Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hackmaster 4e & 5e Comparison Part 2

Hackmaster Combat: The Real Difference

Netherdeep by Erol Otus
4e Combat
4e combat is essentially a First and Second edition AD&D system. The outline or flowchart of AD&D combat can be somewhat complex "rules as written". A general outline of 4e Hackmaster combat runs something like this:
  • Encounter distance
  • Surprise resolution
  • Encounter reaction
  • 1d10 initiative
  • Combat rounds
  • Resolve actions in initiative order
  • Roll to hit plus modifiers vs AC modified by character abilities, armor type, weapon speed
  • Roll damage
  • Missile combat the same modified by range
  • Spells resolved as per spell description in initiative order
  • There are details such as armor damage and HP absorption
  • Damage rules details can make combat very dangerous
HM 5e Combat
5e combat is somewhat more simulationist and logical. The outline of combat is somewhat as follows:
  • Encounter Distance
  • Initiative roll with base initiative modifiers for first action
  • Initiative count by second
  • Surprise
  • Subsequent actions occur on a "seconds added" basis based on actions, moves, weapon speed et al
  • Combat rolls are modified by attack bonus including character attributes, and proficiency by area et al
  • Defense rolls are modified by defense bonus including character attributes, proficiencies et al
  • These rolls are compared and damage rolled
  • Damage is modified by shields and armor type etc.
  • Ranged attacks are resolved similarly, but have different modifiers based on range.
  • Threshold of pain makes combat very dangerous.


The details between the two are minimal. I mean, they're actually profound but they have minimal effect on the overall appearance of the game from a KODT perspective. In other words the flavor and depth of armor damage, repair, TOP, trauma, etc. are all flavor that each version contains in one form or another. The "real difference" of which I speak is the initiative count up and the defense roll. 
the initiative count up isn't that big of a deal, but their is a slight difference in appearance between a round based system. This doesn't come into play too often in KODT, but the defense roll makes combat seem much different. Now it may seem like we're splitting hairs here. I mean why would it matter that we just roll to attack and hit or not, versus rolling to attack and having a defender roll to defend. It makes sense after all--seems much more logical. The difference is that is not the way AD&D was done, not has it been the way KODT combat has played out in the comic. To tell the truth everything else is window dressing to this one difference. 

For instance, I planned on doing a third installment covering spell casting and dynamics. However, the similarities here outweigh the differences.  Spell points have been used in KODT for ages, and aside from some other minor variations Spellcraft in both 4e and 5e  are largely the same. This combat defense roll however will take some getting used to.

But the real question is, as mentioned a couple of posts ago: will this change the KODT ethos enough to make a difference. No. I really don't think it will matter all that much. Which of course makes me wonder about the nature of the game and its system as opposed to the culture you are playing within. After all KODT borrows liberally from a number of classic games like GURPS, Paranoia, Cattlepunk, Scream of Kachooloo, SpacHack etc. etc. Even though Hackmaster is their go to game, do differences in game change the ethos. I don't think so. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hackmaster 4e & 5e Comparison Part 1

Character Creation


  • Receive BPs as per character class
  • Do not have to buy class
  • Has racial level limits & restrictions
  • 7 stats; includes Comeliness
  • 3d6 for stats
  • Uses fractional ability scores
  • Can trade ability points 2 for 1
  • Can sacrifice 1 ability point for 2 building points
  • Strength: to hit & damage, weight allowance, max press, open doors, bend bars / lift gates
  • Dexterity: defense & reaction adjustments, missile attack adjustment
  • Constitution: HP adjustment, system shock, resurrection survival, poison save, immunity to disease / alcohol, regeneration / healing
  • Intelligence: # of languages, spell level, learning ability, max # of spells/level, illusion immunity, chance of spell mishap
  • Wisdom: magical defense adjustment, bonus spells, chance of spell failure, spell immunity, chance to improve skill
  • Charisma: max # of henchmen/cronies/sidekicks, loyalty base, reaction adjustment, comeliness modifier, starting honor modifier
  • Comeliness: as per Unearthed Arcana
  • Honor: average of all seven abilities plus honor modifier
  • Half Ogres and AD&D sub races for other races, no half hobgoblin
  • Berserker, Cavalier, Dark Knight, Knight Errant, Monk, Battle Mage, Illusionist, Bard
  • Multi-class open to demi-humans only
  • Dual Class for humans
  • HackFighter, HackMage, HacKleric, HackSassin
  • 9 point alignment system
  • Priors, particulars, quirks and flaws largely the same, but not limited
  • 20/10 HP Kicker
  • Proficiencies by class, weapon specialization only available to fighter classes
  • Aldrazar oriented to some degree


