Hunters Mark: Long Live the Hunt funded on Kickstarter in March of 2016. Designed and illustrated by Gary Simpson of Game Natural, Hunters Mark aims to introduce a series of mini-adventures in which heroes take on dangerous monsters, craft weapons from their bodies, and then take on bigger and tougher monsters. Intended for release in April of this year, I received the PDF on October 30.
To be quite honest, I was somewhat frustrated with Hunters Mark – The PDF is riddled with minor typos and gaming colloquialisms such as “Total Party Kill” which chip away at professionalism within the work, and simple failure to adhere to the conventions of other 5e supplements detracts from its consistency. For instance, the book uses the phrase “Religion 15+ check” as a shorthand instead of “DC15 Intelligence(Religion) check.”
On the other hand, the book makes efforts to appear different from official supplements with minor tweaks which are beneficial to the goal of standing out – its pages are a somewhat minty green with a rough-hewn motif. The icons and maps of the book also match this motif, appearing weathered and cracked for ancient foes and pristine and crisp for the factions of The Hunters Guild.
The Hunt is On
Hunters Mark uses a fairly different system to accommodate a gameplay experience more comparable to a video game. Adventures take place in five Arenas on The Sunken Island, which are further divided into Areas connected by dashed lines. Each Arena has Profaned Power rules which might come into play, random encounter tables, and Area Descriptions, which are small, digestible sources for details about the area.
Each hunt is an hour-long portion of gameplay, during which victory is achieved either by defeating a target or by knocking said target prone or scoring Critical Hits on the target two or more times. Unfortunately, this rapid style of gameplay implicitly favors certain classes, namely characters who can specialize in maneuvers to deliberately knock a target prone or deal rapid attacks to try and score Critical Hits quickly.
For a combat-centric adventure, Hunters Mark surprisingly has no battle maps, instead placing its tactical depth into the monsters’ design, including actions which a monster can trigger on specific initiative counts. While this was probably done deliberately to keep the adventure focused on fast-paced Theater of the Mind gameplay for combat since there is little narrative to the adventure.
As you can see, the layout has created a dossier-like page for each monster. The reasoning for doing this is probably because of the number of modular traits each monster possesses. Storytellers might find this format difficult to process in the middle of combat, so they should make sure to read the stat blocks of any creatures they use in advance.
Additionally, a Storyteller should take Gary Simpson’s assessments of monster CR with a grain of salt, as several of the monsters in the book have attacks with no precedent in Fifth Edition. For instance, the Cockatrex, a CR9 foe, can deal a whopping 9d12 damage with a single action, and can instantly reduce a target to 0 Hit Points on a Critical Hit(with no save). On the other hand, several such attacks can be mitigated with somewhat low saving throws even after a successful attack against AC.
Killing Things and Taking their Stuff
Since the monsters fought in Hunters Mark don’t provide loot traditional to a 5e campaign, the adventure offers an appendix devoted entirely to spoilcraft, “the art of forging gear, using spoils from defeated monsters.” When you defeat a monster, you can collect items used to produce new gear, comparable to magical weaponry. You can produce consumable magic items such as Bone Charms or Monstrous Mantles, armor which provides simple enhancement bonuses, or weapons with unique passive properties. In a short-term game using the rules set forth in Hunter’s Mark, this new source of equipment can prove an interesting change of pace from the regular magical items provided in other books.
Hunters Mark is an interesting adventure which walks a fine line between Fifth Edition’s(and other tabletop RPGs’) freeform gameplay and the cinematic combat a player might come to expect from modern video games. The rules provided for the adventure make it a much different experience than a traditional 5e campaign, and honestly, I’d find it difficult to tell if that’s empirically good or bad for any given group. If your gaming group enjoys tactical combat and gritty action, Hunter’s Mark will probably be right up your alley. However, if you’re not particularly a fan of games such as Monster Hunter, I’d definitely give this book a miss. I’d say that overall, you’re likely to get less mileage out of this book than a more open-ended book like Demon Cults and Secret Societies, but if you’re looking for discrete adventures with fixed lengths, or inspiration to design your own quick pick-up games, Hunter’s Mark may be the book for you.
Update, January 24, 2018: The link to purchase Hunters Mark has been removed from the website. The Kickstarter has yet to deliver its physical rewards, and Game Natural has since started and funded an additional Kickstarter to allegedly fund printing a run for retailers. The project creator has once again disappeared with no contact to his backers in either campaign. In light of unavailability for purchase and failure to deliver now on two campaigns, I cannot recommend purchasing Hunters Mark.
Update, October 8, 2018: Two months ago, Game Natural has contacted backers of its second Kickstarter with a survey, then promptly vanished again. Their website has been shut down entirely, and communication has once again ended. Even assuming that this project was not intended as a scam(which is highly unlikely), I think it can safely be assumed that Gary Simpson and Game Natural are not capable of delivering on their final product. I have removed the link to purchase this product from my review and will not be reinstating it without the direct request of the product’s author and a public statement detailing what has happened with this project. I know that as a minor content creator in the community, I’m not exactly in a position to make demands of an author, but at this point, these circumstances are what it would take to make me reconsider the decision.
The bizarre thing is that with a “finished” PDF with a bunch of typos and problems, the creator could have easily delivered a lackluster product through one of several print-on-demand services, technically fulfilled their obligation, and left with a product which could generate revenue without any further maintenance. I suspect this is the last we’ve seen of Gary Simpson and Game Natural, but only time will truly tell.