Today I took the plunge and, using the two heroes I had created for the HackMaster Basic rules that I mentioned last time, ran a combat against a pair of Goblins.
The game was fun, revealed to me the intense coolness that is HackMaster combat, and then... well then...
Then I got to thinking about my own Fantasy Dreams. My musings have taken me to the past, the present and the future.
I started playing Fantasy RPGs back when I was first getting into Secondary School.
I remember that my Dad had bought a copy of the RuneQuest boxed game (early 1980's?) and that whilst he hated it, I ended up coveting it and loving it. Somehow the mysterious and wondrous world of Glorantha appealed deeply to me.
Soon after, once attending high school, I started gaming with my friend Daniel (and several others) and remember my first fumblings with D&D Basic. We played Traveller too and, eventually, Rolemaster. The latter became the fantasy system of choice for me... and the most memorable game was our 24-hour charity game in which we entered the Mines of Moria.
Looking back I feel an intense yearning for a bygone sense of fantastic adventure in very dark, brooding settings. The heroes were comparatively weak (by today's standards) and there was a deep sweetness in surviving from 1st Level (D&D) or the equivalent (in the skills-based systems).
This is an aspect of the gaming experience which seems to have been left behind... and I mourn the demise.
The other major thing for me was that I never had much time for the "high medieval" feel of worlds like Greyhawk. I much preferred the more brutal and "Iron Age" feel of images such as the one on the RuneQuest box cover (above). Sword, spear, shield and little armour appealed more to me... a really crisp sense of danger and society "in the making".
Of course, in time, we moved more and more towards SF gaming in the latter years of school, and eventually we moved on altogether. My hobby became mostly theoretical through University and all the way through my early career with Games Workshop. It wasn't until I arrived in Nottingham that I really got back into the swing of gaming regularly... and we mostly played either D&D (first 2nd, then 3rd Edition) and Alternity for the first few years.
Around 2004 I began to play with the idea of writing my own RPG system. This was mostly the fault of a chap called Mike Mason, who is famed for his writings for Cthulhu. I began tinkering with some ideas for a game system... and also remembering some old "fantasy dreams" (literally) from back when I was around 14 years old.
The dreams featured a world I had sketched out many years ago named "Mykovnia". This was a world in which magick was wild and rare, in which heroes were few and in which (eventually) four "horsemen" had come and crushed the people's under their dark heels. The images were inspired by paintings such as Frazetta's "Death Dealer" (right). As you can see, this was a dark world of relatively low tech and much blood.
In time my game got shelved... but the world continued to nag at me. Unfortunately I tried to bring the world to life in a new campaign and utterly failed to communicate the image that had been in my mind at the start. The project sits in limbo to this day, despite recent attempts to revive it.
One other idea sprang from this recent foray into Fantasy, however, and that is a simple one: Mykovnia is not a single world, such as we might normally imagine. Mykovnia is one of the faces of a larger setting named, "Taran". This idea sprang out of my game development ideas, strangely enough, and is simple to describe.
Taran is a "world" which was the creation of a god and shaped into the form of a massive dodecahedron. Each face of the world is a separate setting in which the inhabitants (for the most part) are unaware of the presence of the other faces of Taran. The Magi, who know more of the secrets of Taran, are the only ones aware of the secret portals by which means people can travel to the other faces.
Why is Taran significant? It gives me the option of developing other settings which connect to Mykovnia whilst being separate from that realm. In short, it allows me to draw more deeply into my own Fantasy realm and develop new campaign ideas.
The only fly in my ointment remains the reticence of players to try something new combined with my own inability to settle on a game engine to bring any campaign to life.
Predicting the future is largely futile. That being said, one thing is certain: I am drawn to Taran.
The idea of a really cool Fantasy campaign really strongly appeals to me. If I could but conjure the magic and spirit of my early gaming experiences then I would be in gaming heaven. Of course... the past is gone, the reality was probably less ideal than I remember, and the players will inevitably be different. Then is not the same as now... and never will be again.
Lest I devolve into despair, however, it occurs to me that there is nothing wrong with experimenting and continuing to develop the ideas that compel me. It doesn't matter if the setting is eventually used with any of a range of systems... the main thing is that I need to allow my creative juices to flow and see where they take me. This is where HackMaster has proven invaluable.
Putting aside the fact that I really rather like the game system, the best pointer from these rules has come from the tone of the writing. The style of Kenzer & Co. is really quite intoxicating to an old-time roleplayer like me. They speak of rolled stats and dealing with the crappy results, of how "fudging" is another word for "cheating", and how the real victory for the player comes from having ones' hero survive first level.
All of this, although wrapped in the Tellene setting (which while good is still high medieval), is adaptable to my own purposes... and inspiring to my hobby soul. It is in the reflection on my gaming over more than 30 years that I realise where I need to come home to.
I'm coming home to Taran... and, ultimately, the Mykovnia that is part of it. Not the spuriously developed and part-realised setting that has failed to inspire thus far, however. No, I am coming home to the true spirit of Fantasy roleplaying that I miss so much.
Taran is a place of adventure and danger. A setting in which small villages and towns cling to the world in spite of the terrors and evils which surround them. The place is dark, mystical and utterly doomed... save for the efforts of a few brave and outmatched heroes.
Here there are swords, spears, shields and only the occasional steel breast-plate. There are monstrous creatures who seek to tear down all order and replace it with carnage and blood-letting. And then there are the Magi... those who seek to master Magick and wield powers that Man was not meant to touch.
And all of this brings me back to wondering what I need to do to bring it to life. I suspect that, initially, it requires little more than to imagine and to write that which bubbles to the surface of my roleplaying dreams.
At the end of this morning, in which I have played and felled Goblins, I have discovered something rich and deep and special. The truth is that, whilst I detest pointless dungeon bashes, I truly love Fantasy roleplaying. And it's to the goal of really enjoying a campaign in the wilds of my beloved Taran that I turn towards my next quest: the building of a new world.
Labels: fantasy, HackMaster, musings, Taran