  • Receive 40 BPs right from the start
  • Have to buy class based on racial costs--replaces racial class and level limits & restrictions
  • 7 stats changes Comeliness to Looks
  • 3d6 for stats
  • Uses fractional percent ability scores
  • Can leave scores as is for 50 BPs
  • Can switch two scores for 25 BPs
  • Can rearrange scores any way you like for 0 BPs
  • Strength: damage modifier, feat of strength, lifts, carry, drag
  • Intelligence: attack modifier, BP bonus
  • Wisdom: initiative modifier, BP bonus, defense modifier, mental saving throw modifier
  • Dexterity: initiative modifier, attack and defense modifier, dodge saving throw modifier, feat of agility
  • Constitution: starting HP, physical saving throw modifier
  • Looks: charisma modifier, starting honor modifier, starting fame modifier
  • Charisma: BP bonus, starting honor modifier, turning modifier, morale modifier, maximum proteges
  • Honor: average of seven ability scores
  • Half Hobgoblins, less subraces, no half ogre, remove gnomelings
  • Knight and paladin a progression from fighter
  • Fighter Mage, Fighter Thief, Mage Thief open to all races
  • No dual classing
  • 9 point alignment system
  • Priors, particulars, quirks and flaws largely the same but limited
  • Con + Size HP kicker
  • Skills bought with BP
  • Proficiencies by weapon type and attack purpose, purchased with BP varies by class
  • Tellene specific to a great degree


Character creation between the two is very similar. The tone of 4e is more akin to AD&D, complex and somewhat baroque. Little rules hidden here and there can sometimes make quite a bit of difference, i.e. the hit point kicker. 5e is neater, more organized and I've heard players say is a better designed game. I'm not sure I would go with "better" but the organization of 4e seems designed to mimic the original AD&D and it, at times, haphazard organizational structure. AD&D intellectual property like Drow and High Elves, etc. are taken out of 5e, but this is not critical. In fact much of these additions were campaign specific in AD&D, not system specific. They kept Hackmaster intellectual property in 5e such as the Grel aka Grunge Elves, and gnome titans, but removed gnomelings. They have also worked in a strong flavor of Tellene as background flavor and in some cases structure to the 5e game. 4e flavor was slightly geared towards Aldrazar, but Tellene, its Gawds, its race names and much more are written into 5e very completely. 

As for whether Character Creation changes would deeply affect KODT and its ethos--I think the effect would be minimal. There are some flavor bits, such as the temporary exclusion of restricted HackClasses and the like, that will likely find their way back into 5e via the GMG, subsequent splat books, KODT itself, Hack Journals or GM fiat. I do keep wondering if BA Felton and his knightly crew will switch campaign wurlds in the near future, but if they do or don't the ethos wouldn't make much difference. There is a bit more humor woven into 4e which can come out as humor in KODT, which I hope we keep in the comic for the sake of KODT and its powerful funny bone. In fact it wouldn't hurt in 5e either.

There is a danger of making 5e more "serious" than KODT really is. Tellene is a world class campaign, but humor isn;t it's strong suit necessarily. Aldrazar is also world class, but it has some nice absurdities that make it seem more "suited" to KODT. Not that KODT can't adopt Tellene, we'll just have to be careful to strike the balance between a serious "enough" game in a serious "enough" world to safeguard the magic and power that is KODT.

Next time: Combat--the real difference. 

KODT Fidelity

One of my favorite KODT covers
for obvious reasons.
I've mentioned before why Hackmaster sings to my gaming soul so profoundly. In a word: KODT. Well, okay that's actually an acronym not a word, and it's five words not one: Knights of the Dinner Table. Like those first readers of KODT who clamored for the real Hackmaster game to be created; it didn't take me long of reading KODT before I started searching to see if the Hackmaster game was still being sold, and lo and behold it was. Unfortunately I also discovered that the original game was being phased out for the rewritten second edition of the game (aka 5e). This was disappointing for more than one reason.

First, I felt so enamored and connected to the ethos that Jolly Blackburn had created via the Knights that for the first time in a long, long time I felt like I had found my gaming home once again. I had gamed since the old days, and indeed was gaming a lot when I started reading the magazine for the first time. But BA, Bob, Sara, Dave and Brian just somehow represented what gaming had always meant to me. I know it might seem silly, or trite or even overly dramatic to say so. Were my old school days really so confrontational, GM vs Player, rules lawyered, deadly, power gamed, silly, immersed in and centered around gaming, etc. etc.? Abso-positively yes. They were also filled with loyalty, friendship, commitment, honor, fun, humor, intense gaming creativity and days and nights centered around gaming--also the core of the KODT ethos. The characters in KODT represented the best and the worst, the strengths and the weaknesses of myself and my best gaming friends. Yes, I realized they were just characters, fictions only loosely based on reality, gaming humor at its best--but they touched me; connected with me deeply.

