Caw! Time to Be Like A Crow!

I'd spotted Be Like a Crow by Critical Kit (www.criticalkit.co.uk) at this year's UK Games Expo and had made a mental note to buy a copy, as I was drawn to the gorgeous cover art and it being a solo RPG. I really enjoy roleplaying, but my experience is that it's really tricky to coordinate a bunch of folks and their schedules to consistently find a time when you will all be free to run a consistent campaign. I'd intended to find the stall it was on later, as I was in a rush to get somewhere (probably an in-person Blood On The Clocktower session...) but I was disappointed when I couldn't find it again. I therefore jumped at the chance to review it when we were offered a pdf copy to review. The artwork inside was so beautiful that I went ahead and bought a hard copy for myself as I couldn't resist ... alongside the dedicated card desk, enamel pin and hardcover journal.


The front cover of the Be Like A Crow Solo RPG

I love writing, but other than penning reviews for DOALG I never really indulge in my literary passion. I'd love to write a book, but doubt I ever will as whilst I'm great at writing highly descriptive text and natural-sounding dialogue, I'm not so great at building a solid plot from start to finish and feel intimidated by all the amazing work that's already out there. I was therefore super excited to play Be Like A Crow, as I knew that it'd give me the opportunity to get creative without feeling any pressure, and I love corvids of all varieties.


The book opens with a chapter entitled 'What is a Solo RPG?', which introduces Be Like A Crow , explains how to record your story (apparently you're some kind of monster if it's a spreadsheet...), gives some example journal entries, outlines your world choices (urban, cyber, gothic, fantasy, steampunk, Tower of London), and also explains the play deck (a set of cards), as well as objective requirements for lifecycle stages and the lifecycles themselves.


As I have very little experience of RPG, I struggled a little when it came to understanding how you first start to build a character as I found the wording a little awkward inside each corvid type. For someone with more experience of RPGs, I suspect this wouldn't be a problem at all. For ease of understanding for complete beginners, I would have preferred there to be a separate wording dedicated to building a fledging, followed by what to do when you advance a lifecycle stage.


To record the stats you use the dedicated character sheet, a blank one is included in the book but obviously, it's more practical to print one off from the website (free). Due to a lack of a working printer, I spent ages drawing one out in my journal instead and couldn't help thinking that this would have been the one time in my life that a set square would have come in useful. I felt like an idiot when I realised I needn't have, as there is a character sheet in the back of the journal ... however, all was not lost as I like the idea of being able to look back on what my corvid's stats were at each lifecycle stage.


The Be Like A Crow RPG character sheet

Chapter Two then explains how to create your character and setting. In Be Like A Crow you can choose between a carrion crow, magpie, rook, raven and jackdaw. I love that for each corvid type Tim provides facts about them, including a description (even if I do disagree with the description of a magpie being a black and white bird... ), typical size/weight, nesting habits, diet, characteristics and habitats.


For my first fledgling adventure, I chose to have a Eurasian magpie. I think they are very beautiful with their tails of many colours standing out against their black and white bodies, and as dark as this sounds I have extra love for them as they remind me of my late father as I believe a solitary magpie was a messenger when my dad was dying and I was trying to convince myself that he would be ok telling me I needed to let go as it was his time.


My preference for recording my campaign was using the dedicated journal. I chose to write in the third person and to write it as if it were a story, interspersing this with the occasional relevant note such as the stats for an adversary I was in combat with or noting out a new objective. There's something deeply satisfying about handwriting a story with a fountain pen!


For my fledgling playthrough, I chose to have the starting location as the ghost town. I began by writing some flavour text to really bring it alive using my imagination:


This town formerly known as Ashen Falls was once a bustling hub of activity. Travellers came from afar to buy produce from the well-respected market, from glorious jams made from fruits lovingly harvested from the orchards so carefully tended to fresh eggs and milk. There were quaint little thatched cottages with gardens full of beautiful flowers of many varieties frequented by busy bees and resplendent butterflies of glorious colours as well as grand townhouses owned by lords and ladies whose whims were catered for by their servants. A farrier's forge was in the centre, serving the townsfolk who were rich enough to have their own horses, some to ride into the surrounding countryside and others for tending farmland on the outskirts. An inn housed visitors and kept locals happy with fine wines, ale and tasty pub grub.


