This is something of a news post from the wondrous world of my hobby head.
It's been a weird week or so since my last post. I've had a period of holiday and then a return to regular. During this time, however, my butterfly-head has fluttered over myriad points of interest.
There are, however, three main things to talk about.
1. Friday GURPS
We returned to the Infinite Worlds campaign using GURPS last Friday. Following the extended "planning" session I reported on in a previous post, we were ready to go and had a fairly fun time.
In short, the group got offered a "rescue mission" in a post-apocalyptic London circa 1940-1945 (for reasons of plot, I can't fully disclose details). They hopped in, began to investigate the missing team and started to follow their trail. At the end of the session they received the "reveal" that the city is inhabited by at least one powerful vampire-like being. One tough fight later, having driven off their attacker, the team regrouped back at the Parachronic Conveyor and returned to base to heal a very badly injured Aaron Faulkner.
Story aside, two major things arose for me as GM.
Firstly, the guys seemed to struggle with the highly powered nature of the threat. They seem to desire, and I quote, "something easier to deal with". This intrigues me somewhat and connects with something I read about in the forward of the Hackmaster Basic rulebook (of which, more later in this post): the idea that many games these days are all about the high-powered abilities of the Heroes against relatively weak or (at best) equally powered opponents.
This led into the second issue that I faced: it takes WAY too long to design a suitable combat foe in GURPS... at least in relation to my free-time allocation for GM prep. Almost two hours spent in designing a concept and then realising it (as it turned out imperfectly) using the rules was an unacceptable burden.
The challenge for me is simple: how do I weigh up spending two hours plus on prepping an encounter with a unique foe only to have the players complain that it was too tough? Their frustration and unhappiness is not what I am seeking... especially having invested such time in prep. And yet...
Obviously I learned something more about the expectations of the players: they want relatively easy victories, at least at this stage of play. My expectations (to challenge and push the heroes to overcome adversaries) are mismatched.
Additionally, my expectations about game prep time are not met by the system. Certainly I can use "off-the-peg" designs for a Vampire... and I certainly consulted some... but that's not the point of using a system like GURPS. The big learning for me from prep is that, while the game suits the group, GURPS does not fit my limited time budget for prep. I'm not sure how to bring that up (given my comments last post about system changes) but it's clear that Infinite Worlds using GURPS is not sustainable by me unless I up the time budget for prep. That is unlikely to be happening.
2. Newbie Pathfinder
The hobby club at school is going from strength to strength.
The Year 11 sub-group, whom I merely give space to, have begun a "Deadlands" campaign using Savage Worlds. This is purely coincidental to my last post as they discovered the system and setting for themselves several weeks ago. The fact that the table had some 6-7 players in attendance was very heart-warming.
On my table, the Pathfinder game saw another outing. The guys began well, investigating the Catacombs of Wrath in the "Burnt Offerings" adventure, but quickly ran into a problem... in short, they allowed themselves to get into a fight against two Sinspawn (nasty creatures) in a very narrow corridor. Not choosing to retreat led to the party being taken down one-by-one... and ending with all unconscious.
There are very cool story-reasons for the heroes not to be killed outright... and they are aware that they are being taken prisoner. And yet... it's never nice to deliver a defeat to your players, even if they did thoroughly deserve it.
One interesting point is that, at the end of the session, although clearly wanting to continue the Pathfinder adventure, some players spoke of a desire to "take a break and play some Warhammer 40,000". I am happy to accommodate the change (especially as we have an additional teacher interested in playing too) but I can't help but wonder if their defeat might work out to be the end of our first adventure.
Time will tell... what I learned is that, one way or another, I strongly believe that bad player decisions should lead to negative outcomes. I didn't know I was so forthright about such things.
3. Discovering Hackmaster 5th
In-between gaming I have been reading Hackmaster Basic, the "5th edition" of the classic old-style fantasy RPG.
I have to be honest and say that I have been highly impressed and somewhat curious to delve deeper. The game is very cleverly designed and makes a lot of sense, at least as far as D&D-style fantasy gaming goes.
The main points are:
The biggest thought gleaned from reading Hackmaster, however, has been the one I alluded to back at the top of the post.... Why do so many games give the players high-power levels these days?
- Character creation rewards taking risks and making hard decisions to restrict your choices so as to create a well-designed and useful hero for work within a party.
- The heroes start off weak and vulnerable. The game rewards clever play with a gentle rise in power levels, which would seem to generate a sense of satisfaction with victories large or small.
- The game has an "old-school" feel and attitude whilst incorporating some of the best of more recent design innovations. One example is that combat scenes operate under the flow of the action, second by second, instead of through artificial "combat rounds"... and this generates a sense of free-play.
- After reading about character creation I wanted to go and roll one up. The game is involving and draws you in. During play there will be much less waiting for your turn because everyone needs to be engaged during play... all of the time!
- The game rewards team play. You are a hero within a party, not a lone wanderer. You are rewarded for playing your part, working together with others. This is a collaborative RPG in a stronger sense than many others.
- This is not a complex system. Hackmaster has moved away from the "we're old school because it's complicated" idea and back towards a more open style. There are rules but they are for making sure things are entertaining, not for the sake of having rules.
We seem to have become increasingly addicted to the "cinematic", high-powered style almost without noticing that it was happening. I have been pondering why... and coming up short of clear answers.
What I have realised, however, is that I am attracted to low-power and more limited scope... at least at first.
In reading The One Ring and Hackmaster it's become clear to me that, as a GM, the more exciting game is one in which the heroes will struggle against relatively simple challenges. Perhaps it's my need to keep prep times low... or perhaps just my preference for "gritty realism"... but I really do feel more sympathy and get more engaged with heroes who are unsuited to the challenge and who overcome in spite of their limitations.
In future, I need to be very careful about where I set the power level. I want to give the players the minimum that they can bear so that their victories taste all the sweeter.
Labels: fantasy, GURPS, news, Pathfinder