Grant Howitt Day!
By Charlie Etheridge-Nunn
Games by Grant Howitt
Who is this man? Why are all these people wearing hats? Who took all my clothes? All of these questions are answered by the name Grant Howitt. He’s a game designer who is the first I’ve decided to run a games day dedicated to after one of my players said I should put my money where my mouth is and actually run more of the amazing games I keep going on about. Find your clothes and I’ll explain who he is, what these games are and whether you’ll want to play them, too.
OKAY, I HAVE MY CLOTHES, NOW WHAT?
Grant Howitt is a designer of all kinds of different games, some look like they’ve been played a lot (Goblin Quest) and others look like they may not be meant to be played at all (Metal Gear Solid: The LARP). Most of his games have a couple of trends; they have one task broken down into chunks for the group to resolve using an odd mechanic and also they tend to be recommended to be played when drunk.
His website is Look, Robot and includes some great articles like a list of animals he’s spooked in video games and a review of bacon mints. Ugh.
I summoned people round for Grant Howitt Day. My girlfriend Emma made us red velvet cake, Rosie agreed to document the occasion in most of the following photographs and was our whiteboard/rules enforcement caddy. Josh brought hats. All of the hats. Emma, Morgan, Sofi, Josh, Lee, and I would be the players of the games.
IT’S ONLY WHEN YOU’RE CROUCHED ON THE GROUND LOOKING AT YOUR FRIENDS DRESSING UP OR HOLDING WEIRD PROPS YOU REALISE A GAME COULD BE A BIT WEIRD (HEY KIDS, LET’S ALL MEET THE GIN WIZARD PRINGLE SLEUTH)
The first game, “Hey Kids, Let’s All Meet the Gin Wizard”, is one the author himself has decided isn’t worth typing up from his notebook. He even seemed shocked when I posted a photo of my printout of it on Google Plus. It’s a good party warm up game and takes a matter of minutes.
You pick a valued commodity; gin in the default setting of the game but you can make it anything as long as it sounds cool. We had some non-drinkers and were playing at midday so I decided we would be going to see the Pringle Sleuth.
To play the game you put the object of desire in the centre of the room and people have to look around, then write down how many steps it’ll take them to dress up as the Pringle Sleuth. With as many players as we had, we had only one item to gather. Amongst those used were a pipe, a USS Enterprise bottle opener as a magnifying glass, some whiskey and he winner decided to use brown tape to make a pointing/long Pringle-collecting finger. From that point on Morgan, he of the pointy finger, was controller of the Pringles. People would ask him if they could take some, but he was a lax ruler. It’s a quite good way of making everyone look daft and have fun at the start of an event. I’d definitely recommend it and may have to break it out for other gatherings with whiskey and other such valuable commodities.
OH SWEET JESUS WHY DID THESE IDIOTS NAIL SIGNS TO DOGS? (GOBLIN QUEST)
Goblin Quest is a game of tons of expendable monsters trying to do a fairly basic task and dying. You’re all playing five goblins each because they will die, but only one at a time otherwise it would be fairly short as they all flail about and go on fire. You’re part of an army of evil, bred to be cannon fodder and with a lifespan of a week mainly through idiocy than old age.
Collectively we came up with a task; putting on a play to inspire the troops. Then we split it into three parts; Getting the resources, preparing for the play, performing the play. Those were then split into three parts as well, as shown on the whiteboard:
After that, we made our goblins. The character sheet is great. You have five little goblin outlines to fill in. Due to lazy wizards, your clutch of goblins have many similar traits and a random object which your group consider their heirloom. Mine was two thirds of a piñata. Morgan’s was his dead father (or probably some poor random goblin body as they are genetically engineered instead of bred).
You each draw your first goblin and introduce yourself in your goblin voice. You then narrate what happens and each player gets a chance to pitch in. Like with Lady Blackbird you roll a number of dice equal to your relevant abilities. Unlike Lady Blackbird, they could all cause injury or death. You can succeed AND die though, which is fine.
