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Hack For More

WEEK 2: 02/26/04

by Edward McEneely
Mar 16,2004


Hack For More

WEEK 2: 02/26/04

This week, I'm starting out with a cute little "before" and "after" type thing here in the column. Original, I know, but I've always been a maverick. (Sadly, I barrel-rolled my F-14 Tomcat into the tarmac one fine summer morning, or the no doubt Navy would have made me an Admiral by now.) Trailblazing aside, I'm doing this because it should help to highlight the difference between what I plan for as a GM, and what actually happens.

In The Beginning

The adventure was without form, and void. And it, uh, pretty much stayed that way. Look, it's been a long week already, okay? It's a two-hour commute to work, one way, and if I don't get home ASAP, I don't have a lot of time to work up an adventure. Additionally, I'm still smarting from my disastrous attempt at dungeon design last week.

Fortunately, I have myself an out. You see, last week, the PCs were confused with Fangaerian adventurers sent by Lord Gilead to help out the podunk town of Grabnerville; I figure than despite the abominably low intelligence scores that the both of them managed to roll up, they'll realize that it might be a bad idea to hang around waiting for the real heroes (probably a suitably annoying Paladin who with luck will become a recurring character) to show up. This should let me go with a sort of "The Road To Fangaerie"-syle adventure, allowing me to toss in some footpads and a few random encounters, as well as perhaps the first real glimmerings of the campaign's overarcing plot, which sadly I can't reveal here because ERICH AND LAURA STOP READING.


Holy crap, that didn't go very well at all.

One of the major differences between the games I'm used to GMing (mostly GURPS modern-day adventures) and HackMaster is the importance of preparation. With GURPS, it's pretty easy to follow Raymond Chandler's (in)famous advice to throw in a man with a gun whenever things slow down, but level-based systems aren't as friendly to unprepared GMs who improvise on the fly. Additionally, I'm reasonably familiar with the rules of GURPS; HackMaster is still new territory. I tried reading up on the combat system, I really did, but what seems simple in principle is a bear to execute without a lot of work on my part, work that I didn't really spend any time doing this week. As a result, gameplay meandered through a few off-the-cuff encounters before I managed to do anything remotely-connected with setting up backstory.

We began roughly where we left off last week, with the PCs all healed up and getting ready to venture out into Grabnerville's environs once again, when I decided to spring a Real Hero (tm) upon the PCs. Of course, cunningly, I had failed to stat him out, so I ruled he was a Cavalier with an especially annoying Oxbridge accent. One thing lead to another, and as the Cavalier stirred the townspeople up against the PCs, I decided he was secretly a con-man disguised as a hero from Fangaerie.

Now, ideally, Erich and Laura would have fled to regroup, but they insisted (or rather, Erich insisted) upon making a stand. This left Erich in the stockade, Laura on the run, and "Sir Damson Orcslayer" (I don't think well on the fly) with the run of the town.

Now, if they'dve just RUN OFF, like I'd hoped they would, they could've exposed Sir Damson a little later, as he chortled with his band of ne'er-do-wells, but of course they insisted on a little jailbreak which resulted in Erich hacking his way through innocent townsfolk to reach Sir Damson (whose ruse had been spotted by Laura when she went through his saddlebags and found assorted purloined letters), only to watch in amazement as he used a ring of teleportation to escape.

As a certain amount of awkwardness now existed between the party and the townsfolk, Erich and Laura beat feet for Fangaerie, along with loyal(ish) Pete Brenner, their cowardly and surprisingly incontinent henchperson.

A brief digression: I think the ideal size of most gaming groups (fixed at around four players and one GM, for the most part) is in large part a reflection of the ideal AD&D party. You have your fighter, your cleric, your thief, and your magic-user, and if you have more friends than that, you can pick up some backup firepower, like multiclassed elves or something. As gaming "evolved" (or whatever you want to call it) and class-based systems fell into disrepute, gaming groups could quite comfortably work at three players and a GM. Now, personally, I find that between three and five PCs is ideal, and below three (like now) can really put a spanner in the works, especially as a large part of my enjoyment of the game is derived from the PCs interacting amongst themselves. Only two players means more work for me, with less in the way of results. Just my personal feelings, though. At any rate, back to the adventure at hand. Needless to say, I use the term "adventure" loosely here...

Of course, it's hard to roll up random encounters that are truly random if you only have one of the hacklopedias, so I found myself in the unpleasant position of having to make up something on the fly. I decided a bunch of the rogue cavalier's henchmen---disguised as unfortunate pilgrims---would attempt to waylay the PCs, along with a trap so incredibly stupid that I'm ashamed to even describe it here. Suffice it to say it involved a tiny windmill and a multiple-barreled blowgun, and leave it at that. I'm not proud of this, you understand, it just happened.

Erich launched his berserker into the fray, attacking what I decided was an illusion of the villainous Sir Damson (who now, in my head, was perhaps a fiendish Gnome Illusionist, although I wasn't writing that in stone) and demolishing various henchmen. Laura, whose thief didn't have much to do, and who'd had a long day at work, quietly dozed off, which is perhaps not the most stirring testament to my skills as a GM.

I wrapped things up quickly by having most of the henchmen flee from Erich; he did manage to capture one of them, and decided he would bring him with to Fangaerie, where presumably he would stand trial for his crimes.

Here was an opportunity to portray Fangaerian Customs officials, so I saddled the players with lodging fees and currency conversion costs (5/4 rate of exchange) on the Fangaerian border, resisting the temptation to turn the border post into an elaborate con. I figured belief had been suspended above and beyond the call of duty, and that any more and I'd be asking for a d4 to be put where a d4 ought not go.

After a few attempts to find better lodging, Erich and Laura settled in at the mammoth Luvian temple complex in Fangaerie, which offered free room and board to anyone willing to read various pamphlets and listen to an exciting series of sermons on the nature of Redemption.

At this point, Pete the Torchbearer announced his intention to join the Luvian faith (poor Pete had been undergoing a crisis of faith ever since Erich had attempted to cold-cock him earlier in the adventure. Erich had instead managed to get himself knocked out by his terrified underling, who had previously [and without much cause] idolized Erich). This was greeted with mild interest by Erich and Laura, who were now eagerly inquiring about Lord Gilead's negotiations with Ahk-Tang and the Southern Orc League, negotiations which might result in peace for a large portion of Garweeze Wurld.

Needless to say, Erich and Laura immediately decided they should find Lord Gilead and kill him for his Helm of Lordly Might. Since this was at least a step in the right direction (towards the Orcs and what I like to pretend is the "plot") I was reasonably pleased and ruled that we could call it a night.

All in all, this was a pretty dissatisfying session for me as a GM; nothing I had planned went down the way I'd hoped, most of my ideas fell flat, and I still had to wing my way through what feels like an unnecessarily complicated combat system. It's becoming painfully obvious that a game like HackMaster is a lot more effort-intensive for the GM than I expected, and that if I want to run a remotely good adventure anytime soon, I'm going to work pretty hard on it.

Memorable Quotes

Laura (to Erich): You cold-cock your henchman? Erich: I'm calming him down.

Erich (after being knocked out by his torchbearer): Well...that was unexpected.

Erich (Commenting on an NPC's war story): What he's not telling you is that they were chocolate orcs.

Erich (Having just paid 100 GP for a "Cure Light Wounds" that bolo'ed.): I kill somebody. Just on principle.

Laura: I don't think Lord Gilead was ever anything like me. Really.Week X: Three Years Ago

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