Perhaps it was a form of folly, but I wanted what they had. I had lost it at some point. Moved far in place and time from the days of my gaming youth. Stepped away from gaming for a few years, and when I had returned the gaming landscape had changed, and I had lost something I would search for over the next several years. Lots of water has passed under that bridge, but the salient point here is that KODT means a lot to me. So as I checked out Hackmaster and discovered a new edition was being written I wondered if that same ethos of the game would be preserved in the new edition. I worried in part because KenzerCo had chosen not to renew their license with WoTC and instead to go their own way. That choice, I certainly didn't begrudge them; but it meant losing certain intellectual properties of the AD&D landscape that might mean having to distance the new game too far from it's roots. When HM 4e was created the KCO design team stuck close to AD&D because it was clear the concept of Hackmaster in the magazine, the game the Knights were playing, was assumed to be a form of AD&D. So, as they explain in their introduction it was natural that the Hackmaster game be built on the AD&D foundation. Would 5e preserve enough of this design to stay true to the KODT cultural universe? That was the $24,000 question.

Now, to be practical, Jolly can shift some of the dialogue in the comic to portray the differences in rules structure to cause KODT dialogue and gaming to reflect the new design. The question of course is whether we lose something in so doing. See AD&D (and the mind of Jolly Blackburn) gave birth to KODT, which gave birth Hackamster. I am not sure exactly what gave birth to 5e. Is it the development and growth of KODT? The HM design team have said that in order to do what they wanted to with HM 5e they needed to depart from the confines of the AD&D ruleset. This confused and troubled me as well. Would 5e be a significant departure from the magic that was HM 4E and the Knights of the Dinner Table? Well, in an effort to ascertain how different things are and whether 5e will remain faithful to the KODT ethos I want to begin a comparison between 4e and 5e in the near future.

Fifth Edition Fantasy: Glitterdoom Review

The second of my reviews of Goodman Games recently produced 5th edition adventures is of the 3rd level adventure Glitterdoom.
The Lower Mine by "Aaron Palsmier"
copyright Goodman Games

Who is it For?

4 to 6 third level characters, no class or race recommendations, but a dwarf or two would be fun.

The Story **1/2 

The story itself is unremarkable. A lost Dwarven mine and an outcast Dwarf of sorts in search of its treasures and its redemption. Where the story rises above the norm is in what befell the ancient lost Dwarves who once mined its veins and the evil that now haunts its chambers. Just enough of a weird twist on the curse motif to be interestingly Lovecraftian. But I must say, the finale lacks a bit of punch for me. Almost too contrived, but could be easily tweaked by a creative DM. After-hooks are not plentiful, but are present if the party either chooses to investigate the actual mines--something that will require a bit of tweaking--or to seek the lost homeland halls of the clan which once built and mined the Knuckle's confines. 

Art & Layout ***

The layout is not bad. fairly straightforward, but not as fifth edition as Fey Sisters. I do not consider this to be a bad thing. New monster stat blocks are contained inline with the text, so there is no flipping back and forth. Same thing with magic items.There are 16 pages, not including the front and back covers, which are not used. There are four black and white pictures, about 3" by 5" relatively old school in tone. I have made my opinion known on the cover art style of these adventures. Not my style, but well done. The map is on the last page, slightly inconvenient--why can't more module designers take a clue from AD&D and place maps on an unattached cardstock cover. So much more convenient. 

Playability ***

There are fifteen basic areas to be explored in the adventure if you count the outside of the mine entrance. Of course a DM with some time on her hands could design a nearby village, or detail the wilderness journey by which the characters arrive at the mine's entrance. The game could easily be played in a night, maybe four hours of gaming. There are some interesting expansion possibilities that could make the adventure longer, but they aren't required. And though it isn't detailed in the adventure, a DM could easily spread the curse that befell the the mine's older inhabitants to the characters--something I would likely introduce into play if I were to DM. As a dungeon crawl it's straight forward in terms of complexity. The last encounter has a sort of deus ex machina that has to be pulled off if the players are to survive the last onrush of cursed, deep dwelling foes. Again, I'm not sure I like this, especially if their NPC ally has to yell at them to trigger the event. It seems too contrived. I would like to contemplate a way in which this could be avoided, and the players have to be creative in actually cleansing the mine.  

Neat Newness **

Not much here to speak of. If it wasn't for the cool nature of the curse and it's possibilities I might give this a one star. There are a couple of lackluster magic items, and a new background with feature and characteristics. They also include what they call a new sub-race, but I don;t see it. It's almost more like a background--but whatever. There are two nice new creatures, but they are related to effects of the curse--which is the real gem of neat newness in this adventure.

