Monday, July 21, 2014

Welcome to Hackmaster

Those who misfortune it is to know me, may know that I've gamed for over 30 years now, mostly AD&D. And without going into all the dirty details (you can read that on my regular blog) I have decided to devote my gaming to HackMaster for the foreseeable future. Those of you who may not be familiar with this very awesome game, please download and read the following excellent introductions:

Now if that doesn't whet your adventuring appetite I'm not sure what will. Essentially Hackmaster is the flagship production of the Kenzer & Company  gaming company. Although I suppose that Knights of the Dinner Table might take the flagship role, though it is a comic/fanzine and not a game. Truthfully though, one of the the best introductions and spokesperson for Hackmaster is the Kinghts of the Dinner Table comic book. I not only highly recommend it, I encourage all who play the game to read it regularly. Besides the awesome humor and tone which will definitely improve your game, it is always chocked full of HackMaster tips and information. 

HackMaster itself was the reworking of a game largely based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first & second editions. The new edition, fifth (though technically only second), has some new twists and turns that those familiar with AD&D might not recognize. I outline a few of these for you here by way of introductions.
  • Ability scores are always 3d6/d100
  • Honor, Fame and Luck are new stats
  • Build Points allow customization and take away the need to "fudge" PC creation
  • Quirks, Flaws, Skills and Talents are part of character customization 
  • There are Attack (To Hit) and Defense rolls
  • Armor reduces damage it doesn't make you harder to hit
  • Starting HP is higher, but HP gain is lower
  • Initiative is variable depending on situational and other modifiers
  • Combats are not fought in rounds, but on a second by second "count-up"
  • Spell-Points are used for spell casters
  • Ranged Combat is handled differently from Melee Combat
  • Threshold of Pain checks make HackMaster deadlier than it might otherwise seem
And much more you will run across in play. What I think you will find however, is that these differences make for a very cool game. As the HackMaster Design Team have said, they made the game they wanted to play, and it just so happens lots of other people do too. It is this last part that really catches us, isn't it? The kind of game you want to play. It's obvious that I want to, so I might as well share with you a bit of why I choose to play HackMaster.

I've come a long way in gaming. Not as far as some, but I've put in my miles. But truthfully that doesn't matter. I have played over two dozen different types of role playing games, but that doesn't matter either really. I have GMed thousands of hours,  but that's not too important. Played in games averaging the same, maybe a bit less, but ... right, doesn't matter either. I started with AD&D back in 1981, D&D's heyday. So what. 

What matters is magic. Yep, magic. Not the kind of spell system used, not the rules technicalities of how magery operates in a game. Nope, not that kind of magic. I'm talking about gaming magic. The kind of magic that happens when a group of gamers sits down around a table and begins to roll up PCs; the kind of magic that is woven as a shared story unfolds; the magical surprised of the unexpected imaginings of a group in magical sync with each other on some imaginal plane of being; the magic that happens when they talk about the game out of session; the magic of friendships that develop out of the game; the kind of depth that they reach in their affiliation and relationships somehow tied to those fantastic sharings we call table-top role-playing. 

Don't get me wrong, rules matter. The group has to sync with those rules. And there are different wells of magic that draw different kinds of people; different games that people are drawn to. The games, the technicalities, the rules the systems all matter. They are like material components to a magic spell; a spell that would be ineffectual without them. And it's always a toss up for me whether a system will work or not to help me conjure that magic. 

HackMaster is a complex game, built on a fundamentally simple concept. It's complex in the extension of the game, not in its particulars. For some reason that's important to me. I suppose it's my AD&D upbringing, that game that could be played so simply, but with endless baroque complexity for the adding should one wish. But it isn't just that.

I suppose I should be honest.

It's people that do it for me. It always come down to people. Gary Gygax realized this long ago when he and Dave Arneson were hammering our the first rules. This is a social game, it is not really designed for solo play. The fundamental magic of the game happens in a group of people. And just who are the people who do it for me? Well, BA Felton; Bob Herzog; Dave Bozwell; Sara Felton and Brian van Hoose. But that's not all; count in Johnny Kacinski, Pete Ashton, Nitro Ferguson, Newt Forager, Gordo Sheckberry and Steevil Van Hostle; and while you're at it don't forget Gary Jackson and JoJo Zeke, and Patty and Crutch and the list goes on and on. Now, if none of these sound familiar you need to give the Knights of the Dinner Table a read. It's a treat you'll not regret. 

Yes, yes, I know--they're fictional characters. But in a way they're not. Jolly Blackburn took at least in part the character of his personae from real people he knew and gamed with. No, it's not the fictional nature of the characters that draws me, it's the stories told about them. Their creators Jolly and Barbara Blackburn and the others who contribute to the strip understand something fundamental about gaming. They understand what makes it what it is for an awful lot of us. KODT captures the magic, distills it and portrays it on the page for all of us to enjoy, laugh and cry over. In fact HackMaster came out of an identification with these characters. From what I understand fans of the strip began to write in asking what game they played and it it really existed. So many in fact that Kenzer Co decided to event the version of the game they played. A version that captured that essence of gaming portrayed on the pages of KODT. But, as the history above makes clear, the game couldn't "do" certain things they wanted it to do because it had been built on a different infrastructure, namely AD&D. So when looking at the changing market and deciding to write the game they were really playing, HackMaster 5e was the result.

And so, yes, KODT is the reason I play HackMaster. But its' not as simple as all that. It has to do with something I have been searching for a long time. That same magic that I feel when I really am in the gaming groove. It hasn't happened much since those days long past when I was first playing AD&D. I found it again in the pages of KODT. And if the HackMaster game was written to capture that, I want to play it. We'll see how it goes.