Monday, May 6, 2024

Random Gameplay Thoughts and Strength in Numbers

I kept thinking this weekend that Hack'D & Slash'D doesn't really play the way I remember D+D playing... it plays the way I remember wanting D+D to play. That doesn't suggest for a second I think it is a better game... just that it's better from the perspective of 11-year-old me (my target audience).

I realized, in the midst of these realizations, that I don't actually know how D+D plays anymore. I have not actually, you know, played D+D since 3rd edition, about 20 years ago. Sure, I have fiddled a little with 5E, and I think I've been through an hour of gaming with it here or there, but I really couldn't tell you what the gameplay experience is like now.

I presume that one of the discoveries I made this weekend holds true for modern D+D as well: numbers are better. My team generally didn't struggle too hard with more powerful foes who were on their own, but when they were outnumbered (even by weaker foes), they suddenly had trouble. The more dice I am rolling each round, the more likely things are to go bad. While that seems reasonable, I would think that a battle with a level 3 spider would still be harder than a battle with 6 shadelings. The reality is that the shadelings have to be defeated one at a time, and they are getting a total of 12 attacks per round. When I roll a few 12s (which I did), those are suddenly dealing 3 hits a swipe, and the damage can pile on quickly. If the spider misses with its bite attack in round 2, it's going to have to withstand an onslaught from the whole fellowship before it gets to go again... if it lives that long.

The other 'benefit' of having larger numbers is that it changes the strategy. Twice, there were powerful spiders with a number of minion allies; Galavar (the caster) would start with sleep; he would neutralize as many of the minor threats as he could so that they couldn't start issuing death by a thousand paper cuts. It was an important strategic choice, and it was a meaningful choice he had to make in the moment; he could hit the boss with a big spell, or he could knock out a bunch of minions at once. 

And while I've always known that actual play matters more than theory, I have to say that ACTUAL PLAY MATTERS MORE THAN THEORY. I am finding all sorts of cool little nuances to the game that I didn't necessarily plan, but which are baked in anyway. I'm finding opportunities for new tags because things come up where I go 'it would be cool if right now I could do x'. 

When Unearthed Arcana came out, I could feel in the pages that Gary had actually played a lot of this at his table. It was an organic expansion of the core rules, even if it was a little esoteric in places. I mean, how often are you really engaging in mounted combat during the dungeon crawl? For me, the Hack'D & Slash'D companion is giving me the same vibes. I like that I'm in no hurry to get anything done... I can let the book grow organically, so that when it's done, it's all genuinely useful additions to the game, not filler I created to get to a page count.

And that, by the way, is one of the other thoughts I had. Hack'D is not really marketable, because it is designed to be exceedingly economical in terms of space. I really cannot justify expanding it to the 256 page full-color hardcover, because a spell takes two sentences and I can fit eight monster stat blocks on a 6x9 page. At standard book size, even with plentiful illustrations, I would be hard-pressed to get more than 48 pages of monsters... that would be several hundred monsters. 

But, selfishly, that is probably why I keep working on it. In the past, I sit down to expand a game I've worked on, and I find myself flipping through the book for fifteen minutes trying to make sure I've made all the numbers line up. With Hack'D, I can create a monster stat block in a minute or two, and I'm confident it is playable. It allows me to continue to make a minimal investment of time to get a significant return on that investment.


  1. Over the years I've noticed how concerns such as terrain, bottlenecks, throwing oil flasks, area effect spells, escape routes, divide and conquer tactics etc only really take hold of newer players' imagination once they've been outnumbered.

    1. I had not thought of it that way, but I would agree.

  2. This blog post resonates with my own experiences in gaming. Actual gameplay indeed matters more than theoretical design. It seems like "Hack'D & Slash'D" has brought you a lot of joy and allows for the creation of playable content with ease. I hope you continue to enjoy the pleasures of game design!


    1. Thanks! It definitely is the game I've written that I actually enjoy playing the most. It doesn't have any mechanical holdovers from other games that make me feel like I honored the source material and made it work closer to my liking... I like my other games a lot, but they still have some of the idiosyncracies of Red Box D+D - this game really does not.