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Hack For More

WEEK 5: 03/18/04

by Edward McEneely
Apr 06,2004


Hack For More

WEEK 5: 03/18/04

My first full session: Erich, Laura and Nate managed to show up, more or less intact and more or less on-time. I decided to just have Laura's character wander in to meet up with (and hopefully also save) Nate and Erich from their single-digit hitpoint prisons, but instead, the three of them decided to face down the twelve goblins that I was using to herd them back to the surface.

One of the things you'd think that I---or any other GM, for that matter---would have learned in the past nine years or so of playing is that if you give your players an eminently sensible option, one that will advance your brilliant plot, and then---purely for the sake of contrast---also offer them an insanely suicidal option that will leave their cadavers to cool in the turgid dungeon air, they will invariably---invariably!---choose the latter option.

Erich survived three rounds and one opponent. Laura was slain by a critical hit. Nate pushed his trusty donkey into the fray and tried to use it to stall for time before the goblins fell upon him, but in the end, it was no use. All of the players perished, and perished remarkably quickly.

I was mortified. I've never, ever, in the history of my attempts to GM, EVER killed an entire party. Not even in Call of Cthulhu or Rifts, games which tend to involve wholesale slaughter of varying descriptions. I don't really like the feeling much, I have to say, because I'm not really all that comfortable playing an adversarial role to begin with, and deep down, I'm always rooting for the players. They're "my" team, and like many citizens of Chicago, which spawned the long-time loser Cubs baseball franchise, I'll always root for my team, no matter how amazingly worthless they happen to be. To be perfectly honest, I'm not really a fan of my own GMing style, which has never been much more than a "PC in the Driver's Seat" type of deal; all of the GMs that I've gamed under (except for one, who I may deal with at length in a future column) have been much better at running a game than me.

Side Note: It was my birthday on the 15th, and that meant I visited my parents and baby brother and sister at their house to celebrate; in the McEneely family, you give your siblings presents on your birthday, if you don't mind following my awkward syntax there, and younger brother James got the Rifts RPG and Rifts GM's Guide, and younger sister Kathryn Rosemary got Steve Jackson's Ninja Burger game. (Katie, James, if you're reading this, I think you both are keen. Do you hear me? You are keen!) I got James Rifts because (after Star Wars and Mechwarrior) it was one of the first games I ever owned, and the first game that I had more than twenty supplements for. In terms of sheer over-the-top badness, it is the best game on the market, and having bought it for James, I find myself waxing nostalgic for good old mega-damage. Ahhh, those were the days, when I gamed five days a week at lunch in school, with friends that I have since treated terribly for no good reasons at all. But that's another story. Ninja Burger is pretty fun, I have to say, but I dunno if I'd ever buy it for myself. We did play a rousing game after Katie unwrapped it though, and it was interesting enough. Back to The Game!

Erich rolled up a disfigured Blood Mage, Nate rolled up a half-Ogre Gladiator, and Laura rolled up an Illusionist, giving the party an impressive amount of firepower on the first salvo, but not much to speak of afterwards. Hoping to keep things on an even keel, Erich retained the services of a torchbearer, who I rolled up in a jiffy using my brand-new hacklopedias (I-V, plus the Monster Matrix; thanks Erich and Laura!) and the cornucopia of charts in the GMG. Hubert Laager was a workaholic, very sane, youthful, and---heh, heh---chaotic evil. Erich didn't realize that last part, of course, and so he embraced the asp to his metaphorical bosom.

Nate instantly took a dislike to Laager and decided to test him with a punch to the face; Laager immediately knocked him out---torchbearers clobbering the PCs are starting to become a running gag---and then apologized to Erich's character for taking too much initiative. Erich was tickled pink, and decided to buy Hubert a sword. Poor, poor fool.

Convinced that his ten-GP purchase had bought him Laager's loyalty, Erich decreed that the party should head over to the dungeon that claimed their immediate predecessors. Soon, the players were back in combat with two sentry goblins, and Laager "accidentally" hit Nate for eight points of damage. Erich decided he would try to spit alcohol through Hubert's torch to ignite one of the goblins, but the torch mysteriously shifted slightly, and the flames backflashed into Erich's mouth, doing 4d6 damage and knocking him unconscious from the pain. Clumsy, clumsy Hubert. Nate dispatched the goblins, with a little help from Laura, who threw a dart that managed to crit one of the hapless monsters.

Here's where things started to go bad. Nate was delighted to have Hubert's protector out cold, and began to threaten the torchbearer, who started to counter-threaten Nate. Nate punched Hubert, so Hubert hit Nate's character with a Severity 16 (highest yet rolled!) critical hit to the leg, breaking a bone and causing Nate to weep with pain. Nate's a Marine, though, and they don't know when to quit. He continued to threaten Hubert, who beat him so badly that his armor was destroyed, and then he bad-mouthed Erich, causing Erich's character to cast a Woeful Blood Missile on him. By the end of the encounter, Nate's 48-HP half-ogre had twelve hitpoints remaining. Woeful-class spells cause the caster to pass out for thirty-six hours, so Erich was off to la-la land and Nate was pressed into service by the belligerent Hubert as a litter-bearer. Battered and disconsolate, the players beat a tactical retreat from the dungeon back to town to heal up and prepare for their return to the f ray.

God, I can't wait for next week.

Precious And Few Are The Moments We Two Can Share:

Edward (explaining how Nate wouldn't notice his torch going out): He was being attacked by a moose! His mind was on other things!

