Thursday, May 4, 2023

Badger Badger Skunk, aka Badgery!

Two years ago on my birthday, I ran a 13th Age game centered on a game-within-a-game, a sport played underground that the gnomes involved called badgerbadgerskunk. It was the 31st session of the Adventurers’ Lament campaign. Gherophy, the gnome bard who glows golden when rocks are placed against his skin—who still manages to walk in shadows like a rogue thanks to blessings from the Prince of Shadows—was celebrating his birthday in Axis and the local gnomish community put together a special game of badgerbadgerskunk in his honor.

Campaign Background: What you need to know about gnomes in this campaign:

a) They are frequently scoundrels, bandits, edge-workers, masters of the grey areas whose culture heroes are people like the Dread Pirate Fishstick;

b) They’re natives of Glorantha, emigrants to the Dragon Empire, and whenever there’s something weird going on with the gnomes, the players (who are the ones who decided on this) wave their hands and say “Well that’s Glorantha for you,” and

c) They talk with animals, especially underground critters like badgers and bulettes.

Maybe it was the Glorantha connection that got me thinking about a sport the gnomes would play. I’ve always loved Gloranthan trollball, where the ‘ball’ is an expendable trollkin that scampers when fumbled and is definitely going to need to be replaced several times each game.

Gnomeball: For the gnome version, I decided that the ball was gonna be a badger. You’ve gotta sweet talk the ball into going along with you or it’s gonna tear your ear off. Unlike the troll game, the gnome game makes seriously hurting the ball an unthinkable faux pas sure to get you ostracized . . . after the badgers have had their fill of you.

Of course it’s not just badgers. My starting mechanic for the game was that 1 in 6 balls are a skunk instead of a badger. The new ball gets hurled up out of a hole in the center of the underground playing burrow, a central zone with various tunnels and levels of chambers and corridors and slides, with teams attempting to carry the ball across the other team’s goal line at the far ends of the burrow. In long games, you’d expect that the ‘new ball’ might be a badger or skunk that has already been in play earlier in the game, so you’d better make friends with the ball or you’ll pay for it all game long.

The Birthday Game: Gherophy’s team started with threee NPC gnomes: Gimplenappe, Rusty, and Pumpkin-who-wants-to-be-known-as-Grimkin. These ne’er-do-wells had been introduced as members of a quickly-defeated gang of gnomish bandits. They were childhood friends/tormentors of Gherophy, and the PCs spared them instead of treating them like other bandits. (Good thing: later they become our low-level PCs for all-gnome sessions!) Getting the badgerbadgerskunk game organized was the low-gnomes’ moment of glory.

Gherophy’s team was allowed to have two dwarves, the central combat-ready characters in the Adventurer’s Lament PC group. This was viewed as a handicap by the opposing team, because although dwarves are pretty close to being able to stand up straight in most of the chambers of the badgerbadgerskunk burrow, they’re also likely to get chewed on and sprayed whenever they attempt to advance the ball. Dwarves have no communication skillz, not in gnome-terms. This held true for Bromach, the group’s dwarven barbarian, who got clawed, sprayed, and sprayed again. Eventually he realized that there weren’t many rules about illegal blocking and so he took out his frustrations on the other team.

But Dhomnin, who the group always speaks of as a paladin (thanks to his earnest domination of high-Moradin ground and his golden-spiral GGW helmet), is actually a dwarf ranger who puts a lot of effort into his relationship with his monitor lizard animal companion. Dhomnin hit very difficult skill rolls skunk-after-skunk. He couldn’t quite talk with the beasties, but they came to an understanding involving treats and I-no-longer-remember-what, so even when Gherophy wasn’t grabbing the ’ball’ and spinning through shadows, the group’s offense kept humming.

And I did say, skunk after skunk, not skunk after badger. Because dice are my friends and when I’m rolling a d6, a 1 in 6 chance of a skunk instead of a badger turns into a single badger mixed in with 4 skunks. Whahahahahaah! You’re all getting sprayed!

Most of the rest of the dice rolling I left to the PCs, treating skunk-talking, badger-carrying, skunk-tracking, gnome-tackling, and tricky goal line hand-offs as skill checks of various types, some easy, most normal or hard. Everything was harder for the two dwarves but that didn’t faze Dhomnin.

I did a bit of dice rolling myself for a couple skunk and badger attacks when it was dramatically suitable. Poor Rusty, good thing he has a left ear. But it wasn’t a game about running out of hit points—for the real heroes, getting damaged applied penalties to your next skill checks and made it more likely your team would get scored on.

The PCs won in high highlight style with moments of glory evenly distributed and a barrel of Klinkhammer’s finest Black Dog ale to soothe the barbarian’s cuts!

Post-game Show & the Wider World: Yesterday I talked with Lee Moyer about badgerbadgerskunk. By the end of the day, after phoning me a couple times to ask questions about where the game might be played, Lee came up with his preferred name for the game, Badgery. And then he designed the logo that’s painted on a signboard outside the arena-burrow of the Badgery HQ in Concord, the Dragon Empire city where gnomes feel most at home. The Badgery Concord League!

So yeah, I’ll have to do more with this, won’t I? Thanks, Lee!

If you use badgerbadgerskunk in one of your 13th Age games, let me know at

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