Life was wonderful for all, until one summer's day, for reasons unbeknownst, a darkness descended on Ashen Falls. Some people say it was a scorned traveller who had come to rest her weary legs, turned away at the inn and that she cursed the town, poisoning the land and creating murderous thoughts in people's hearts. Others blame the corvids, for they seemed to be the sole survivors, other than those who fled before they too became victims of the curse. Buildings fell to ruin, crops perished, flowers turned black and withered to dust, crazed horses broke free. Thorny and toxic weeds grew. Holy men and women doused the town in blessed water but the darkness persisted. Even fire and salt seemed to be powerless against the darkness. Eventually, all hope was abandoned. It was amongst the ruins and the ghost that Magnus's mother made her nest, weary of disdainful looks from the village folk in nearby Duskmire who would shoo her away declaring:


Ashen Falls, the ashes rise Begone curséd creature in disguise

Taketh away thy wicket sorrow

For light will triumph in the morrow


Somehow the village stayed safe, but Magnus's mother knew this was through no verse or rhyme, and she knew too that the demise of Ashen Falls was through no fault of corvids. Magnus never did learn the truth behind the darkness, the day he felt brave enough to ask was the day she never returned. He was alone, and she was all this little fledgling knew in this world for his would-be brothers and sisters never hatched. This is where we join our little magpie, as adventure awaits.


Once you have built your character and setting, it's time to get started. Chapter Three explains the rules. Tim really sets you at ease with them, stating: "You don’t need to commit them all to memory to start playing, and if ever you are unsure of how to handle a situation use the rule-of-cool: do what works for you and is the most fun." You pick a tile on the hex-based map (say it with me ... HEXAGONS ARE THE BESTAGONS!) as your starting location, and proceed with your gameplay by setting a starting objective from the table of your chosen world, using a card deck, and referring to the object location and character locations tables where applicable. I drew the four of clubs for which the prompt was:


'[character] is/are terrorising a village searching for [object]. Can you

help the village?"


From the deck/reference table this generated "undead raven" for character, and "a gargoyle's fingernail" for the object. I decided that this fitted really nicely with the flavour text I had built with the village being terrorised as Duskmire. I decided to call the undead raven Draum


Once you've set an objective, you start taking turns. There are the following actions you can take on a turn

  • Generate an Objective

  • Generate an Event

  • Travel to a New Hex on the Map

  • Take Flight or Land

  • Use an Object

  • Take a Combat action


The Be Like A Crow art page for Gothic Crow Prompts from the Be Like A Crow Solo RPG

At the end of the review, I'll give you my overall thoughts on Be Like A Crow, but first I'll take you through a little bit of my first campaign as a fledgling to give you an idea of the gameplay in action and how you might journal. I felt the most logical thing to start with on my first turn would be for Magnus to take flight for the first time and leave the nest to venture out into the ghost town, using a flight skill check. Fortunately, the check was passed, otherwise, my poor little magpie might have started with an injury straight away.


Now, sensibly, to start (as most people would) I could have drawn a character to give me an objective using the character table, but I thought it would be more fun to begin with a starting event first and weave in an objective accordingly seeing as Magnus started alone in his nest. I drew a jack of diamonds for which the corresponding event was "You meet [character] who requests your assistance. You may generate a new [objective]". Perfect!


So, using the character table for Gothic crow, Magnus met Onyx, the sociopathic and battle-scarred black cat and was terrified that he'd be eaten:


Magnus hopped to the top of the nest and launched himself into the air, gliding awkwardly forward about a metre before ungracefully plopping to the ground, it too was as dry as the tree his nest was in. He took a deep breath and then froze as he caught the shadow out of the corner of his eye. He'd seen ghosts pass by before but this, even in the gloom, was a solid shadow. He flapped in fear as all of the sudden came a cracky me-e-e-oww.


"Don't eat me," he cried. "Mum told me to beware of cats. Did you eat her?!"


"Good day to you as well!" said the scrawny black cat with battle-scarred ears and a closed eye, its lids half scabbed with blood. "No, I've never ate a magpie. I was told my stomach would fill with sorrow and I would starve. Didn't want to find out the hard way that it was true, Onyx prefers mice who dare stray here from the lake.


"Don't you dare chitter chatter that I ate 'er. We don't need more trouble round here from gossiping corvids. There's enough kerfuffle in Duskmire from this undead raven, Draum, terrorising the village folk as they go about their business, even my master who keeps shooing him away with a pitchfork and shooting at him with his rifle.


"He never was a good shot even when he had two good eyes, and almost shot me instead. Cretin said I shouldn't have gotten in the way!


