Monday, January 14, 2013

Wizard with a (magic) Gun

Recall my discussion of Hucksters and you will remember I briefly mentioned something called a Hexslinger.
Hexslinger at work, just a hexin' and a shootin' the ever-livin' shit outta things.
I want to revisit that character because I really liked it back in the original Deadlands days.

In gaming you really have 3 choices: Class-based, Classless, some unholy hybrid of Class-based and Classless.  Most Class-based gaming is of the type I like to call "Classed Scaling Leveling" (CSL) gaming.  In such gaming the player chooses from a set of classes, which are really packages of skills, traits, abilities, etc. and then as they play the characters "level up" through gameplay getting better at a set rate of improvement.  The Original game (OD&D) and the bulk of every game since then, including nearly all MMOs, are CSL games.  Classes provide the player with a set framework for advancement and improvement and provide a predictable measure of "success" within the game framework.
Classless games are generally what I call Skill-based Freeform (SbF) games and offer advancement through player choices and increasing difficulty skill improvement.  Such games may have something akin to class requirements for magic or technology, but it is not required.  Unholy hybrids of CSL and SbF are just that: unholy and hybrids.  Essentially Unholy Hybrids allow players to create whatever they want but have structured frameworks for specific concepts.
As humans given unrestricted options are often overwhelmed, it is not uncommon for Classless games to offer some sort of template or archetype upon which the player can base their character.  Templates and archetypes are also great for "quick play" options to get a new player right into the game with minimal fuss.  Since most templates and archetypes are based on popular tropes they just come naturally to people.

Back in the 90s PEGinc published a book for Deadlands called Law Dogs which had all sorts of information on playing officers of the law, bounty hunters, banditos, and something new called a Hexslinger.  Now one of the popular issues in RPG and MMO gaming is something called "balance" which is a strange chimera that I am not going to go into at this juncture (but might one day if the mood takes me) except to say that the general notion of balance is that if one guy (class) has lots of strength and armor and weapons then he isn't allowed to cast spells and if another guy (class) can blow things up with a fireball he isn't allowed to wear armor or swing swords.  Deadlands was/is a classless SbF, basically, so the balance is generally maintained by the fact that you can't afford to be good at everything.  True min/maxers will never sacrifice points that could go into their main abilities; good role players often will.
Deadlands, like many classless games, used archetypes to aid the players in designing characters.  Deadlands also used a pseudo-class system with regard to what it called "Arcane Backgrounds" which was where all these Hucksters and Blessed and Weird Scientists came from.  The Hexslinger was a new type of Arcane Background introduced in Law Dogs that worked, essentially, as Hucksters but focused their magic on gunfighting.  Hexslingers could use all the normal Huckster hexes and even had a few new ones (which Hucksters could learn too, I should add) that were associated with gunfighting.  Hexslinger hexes including hexes for reloading your gun, making magic bullets, not getting hit as much, quick-drawing and the like.  The practical upshot of all this was that in a game where you were not likely to find magical guns you could play a gunslinger that could make his own magical bullets.  That's pretty neat.
If you are not a gamer this picture will not make much sense to you.
Given the nature of the game characters like Hexslingers often had to put their abilities into several areas, meaning that they would not be as quick on the draw as a plain old gunslinger or as smart as a plain old Huckster and so on.  Despite that, the flavor of the archetype was just too cool to not play.  The main difference between the Hexslinger and the Huckster, however, was how they learned their craft.  The Huckster decoded the secrets of the Book of Hoyle, but the Hexslinger had a tutor of some kind and usually (but not always) learned with the aid of a "focus" which he had to have or else he could not cast hexes.  The focus was sort of a psychic crutch, you see.  Self-made men versus apprentices; not too much unlike the fantasy well from which this all springs.  Hexslingers still had to risk their souls and minds to wrangle Manitous though and they had all the same problems with backlash.  Balance maintained: see?
And that's what backlash will do for you.
In a game where the walking dead or ghosts or mythical monsters might show up to run roughshod over some backwater town a magical gunfighter standing tall at high Midnight seems a nice thing to have.  Of course these are highly specialized characters to play.  They are pretty much good at one thing only, and that can be a bit limiting to a player.  We see this in all sorts of games.  Sure, it seems great to be a badarse vampire slayer, but unless there are lots of vampires to slay your skillset is just too restricted for the game and more often than not you end up looking for your special type of monster to get your "bonuses" and suffering under your lack of versatility only to meet with frustration when Joe the Generic, Fighter par Mediocrity does the deed for you with his magical Sword of Lopping Off Random Body Parts +5.  I did mention magically reloading the guns, right?  There was also a great spell where you could magically transform ammo should you find that you don't have the right type for the gun you are holding.  How often does that happen?  Well I don't know, but it's a neat trick all the same.  Hey, .22 ammo is pretty cheap.  How great would it be to buy a brick of .22 and just magically turn it into something expensive?  I think you know the answer to that.  In the picture of the Hexslinger above his profile lists Soul Blast as one of his spells.  Soul Blast is a basic Huckster spell and more or less the Deadlands equivalent of the mighty FIREBALL.  Only nastier.  So it's not all guns and ammo, I suppose.
Just a "regular old" Huckster, I'm afraid.
Sadly the Hexslinger did not make it out of the original Deadlands.  By the time the revised edition (not 2nd edition) arrived the term Hexslinger was a general term for Hucksters and in the d20 stuff and later he just sort of faded off into the sunset.  Deadlands Reloaded uses a different enough mechanic that the Hexslinger as a specific subset of Huckster is no more, but the player has the freedom to go ahead and make one if they like.
And why shouldn't they?  Guns are cool.  Magic is cool.  Guns that shoot magical bullets wielded by wizards is not just twice as cool, it is cool squared!  (cool X cool = freakin' awesome)  I'm thinking about it really hard right now and I am still not able to think of anything cooler th...wait...yes, I've got it...Hexslinger riding a T-Rex!  Just shooting and eating everything they see.

I have to say, I sort of miss that guy.  The standard Huckster gets shown throwing cards a lot, which is fine if you are a Cajun mutant thief that hangs out with the spandex crowd, but gets a bit blase after a while.  Now a wizard with a six-gun, that's worth the price of admission.

No comments:

Post a Comment