Total Review

I actually like dungeon crawls. I prefer them in fact. So maybe I'm a bit hard on them. They are relatively easy to design as opposed to political or wilderness adventures. But they are hard to design well. This isn't a bad one. It's just not too remarkable. But I can see several ways in which a DM could twist and mold this foundation into something quite memorable. If you choose to do so, have fun with it!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Fey Sisters' Fate

Some have suggested that I might have given short shrift to Goodman Games Fifth Edition Fantasy Adventures that I mentioned in a recent post. I say mentioned, because I really didn't review them. My purpose was to simply point out that they were not what I had expected or hoped for. They weren;t badly done. I even opined that this estimation may have been more about the nature of 5e that Goodman's design sensibilities. That and I have loved about 75% of the DCC d20 adventures I own and every one of the DCC RPG adventures which I have bought.

That being said allow me to take a minute today and tomorrow to properly review The Fey Sisters' Fate and Glitterdoom. First: Fey Sisters' Fate

Who's it For?

Fey Sisters' Fate is a wilderness adventure recommended for 4 to 6, 1st level characters. They also mention needing a balanced party with at least one fighter, one rogue, a cleric and at least one wizard. But a Ranger and a Druid might also be helpful and would find the adventure even more fun. Elves and or gnomes might be useful and possibly a halfling--but those are more for role playing purpose than needs in order to accomplish the adventures end game.

The Story ***

Without revealing any privileged information (i.e. spoilers), the general plotline is a clever little mystery of sorts involving fae races, and some nasty humanoids in a rather twisted combination of relationships. The story is rife with potential intrigue and sub-plots if on a somewhat small scale. The tale might even serve as a rather nice campaign starter. The end even has a prompt for a deeper more expansive hook if potential PCs choose to seek out the mysterious force behind the whole affair in the village of Burr Hollow and the Briarwood. The adventure is setting neutral enough to easily be dropped into any roughly medieval existing campaign.

The Art & Layout ***

By layout, I mean the physical presentation of the actual book itself. There are 22 pages total including the inside front and back covers. The interior art is not bad, but there isn't much of it. Four black and white pictures that are relatively old school--slight 2e AD&D feel. There is one black and white wilderness map on the inside back cover--nothing special, with three inset details of other important regions on the map. I personally don't like the style of the cover art, but it is nicely done. I think it was intended to appeal to the character driven focus of D&D Next, especially as has been highlighted in WoTC's recent fiction. 

The organization of the text and flow of the way the adventure is presented is very similar to recent WoTC products. Each "Area" of the adventure's sandbox is presented in sufficient detail and includes roleplaying as well as environmental possibilities. Within each area the authors highlight a particular "Quest" that can be, or should be, accomplished when the characters enter or pass through the given area. This model is similar to the WoTC product The Hoard of the Dragon Queen and I think fits the current "mold" of 5e products--sort of an open storyline structure. In this way Goodman, who was not in charge of design but layout according to the credits, deserves some credit in making Fifth Edition Fantasy "fit" the Next design theme. Regardless of whether I "like it", he deserves props for this.

Playability ***

I will admit I have not played this adventure. I might though. I would probably hack it for a more preferred ruleset, which could be easily done, another nice crux of 5e design. Having read through it, however, I would say the story is rather playable. Sandboxy without being too open;  in general the kind of wilderness adventure I prefer. There are 17 areas overall in the adventure and should be easily accomplished in one or two nights of gameplay. The monstering (my word for peopling, or stocking, the adventure with monsters) seems nicely balanced and could be easily adjusted for smaller or larger parties. There are also plenty of opportunities for roleplay that can be highlighted if a DM should so desire, and a moderate amount of tactically interesting combat. 

Neat Newness ***1/2

The adventure contains some nice new ideas. I suppose one of the main creatures used in the tale could be called a new spin on an old theme and could be transformed into a nice Lovecraftian theme if a GM was so disposed. There is also a kind of interesting take on a beefy foe that makes it "accessible" to first level characters. Three new magic items are included, two of which I really like and fit the previously stated 5e magic design goal of making magic items unique. A DM could easily riff off of these new toys and make them adventure seeds in and of themselves. Three new spells are also included to keep things fresh. A new background is included complete with new feature and characteristics for those who fancy the 5e character design ethos. In all, nice additions to give players neat newness to have fun with, especially for such a short adventure. 

Total Review 

So I'd have to give The Fey Sisters' Fate a solid three and maybe even 3 and 1/2 stars out of 5. Not bad, not bad at all. Not necessarily my cup of tea in presentation but certainly solid enough to stand a little old school retooling and use in my own AD&D campaign.