We realised early on the big problem with our plan was that none of us could read or write, despite the need for a script being challenge number one. My goblin, Cabbage, stole a shop sign from a butcher’s to use as a script, however we still couldn’t quite make out the words. Emma’s goblin, Curtain, tried to drink discarded potions in the hope that it would imbue it with some reading ability. It kind of worked. Kind of. Enough was understandable that, “For Sausage!” became the title of our play. Another sign was stolen and some swifts started to attack as we were looking for props. Cabbage’s glorious green hair was sadly irresistible to them and it was pecked to death outside of the borders of the town.
Each of the three stages had a problem which would break out during one step. The swifts were the first of those problems. In the second section of preparation we had the advertising to do. How to market the play? Well it was obvious, we got a bunch of dogs and nailed the shop signs to them. The panicked dogs ran around for a bit… less so after a little while. Some fighting orcs got in the way of the rehearsal and we had to have a trench (a reverse wall) put up to guard the theatre, which was basically just a raised bit of dirt.
We had rolled the problems before we began play and initially “Fire!” was in the second act. We swapped it around with act three as it would be perfect and there aren’t RPG police anywhere to stop us. So fire. Yep. The favourite tilt result from Fiasco. And now it was going to happen at some point in the play. We had the play divided into Act One, Intermission and Act Two. Fire was obviously going to happen at the end.
People started getting more ambitious with their goblins. After three stink-based goblins; Cabbage, Sock and Old Meatwater, I made Ian whose one skill is that it is aware of numbers. My final goblin sadly didn’t see play but was going to have the hat part of the ancestral piñata.
Emma’s final three goblins were; Exit, Pursued By, Bear. Josh’s were getting increasingly red which was their life goal. The last goblin was actually growing inside the second to last. Sophi’s wanted to be a ship’s cat, only to have one get it backwards and was part ship.
In post-game analysis, it was mentioned that playing with a Gamesmaster (GM) may have controlled the narrative a little more and I realised I should have remembered the use of a reroll mechanic (several are included in the book). It may have made things seem a bit less random having a level of control over your potential deaths. Something we incorporated which I didn’t see in the book was co-operative rolls. To help with time and the sharing of ideas, we had some rolls done by multiple goblins. It didn’t cause any problems at all and meant there was a little more collaboration.
WHY AREN’T THERE HAT-STACKING RULES FOR THE GM? (BATTLE WIZARD HATS)
I think this was the part of the day most of the group were looking forward to. The bit where you all wear as many hats as possible and stack up a tower of dice to solve problems.
Do I need to go on? Probably not, but I will.
The character creation process is nice and short. You make your wizard’s name, school of magic, awesome weapon, picture and the other players help you come up with spells. I say ‘help’, you pass your sheet around and they fill in your spellbook with whatever twisted thing they want as long as it sounds like it fits your school. The character sheets end up looking like this:
Around this point I realised that as the GM of Battle Wizard Hats, I knew the rules and had arranged for many hats to be provided but I didn’t have a plan. I decided to wing it with a disturbance at the zoo, specifically a fire. That’s not cool and the group were tasked by the wizard police to stop it. Being wizards, they didn’t even think of using anything other than magic to solve the dilemma and raced down there.
The characters had powers including control over clouds, elements, librarianship, goats and punching, so they were obviously really well-prepared to solve a fire in a magical zoo. When playing Battle Wizard Hats the gameplay carries on until the GM shouts, “go!”
Each player races to stack as many dice into a tower as possible. We poured my entire dice collection onto the table and removed d12’s, d20’s and the gigantic d100. I left in a few odd dice like the ‘yes/no’ and NPC faces dice just in case people wanted to add them to their towers even if they did nothing. The tower had to be no wider than one die at the base (a lot of the time this was an oversized Munchkin d10 as we’d been gifted a carrier bag of them at Dragonmeet one year). If the tower falls then the GM gets those dice and the spell backfires. If the tower is completed you shout the name of your spell and roll. The GM’s also rolling dice, trying to match them and creating a countdown that everyone needs their tower to be done by. I think there may have only been one or two rounds where the whole group cast their spells successfully. Anyone who cast their spell looks for paired results on their dice and roll a bonus 1-4 dice with a variable size depending on how many hats they’re wearing. Now we’re at the bit you probably wanted to hear about. Hats.
