Disclaimer: I was a published author and contributor for Columbia Games Ltd for a limited time, and my name appears in the list of contributors in the HârnMaster Religion book.
Game Concept Synopsis
HârnMaster is a fantasy game designed and published for the gaming world of HârnWorld. Published by Columbia Games and initially written by N. Robyn Crossby; it is in its third iteration. The game focuses on skill-based improvement with a combat system that is generously referred to as “lethal”.
It is difficult to talk about HârnMaster without talking about the background (HârnWorld). HârnWorld is the campaign background for a HârnMaster game. The published regions of Harn to 13th century Europe; and is often described as both realistic and detailed. The world map (and world index) strongly suggest that there are other cultures and a much larger map to explore. HârnWorld is a traditional low magic fantasy setting, but the low-magic limitation is a socially imposed one rather than a limiter within the game system.
Stay with any group of people long enough, and you will learn their ways, their customs, and their language. If you already share a language, then you will pick up the “linguistic individualisms” that exist within the group. These tend to come in the form of words and terms, but they can also be gestures, phrases or sayings that trigger to shared knowledge or experience. They help to create a bond and can allow for volumes of information to be passed from one person to another (or a group) in an instant.
“The End.” – with these words, the six-book Pathfinder Adventure Path that my gaming group has spent the last few months hammering through reached its conclusion, and our collective thoughts turned toward the next campaign (if you’re curious, we played Second Darkness, and our ending was uh… let’s just go with “less than a total win”).
And so, this week our group will attend the character making ‘session 0’ for the campaign of our good friend Fealoce, who despite having more than five years under his belt with the group, is still the new guy. I can’t help but assume that this campaign will be long remembered by our troupe, because it has something that no other campaign we have played together in the last decade or so has… a First-Timer GameMaster.
As the GameMaster, your approach to the campaign is obviously significantly different than that of the players. You fight to hold the middle ground between keeping the campaign “on track” while making sure you aren’t “railroading” the players through a linear and ultimately predictable plot. You strive to walk the tightrope of making truly awe-inspiringly bad ass memorable villains, while trying to not fall in love with them yourself so that you aren’t crushed when the players deliver the death blow – which more than likely comes in the most demeaning way imaginable after only a couple of rounds. There’s not much in the way of discovery or exploration for you like there is for the rest of the gaming group. You have the burden of advance knowledge.
If you’ve ever run a game where your ultimate villain got annihilated in two rounds because they were simply overwhelmed by the PCs before they could really do much of anything, then you’ve experienced being on the losing end of the Action Economy in, well… action. Simply put, more actions per round means you get more done, or you accomplish a goal in a shorter span of time. Whatever the objective, “more actions” tends to equate to more success – or at least more chances for success. And so, as the GM it falls to you to manage the Action Economy, as it can have large consequences on the game.
At some point in their career, every GM will inevitably run a mass combat. Maybe it’s all part of the campaign’s grand design – ‘the war to end all wars’; Maybe the battling hordes were supposed to be merely background description for the PCs’ mission and a few bad dice rolls put them in the middle of the jackpot; Maybe the Party kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest and was forced to “call the banners”. Whatever the case, refereeing both the Party’s combat, and the overall battle as a whole can be quite difficult to pull off smoothly.