"Tha've never seem so much chaos there. Some say she'll bring about the fall of Duskmire and it was she who cursed Ashen Falls. She needs to be stopped!"


Clearly, this objective would necessitate travel, and I felt with Magnus having so little flight experience it would be fun for Magnus to ride on Onyx's back. As he was a sociopathic cat he was only willing to take him to the edge of the haunted lake. This decision was based on the rule of cool, as you can normally only travel between hexes in flight and not on land.


When you are on land you have to perform at least two events per hex. Once at the edge of the lake, the next event on land I drew was an ace of clubs:


"You meet a potential mate. If you are looking for love, make a mate check; on a success, they will accompany you in your adventures. "


As Magnus was only a fledgling, it didn't feel quite right for him to have a romantic interest so I adapted this slightly to instead do a befriend check, which he scraped through. I decided that it was a jackdaw called Malachi who felt sorry for the fluffy little fledgling and offered to accompany him to travel to the village so Magnus could defeat or stop the undead raven and hopefully find his missing mother. Too bad I hadn't drawn a black two as this would have done the same thing but being able to do all checks with authority (you draw two cards and get the highest result) on the current and next hex ...


On the map, the village is diagonally across from the ghost town via the haunted lake, which has an island in the centre that is occupied by an eerie castle. Malachi asked the hungry Magnus to accompany him there so they could get some sustenance and Onyx slinked off. At least this was vaguely in the direction of the village for the first objective, and it would mean traveling to different hexes in flight and drawing events accordingly.


The Gothic Crow Map from the Be Like A Crow solo RPG

With taking flight or landing being listed as a turn action, I wasn't sure from the rulebook whether changing from being on land to in flight necessitated a flight check each time. When I watched Tim play Edgar the scrawny fledgling rook on is Twitch channel he said that as a raven he didn't have to make checks to fly. I couldn't see anything in the rulebook to suggest this, so I'm not sure if he mis-remembered but I liked this general approach as I thought it would be a bit clunky to perform a flight check every time I decided to move from land to flight, and for more advanced lifecycle corvids they should become pretty good at flight anyways. However, I did still perform the occasional flight checks when it felt appropriate, such as on this first real flight to add some flavour as to how that flight unfolded. Magnus just about passed the check so he didn't do too badly, other than flapping like mad and occasionally plummeting a bit.


When you are in the air, you can use a turn to move between adjacent hexes and whenever you enter a new hex you must generate at least one flight event before you can move to another hex. The next card I drew for my event in a new hex was a nine of diamonds:


You meet an elder of your own species. They have a mission for you. If you accept, you may generate a new [objective]


This bought me to two out of my maximum of two objectives as a fledgling, this felt perfect particularly as the objective I drew was as follows:


"[Character] is trying to create an army of undead [character]. Head to the wooden shack in the woods to try and stop them"


The results for characters were an exiled monarch and undead ravens. It was an amazing coincidence, as this felt brilliant for weaving the two objectives into one coherent storyline. Clearly Draum the undead raven had been created by Theodiscus the exiled king in revenge for being exiled.


Various events then unfurled as my playthrough continued. I'll not write them all out here, because sharing my full story isn't the purpose of this review and would make for a very long post. However, if any of you dear readers ever want me to write it out in full one day for your reading delight let me know in the comments!


The next major event was Magnus being stumbled across by the exiled king himself (unlucky shuffling), which then triggered combat. Oh no poor Magnus!


So how does combat work? All character prompts have stats listed next to them like this {+2, 4, 1}. From left to right, these numbers signify their stats for attack/evade score, injury slots and injuries they inflict.


You act first as follows:

  1. Chose which skill to attack with: divebomb, claw, or peck (or flee combat, explained further down). Draw a card and add the number of ticks from the chosen combat skill to its value. This is your attack score.

  2. Draw a card for your opponent and add their evade score for their score.

  3. You deal an injury if your attack score is higher than or equal to the score of your opponent.

It's then your opponent's move:

  1. Draw a card and add their attack score to the value. This is their total attack score.

  2. Draw a card and add the number of ticks of your evade skill for your evade score.

  3. If their total attack score is higher or equal to your evade score, they inflict the number of injuries equal to the last number in their stat block to you.

In the rulebook fleeing is written as follows:


"Instead of taking an attack on your turn, you can choose to remove yourself from combat by fleeing. To attempt to flee, repeat the steps above for your opponent's move. If your evade score is equal or higher to [sic] their attack score, you can choose to withdraw from the combat altogether by flying away. Otherwise remain in combat and your opponent's turn is next."


