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Hack For More

Week 1

by Edward McEneely
Mar 09,2004


Hack For More

WEEK 1: 02/19/04

It began innocently enough, a half-joking suggestion bandied about between the three of us; "why don't we try and run a game, just basic hack 'n slash stuff, using Hackmaster? We haven't gamed in ages." Maybe it's easier to understand if you know that we'd been playing Scrabble, or that work had been frustrating. Maybe we'll never really understand all of the causes.

It didn't take long for things to get out of hand; "I'll use my old AD&D Monstrous Manuals" turned into "I'll just get a few of the Hacklopedias", and "a new binder and graph paper is all I'll need to get" became "I can't live without a GM's screen!" A week and sixty bucks later, the three of us were getting ready to role-play for the first time in more than a year.

So, here we were: playing a system that two of us were vaguely familiar with (both Erich and Laura had played 1st/2nd edition AD&D ages ago), and that I personally had only the dimmest understanding of: I was born in the early eighties, too late to catch the AD&D bug, instead winning my spurs on West End's Star Wars. Naturally, I was the DM. Fortunately, I knew about THAC0 and Armor Class, so I figured I was set. Sure, there was the problem of Hackmaster's added complexity to what all of us (some fondly) regarded as a fundamentally broken system (hit points are so 1978), but I figured most of the burden would fall on the PCs, leaving me to run assorted Robolds (half-Goblin, half-Kobold hybrids from the Hacklopedias) and map out a dungeon on graph paper. I'd read Knights of the Dinner Table since Issue 18, I figured I knew how a Robold lair should be designed. I even had a plot for a campaign all worked out. How hard could it be?

How hard indeed. The game itself got off to a wobbly start as the PCs decided to act in a way totally different than I had expected, failing to immediately take my adventure bait and grab a passel o' hirelings (painstakingly generated 0-level torchbearers all) and instead heading off to the mayor of Grabnerville (who I hadn't bothered to flesh out, as I was planning on saving him for a later adventure) to haggle over the reward for saving the town from its mysterious demihuman attackers. Some faltering interaction with a barkeep netted Erich's Grunge Elf berserker a willing henchman (the lawful good Pete Brennar) while Laura finished buying her equipment and put the finishing touches on her astoundingly unappealing (low charisma and comeliness) half-orc thief, whose race she had diced for, the better to get into the random nature of the game. The PCs puttered over to the Mayor, who I quickly decided was a Tammany Hall-esque politico (in times of trouble, I fall back on cliche).

I'm lucky in that the PCs both like in-character dialogue; when the game slows down, a little of that can really save a DM's bacon. In this case, Erich and Laura willfully misinterpreted the promise of 250 gold per party member into a promise of 250 gold per demi-human head, which gave their characters an incentive to adventure, and enabled me to breathe a sigh of relief.

The players then quickly glossed over preparation in favor of entering the dungeon along with their hireling, who now toted a series of small lunchbags for the storage of demi-human noggins. They quickly found their first Robold, an invalid lying in the sickbay, which I had cunningly placed near the entrance, reasoning that the demi-human raiding party wouldn't want to blunder into their own traps while hauling injured comrades to safety. It was here that we realized the to-hit tables are not in the HackMaster player's manual, instead being "GM-only" material, presumably to keep PCs from knowing when they have cursed weapons. Whatever. Everything stopped as three people flipped through two different rulebooks, hoping to find the THAC0 charts. Mercifully, I had thought to write down the injured Robold's THAC0, so I was nominally covered.

I'll be the first to admit that the whole segment/round/turn thing confuses me; it's complicated and it scares me, so I pretty much ignored it in favor of having the PCs roll 1d10 plus their modifiers for initiative and ruling the Robold was surprised. Erich killed the little fella in his bed before anyone else could intercede, gaining a whopping 7 EPs for his heroic victory. Onwards!

Now that the PCs were heading for traps, I casually inquired as to their marching order, which instantly put them on guard and enabled them to breeze past the fairly week tripwire traps I had set up, reasoning that the Robolds would know where they were and thus would be able to avoid them. A short fight with a lone sentry---again ignoring most of the combat rules---resulted in another stunning victory for Erich, civilization's point man in the fight against the one-hit-die peril.

Here, an interjection: I wish the monsters in HackMaster didn't receive the 20 HP "kicker", not only because it makes combat go on for ever, but also because it seems to contravene several established portions of the Knights of the Dinner Table mythos, particularly the weakness of many humanoid monsters, like Orcs and Kobolds. Of course, I could always ignore the kicker, but I hate to willfully break a rule that I've already followed while GMing. So I suppose that it's really my problem.

At this point someone (they know who they are), half-joking called the fighting so far "lame". I had to agree with them, so I sprang four more Robolds on the party and had Pete the torchbearer flee in mortal terror. I quickly discovered that critical hits, extra damage, and all of the associated foofaraw of the game would cause me to pore endlessly over my rulebooks, muttering and slowing things down, so I winged it, fudging die rolls left and right behind my DM's screen (thank God for it, too!) until the Robolds were dead or running. Erich and Laura pursued the Robolds (whom they had initially dubbed Gobolds or Koblins, before settling on Mansiere [a word that I am dead certain I have spelled wrong, but which is curiously not included in spellchecker], for reasons best known to themselves), incensed because their torchbearer had run off with the head collection that ostensibly would earn them their bounty. In an attempt to spice things up, I had another ten robolds charge into the fray, but in a ten-foot-wide corridor, the advantage rested with the PCs, who slaughtered four of the little fellows before finding themselves in a Mexican standoff with the remaining Robolds; Erich had three hitpoints left, Laura had four (as well as missing toes, thanks to a lucky critical hit), and there was no chance in hell of them beating the Robolds.

Deciding that I didn't really want to run any more combat, and that the remaining creatures would be sufficiently intimidated by the demise of their comrades (Erich had torn several apart with his bare hands---not strictly allowed by the rules, but the man had a 16 strength, so what the hell), I had the Robolds surrender, whereupon Erich promptly tied them up and beheaded them, in true heroic fashion: apparently, it had been a long day at the office. Feeling such actions were in the spiritual traditions of the comic that HackMaster is based upon, I gave him the full EP amount.

At this point the PCs returned to town, and the game began to wind down, which when I run a game, also means "began to unravel". A short raid followed their return to Grabnerville by a few days, allowing Erich and Laura to kill the Orc leading the Robolds and survive doing it---though only just barely with the few hitpoints they'd regained. By now we were out of pizza and all of us had work early the next day, so the game clattered to a halt and we began to clean up.

A quick voted decided that we would continue gaming next week, picking up around where we left off. All in all, we did have fun, despite an ignorance of the rules on my part that was virtually pathological.

I'll end this with a few of the more memorable quotes from the session---we're usually funnier, but it's been a while since any of us has gamed:

Laura (explaining to Erich that he automatically knew Common, and didn't need to worry about his skill level in it): This way, you don't have to be the Elvish Yakov Smirnov.

Edward (discussing Grunge Elf cuisine): To a Grel, everything is a spicy hot wing.

Edward (rationalizing an amazingly successful save): Erich is...Erich is suprisingly cool about having his nipples removed.

Erich (attempting to sell a Robold spear): Anybody want a spear? It comes with a free Grel nipple!

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