Monday, February 15, 2010

Hackmaster Basic: Review

The guys at Kenzer & Company sent me a free pdf copy of Hack Master Basic, so I thought I would post my thoughts on it. This is my first real review of an rpg product so I hope I don't fall short on expectations.

When I heard about this products upcoming release, I was pretty stoked. I really like Hack Master and the way it was executed, but found the 400 page rulebook to be a little daunting. Hack Master Basic was paired down to 200 pages making it a little more readable (although the original AD&D players handbook was around 126 pages).

Right at the beginning there's a quick start rules section that will get you into gameplay with a minimum of reading. Allowing for the additional rules to be added later once you ease into the groove of Hack Master game play. This is a plus for my ADHD sensibilities. This is also a nod towards "Old School" play.

Characters have seven attributes: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Looks and Charisma. Plus you have an Honor (honor being a measure of deeds of the character and the character's associates) score which is the total of the seven attributes divided by 7.

Character class choices are: Fighters, Thieves, Clerics and Mages.

Character races are: Human, Dwarf, Elf or Halfling.

So far fairly old school. The introduction of weapon proficiencies and skills represents the newer school game design. I'm not completely for or against proficiencies and skills. It's nice to be able to give your character an edge that makes him/her stand out a little in the game.

I'm not a fan of the quirk and flaw chart, where you add depth to your character by giving him/her character flaws. I can see using it on the fly if you can't really think of anything but over all I would omit this part from my game. I think the quirks and flaws should develop during game to add depth to the role playing rather than adding something to a character sheet. But this is just a minor gripe.

Then each character class receives a supply package that would fit the appropriate class. I like this a lot, it makes it a lot easier for on the fly games so you don't have to check out the supply list and decide what you need for your character.

There's a nice list of mage and cleric spells. And a comprehensive combat system with a very nice example of combat in the book. Just reading about the system isn't enough for me personally, having an example of play really helps out.

There's a sections titled Miscellaneous Rules which covers things like falling damage, healing time, illumination, doors & portcullises and aging. And also a section on detailed character backgrounds. I would probably omit some of these rules, especially the character backgrounds. I think that a character's background should be a little more free form, and up to the player as to what that character's background should be. But the way they are presented in the book makes it easier to decide which ones you want to use in your campaign.

There's a very extensive section on gaming dice which I have never really seen in an RPG before. It covers topics like Choosing/Purchasing your dice, dice etiquette, roll zones, priming, care and maintenance, lucky dice, bad dice, dice cleaning etc. I've never thought about some of the topics about dice maintenance before, I found it very interesting.

The addition of a game master's section with a nice list of monsters, treasure, potions and magic items make this a completely playable game in one volume!

The artwork throughout the book is beautiful, with an Erol Otus illustration on the front cover. And lot's of black & white illustrations inside, many of which are homages to older editions of gaming illustrations.

Over all I would say this game rates as AD&D era of old school game play rather than OE. There are a lot of rules for most situations and isn't a completely free form style of play. But I do intend on giving the game a chance. There's a group in my gaming community that want's to start playing Hack Master, so I hope to steer them towards the basic game.

My rating system is based on my Barsoomian White Ape that I keep in a cage in my basement. As we all know White Apes have 4 arms with 4 hands and 4 thumbs. One thumb being the low score and 4 thumbs being the high score.

My ape gives Basic Hackmaster 3 thumbs up, if it was a little more rules light it would've gotten 4.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I love the Hackmaster books but haven't worked up the endurance to actually go so far as generate characters.

Atom Kid said...

Thanks for reading, Mike! I've yet to make a character either. One of these days, but for now i'll stick with OD&D and T&T.

The Lord of Excess said...

I actually played "real" Hackmaster for several years. It was a massive departure for our gaming group at the time ... but we had the right combination of players who could pull off the Pythonesque/Zany side of Hack without letting the pot boil over and a DM who was committed to the yeoman's task of mastering one of the largest rule sets of all time. We ran through many of the modules and it was some of the best role playing fun I'll ever have. That group is long gone and we've all moved off to the four corners of the earth. I will tell the occasional story about that experience to the current game group and lament that "I'll never play a game like that again for so many reasons." When I first heard about Hack basic I was somewhat excited ... I mean maybe ... 10% chance I'll pick it up. But really I have become a fan of games like Savage Worlds, Spirit of the Century, etc. ... being busy with life and kids and every gamer I know being in the same boat or periodically hooked on MMOs or Xbox live or whatever ... it just seems like getting people to actually commit to a heavy RPG like GURPS, RIFTS, 3.5 D&D/Pathfinder ... and have the game not suck (admittedly I have high standards for what I want out of an RPG) ... is just unrealistic. So yet another big rule heavy system (at 200 pages and from what I've heard "basic" hack is ... well more basic than the original version but still on par with 3.5 or GURPS, etc. in terms of complexity) out there is really not useful to me. My long term plan with Hackmaster is to use Savage Worlds or Spirit and do a Hackmaster Mod ... use some of the Hack modules for the game but a much simpler rule set. So I can expose people to the hilarity of Hack without a massive commitment on their part. Anyway sorry to be so long winded ... I guess I was just inspired by your solid review ... got me reminiscing about the old days :)

Atom Kid said...

Thanks for the post, Lord of Excess!

The humorous part of Hackmaster is my favorite thing about Hackmaster. But it is a bit rules heavy even in it's basic form. I'm intrigued by Savage Worlds, I've heard a lot of great things about it!