I was a little confused at first with the phrasing of fleeing and afraid of getting attacked twice, which made me keen to get away from Theodiscus as quickly as possible without too much of a fight as Magnus had very little in the way of combat skills. Had I read back to the attack section this might have made more sense to me. I would have perhaps phrased it something like this "Instead of taking an attack on your turn, you can choose to remove yourself from combat by fleeing. Your opponent will still get their attack (as per the steps above). Draw a card for yourself and add the number of ticks from your evade skill to get your evade score. If your score is equal to or higher than their score, you can choose to withdraw and fly away. Otherwise remain in combat, your opponent's turn is next as you used your 'attack' to try to flee. "


I also noticed on his stream that Tim had played whereby your opponent tries to attack you when you flee, a bit like in Nemesis.


Combat ends when either you or our opponent sustain the maximum number of injuries or you successfully flee.


I felt quite intimidated by Theodicus with his stats of {+1, 4,1} as I thought I was likely to take more injuries than him. I question now whether I should maybe have kept the combat going as I could maybe have completed one of my objectives had I killed him but it didn't really cover the wooden shack part of the objective by doing that. I've not completed my campaign or either objective yet, and it may take me a while before I draw him as a character again in an event. However, I've found the shack with all the paraphernalia that seemed to be for crating undead ravens (and an invisible hen called Agatha). However, I think that with the rule of cool my way round this will probably be to perform a search check in the castle once I have travelled there and to then start a new combat with him. For the combat, I'd rule he would retain the injury I dealt him on his hand taking him down to three injury slots.


Here's a last little extract from my journaling for the combat and introduction of the exiled king to fit with the objective. You'll see some notes for injuries and playing jokers. The combat event was triggered just after Magnus failed a peck check for food after he'd landed in the woods with the help of Arathorn the bald eagle:


He let go of Arathorn's tail feathers just as they were getting close to the ground and landed safely on his feet. From the shadows of the trees, the ground was quite dark and the thees had a pleasant fresh aroma that Magnus had never smelt before. It felt like he could almost drink the air. It was so different from the dusty, infertile land of Ashen Falls. There were ferns and mosses and toadstools and Magnus spotted a rotting log. He pecked at it in a frenzied search for food but got a beak full of rotten wood. Malachi and Arathorn, who were just behind him, both laughed. Magnus didn't find it funny.


Suddenly, they stopped laughing and Malachi shouted, "Watch out!" as a figure emerged through the trees. He looked like one of the ghosts but solid. He was wearing a grey jacket with a pocket watch tucked inside he top pocket and form his pace seemed to be on a mission. It must be one of those magpie-hating humans mother had described and Magnus hoped he wouldn't be spotted. Unfortunately for him he had been.


"We'll have no magpies here!" he bellowed. "No, no, no! You will not be interfering with my plans. They thought they could exile me, King Theodiscus, and that would be enough to stop me. Well, think again, for my undead ravens will rise up and show them!"


Theodiscus came hurtling towards Magnus who, terrified, didn't know what to do. Instinct told him to peck at this hostile, exiled monarch, his beak catching the webbed part between the thumb and forefinger, which started to bleed.


+ 1 injury to Theodiscus


"Wretched beast," grumbled Theodicus. "I knew you meant trouble!"


His giant hands came thrusting towards Magnus who hopped out of the way just in time for Theodicus to miss. Theodicus cursed and his steel grey irises seemed to flash red a second, as though possessed by some kind of demonic force Magnus tried to fly to safety but it was like his wings had turned to stone and he was pinned to the spot.


1 x joker spent as Theodiscus had drawn a king and would otherwise have injured Magnus


Magnus closed his eyes as he heard a great ker-screech as Arathorn dived towards Theodiscus, distracting him long enough for him to miss Magnus by mere centimetres, but not long enough for Magnus to fly free. Theodiscus' fist came slamming down catching Magnus' tail and slightly dislodging a feather


+ 1 injury to Magnus.


Magnus, petrified, tried to peck at the exiled king again but missed, enraging him all the more. He clawed at Magnus, knocking another feather firmly out of place.


+ 1 injury to Magnus. Joker spent to flee successfully.


Somehow strengthened by fear, Magnus, gulping for air, spread his wings and managed to fly far enough out of sight from Theodiscus, who stomped of yelling "I'll find you again, and I'll kill you!"


