I keep telling myself that I really must make more of an effort with this blog!!

Anyway, I’m taking a breather whilst on my honeymoon (Sprout is asleep and TLC is taking a well-earned rest, while I’m typing from my mobile in an attempt to put that right).

As many of you know, I’m a huge roleplay fan. At the moment I am playing GURPS 4th edition, set in space and using the Ultra-tech rules. It’s a lot of fun, but when our DM took a holiday a few weeks ago (the selfish swine) the group wanted to continue playing something…. Which left us in a bit of a dilemma…… Should someone else take over the campaign and risk side tracking the story (and potentially get the characters killed), or should we miss three precious weeks of gaming????

Luckily, I’d recently picked up a copy of Hackmaster 5th edition players handbook, by Kenzer & Company, as well as their “Hacklopedia of Beasts” (which is a beautiful book in its own right) whilst I was looking for a roleplay with a real “old school” feel to it – I cut my teeth on AD&D 2nd edition, but have played 3.5 for years and have recently become really disenfranchised by the system, the point build method that we used and the “power gaming”/ min-max game play that it seemed to create. This really came to a head after I read a great article on the “Known World, Old World” blog about the “pathetic aesthetic” and I realised that I was desperate to try a different direction.

Thankfully, I was able to convince most my usual group to give it a go (this was a pretty big step, as most of them are pretty wedded to the system and don’t like new things, or reading rule books for that matter!) Now, like with most RPG’s character creation takes an age in Hackmaster. It uses a great mix of the traditional 3d6 stat generation and point buy methods, which I really liked and which pretty much ensures that each character will be (at least marginally) different.

To speed things up (and to test out the character generation system) I rolled up and built around a dozen various first level characters and offered them to my players (these were only “throw away” characters anyway), they were complete with quirks/flaws which provided a bit of extra colour to the characters (as well as a few badly needed building points) – in the end they opted for:

  1. a Dwarf fighter “tank” (i.e. very high defence), with a great warhammer and a medium shield.
  2. a Dwarf fighter with a battle axe and small shield
  3. an Elven Mage with his trusty staff
  4. a Human cleric armed with a mace
  5. a Human barbarian armed with a battle axe and medium shield

The Dwarves were armed with their racial weapons so were able to buy weapon talents at a much cheaper price compared to the rest of the team. Also, fighters can buy specialisations cheaper than other classes (not to mention that they ended up with more build points to start with – Hackmaster provides you extra build points if you don’t move your starting stat rolls around too much) – these factors combined to make their attack scores pretty good compared to either the barbarian or the cleric (a minor point of contention – but that’s the way the cookie crumbles!!)

Now, Hackmaster is a pretty complex game if you use all the available rules (probably too complex if, like my players, you’ve not read the rule books!) so I decided to introduce them to the system very gently. I set the game in Games Workshop’s “Old World” setting (and I made the Cleric a follower of Sigmar), with the players traveling north through Wissenland, along the river Soll on their way to Nuln. I told them that they had left Geschburg a day or so ago, that they were one days march away from Wittenhausen, it was September (or the Empire equivalent) and the weather was good (so far). They were also carrying with them a sack containing 3 goblin heads and 6 pairs of goblin ears (I thought a bounty on goblins would be a good way to give them a little starting cash to buy the supplies they would need for the next leg of the journey – you see dear reader, I’m a nice GM to my neophyte adventurers).

The province of Wissenland
In order to make the introduction nice and easy I made their first encounter a bunch of 14 Goblins who had ambushed a cart in the road and were in the middle of ransacking it when our brave adventurers arrived in the scene. Now, using goblins provided me with a couple of advantages for a introductory session – first of all, they are pretty weak and therefore they would be quite unlikely to slaughter the players out of hand (even if they were outnumbered around 3:1) – especially with the dwarf’s to hit bonuses against greenskins. Also, because I armed the goblins with a mix of short swords and short bows I didn’t have to worry about the shield breakage rules to any great extent (whilst it would have been possible for a hit to destroy a character’s shield, it was so unlikely that I didn’t play the rule this time).

Needless to say, the players tore through the goblins like a chainsaw through a bag of wet kittens, one of the greenskins managed to escape, but the rest were cut down in a little under a minute (Hackmaster uses a great “count-up” system where each count is one second) with very little in the way of injuries on the player’s side. Even though the fight ended up very one sided I was able to show them several great aspects of the game, namely:

  1. critical hits and near perfect attacks
  2. fumbles
  3. perfect and near perfect defence
  4. armour damage
  5. penetrating damage.

This last one is my favourite (although I do like to see a players face when you tell him that he needs to pay to have his armour fixed) if a weapon rolls its maximum on its dice, you subtract one from the roll, roll it again and add the number into the first roll (continuing if you roll maximum again….), and with weapons like a battle axe rolling 4d4 damage (opposed to 1d8 in dnd 3.5), this makes even low level enemies a threat and means that they can be used a lot longer than in games like dnd 3.5 (ask yourself, in 3.5, after level 4 how often do you meet a run of the mill Orc?), as such there is less of an “arms race” between the players and the GM, which was a real must for the “pathetic aesthetic” game I had been searching for!

All in all it was a really enjoyable session, both for me as the GM and the players. We played a second session a week or so later, which I’ll write up in my next post – this one was a lot harder and nearly ended their adventuring careers a little earlier than I had envisaged. I’ll also post up some tools I built for the game, including:

  1. a random encounter generator, based on the Hacklopedia of Beasts (habitat, frequency, etc)
  2. a weather generator, based on climate – including environmental factors/hazards and effects, based on information in the Game Master’s Guide.
  3. rules for infections, based on the excellent Winds of Chaos website
  4. A count tracker (which I found really useful for keeping track of what my monsters where doing)
  5. A town generator – the towns my players are visiting are meant to be real working communities, locals are not simply waiting around to sell equipment to passing adventurers – not every village will have a weapon-smith or the shops that my players need. This generator provides a selection of occupations that are undertaken in the town – some of which they may find useful, some of which they won’t.

That’s it for me for now, I’m off to enjoy newly married life until I have to return to reality,

Until next time