Archive for June, 2010
Evening all. I trust you are keeping well. The player behind Felicity ‘Flick’ Sparrow, asked me to have a crack at a character portrait for his Hedge Witch from the Lakes of Pleeiea. So here’s Flick the youthful Hedge Witch. A Hedge Witch, in case you are wondering, is the term applied to ‘witches of the hedgerow’. They are rural village types, with local knowledge, typically skilled also with animals, tracking, nature, weathercraft, foraging and similar. They are ‘wise women’, sort out in times of trouble, when there is illness in the family or when fortunes need telling. Flick is training at the college of Ulris the White, and is a companion of Amberrh of the Cold Wastes and Tillie the Marshlander.
Flick is a hardy type hailing as she does from the Lakes of Pleeiea. She knows how to set a fire, skin and cook a coney, spring a trap and those basic skills Lakelanders rely on day in, day out. Not the sorts of the things the city slicker of a Lankhmarian would be able to turn their hand to if cast out into the wildlands beyond the city of Thieves. I’ve depicted Flick complete with her arcane staff of power (note the curious symbols carved into it). She’s decked out in her all weather head wear. (Yup a pointed hat). This is an acrylic painting on watercolour board and is postcard sized.
Ahem. Evening all. So imagine my surprise and delight when in my e-mail box was a missive from one of the playtesters (Richard) in the second playtest group with some reflections on his playtest experience so far? Yes, you are quite right – most definitely relieved. Here are Richard’s thoughts with zero editing, and I’ll confine my own rejoinders to a post-amble as per usual. Enjoy the clean prose from an unperturbed mind presumably not marinated in unnecessary, obsessive dictionary reading. Unlike my own. Richard plays ‘Flick’ or Felicity Sparrow, and you can read the session summaries of his character play in the Second Group Sessions 1 and 2.
At the risk of further badgering from our long suffering GM/DM/HM (HydraMaster), here’s some idling, musings and fragmentary thoughts regarding Hydra, as experienced from two sessions.
Character Creation: In any game system, it is my contention that proper character creation goes a long way to setting the scene for the game. By investing the time right at the start of a character’s life, the player has a closer bond to their avatar, a handle on how they see the character developing and, I feel, a greater survivability. Any system that glosses over this part has already failed, so Hydra feels a lot like Harnmaster or Runequest and attempts to create a rich back-story from which one can nurture the character into some semblance of authenticity. Without it, characters are just numbers on a piece of paper. I think it’s also Steve’s preference for character creation, as he likes to weave into the back-story to give each character an initial motivation, a friendly shove in the right direction. The whole, visceral feel of just rolling 3d6 specifically for each stat as you go along means you really have to think hard about how they all work together in a coherent fashion – after all, you’re going to have to play this character convincingly, and it is an RPG – the clue’s in the title. I was quite lucky in that I rolled very well except for one attribute, and even then it’s only just below average. Quite what happens when a player rolls half a dozen attributes under 7 remains to be seen. Whilst I accept that PC’s are, almost by definition, out of the ordinary, we shouldn’t preclude the ordinary from having a go at achieving greatness.
Concerns so far? At the moment, and this is just a vague sort of see-what-happens tickle at the back of the brain and that’s equipment and the encumbrance system. Still trying to get a handle on relative carry amounts and tracking it, assessing without recourse to the HM scrabbling through his (impressively) slim line resources. But that’s all I can think of at the moment.
Gameplaying: The game itself has a very free flowing feel to it. The ‘combat’ didn’t revolve around counting hexes/strike ranks/weapon speeds/did he/could he and just happened in a very fluid, organic way. As I understand from the HM, there is a bit more structure when dealing with more typical combats. Overall, it seems to hit the main concerns that Tim and I had as players when we were all discussing our perfect RPG system. I think that the hardest thing to do, as a player and occasional DM of 30 years is the letting go of certain mindsets/concepts. For example, the magic system. Of all the systems I’ve played, the best in terms of playability is Harnmaster. I had to bite my lip in the second session from asking about ‘neutral’ magic etc. My trouble is I’ve played a wizard for a long time and my hubris is that I think I have good ideas about a rationale behind magic. Ultimately though, it’s brought back some of the mystery to RPG’s by stripping away all the mechanics from the players so there’s more time for role playing, not number crunching.
I have to say I am very chuffed to get such positive feedback from Richard’s experience of a couple of games (and pretty shortish one’s too) using the mashed up Hydra. Not sure about the term ‘HydraMaster’ though – sounds like I ought to have some kind of animal handling license. It would be pretty impressive to have an animal handling license for a Hydra! Anyway – I digress. Let me chuck in my rejoinders and comments upon Richard’s reflections. Regarding character creation, the only thing I can pick up on is what might happen if you were to roll up a character with half a dozen attributes under 7. Indeed it remains to be seen – but the character would be played anyway. Statistically you would be hard-pressed to roll up such an relative unfortunate – but it could happen. As a character it would be at a relative disadvantage as a result of the poor stats and harder to keep alive. Harder – not impossible. If you could keep the character alive then you would be able to boost pretty much all those characteristics – as some of the players have started doing for their character’s in the current ‘main’ game. It remains to be seen as to how successful Hydra is in enabling this to happen and how ‘badly’ rolled a character can be and still be nurtured forward into a more heroic figure.