Yes. Each challenge has a number to get rid of and the highest dice you roll out of your tower’s worth of dice reduces it. When that’s down to zero then you’ve solved it and bonus hats are handed out. At first we ignored the hat bonus as people were gaining tiny dice which wouldn’t have improved on their scores. Once you have a good stack of hats on your bonce then it starts becoming relevant, even bringing in the d12’s and d20’s which you don’t normally have access to.
There are setbacks which may make other challenges, have a character look like a chump or gain a weird deformity. They stopped the fire but summoned all of Sofi’s character’s furniture to the crime scene, creating a new problem for them to solve. Once that was done, the reason behind the zoo fire had been revealed as some rustlers were riding through town on giant spiders who were stolen from the zoo. Oh, and the spiders were on fire. The group had a chase through the streets with them, ending with the death of one flaming spider (sadly an undercover detective spider) and Sofi’s character attempting to escape with them when they flew away. The spiders left her behind though so she had to help arrange a police funeral along with the other characters. Emma’s second character (the first having died in the chase) managed to use the power of Excel to budget correctly which was combined with a surprise resurrection of the undercover flaming giant spider who burst out of a cake. Another successful day for the wizard police!
SIR NOT APPEARING IN THIS GAMES DAY!
After the amount of time the first games took, it was too late to play the other game; Dr Magnethands’ Grand Cardvalcade. I love the sound of it, so I’ll explain it here anyway.
This is a GM’d game where people put words or phrases on pieces of paper, put them in a hat and then draw them to make characters and a story. At least, if this is normal Dr Magnethands then that’s the case. This time however you’re doing a grand cardvalcade. Instead of writing prompts on paper you and your friends go through your board game collection and gather up about five cards each to make a deck. Then you tell a story using those. That sounds amazing. Maybe we’ll do it next time.
SO TO SUM UP COULD YOU TELL ME IF THIS WAS ULTIMATELY A VALUABLE, FUN EXPERIENCE OR WAS IT MORE OF A ‘GOOD TO HAVE PLAYED RATHER THAN BE PLAYING’ SORT OF THING AND WILL YOU REPEAT ANY OF THEM IN THE FUTURE?
I would have to give a conditional yes to all of these games. All apart from Hey Kids, Let’s All Meet the Gin Wizard which will be a good ice-breaker for parties depending on whether you have willing participants in the crowd.
Goblin Quest the way we played it was good but went a little long. The neglected reroll mechanic might be a good way to make the characters more in control over their fates given that each extra dice is a 33% chance of a wound and 33% chance of a success. Having people roll together to help out with the same task helped with some players who were more uncertain about how to help the segment of the mission and sped things up. Running with a GM might help things run a little smoother. All in all it was entertaining and I look forward to trying out some of the several hacks in the back of the book.
Battle Wizard Hats is great, although the main problem I had was that the GM doesn’t really wear any hats or have hat-based mechanics. As some players had difficulty moving their heads I can see why, but I ended up wearing a shark hat just to stop getting jealous of the players.
The Cardvalcade still sounds like glorious madness and I want to try it.
AND WHERE CAN I FIND THESE GAMES?
All of these products can be found in and around Look, Robot.
Goblin Quest is available here with a ton of hacks for the system which include Regency Ladies, Inigo Montoya Jr and Sean Bean Quest. Yes.
The Homecoming Collection is available here and has both Battle Wizard Hats and Dr Magnethands’ Grand Cardvalcade. It also has a game where you play mummies and wrap yourselves in toilet roll. I get the feeling Grant Howitt has way too much fun than should be allowed thinking of these games. There will have to be a Grant Howitt Day II just to play even more of these fantastic and strange games.