July 8, 2010

A Day Trip to Origins 2010: Part 3 – Demoing HackMaster Basic and Savage Worlds

I made good use of my day pass and played quite a few games in the Exhibit Hall.  The first  game I tried was HackMaster Basic by Kenzer and Company.  I’m a sucker for Dwarven Forge setups, and their demo caught my attention right a way (ha, well that and it was right by the door). 

HackMaster Basic made quite a stir with classic gaming fans when it hit the shelves and I was eager to try it.  First off, I quickly learned that James over at Grognardia was right in that there is little “basic” about it. I’ve since learned that it’s called “Basic” because a more complete “Advanced” version is forthcoming. 
Despite the classic look and obvious homage to classic D&D, it’s definitely its own game.  For example, combat is counted off in seconds, not rounds.  That is, player turns happen by the second rather than by the round.  This is kind of cool because it can resolve certain questions rather easily.  For example, how far can I climb in a second? The GM and the player should be able to agree on that pretty easily.  “Sure, you can get on the table, but not climb that wall.”

So your initiative roll indicates at which second you start. The GM counts up and you act when the count gets to your roll result.  The interesting spin thereafter is that you can act any second after that. So if you start at the 5th second, you can act on the 6th second, the 7th and so on, even if that second is someone else’s turn. If I recall correctly, ties are resolved by some kind of initiative score.  I can’t recall exactly.  Weapon speed determines how quickly you can attack again and you can’t necessarily attack on each turn.  For example, if your initiative is 7 and your weapon speed is 5, you can first attack on the 7th second, but can’t attack again with that weapon until 5 seconds later (i.e., the 12th turn). 

There were other intricacies too, such as how one’s shield comes into play, etc.  In general, it was a very detailed system and it seemed to involve a lot of book-keeping.  It was a neat system, but easily as complex as D&D 3.5.  The combat rules made a lot sense, but seemed to aim at being so realistic that they would result in a very slow game. Kenzer has free quick-start rules, so you can decide for yourself (although they seem more about character creation than actual play).  I have come to believe that less is more (hence the appeal of Castles & Crusades), so I can’t imagine playing this game regularly, or buying the rule book for that matter. I certainly would be up for giving it another whirl at a convention again, though.  

Next up was Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.  I’ve been curious about this game for a while. Their booth was in the dead center of the hall and had two very spiffy demo tables.  I saddled up to one and asked if I could play.

The guy running the demo did a great job (I wish I could remember his name) and I was quickly knee-deep in a Savage Worlds: Deadlands scenario, my gunslinger rushing up a cliff face to save his lady love from evil cultists.

I skimmed the free Test Drive rules a year or so ago, so I had a basic understanding of the system.  Instead of attribute scores, characters assign a die to each attribute (from a d4 to the d12), with the larger the die, the better score.  You have to love that the forlorn d12 gets its due and is sort of the “18” of the game.   Combat and task resolution are straight forward: you roll the appropriate skill, which is based on an attribute die, and if you beat the target number, you succeed. Typically a 4 or better is a success (naturally, various modifiers apply). 

What makes the game mechanic fun is that major players in the game, that is player characters and heavy duty NPCs, are “Wild Cards” and therefore get to roll an extra d6 for just about any roll (except damage, I think).  The player can pick the better of the two dice (they don’t add up).  Also, there is an “exploding die” mechanic, so if you roll the highest number on a die, you get to keep rolling it, adding the rolls together. If you beat a target number by 4, you get a “raise,” and extra cool stuff can occur (depending on the purpose of the die roll). 

All of this adds up to a damn fun mechanic.  I guess that is what sets it apart.  The Savage Worlds’ dice mechanic is simply fun.  There is something about the wild die, the raises and the exploding dice that gives Savage Worlds an extra oomph that makes you eager to see what you roll.

I enjoyed the demo so much that I bought the Savage Worlds: Explorer Edition book (hell, it is only $10).  I’ve been giving it a good read-through. In some ways, Savage Worlds feels a bit like a d20 game without the d20.  For a game that is known for being simple, it has just as many modifiers and such as d20.  I was particularly surprised that the rulebook repeatedly emphasizes that miniatures and a battle-mat should be used.  That being said, there are no attacks of opportunities and nothing really seems to slow down combat to the extreme that d20 mechanics can. 

Savage Worlds has garnered a strong following and I can see why. [Christina Stiles is working on “savaging” her SpirosBlaak d20 setting into a Savage World one.]  I would love to run a campaign that would really put this RPG through its paces.  Since it’s a universal system, I would love to run some kind of time traveling campaign in which the each PC is from whatever time period the players wish and then run them through scenarios in the past, present, and future.  Anyhow, I highly recommend it. 

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