(Nate and Laura disputing whether possession is nine-tenths of the law): Nate: May I have my donkey back, please? Laura: Chauncey? Nate: Give me my donkey. Laura: ...No. Nate: Hand my my ass.

Erich (justifying a decision to stand and fight): This is Hackmaster, not ScramMaster.

Erich (trying to figure out damage on a goblin): What's his size? Nate: His pants are down, man! Just look!

Edward (Disagreeing about blood spurtage): Okay, the donkey is not a high-pressure hose.

Nate (in a blind rage): I'm gullible, and my intelligence is low, but I know botany.

(Nate is already unhappy with his character:) Nate: I want to be a homosexual minotaur! Laura: I bet you would. Edward: You already are.

Erich (faces a difficult choice): I don't know whom to kill---my henchling or my oldest friend.

Edward (describing Erich): You're an affable wombat.

Laura (persuading Nate): I'll give you a goldfish. Made of real gold...fish.

(Erich needs suppressing fire:) Erich: Laager, stand back and fire that-a-way. Edward: With a sword?

(Nate thinks he could map pretty good even if he were alight:) Nate: I have mapsense and infravision. Omnes: YOU'D BE ON FIRE!

Hey folks, Erich here, giving you a little insight on the night's adventure from the player's point of view. I'm an earlier-school gamer, having grown up on AD&D (1st Ed.) and moving on to such radical gaming concepts as TMNT in my junior high years. Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't touched the dice for a small handful of years and hadn't played a classic fantasy RPG for a decade or so. Once upon a time I was so into gaming I had my own little slice of RPGnet titled "Foaming at the Mouth." I had thought those days were done with, but apparently Thomas Wolfe was wrong and you can go home again. Enough blather about me, though; let's talk about what I had to deal with this week.

The game started off with two characters near the brink of death and one character at full health. The game also ended the same way, with the same two player's characters struggling to stay alive. The words missing between those two sentences, however, make all the difference; because what I've not yet told you is that though the players were the same, the characters were not.

It's an interesting phenomenon, watching somebody who spent the majority of their gaming life in "easier" systems (like GURPS) slugging through the Escher-esque rules of a game like HackMaster for the first time. The constant shifting between rolling high and rolling low, the switch between adding and subtracting and the positives and negatives thereof send a general player scurrying into the underbrush and it's even more fun when an AD&D neophyte GM is behind the shield for only the fifth or sixth time.

To be fair, Ed climbs a few rungs on the ladder of rule knowledge between every game, but anyone who's dealt with early AD&D knows of the towering monolith of arcane and cryptic rules within. Take that metaphorical height and multiply it by three and then you'll have HackMaster. Cumbersome and cryptic and yet, with the right mindset, one hell of a lot of fun.

Now, I'm not going to label Ed a killer GM, but both Nate and Laura were forced to roll up new characters. I'd have been thrown to the same fate, but I had wisely created a back-up blood mage for just such an occasion--but then, I'm the type of player who drops characters through a campaign just for the sake of change. To Nate went a copy of a Half-Ogre Gladiator (using the Combatant's special book) which I had rolled up just to test the book out. Laura, sensing the need for either another thief-type or, perhaps, a healer confused everyone by creating the second most useless of classes in a hack-and-slash group, an illusionist (the most useless class being the Bard).

Our previous characters were dead, having attempted to slay a small squad of goblins when we should have run. I blame myself. I never should have gotten Ed the first 3 Hacklopedias for his birthday, now he had something logical to throw at us. I preferred death by moose. Again, to be fair to my GM, the intention and the smart thing would have been to hastily advance backwards, but when in Rome--or a hack-and-slash game--one rarely abides by wisdom.

Now we had an indebted, gullible and stupid Half-Ogre (played by Nate), a compulsive liar of an illusionist (voiced by Laura) and a scarred, greedy, alcoholic jerk blood mage (yours truly) heading to the same dungeon, unaware that there were already three PC corpses to loot in said deathtrap. There was a forth member of the party: my mage had hired a torch-bearer by the name of Lager who immediately got on Nate's character's nerves and thus began the fun. Nate suffered the same fate I did in the second game. His character got knocked out by a lowly NPC hireling. Oh, the humiliations... and trust me, it's a lot more fun when it's another player on the receiving end.

We made it to the dungeon and effortlessly mauled two goblins. Rather, I should say that Nate's character clobbered the fodder. His character was stabbed in the back (unintentionally) by the hireling (gods, I loved that guy already) and my attempt at a home-brewed breath weapon left me with a very sore throat. As far as Laura's character... well, I mentioned how useless illusionists are, right?

Though the GM-thrown foes were out of the way, the fight had only begun. I tell ya, that Lager is a maniac. If only my rolls were as good as the GM's when he rolled for my henchmen, I'd not be on my third character in the campaign already. Nate wanted revenge and once more had his axe handed to him by the little 0-level torch-boy, not to mention the severe damage he got from me (no one insults my scarred face--and did I mention that I have "Temper Tantrums" as a flaw?).

So, the new party staggered back to town and Laura's new character was still at full health, but still useless. At this rate, I figure we'll clear this side-bar dungeon out mid-December and meet up with what I assume is the real plot: the peace conference between the Orcs and Gillead, sometime late 2005. We're rolling up our new characters in preparation already, and based on tonight's adventure, maybe I'll play a sweet torch-bearing bad-ass like Lager.

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What do you think?

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