Sunday, October 17, 2021

Nobody Runs By-the-Book and You Don't Necessarily Have to Play BTB Either

Nobody Runs By-the-Book and You Don't Necessarily Have to Play BTB Either
Believe it or not I actually put some thought into these Sunday posts.....usually a couple days even. Unfortunately a lot of thought doesn't always translate into a well-written post, but I'm not looking for validation today. I mention this because it seems to me most of my posts come across as stream-of-consciousness how I think of things, and I doubt today will be much different.

Now I know that I keep coming back to my favorite RPG system being HackMaster and over the last couple of days I've been thinking that 1) my gaming friends have to be getting tired of hearing that and 2) while clearly I'm a fan, maybe I'm not being true to myself.

First off, I fully admit that I'm a big-time rules-lawyer as a player. I really try to not be a dick about it, but I'm sure there are times I am the biggest dick about it. As a rules-lawyer I'm going to gravitate to crunchier game systems. Now HackMaster 4th Edition was crunchy as fuck. Seriously, it was a nightmare at times and GMing the game could be a HUGE pain-in-the-ass. HUGE!

Not sure I've mentioned this at the Tavern before, but generally speaking whenever I play a new rules-system I make my first character an archer. Not a fighter, but specifically an archer. I'm sure this probably goes all the way back to my 1E days, but it gives me a basis of comparison.

Now in HackMaster 4E if your wanted to be a Longbow Archer you kind of sucked compared to ANY other missile weapon specialist, and if you wanted to fire into combat, the best way to do it went like this: You'd tell the GM that you wanted to specifically shoot your (melee) engaged party member's left pinkie toe. The GM would calculate the odds of you targeting your ally (who the arrow would hit if the attack was successful) and if successful, then all the penalties for trying to hit that left pinkie toe would come into play and odds are you'd never make the shot.....but if you did a crit and managed to actually land the shot.....bye-bye pinkie. If the GM determined you weren't going to hit your ally, then those penalties didn't apply.

Now I was able to re-write that bit of the rules as a successful submission to Hackjournal, but that's a different story.

After thinking a lot about not just HackMaster, but how I like to play I have come to the realization that I like the crunchy details, not necessarily the rules. HackMaster just happens to have hit my sweet spot, but I don't actually sit around in other games wishing I was playing HackMaster instead. My favorite game is pretty much whatever game I can get into. Sure, I have had issues with some systems....D&D 3.5 only bugged me with the book-of-the-month club and that I felt like I *had* to have my character's mid and higher levels already figured out before I picked my skills and feats or I'd be behind the power curve, as it was. Now my main D&D 3.5 GM was the real problem I had with that game, but again....another story (some of which I've shared already).

I've liked playing DCC, MCC, CoC, and a bunch of odd one-offs.....and I'm coming around to the idea that pretty much every game is some kind of "one-off", even if it runs into a multi-year campaign. Think about it, there seems to be about a million variations of B/X floating out there: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Old School Essentials, Pacesetter's BX RPG, etc.....I'm assuming that pretty much every GM runs their very own version of the game, especially when it comes to retro-clones, which is why there are so many versions out in the wild.

Outside of HackMaster I've yet run into a GM running a game 100% by the book. My current home game is a B/X game where the GM runs all kind of home-brew rules. I can't really comment one way or another on the quality of the home-brew, but I haven't really seen anything that I didn't think worked. To be honest, I don't always pay attention to the GM explaining his rules and even though I've read some of them I actively try to "forget" stuff that doesn't apply directly to my PC.

This game has really been a bit of a paradigm shift for me as a player. I'm used to knowing all of the rules and figuring out the best way of doing X, Y, or Z. That was fun for me, but there was no mystery, just an exercise in trying to be the smartest guy at the table (which doesn't happen much, but it's the attempt that's important) and trying to roll well, which can be important in a competitive tournament. I'm not playing in tournaments and don't plan on doing so in the future. I've had much more fun sitting back and figuring shit out in the moment and generally rolling with the game as it is presented. It helps that my GM runs a lot of custom monsters and tries out new rules on us before he commits them for publication.

Of course this particular style of playing is a lot more laid-back than I'm used to and despite my best efforts I'm sometimes jonesing for a bit more crunch. The thing is, and this has been an evolving concept, I don't necessarily need my GM to provide that crunch on a plate for me. In my game I'm playing a Magic User and the GM is happy enough knowing I have a spell book. According to my PC sheet my spellbook is a Guild Duodecimo: 4 5/8" x 7 1/2" in size and 9" thick. It has 92 parchment pages and a calfskin cover. The whole thing weighs 1.5 pounds (encumbrance is 45 coins). My spells are:

  • Read/Write Magic (Pages 1-2)
  • Read Languages (Page 3)
  • Sleep (Pages 4-7)
  • Magic Missile (Page 8)
  • Hold Portal (Pages 9-12)
  • Ventriloquism (Pages 13-15)
  • Protection from Evil (Pages 16-19)
  • Magic Mirror (Pages 20-21)
  • Knock (Pages 22-25)
  • Condone (Pages 26-28)
  • Web (Pages 29-35)
Now I really need a travel/secondary spellbook, but I'll take care of that when we have some downtime in-game. I also have a captured spellbook I need to figure out as well....

