Friday, November 26, 2010

Combat (and more) in the Hollow Earth

Submitted for your approval, Daily Blog Challenge post 26.

As promised, I'm here to talk a little bit about the combat rules in Hollow Earth Expedition. I'm plowing through the rule book to prep for running a demo game for friends. Talking about the game the other day piqued some interest around the table, so I volunteered to try to sort out the rules and give it a go...

The Combat chapter starts with an overview of the combat turn, which should look pretty typical for most gamers. Roll initiative, take some actions, make an attack and defense, calculate damage, rinse, repeat if necessary. Initiative is handled by the players rolling a number of dice equal to their initiative number. The player with the most successes (even numbers on the dice) goes first, then the player with the next highest, etc, until everyone goes, then the next turn starts. There is an optional set of rules for "Continuous Combat" which mimics the initiative rules in Hackmaster Basic and Aces & Eights, where different types of actions take different lengths of time. It helps equalize fast, but light damage weapons, like daggers with slower, big damage weapons, like great swords. Fast weapon fighters might get off an extra attack or two before the slow weapon fighter gets to swing again. It's an interesting concept, but there is no way I'm going to try to include it in my demo game. Too much to track for new players and a new GM.

In combat, players are able to move, attack, and defend each round. There are a wide variety of options for attacking including aiming, calling shots, charging and disarming. It all makes logical sense, but it's a bit more complicated than I would have assumed, based on the 10 minute demo I played at Origins and the flavor of the earlier text in the book. "Complicated" might be the wrong word here? Maybe "crunchy" is the better term. Granted, compared to something like Hackmaster Basic or 4th edition D&D, this looks like a breeze. Certainly not an exercise in tactical miniature war-gaming crammed into an RPG, but it makes me wonder if it will slow down the action at all. I guess I was expecting this section to be a bit more "rules-light", in line with the Rules and Intro chapters. My players don't have the rule book, so explaining all the combat options will be tedious. Hopefully, they will come up with creative ideas that mimic the options in the book, and I can referee as appropriate. I realize I can modify what is here for a more cinematic feel, stripping a lot of the special abilities and actions in combat.

I don't know of there is an intent to use a battle mat in combat, but I don't think so...It's never reference in the combat section (at least that I noticed), but there are a lot of references to distance, both in range of weapons and effects of certain attacks and damage. Maybe I'm just so used to playing with a mat in the newer editions of D&D, that I have a harder time thinking about these things in an abstract sense. I didn't plan on using any minis to play the game, but maybe we'll end up using some if we run into a more detailed combat scenario. I'm certainly not opposed to using them, but I sometimes feel like players get to attached to the minis and it strips the cinematic qualities out of the scenario. It turns into a lot of counting and jockeying for position, rather that high action and adventure.

The damage, wounds and healing sections move back to keeping things fast and loose. Instead of requiring extra dice to determine damage, the character suffers the difference between the attacker's success count and his/her defense success count. If you go below zero, you are dying. If you go below -5, you are dead. Wounds heal slowly (non-lethal = 1 per day, lethal = 1 per week), but medical attention and first aid can speed it up. The chapter also has sections on environmental hazards, diseases, poisons, and other threats to character health (falling, electrocution, fatigue, exposure, and fire, for example).

Following the combat chapter, there is a chapter on equipment, with weapons, armor, exploration gear, vehicles and "weird science". Since damage is handled by taking the difference between the attack and defense rolls, the weapons don't have standard variable weapon damage. More deadly weapons have a higher damage bonus. The damage bonus increases the number of dice added to the attack roll. A scimitar has a damage bonus of 3, where a pen knife has a damage bonus of zero. The "weird science" section only includes some sample artifacts, with the expectation that creative players (and game masters intent on offering up villains of the mad-scientist flavor) come up with their own ideas. The sky seems to be the limit here, allowing the GM to referee the process as necessary.

I'll give an overview of the rest of the sections of the book in a few days. I gotta throw together some food before heading over to Gooki's for the Brown Angel record release show. Heavy...

If you want a basic overview of HEX, without dropping any cash, check out the Exile Game Studio website. They have downloads for the 2008 & 2009 Free RPG Day adventures. Obviously, they've simplified the rules greatly for these demos, but they hint at the basic flavor of the game.

More details when I actually get to play the game and see how I handle it from the GM perspective. If anyone has any experience playing or running HEX, let me know in the comments. Any hints or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


  1. I'm a big fan of a dry-erase board as a GM tool and an alternative to a battlemat. I've got a portable one that I keep beside my chair. At the start of a session, I put in one corner a few notes that I want players to know I'm keeping track of(especially marching order- since it's on the board, there're no "Oh, I was behind the cleric" shenanigans anymore). I pull it out for any situations that would typically merit figures. It works very well as a visual tool for the players to keep track of their characters while keeping the focus on the game, not the position of their figure. I also use the board to draw dungeon or building layouts(unless they've got some cartography skill, the best map they'll see is my crude and possibly misleading sketch).
    And a 2'x3' dry erase board with a set of markers typically costs a good bit less than a nice battlemat.

  2. I like the idea of tracking the marching order on a board. I've got 2 battle mats (a big one and a little one) and a bunch of plastic and metal minis, so that isn't a problem, really...

    When I run the OSR stuff eventually, I think I'm going to try to make them map the dungeon. See how that goes...

  3. If you're just doing marching order, I'd recommend the free dry erase board: take a DVD case and flip the paper cover so the white side's showing through the plastic. Instant tiny white board. You can even use it for notes to players on the back side.