Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hackmaster Preliminary Review

Hackmaster
by
KenzerCo


Some time ago I ran across a comic strip in the back of a Dragon Magazine. Knights of the Dinner Table it was called. And at the time, though definitely worth a chuckle, I kind of dismissed the strip as a small but funny add on to a much greater endeavor. Little did I know. Fast forward about twenty years or so when I rediscover KODT through their comic book. The serendipity of my rediscovery could only have been divinely inspired. For at the time I was searching for and wide fora stronger connection to the gaming of my past. The more I read KODT the more I longed for a game just like theirs. Sounds a little silly really. Wanting to game like a bunch of comic books gamers. But they embodied something deeper than simple entertainment. And so, I would soon come to find out, did the game they played. I did a search for Hackmaster, not really thinking it would still be alive and kicking. And lo and behold it was!! But, to my chagrin they were dropping HM4 and releasing a new and improved HM line starting with what they were calling HM Basic.

I was a bit disillusioned, but decided to wait for the HMb release which came a few months later. I of course scarfed up a copy as soon as I could and read it voraciously. Mind you, at the time I had no HM4 books to compare it to. My only touchstone in that regard was what I knew from KODT. The introduction to the book was music to my ears. Gary Jackson's words echoed with a tone that had been lost to so much of gaming today. It was clear that KCos intention was to keep the spirit of true old school gaming alive. And though the game mechanics were different, they were visionary in their execution. Different from much of what had been done before. And I began to see that here was a develoment team that was intent on making combat intense and deadly. Life in a Hackmaster world enshrined the true brutal nature of life as a wannabe fantasy hero. I loved it.

Later I acquired the HM4e library and began also to read the older Kingdom of Kalamar setting materials that would be the default setting for HM. Again I was blown away. HM4 was brilliant. The full presentation of what KCo could do, admittedly building on the framework of 1e, was awe inspiring. The only thing that might be better was if they could do this same thing with their new game system previewed in HMb. I began to hint around on the KCo forums to this effect and was told I could rest assured Advanced Hackmaster was going to be all that and more. I was also very impressed with the KoK setting. I believe largely the original brainchild of Dave Kenzer Kingdoms was a highly realistic and detailed fantasy setting. Rife with detailed politics and religious machinations this setting provides not only the possibility of high and gritty adventure, but also mystery, intrigue, plots within plots and behind the scene madness that would fill even the most ambitious GM with creative delight. And when I say "realistic", I mean the geography, the political landscape, the civilization and the like are all very detailed and believable. Sure there's magic and Gawds and horrible beasties filling Kalamar's expansive borders, but it is all very much rooted in how things really might be if these things existed. Well done indeed KCo.

Now, I must say, I was reluctant to go ahead and write this review because HM is still in construction as it were. And I have begun to think I won't make an extended effort to run a HM campaign until AHM comes out. But that's a purely personal call. I like the whole enchilada as it were. All the glory from the get go. And to date KCo has released one very exceptional AHM book, and several high quality adventures. I have run a few games with HMb rules, and I'll admit I didn't incorporate all the rules right away. HM takes some getting used to, because it is not straight D&D. It's mechanics are a bit different now. But they're good, solid mechanics. HM also has always enforced character role play and development through a number of ingenious mechanics. Factors like quirks, flaws, honor, fame and the like sort of require that you think about this pc you play as an actual person. A real person. Not a cookie cutter class mogul. Some players balk at that. And in my opinion it takes a good GM to encourage such play based on these mechanics. New areas of alignment and character development can be explored and mined for play ideas and extension if played in the right hands.

Hackmaster is not a game for the feint of heart. Either in terms of adventures that take place there or in terms of mastery requried to play and especially run the game. This is advanced roleplaying from the start. Expect to be challenged as a GM, as a player and as an adventurer who desires to be a hero. For this reason HM is very close to my heart. It seems to have captured the "feel" of what it was like to game when I was just starting out. And moreso, just like those early AD&D books were at the time, HM is always just above my head. It continues to challenge me as a GM to play this game to it's fullest extent. HMb has just enough of this to give you a taste. I personally can't wait until AHM comes out.
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