Back in 2013, my friends and I started watching Geek & Sundry’s Tabletop on their YouTube channel. We became instant fans, we loved Wil Wheaton and decided to join the boardgaming hobby subsequently. The game that got us hooked was a press-your-luck Cthulhu themed game called Elder Sign. At the time, the Tabletop or Wheaton effect had just kicked off and the game was sold out, a few episodes later we saw Wil Wheaton and his friends play Betrayal at House on the Hill. My friends and I loved it, the replayability appealed to us and luckily i managed to secure a copy nearly two weeks after we saw the episode.
It was the first board game we bought and played. We ended playing the Haunt titled: House of the Living Dead, I won’t spoil it but it was a lot of fun. The heroes failed to win and were utterly slaughtered. We played the game several more times after our first game, adding more board games as they became available to purchase.
Fast forward to today, I own nearly 20+ board games, I kickstarted at least 3-6 games a year, and I go through various online forums to hear about board games from Reddit to BoardGameGeek. The boardgaming hobby eventually gave my friends the courage to take on D&D after watching Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave and a few other role-playing series like LARPs. In a little over a year, the adventuring trope known as Team BAJA was and are in the midst of adventure while facing against ever-increasing danger.
So what does all this backstory have to do with this article? Everything.
April 30th,2016 was International Tabletop Day, a great big day to celebrate the joys of Tabletop gaming and its culture. Our group had agreed to have our Team BAJA D&D session that evening, so I came up a dastardly idea: combine a board game with D&D to celebrate Tabletop Day. The session was to take place in the Shadowfell, and Betrayal fit the theme perfectly, especially if Night Hags are involved. Shh…spoilers.
So some context: the party needed to acquire an item known as a heartstone from a coven of have known as “the Sorority of Ravens”. After being chased by swarms of ravens, they stumbled upon an old house on a hill situated in a bog known as the Bog of the Forgotten.
What the party does not know, is that there may be a Betrayal on the House on the Hill.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the content you may find or see, I used most of the content based on Avalon Hill’s game, Betrayal at House on the Hill. I used mechanics from Wizard’s of the Coasts’ D&D 5th Edition ruleset. The terror and mayhem from the adventure, I might have helped along.
Setup for Trouble Brewing
So when I first conceived this interesting marriage, I had to consider the viability of integrating D&D mechanics into a board game framework. Having played the Betrayal for several years now (as my box has shown a bit of wear and tear) I looked over each of the stats and mechanics for the game using this framework:
- Use the Betrayal mechanics for the duration of the adventure (its International Tabletop Day after all). Betrayal uses 4 core attributes: Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge. The values are anywhere from 2 to 7 for some characters. The characters in the board game have a starting value and those values fluctuate over the course of gameplay. Omens and Items that granted bonuses to these Attributes were treated as a bonus to the Ability Score in their D&D character sheets, if the ability modifier would change, it reflected the same sort of growth in the board game. The most important part: use the Betrayal’s dice for all checks and rolls during the course of this adventure.
- Retain the essence and core of the D&D characters, it’s still a D&D game session and player creativity should not be restricted. While we may be playing a board game in the middle of a D&D session, it’s still a D&D session. Players are still allowed to cast spells and be creative interacting with the environment. I had the players roll Initiative to determine turn order for the exploration of the house.
- Integrate the two systems roll & numeral mechanics to allow for spiritual representation of both games. To re-purpose these attributes from D&D into the board game, I decided to use the Ability Score Modifiers (or ability modifiers) from the D&D character sheets as the raw starting values. In the instances of modifiers with a -1 or 0, they were treated as having a 1. For Speed, the D&D characters’ movement speeds were divided by 5 feet to generate the number of rooms they could travel. For 30 feet, a character would have 6 spaces of movement. For tests or rolls using Speed, the character’s Dexterity modifier was used as the base. For Might, the players could use to use either their Strength or Constitution modifier. For Sanity, it was Wisdom or Charisma, and for Knowledge it would be Intelligence or Wisdom. In instances where a character has a skill, like Athletics or Perception as a proficiency, I would them to use the skill modifier there.
- Use a haunt(s) that fit the theme and adjust accordingly. This was a tricky one. I wanted a haunt that either dealt with souls being taken (which unfortunately, the group had played that haunt) but chose for something similar. I mean the players were trapped in a magical house (similar to a Magnificent Mansion spell but evil) and the door would be magically enchanted to not open or be destroyed by any means. I decided to use a “Choose your Haunt” variant for the game, modeled the haunt very closely to Haunt #50 (this is using 2nd Edition of Betrayal). I won’t spoil too much, but the original haunt dealt with finding a treasure to escape the house. Since the current story narrative dealt with find a coven of Night Hags, I figured that perhaps the House was a manifestation of some malicious magic from the hags. The house was powered by the many souls that the House had snatched to fuel the dark powers of this coven, so if the players could free the souls or find the anchors to undo the magic, than perhaps the party can escape. To set up this particular haunt, I removed the Book omen card, and the Pentagram Circle room tile and set those aside. Whenever the players would trigger the haunt via haunt roll, the correct corresponding haunt tiles and card would be given to the haunt revealer to play in an unopened unconnected door the character miniature was located.
