their cards as if they were trophies (“This week, on Hoarders… [cue intro music]”.)  Cards can be redeemed any time during gameplay, even when a player is idle during a combat round, whilst an ally is attacking (or whilst an opponent is attacking.)  When cards are redeemed (given to the DM,) they are usually then handed to a player, for them to read aloud for the group (sometimes in their best Brian Blessed voice, or their best Popeye voice, or with a gravitas that’s worthy of a Golden Globe.)  After having been read aloud, the card then joins its companions in the deck behind the DM screen.  All cards, once redeemed, go straight to the bottom of the deck.  The deck is never shuffled.  At the time of the writing of this article (October 4, 2016,) there are ninety-three cards in our Achievement Card deck.  An estimated sixty cards remain in “active circulation” (cards held by active players.)  Another estimated sixty cards are in “passive circulation” (cards held by inactive players.)  Hence, more than two hundred Achievement Cards have been created for our B&B sessions, with plenty more still to come.

FUGITIVE HARBOR, on VING ISLAND

FUGITIVE HARBOR, on VING ISLAND, in the EASTERN WATERWAYS

Most of the cards grant a minor boon.  One or two cards grant a major boon.  Boons are intended for the benefit of another PC.  Boons promote teamwork.  Teamwork enhances the RPG experience for all players at the table.  Examples of cards that grant boons are thus:

Bag Of Asps!
One ally gains the following minor boon
This ally suddenly remembers that he or she has been carrying around a bag of 1d6 asps

Good To The Last Chop!
One ally gains the following minor boon
Next axe attack deals 2X damage

Gotta Backhand It To Ya!
One ally gains the following minor boon
Next called-shot backhand slap deals 3X damage

Hit Point Bloom!
One ally gains the following major boon
1d6 added to Max HP

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Scry, Scry Again!
One ally gains the following minor boon
This ally suddenly has a vision of where a certain opponent is, and also what they are doing
The vision lasts 1d4 rounds

Fanfare!
One ally gains the following minor boon
Swelling inspirational orchestral music begins to play, as if an invisible orchestra were nearby
All NPCs become charmed (75%) or frightened (25%.)
This effect last 1d8 rounds
Any opponents in the immediate area will suffer a -2 penalty to hit, and will also become +2 AC for 1d8 rounds

CHENTOUFI, HALLSTROM HALL, FOGHAVEN VALE, ND ICEWALL CASTLE (IN THE VAST VELDT)

CHENTOUFI, HALLSTROM HALL, FOGHAVEN VALE, and ICEWALL CASTLE (in the VAST VELDT)

If a player redeems a boon card, with the intention of having the card directly affect their own PC instead of an ally, the card will “fizzle,” having no effect.  When this occurs, the fizzled card returns to the deck behind the DM screen (much to the delight of the DM, I might add.)  Reading cards carefully before redeeming them (and observing how other B&B players redeem their own cards,) has become an important part of the tabletop RPG experience here.

Some cards will directly affect opponents, instead of providing the PCs with a boon. These cards really have their phasers set on Fun!” They don’t seem to affect boss-type opponents with a higher Hit Dice though, if a recent excursion beneath Maure Castle (and a certain encounter with a certain iron golem) is any indication.  Examples of cards that directly affect opponents are thus:

Alignment Identifier!
A bright red neon sign will instantly appear above the head of any person or creature
The sign will say the alignment of the intended target of this card

Coconuts To The Dome!
1d4 coconuts suddenly fall from the sky and rain down atop the head of one opponent
Each coconut deals 1d4 damage, with a cumulative 5% chance for each coconut to stun opponent for 1d4 rounds

Crybaby!
One opponent begins to sob uncontrollably for 1d4 rounds, and suffers the following additional penalties
-2 to hit
+2 AC
-4 saving throws

Jig!
One opponent suddenly starts dancing a jig and cannot attack for one round

Mudpie!
One opponent suddenly catches a random mudpie in the face, suffers 1d4 HP of shame damage, and cannot attack for one round

Pennies From Heaven!
From out of nowhere, one opponent is showered with a thousand copper pieces
Opponent is stunned for one round and suffers 1d4 HP of shame damage

Space Cadet!
One opponent suddenly forgets what he or she was supposed to be doing, and cannot attack for one round

MELF'S GROTTO and TABOO ISLAND, in the EASTERN WATERWAYS

MELF’S GROTTO and TABOO ISLAND, in the EASTERN WATERWAYS

Whenever there’s a noticeable lull in the action, the DM has been known to say “I’m awarding 20 XP to the next player who redeems an Achievement Card.” That’s a wild way to spice up the stew, and keep the action moving along. Had we known Achievement Cards would go on to become the swift kick-in-the-pants that they’ve become, we would have begun using them a long time ago. As it is, they’re still only just three years old.

Some cards will directly affect those players who redeem them.  Examples of cards that directly affect card redeemers are thus:

Dragon Whistle!
You suddenly find an old dragon whistle in your backpack, which has long since been forgotten about
This whistle will summon Falx Templamut, the silver dragon, from his island home in the Eastern Waterways
Falx will aid you for one hour, before he then flies away, to be with his two wives (Big Alice and Sillitellimut, who dwell with Falx on his island home)

Goldfish Pond!
You suddenly see a nearby goldfish pond, filled with 1d30 happy little goldfish

Grandpappy’s Old Tymey Tonic!
You reach into your pockets and find a bottle which you had long since forgotten about
Inside this bottle is a liquid which heals 2d8 HP, but the drinker will be inebriated for 2d4 turns, and will fight at -2 to hit during this time

Instant XP!
Redeem this card immediately for 100 XP

Owl Feathers!
You reach into your backpack and find a small bag of 1d6 owl feathers

Pantomime Horse!
You suddenly remember that there is a pantomime horse suit waiting for you at Olaf’s Outfitters in the town of Silverleaf
It is already paid for, and it comes in two sections (a front and a rear.)

Shank!
You find a homemade knife, made from a scrap of metal, sharpened to a jagged edge
It deals 1d4 damage, and there is a 50% chance that it will break each time it is used

Skywriting!
Your character is suddenly imbued with the power to skywrite up to seven words in the sky which can be seen for miles around
The skywritten message will last for one hour

If you’ve been considering doing something along these lines, for your own tabletop RPG sessions, go for it!  Remember to keep your own Achievement Cards on somewhat of a leash, and tethered to game balance.  Tabletop RPGs oughtn’t be thought of as “broken” or “unbalanced.”  Fair play is still the law of the land.  That being said, anything a DM can do to boost roleplay at the table (instead of “roll”play) will go along way towards guaranteeing that the players will keep wanting to come back (particularly the younger players, who represent the future of our hobby.)

Part Four of Long Island Sandbox comes next week, in which we’ll enjoy a peek at Benchleydale proper; the towns, the nooks, the crannies, the places to see, the places to avoid, the things to do, and all that jazz.

Thanks for reading!  Let the good times role =)

Art by Mark Quire

Art by Mark Quire

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