Recently I purchased Yoon-Suin and the three volume set of Hack & Slash from Lulu in print form. I have just finished assimilation of H&S volumes 1 and 2. Here are my thoughts regarding the ideas presented by C. Campbell. (I will talk about Y-S at a later date). It may come as no surprise, if you have looked at anything on this site, that I am a big supporter of unique content that undermines the power mad game corporations. Once those pesky stockholders are factored in, the PMGC’s want you mainlining their officially approved rule books, adventure products and consuming other merchandise, such as novelties, soft goods and anything else an appropriate logo can be slapped on. Ahem, I digress.
Hack & Slash Compendium 1 set me back $5.59 (I used a coupon. In other currencies that would be 5 Copper pieces, 1.5 Starbux or .01 Talons). It measures 8 x 6 and is 62 pages. Most, if not all of the content is compiled from Courtney Campbell’s blog: http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com. Overall I found Mr. Campbell’s ideas to be exceptionally useful in focusing similar ideas of my own on making my game better. For clarity I have broken up my review into three categories, Theoretical Junk, Inspiring and Specifically Useful:
Theoretical Junk: Gamers delight on the exposition of theoretical concepts that are the so-called essence of RPG gameplay. Usually after the 3rd word I’m thinking about an itch on my back or wondering if forgot to close the garage door. However, Courtney’s discourse on Pages 2 through 29 not only held my attention but were extremely useful in refining my own ideas on making my group’s collective RPG experience better. There are many useful ideas here, the most important is Player Agency. In its crudest form the GM presents situations that allow for the players to make meaningful choices. This means they are able to short circuit the standard format in which most adventures are run. They could pull off circumventing a powerful boss and avoid that classic epic confrontation, looting a dungeon through a backdoor (thus avoiding your cleverly designed traps) or totally messing up your well planned story arc. It can be frustrating to see work that you have done seemingly wasted, but I have learned the players will have the best time when the stakes of the game are real. Knowing that players may (and hopefully) will do the unexpected means you can plan for it by altering the energy you put in up front. I’m sure I have already done this subconsciously, having Campbell’s ideas on paper refines my strategy. Specifically for my design process what this means is: I will now consciously factor in the ability for players to make multiple informed decisions during the game. I'll let their choices compound to form its own organic “story”. Right now it sounds like more work for me, but I’m Ok with that. The payoff of an exceptional game is worth it. There are many other good ideas here as well, one that as a game designer that I liked in particular was “games are collections of interesting choices”.
Inspiring: On pages 30 - 60 are 17 new player backgrounds. These are written for one of the many “e’s” of Deeandee. Having written my own fantasy game as it’s nemesis, these plug and play mods are not instantly useful to me out of the box. However, the content contained in these backgrounds can be appropriated and modified for my own use. In a roundabout way this is good, it pretty much forces me to think about the game and come up with new content. It just means I can't sit back in my stratolounger and have game mods fed directly into my veins.
Specifically Useful: As noted above, nothing in H&SV1 is specifically useful in that I can flip open the book and use it during one of my games. This is not a criticism, it has to do with the nature of my particular game beast. For those of you swine out there still playing Deeandee, there is much here that can be plugged right into your gaming experience. I have found that having interesting matrixes to generate player information from is very useful. H&SV2 is mostly about Treasure, so that tome is specifically useful to me, as I can practically use items right out of the book during the game. But, more on that one next time.
All in all on a scale of 1 - 10 I would give H&SV1 a 10 for it’s usefulness to me. It is more important for me to understand how to create better experiences than to have specific mods that I can plug directly into my game. Cheers!