As for Richard’s concerns about the encumbrance system – I share them. Encumbrance has been dialled back in Hydra to be minimally intrusive. We don’t want the past situation of multiple sets of armour profiles and tedious recalculations of combinations of carried stuff. Carry is not just about weight it also contains the notion of carryability – as in somethings are difficult to handle and not just an encumbrance because of their weight. Hydra is not so concerned about movement unless it’s something that needs to be compared against in a chase or a race – so combat is not so affected by encumbrance. Having said all that – you can’t just go ahead and monty haul your character with absolutely everything you can purchase/steal/acquire and carry infinity smerducks back to your base once a game is over. I’m hoping it achieves the right balance but time will tell as the game goes on. So far it’s not played much of a role because no one is burdening their character’s too much.
As for magic – well it’s a very different system I have hijacked for Hydra and as of yet we have only scraped the surface of it. There are more layers and complexities to it then have so far been explored by spell-users in the games so far. So far no one is, I think, even at Spell Level 1, let alone any of the more advanced levels required to progress further into the mysteries of magic use. All of that to come and until it happens I’m not sure myself how well it will stack up against the elegance of Harn Master’s magic system. This will be a collective learning experience! Right – got some bangers and mash to finish off – see you all later. Comments to the usual place. Thanks Richard for taking the time to chuck some comments our way and feel free to write more!
Tillie, Flick and Amberrh are in the almost featureless wetlands of the Great Salt Marsh. They’ve located the “Charnel Cave” and have established that there is a Salt Marsh Leopard in the area from what seemed to be a sizeable paw print. Stood on top of the rocky crag where the twisted tree thrusts into the mist filled sky Amberrh mutters more invectives about how wretched this situation is. She is filled with loathing for the Marsh and is decided, no matter what the consequence, that she won’t stay a moment longer. Amberrh is resolved to return to Lankhmar as soon as possible. Brooding deeply she is almost startled by Tillie’s hand grabbing her shoulder. She points to the huge padding beast below some 50 yards away or so stalking something neither can see. Flick meanwhile is investigating the tree and hunkered down can see nothing, until she sights that the barbarian princess is hefting her bastard sword and making her way to the edge of the outcrop.
Flick focussses upon the symbols of the spell and feels the conjoining of minds as the last words are uttered. Being a beast it is unable to resist, and Flick acts out what she desires the beast to do. As Flick turns and walks away from the cavern entrance so the giant cat pads towards Tillie and Amberrh. As it sees both Amberrh and Tillie though, the creature immediately vanishes from sight. They are forced to sweep their weapons around low on the ground to locate the recumbent cat as Flick lies in the mud wielding the influence over the cat – forcing it to be still.
Eventually they bump into the invisible creature. It growls and rattles it’s throat at the them but allows them to remove several claws from its paws which they do gingerly and with difficulty seeing as they cannot exactly make out what it is that they are doing. Flick starts to feel the edges of the spell collapsing and calls warning. Amberrh and Tillie sprint back to the cave as Flick wields another spell, this time casting mobility upon the pair to speed their retreat. It becomes apparent though as they recover their breaths that the cat is no longer interested in sticking around. It is deadly quiet in the marsh and no counter attack is forthcoming. It is however becoming dark and cold, and the prospect of a night out in the marsh sinks into the bones of all of them.
They decide to spend the night in the cavern. They collect firewood from the twisted tree and have a fire set up in the entrance-way. As the light of the fire springs up so sparkly shapes of the night-sky present themselves daubed upon the cavern wall. Some of them are curiously aligned and Flick endeavours to capture the images with quill and ink. They skirt around the tunnels just to make sure there is nothing untoward or dangerous to interrupt their night’s stay. There seem to be some small signs of passage – perhaps from ogres or similar it is difficult to decipher. Flick uses her skills of spirit sense and determines there are spirits deep within the caves. They light their fire and set a watch. They get as much sleep as they are able and make the most of eggs, bacon and local mushrooms in the morning. Flick, Amberrh and Tillie discuss whether they should further investigate the caverns and although they are intrigued by it are determined to head back to Lankhmar at best pace. The barbarian princess is relieved to be heading back to civilization and curses the muddy dank swampland.
Eventually though, the unlikely trio are headed back to the city stopping first at the crossroads tavern. They stay overnight and rest up. But not before they have learned more about Amberrh’s misfortunes at the hands of Jimmy Fourfingers and the militia and why she is holding out at the edges of the Salt Marsh. Flick agrees to help the pint-pot princess unpick the plot against her. Amberrh and Flick help with a timely diversion so Tillie can liberate some expensive bottles of booze to help line his pockets for life in the city. United by their experiences in the marshland and a desire to make their collected fortunes they are soon rattling along the Great Salt Marsh way in the returning wagon.
A useful point made was that the DM should roll some of the PC skill rolls such as listen and spot-hidden when it is useful for the player not to know immediately from the dice roll whether their skill attempt has been a success or failure. Asking a player to ‘make a spot-hid’ roll, but the roll fails, cues the player into knowning that there is ‘something out there’ that they should have spotted. The DM making the rolls in the background and alerting players when the rolls have been successful, or if distorted and misleading is better then being falsely aware of potential events by making their own rolls.