You might have noticed that the exiled monarch didn't seem very regal from his description. That is because I'd accidentally referred to a character sheet form another setting that gave me a watchmaker and had starting journaling about that already (hence the jacket and pocket watch). I thought I could maybe stick with it as random encounter but ultimately decided to see hat happened if I drew another card and then happened to get the exiled king instead ... he was exiled after all so maybe he didn't need to be in royal robes. To avoid this happening to you, I'd recommend little sticky tabs on your physical copy.


Hopefully, my extracts have given you an idea of how you might play Be Like A Crow if you were to journal out the story in a narrative form. However, this is just one way of recording it and you can make it suit your own style. For example, I can imagine someone particularly artistic might do a series of drawings or even a comic (I wish I had the talent!). If any of the readers do something like that, we'd love to see the results.


I feel that Be Like A Crow can be enjoyed by a complete beginner as well as an RPG veteran. Unlike some RPGs you might come across it doesn't involve tomes of rulebooks that weight a tonne and you need to know inside out. It'd be easy to slip into your bag with the deck of cards and a small notebook if you fancied playing it in a cafe or whilst on holiday. Also. whilst officially it is a solo RPG there is nothing to stop you playing it with another player or multiple other players using a separate card deck each. This means it can be played in a gaming group or family setting. Indeed, in Tim's two recent streams his young daughter Isabelle played along with him as Benjamin the raven, with them both using the same deck for checks and cooperatively completing objectives together. If you wanted to you could even play as adversaries.


The rules are largely well written and easy to follow, other than the odd slight grammar errors and some minor inconsistencies (eg referring to a 'Taking Flight section/chapter when there isn't one). From my experience, some beginners may have to reread some instructions more than once before fully understanding them but will get there eventually and the rule of cool means you can adapt them as you see fit. For example, there are no dice mechanics in the rule book but you could use them when determining who gets injured by an attack in multiplayer or for randomising which direction you travel in from a hex. You could even buy some lovely dice from Critical Kit for this purpose...


My campaign is still going, and am really enjoying my experience of the gothic setting as it is really getting my imagination flowing. I am really immersed in the story and keep excitedly updating my hubby with what is happening to Magnus.

Once I've gotten Magnus to Ol'Crow I'll definitely be trying another setting. Next, I might run a campaign with a Ceylon magpie (aka Sri Lankan Blue magpie) in a fantasy setting as they are so darn pretty! I would also have loved to have seen a jay character as an option, seeing as the book does inform you that a jay is in fact a corvid. I may create my own unique skills for one in another playthrough.


The huge variety of settings is definitely one of the great things about this solo RPG, as it provides a huge amount of replayability. I think it could have had even more playability with an enhancement of event tables that were unique to each setting rather than the same flight event and land events tables used for every setting. However, with the deck of cards mechanic, you would still build a completely different story each time.


I love that you can buy a pdf copy as well as the physical copy and the artwork inside by Khius is gorgeous! In terms of production quality the rulebook has a sturdy cover and lovely, thick and glossy pages inside. Sadly my copy got slightly damaged on the front cover in transit, but it otherwise came packed quite well. It's a bit frustrating that the map pages (which were made by Tim using Inkarnate - https://inkarnate.com) have a fold in the middle as this makes them a little impractical, particularly when you're needing to refer to the results tables, it might have been better to have them fold out from the book but this may have added to the price point significantly. It's a shame you can't order hard copies direct from Critical Kit, but you can at least get the pdfs for free or use Owlbear Rodeo (www.owlbear.rodeo).


The bespoke card deck is high quality and the journal is luscious, with the beautiful little touches of the poem at the front and the character sheet at the back. I foresee myself buying multiple copies...


A D6 face showing 5 pips - each pip an Ink The Imp head

Be Like A Crow is a really fantastic corvid themed solo RPG that really gets your imagination flowing. The absolute beginner to the RPG can really sink their teeth into it and immerse themselves in the gameplay without the need of prior RPG experience. I have limited RPG experience and I haven't done any creative writing for years but my pen was excitedly flowing across the page. A veteran is also sure to love it, as running a campaign as a corvid feels a very unique experience. I know I will be playing it for many more hours, and years to come! With a few little enhancements, it'd be a solid 6.


Your Resident Word-nerd

Sueyzanne



Can't wait to get your own copy? Buy Be Like A Crow on Critical Kit's website now at www.criticalkit.co.uk/collections/be-like-a-crow


You can also check out the Critical Kit Twitch channel for live playthroughs (www.twitch.tv/critical_kit) with replays on their YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/criticalkit).

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