Yeah, so it just now occurred to me that while clearly I don't mind doing a little extra on my end to enhance my enjoyment of the game, I don't want to be "that guy". You know "that guy", you might have met him/her once or thrice, maybe in a pickup game...probably not in your regular gaming/friend group, but you never know. If for some reason you don't know who I'm talking about, count yourself lucky. "That guy" gets a little too deep into their PC, which is ok (I guess) until they present the GM with a 15 page backstory of their PC, complete with motivations, aspirations, and extended friends & family list.

If you want to add a bit to your game, go nuts, just don't...well go "nuts" and become "that guy". I don't expect my GM to care what's on page 13 of my spellbook, but if he asks I can push up my glasses, adopt a nerdish lisp, and tell him.


  1. I'd probably classify as "that guy." I've been playing The Iron Realm podcast in its Roleplaying Campaign, and my Chapter 13 (after listening to the Chapter 13 cast) is running at 30 handwritten pages right now. The podcast has just publicly released episode 100, so it looks like I have a lifetime game ahead of me! I can only imagine how many pages my RP will be all told!

    I burned out as a player in VTT's after a solid stint in Pathfinder 2e OP and all three of Frog God Games' OP branches (including their PF 1e branch and some of their Disorganized Play) and a helluva lot of 2020 VTT con play of one-shots in all sorts of rules systems that I knew nothing about. I started detailing an Aleslops family for my Frog God games with each family member featuring in different branches of the OP and non-OP, several with multipage backstories.

    We'll see how long I last as a GM in person at upcoming Seattle conventions when I'm trying to digest these giant rulebooks! I will note that I ran Mythic GM-less at PAX West 2021 with the hope of not having to digest the rulebooks and be the GM, but then everything is going to feel like Mythic, so there went that idea except for using that system to learn through solo play if I ever get caught up on typing my Character Eight tales for The Iron Realm (Chapter 10, 22 pages, took me about two months to get done typing it up and editing it before sending it over to The Maze Master, and I have yet to start typing Chapter 11 over two months later).

    Anyway, solo seems to be working great for me as a player, and as "that guy," I'll probably just keep going deeper and deeper until I end up like character Robbie Wheeling (played by Tom Hanks) in Mazes and Monsters, hopefully having exactly that perspective on life and not really being in touch with reality anymore (except that I probably will just realize how much time I sink into writing my roleplay as opposed to playing through PC game iterations as I did in the past; maybe I'll fanfic my way into being some sort of popular fanfic author if anyone likes my material when it broadcasts on future episodes of The Iron Realm).

    While I try to be a rules lawyer as a GM, it often goes out the window as you suggest. In my longest homebrew campaign, 3.5e Planescape, there is a branch in which the PCs have all been brought back to life as wights. Every time I see those 3.5e rules about not being able to bring the characters back if they're unwilling, and that they're destroyed at 0 hit points, I think to myself, "Well, this plot isn't going to work then." I mean, I'm following the rules in Libris Mortis that allow the PCs to play undead, and they start out with none of their Wight abilities without a lot of leveling up, so what would be the fun for them if they were to die outright without a hope to continue?

    So in the story there is a grimweird necromancer who sees something in them and will continue to revive them, provided that they play by his rules, and the title of this campaign arc is "Betrayal," so one player goal is sort of in the title, if that's where they decide to go. The PCs are dealing with a curse of undeath, described in a third-party book, Alderac Entertainment Group's Undead ("The Long Road Home," p. 25) and have been cast in the archetype of Undead Servitors (based on "Zombie Servitors," p. 105). Hey, I look for the legal loopholes where I can find them!

  2. How about this? Archer has to make an attack roll. If he hits, he hits. If he misses, he misses. If he rolls a one, he hit his friend by mistake.

    1. Venger, I always love your simple rulings!

      In rereading that portion of Christopher's comment, I'm wondering why he would bother trying to hit his ally when attacking into combat, just because it has the best odds of hitting, which he suggested were next to nil. I'm guessing that he was just explaining the ridiculousness of the HackMaster 4e crunch that the Longbow specialist might as well attack an ally in order to score *any* hit if the GM is following the RAW since most likely melee buddies are *always* going to be engaged.


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