Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Cow in the Attic

One way I enhance immersion is add a healthy dose of realism to the campaigns I run. In one infamous incident I went way way overboard.

Harnmaster is one of the view specialized RPGs I like. It is focused on running low fantasy campaign in a medieval setting namely Harn. The best part of Harnmaster is it's combat system. It is one of the few combat rulesets I seen that manages to pull the players into the game.

The trick is that it doesn't have hit points. Instead each successful hit deal so much injury. The injury act as a negative modifier to your subsequent attributes rolls (varying d6s) and skill rolls (percentile). If nothing else bad happens you will be reduced a shambling wreck barely able to lift your sword.

The really bad stuff happens with the individual blows. When you get hit the injury that you inflict caused the victim to make various saving throws against their attributes, unconsciousness, dismemberment, shock, and yes death are some of the possible results. The attributes rolls are effect negatively by your current injury levels so it is unlikely you will be dead before reaching the shambling wreck level.

The clunky part of this system is having to record each hit you take. Mainly because the healing rules involve treating individual wounds instead of getting a chunk of hit points back. Also you absolutely need the one page combat chart. Luckily it is a marvel of graphic design and snap to use. The armor system is detailed and something you don't setup on the fly. It involves adding up different values for a lot of hit locations. However this is all work before the start of play.

However despite the chunkiness of having to record each wound this the mechanic that really immerses the player into the game. The combination of knowing what type of damage that was inflicted (blunt, slashing, piercing, etc), the detailed listing of hit locations, and exact severity of was done to your character's poor body just pisses yes pisses off the player.

Again in actual play that marvel of a combat chart makes it quick to resolve actions. So the player quickly know that he just got slashed in the upper biceps. Or got a severe bruise in the upper chest that left him winded. The accumulated effect is that your enemy is out to get you and by god you are going to get him back.

Oh right the cow story

Well I ran two successful Harnmaster campaigns in college. When I returned home I thought I could interested my group back in Meadville. This was after we quit using Fantasy Hero 1st edition and before we started used GURPS. I was trying out multiple RPGs on everybody and rightfully so they were getting tired of it.

So relucently two of my oldest friend D and Boris the Bagger agreed to try Harnmaster.

A short background note here. Harn is mostly wilderness. Culivated regions are clustered into several small areas.

The players started in the Kingdom of Kaldor in the eastern part of Harn. The first part of the adventure went off relatively well. They had a few fights and like the previous campaigns the combat system really drew them in.

I don't remember the reason for this but it wound up they had go west to the Trobridge Inn. The Trobridge Inn is halfway on the Salt Route between Kaldor and the western realms of Harn. Several days into the wilderness. To be fair they did heed my warning about stocking up. However the price lists of Harn are just as brutally realistic as the combat and there was only so much they could buy.

During the journey to the Trobridge Inn, they got caught by bad weather (randomly rolled). The Salt Route became muddy and soon they were looking at a journey a lot longer then they planned.

One of the player had a decent tracking skill. So they decided to hunt before starving.

In one of the Harnlore magazines there is a niftly little hunting system. Basically you have a chance of finding a trail, the trail is rated in the number of hours old it was, you also rolled for what made the trail. Every four hours you rolled your tracking skill and success will reduce how old the trail was. When you hit zero you found what you were tracking.

Well it may be a niftly little game within a game but a combination of failed and medicore dice rolls meant this went way longer than it should have. For the next two days they followed this animal's trail exhausting their supply of food.

Finally they got the number down to zero and was able to track down what they were following.

A cow.

The two turned to each other and looked back to me. "Rob, this is absolutely the stupidiest game you ever ran. We are never going to play this again. You had us nearly dying to track down what! A cow!"

This incident had a powerful effect on my later style. I will explore this more deeply in a later post. But the short answer is that prior to this incident I was a realism junky, afterwards I started examining why I using realism and more importantly what my friends really wanted out of the game.

This change did not happen overnight, it took several years and one more infamous incident (this time at a boffer LARP) to ram the point in.


Nick said...

Hey, I wouldn't have been disappointed. A cow would've been easy to take down, and would've provided plenty of food.

Maybe they should've given up on that trail after so many bad rolls, though.

Zachary Houghton said...


Will Douglas said...

Nick, I think the very definition of adventurer is someone who simply will not give up. At least, that's what I've seen in actual play.

I'd have loved a cow after the rations were gone -- steak today and jerky for the rest of the trip!

Good stuff, Rob; glad you have this blog so I can hear the old stories. I love 'em.

James Mishler said...

Well, they were better off than my group... down to only a few hit points after a massive battle against Big Bad Guys, and having lost their rations, the party went hunting. They found a small black bear and drooled at the thought of bear bacon. Unfortunately, they did not count on multiple fumbles and the bear getting in multiple crits... two characters died against this wee black bear and the others fled.

Andrew said...

Yeah, tell us the rest of the story! Did the players quit whining long enough to kill the cow??

faoladh said...

I realize that this is an older post, but I am reading back in your blog. Anyway, I don't understand the problem. The characters were tracking down food and they found some, what was the matter with that? Cows are made out of meat. Meat is food. Did the players think that cows were invented by people, and so don't exist in the wilderness? Were they roleplaying picky eaters?

Unknown said...

I must be living under a rock or two because it seems to have taken me over eight years to have found this post and what a great post it was and worth the long wait.

I'm thinking the cow would make a great interruption to any adventure, this is the adventure: kill the cow and take it back into town to get it dressed and sell the meat and eat well yourselves.