Sunday, April 10, 2011

H is for HackMaster

There are few games as misunderstood than Kenzer and Company's own HackMaster. There are a lot of reasons for the misconceptions surrounding it. It started as a stand-in for AD&D in the comic Knights of the Dinner Table, where the humor came from watching people who regularly screwed up while playing and got their entire PC party killed. During it's run as an AD&D retro-clone, the license from Wizards of the Coast required that anything originally created by TSR had to be presented in a "parody" format. Going into the history of HackMaster and defending it would take too much time. So instead, I am going to list three things about HackMaster that any game would love to have.

1.) Merge Coin Pile

Many D&D and AD&D magic-users have a wish list of spells they want their PCs to start off with. Magic Missile was the classic eldritch bolt that new players looked for. Veteran gamers wanted to put sleep or charm person into their spell books. Clever players found a use for unseen servant and floating disc. But if you played HackMaster, the one first level magic-user spell that every party wanted in it's repertoire was merge coin pile. This spell had one purpose only, convert a pile of coinage into another pile of equal value. A spell that could transform 1,000 copper pieces into a single platinum piece. No more dealing with moneychangers, no more penalties due to encumbrance. A spell so obvious, you wonder why no one ever thought of it first.

2.) The Honor Mechanic

Encouraging role-playing is not an easy task. Some gamers don't see the advantage of doing so. And trying to enforce a PC's chosen alignment can be daunting for a GM. As I mentioned back in my post about characterization, some players are just incapable of seeing their characters outside of the numbers on the sheet. So how does a GM encourage players to stick with a character concept? By rewarding the PC for doing it right. As PCs adventure, they can earn (and lose) honor points along with experience and treasure. If a character gains enough honor, he or she can gain small benefits such as bonuses to die rolls or even a free mulligan. If honor gets too low, penalties can set in. And the best part is, honor is not tied solely to dungeon-delving. Opportunities to earn or lose honor can occur without the character picking up a single die. When characters realize the benefits of honor, they also begin to realize why imagination is one of the requirements for playing.

3.) Battle Sheets

The PCs enter a room with six bugbears who engage the party for battle. After a few rounds, the thief lands a backstab for 9 points of damage to one of the monsters. Problem is, you've lost track of which bugbear was which. Did that one already take a hit or not? How many hit points did he have? You're trying to do the math and everyone is talking over each other, which is disrupting your concentration. What do you do?

One of the nice things HackMaster added to it's modules is the battle sheet. A list of all the monsters in a dungeon, by room, with a short chart of hit point 'bubbles' per monster. A creature takes a hit, you cross off the appropriate number of bubbles. Normally I would encourage people to hone their math skills, even at the table. But when a GM is trying to adjudicate a combat with multiple players and opponents, it doesn't hurt to have a convenience like a battle sheet to make things go more smoothly.

These are just a few of the reasons I am a fan of HackMaster. I realize that everyone usually has their game of choice, and may be hesitant to try a new one on short notice. But gamers should also be open to other games, if only for the opportunity to borrow ideas for their own game. Whether it's the AD&D inspired "4th edition" or the new stand-along Basic, HackMaster is one of those games every player and GM should take a look at.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds amazing. You've peaked my interest, for sure.