- Bring as much torment and fear as possible. Also remember to curse dice. Betrayal is a game I dearly enjoy, both from the theme and sometimes even the bits of roleplaying/story elements. I wanted to keep the creepiness and eeriness, which thankfully the party was in the Shadowfell it was not hard to keep the party on their toes. But most importantly, it’s always good to curse the dice, especially since the players have to communally use them.
Gameplay and Tie-In
I started the D&D session with some expositions, the party followed an odd and creepy raven deeper into the bog. The party’s warlock decided to blast it to bits, which he did. A murder of crows descended on the party. When you have PCs taking 7 damage per swarm, and there are almost 3-5 of them per player, it can add up really quick. After dealing with my unkindness of ravens, the party rested and tried to discern where to go next. In a large clearing near a body of water, the party followed a twisted path within the bog and found an odd looking house on top of a hill. The party judged that this must the location they were meant to find, though were very reluctant to enter. The impending fear of more ravens jostled the party to enter the foreboding house.
The Reveal of the Game
Once a broke out the Betrayal at House on the Hill game box, the players literally went into an uproar. This was a beloved game for this group, it started the boardgaming hobby that eventually led them into D&D, to have this marriage of worlds was something very dear to them. I explained to them the rules and method of play regarding their characters. The players were quite receptive to the idea and were quite thrilled about it.
- Players rolled for Initiative normally like a D&D game.
- Player turns worked the same like in Betrayal, once a room was opened, their turn would end.
- Players were allowed to move, cast spells, and use abilities like a typical D&D session during their turns.
- Omens, Items, and Event cards largely worked as written, of course with a few modifications here and there. I re-flavored the revolver as a crossbow, the dynamite was a vial of a volatile substance instead.
- Anytime a card or room granted a boost in a Betrayal Attribute, it gave a temporary boost to the D&D Ability Score, the ability modifiers would be adjusted accordingly.
- Every 5 feet of movement on the D&D character sheet equated to 1 space of movement on the Betrayal board game.
- Damage from the Betrayal game was adjusted accordingly for the D&D characters, the general rule of thumb was 1 dice of damage in Betrayal = 2d6 points in D&D. The damage type ranged from every type depending on the flavor and theme of the effect.
- Companions acquired from Omen cards were treated as items and buffs, but the party could interact with them as normal NPCs. At one point the Madman was pulled and unfortunately none of the party members could decipher his ramblings.
- Improv and adjust the flavor and mechanics if it does not seem appropriate. There was a lot of improv with the mechanics and the systems but overall these general guidelines helped me run it rather smoothly without much incident.
Once the haunt was revealed, I distributed the custom haunt that I crafted using Haunt #50 as a structural basis. For those who do want to be spoiled, you have been warned.
Haunt #50 is titled in the Survivor’s Tome as: “Treasure Hunt” and whoever finds the treasure first and escapes the house wins. For my haunt, I implemented a riddle instead and the party finds a puzzle box with missing pieces within a magic circle in the Pentagram Circle room tile. A chilling riddle echoes throughout the house:
“Take a soul and double it, in a satchel there be six more,
Take half, and the soul before,
Find the souls to break free from the door…”
Can you solve the riddle?
Take your time.
My players took 2 hours and still barely could solve it.
Hint: It’s a math riddle.
If you figured it out, you’re better than my party, if you didn’t, that’s okay. The point of this haunt variant is find the pieces to complete the puzzle box.
In Haunt #50, the heroes need to find clues across the house to aid in their efforts to find the a treasure; in this variant, the party needs to find the missing pieces to complete the puzzle. The clues give bonuses just like in the original haunt but these modifications: instead of a Knowledge roll, players make an Intelligence or Wisdom check. If they are proficient with Investigation or Perception as a skill, you can use those modifiers instead. Just like in the original haunt, the number clues a player possesses acts as a bonus to the result when searching the room for either clues or the puzzle pieces. Once the haunt is activated, the party was allowed to steal and attack one another to acquire clues and items.
Much to my personal surprise, most of the players and the characters did not fall for that trick (save the warlock who attacked one of the party members for other reasons) and tried to help one another. The house slowly began to crumble down on them, and helped boost their morale and focus on finding the missing pieces. They managed to find the last of the puzzle pieces, the question was whether the part of the haunt that specified if one of the party members could flee safely or if it was a red herring. They will never know!
The end of the nightmare…not really
I felt generous, since the party spent quite a bit of resources for this adventure, it appropriate to not condemn them to certain death…that’s next session! Instead, the puzzle box revealed itself as the heartstone they were looking for, an energy was released and the house faded away into the shadows of the plane itself. The party found themselves in the middle of the bog with large puddled areas far from the twisted dead tree line. From the mist, three tall figures approached the party and the heartstone flew toward its owners, where a trio of hags, the Sorority of Ravens, were there to greet them. I ended the session there for the night, the group was tired but loved the experience even with its occasional flaws.
I personally enjoyed customizing this D&D session with a board game flair to it. I have mentioned in previous articles about integrating other game mechanics into your D&D games, a board game is not much different but since we wanted to preserve the board game’s essence there was a bit more finesse required. Overall, the experience was quite enjoyable and it changes the dynamics of the game for the players.
I hope you managed to enjoy your Tabletop Day, if not, there is always next year, or as I would say, next weekend! Grab some friends, play some games (could be board games or roleplaying games), and have fun! Thanks for reading and I hope you found this article entertaining and informative.
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What was the answer to the riddle?