Review of Hairy Shanks, a rune-based TTRPG about wonderfully wild characters

Hairy Shanks is a tabletop RPG about playing as a chaotic little hairy creature who draws power from the runes within them. Using only spatial randomization mechanics it’s super accessible for new and young TTRPG players, and it was a great game to check out!

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Hairy Shanks is great for all ages!

Hairy Shanks is definitely an all ages friendly game – it’s a system, so you and your players have full control over the story, and then the system focuses on using general powers (your chosen courage and fear) to have fun, help out with something, or just cause a little bit of good natured mischief. It has a rule that no player characters die, and the mechanics are entirely spatial based (i.e. overlaying shapes), so math and reading are not requirements or barriers for players to be able to enjoy the game.

Hairy Shanks is set in the Wilds

Hairy Shanks is set in a world or region that you create called the “Wilds”. This area is created by going around the game table and letting each player have a turn adding elements to the game by answering questions about the land, the community, and maybe even a plot element or two.

Beyond the Wilds, the rest of the world is unknown to the players and their characters, leaving the story open to larger adventures, should the Hairy Shanks dare to venture forth.

For our set up, we ended up with Wilds that were pretty much a forest made up of giant melon trees that the Hairy Shanks celebrate during The Great Melon Festival and use for their favorite game of all time, Melon Kickball…. but they’re always on the look out for… THE SPIDER LORD! It’s a great set up for game events (like holding a festival or sport tournament) and adding mysteries or challenges to solve (like figuring out what’s up with THE SPIDER LORD).

Creating your character in Hairy Shanks

Making your Hairy Shank character is incredibly easy – you answer three questions about your Hairy Shank (that determine how hairy they are, how they smell, and what they’re doing), and…. that’s it! Naming your Hairy Shank is entirely optional, which was a bit nice since we do get hung up on the names quite often. You are also encouraged to add something else that your Hairy Shank finds important, but only if they’re obsessed with it!! It’s got to be REALLY important to them if they’re able to remember it!

Mechanics in Hairy Shanks

Mechanics in Hairy Shanks, I thought, were ingenious. They were not something that I’d seen before in a TTRPG, and they added a lot of awesome variation to the game while still being easy to understand and explain.

Your powers revolve around runes that you have on your character sheet with one side being “courage” and one side being “fear”. You draw runes using the guide tool provided with the game, and then you draw cards from a deck to place on top of the runes you have so you can see what’s visible. You compare the visibility of the two runes to get your final result (i.e. if the courage rune is more visible than the fear rune, you get a success!).

If you ever fail a check, you also get a few options to choose from to see how you fail… and potentially advance a rune. If you “fail with courage”, you don’t succeed, but you do get to add to your courage rune, so you’ve got better odds of success next time. You, alternatively, have the option to try to use your fear to succeed by flipping the card over to the fear side and trying to align your runes again, however… if you succeed with fear, you need to add to your fear rune, meaning you’re more likely to have this happen again.

I thought that both the shapes matching and the different paths to success were excellent ways to introduce some non-math mechanics that provided a lot of randomization and gave a solid risk/reward judgement challenge. The failure decision tree also strongly encourages players to choose to fail with courage, showing that sometimes failure, and owning up to that failure, can help you in the long run.

Overall thoughts on Hairy Shanks

Hairy Shanks was easy to learn, came with some new and interesting TTRPG mechanics for us, and had an overall great vibe. The art throughout the game was energetic and fun, and everything about the explanations was clear yet lighthearted. We had a lot of fun checking it out, and I hope you get a chance to check it out as well!

Find a copy of Hairy Shanks!

You can find Hairy Shanks here on the Seagull Dreams Material itchio!

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