Some of you who are regular readers here might be aware that I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since I started University.
A few months into studying, my housemates and I decided to attend the Supanova Pop Culture convention in Brisbane. It was there that we spotted amongst the various shelves of gaming and collectibles, and libraries of comics: a red box. Some might even say THE red box. A treasure chest of funny shaped dice and books that told us of both myth and mechanics. Our lucky adventurers each shelled out the few coins we had left from the day and eagerly took ownership.
We returned home with our prize, eagerly discussing the various scenarios and adventures that we would see ourselves on. But we could only imagine a fraction of what was to come. All of the laughter, the excitement and the tears. We formed friendships and bonds through shared imagination and storytelling that will last forever. We built worlds that we could revisit each week, that were more real to us than any television or gaming franchise. Because our actions impacted on that world, we had real power there.
Being my usual cautious self, I decided to dive right in. I wanted something comfortable to test the waters, Goblins would do nicely, and then I wanted to give it my own unique flare. I had the two players start in individual places and meet in a fight club like tavern. The stage was set, adrenaline was running and the battle started…and was then over. Complete TPK.
We laughed it off, and tried again. It would be almost a year of false starts and hilarious situations before I finally got the correct balance. A year well spent, I might add. But each time I learnt something more about the game, and about my storytelling style. My style was to bring my players to incredibly dangerous situations, where their every move could get each other killed. To fight unique and interesting creatures (my Titanous Cyclopes with a beholder-like head that they fought on the back of skeletal pegasi was a particular favourite), and to give them opportunities to feel like what they did made all the difference. Sometimes they would fall. But they learned, adapted, and triumphed over the challenges in front of them. So when Game Natural contacted me about their upcoming game, Hunters Mark, it hit every damn spot in my geek brain.
Naturally (get it?) I said yes to an interview with game designer Gary Simpson. Actually I said a few more words as I jumped around screaming at the top of my lungs – but it all equated to yes.
For those of you out there who haven’t heard of Hunters Mark yet, “Hunters Mark is an adventure/campaign sourcebook for 5E with an over the top storyline about monster hunters.” Picture the Monster Hunter videogame series but in kickass tabletop form.
What makes it unique from other roleplaying products is that “whereas most RPGs focus on characters being adventurers, Hunters Mark has players be monster hunters. It’s a subtle but distinct shift away from “save the world” tropes into more action-oriented gameplay.” I mean seriously, picture the guild halls you could build into your world. Picture the depth of character and NPC interactions as you return from an epic hunt. Ah!
But what makes this challenging? What are the risks? If I’m about to leap head first into danger, what do I need to weigh and consider? Gary (we’re on a first name basis now. We’re tight) told me “Character death is a very real thing in Hunters Mark – if you pick monsters to hunt that are out of your league, your hunter isn’t going to last long. There is a lot of tense moments.” You know… I can see how that may cause some of my cautious players to reconsider their actions. But not me. It makes the risks real, and the rewards greater.
I wanted to know more about the creation process for these creatures. Given that they’re such a core element to Hunters Mark. Gary said “We made a monster builder that ramps monsters into bosses that you would see in video games. This isn’t an inflation of damage or CR – we were very careful with everyone crying out that a monster is over-powered. Instead, we made the monsters react in more deadly ways. For instance, we introduce Primal Actions, so when a monster is wounded it can go into a raging beast mode. My favourite is the Crucible Scorpius, a giant desert crab-scorpion creature that skews hunters. For a lot of players, this is the monster that wiped out the whole party. This hunt forces everyone to work as a team.”
I’ve always been a fan of crafting mechanics in games. When I played SWTOR a little while back, I was that annoying guy that would run off every time he saw crafting materials. The fact that the Kickstarter mentioned crafting is honestly on the top of my priority list (which is why I almost burst asking other questions first). Gary said “the core of it (crafting) revolves around defeated monsters giving spoils. Hunters can use these spoils to repair and craft new gear such as weapons and armour. You want better gear, you need to go hunt the tough monsters to get it.” I really want to know what the Cruicible Scorpius gives…
In my Dungeons and Dragons sessions, I’ll often use Facebook to roleplay through downtime. Maybe the party finds itself at a tavern or maybe they’re camping under the stars. It gives the party a chance to explore more of their character’s personality and tell tales of their past. In Hunters Mark, the Kickstarter mentions players doing things in their downtime. Gary spoke some more on whether this would be during a session or in between: “Both – we know that gaming groups like to do both. There are a number of downtime activities available for hunters from crafting new gear, researching monsters, raising guild pets… You can even build a guild hall and add new monster bounties to the bounty board.” … Build. A. Guild. Hall? There is not an emoji with a large enough mouth to properly capture how hard my jaw hit the floor.
Given that I’d been talking about Hunters Mark so much at home, I happened to mention to my girlfriend that there would be guild pets. As someone who took ‘speak with animals’, plays a nature cleric and gets super excited at the prospect of animal companions (the party already had a Ranger). So in order to save my relationship (and totally not because I’m super into cute and deadly animals), I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask Gary when I had the chance. “So, guild pets are monster companions that can go on hunts with your hunter. These companions are either captured monsters or raised in the guild. Hunters that devote downtime to taking care of pets can help the guild pet improve. Getting ready to take on a tough monster? A loyal guild pet has got your back.”
All of this begged the question however. Why Dungeons and Dragons? Why not set Hunters Mark in Pathfinder or Fate Core? And how did this alter the design process? Gary explained that “5E has two things; great fanbase and great core system. Not knocking other systems, but for Hunters Mark to see the light of day those two things are critical. The biggest difference in the (design) process (from other games) is circling back to what 5E already has rules for. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. When we work on the Hunters Mark ruleset, we are very critical on if 5E already covers it.”
With all the above, my last question was more out of professionalism. I cannot wait for this game. And if you’re anything like me, we’ve got a bandwagon with Hunters Mark written across it that we’re going to be jumping on. But if you need some final convincing, why should people back Hunters Mark? “Community feedback is critical to a game and Kickstarter is the most direct way a player can help shape the game. By backing Hunter Mark, you are saying that this is what you want to see come out and that’s important in this industry.”
Hunters Mark has been successfully funded! Campaign ends 19 September 2016.
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