Monday, July 21, 2014

Hackmaster Combat Preview

HackMaster combat is a little different from standard AD&D combat, but the more familiar I get with it, the more I like it. Having a few pointers as you go about creating your first PC and prepping for your first hack might prove helpful. So with that in mind:

Generally speaking ...

Base Combat Numbers

A Character's Base Attack = Intelligence Attack Modifier + Dexterity Attack Modifier + Class Attack Bonus

A Character's Base Defense = Wisdom Defense Modifier + Dexterity Defense Modifier + Armor Defense Adjustment + Shield Defense Adjustment

A Character's Base Initiative = Wisdom Initiative Modifier + Dexterity Initiative Modifier + Class Initiative Modifier

A Character's Base Damage = Strength Damage Modifier

Technically speaking here, the base attack, defense and initiative doesn't include class level or armor and shield adjustments, but I add them because they are commonly added in when in combat.

Weapon Proficiencies & Specialization

Now, there are other modifiers that may be included, most significantly weapon specialization. Each class has a cost for weapon proficiencies and specialization. Each character must pay in BPs for each weapon they have chosen to specialize in. Classes may give you automatic proficiencies, i.e. fighters and thieves are automatically proficient in all minimal skill weapons. Other must be paid for, albeit fighters can purchase weapon proficiencies at 1/2 listed cost.

Specialization cost, again, varies by class. There are specialization options for each weapon in Attack, Speed, Initiative, Defense and Damage. In other words you can be really good at hitting with the long sword, really quick with the long sword, getting the jump with the long sword, defending with the long sword, or causing the greatest amount of damage with the long sword. The getting good part equates in numbers to a +1 per purchase with your BPs. And this does not transfer to other weapons. Fighting with the long sword for instance is very different from the dagger, which is very different from the spear. Also, you must be +1 in each area before you can gain another plus and be +2 in any single area. Then you must be +2 in everything before you start to move to plus 3 in any area. This makes perfect sense as truly mastering a weapon requires knowledge in all aspects of it's use equally in order to excel even further in a given area. Also note that the highest level of mastery in any weapon is +5 in all areas. 

Note: Ranged weapons are slightly different, as they don't require all areas for use. For instance bows only have mastery for Attack and Speed. 

Attacking and Defending

The basic outline of HackMaster Combat is:
  1. Determine Distance & Surprise.
  2. Determine Starting Initiative.
    1. The GM will call for initiative and let everyone know what die to roll--the default is a d12.
    2. Add base initiative to your roll to determine your starting second in combat.
  3. The GM will start the count up on second 1.
  4. Combatants are essentially caught flatfooted until their starting initiative.
  5. Once your starting initiative second comes up you can begin to close to combat.
  6. When you close for combat, the person with the longer reach (based on race and weapon type) attacks first.
  7. The attacker rolls a d20p.
    1. Add base attack modifier.
  8. The defender rolls a d20p - (minus) 4.
    1. Add base defense modifier.
    2. If the defender has a shield he can roll a d20p.
  9. If the attacker beats the defender's roll he hit.
    1. If it's a tie the defender wins.
  10. The defender may then attack the next second;
    1. Unless they were still in surprise in which case it takes 2 seconds.
  11. Both characters then add weapon speed to determine the next second in which they can attack.
  12. If there is a successful hit you take damage.
    1. Roll damage and add base damage modifier.
    2. The defender deducts damage based on the armor's damage reduction modifier.
    3. If the character had a shield:
      1. If the attacker misses by more than ten it is a complete miss
      2. If the attacker misses within 10 it hits the shield
        1. Roll damage and divide by two, add full modifiers
        2. Apply damage to the shield
  13. If damage exceeds a defender's Threshold of Pain (30% of HP + 1% / Level or 2% / Level for fighters) a trauma check is triggered.
    1. Trauma checks are a save at 1/2 your Constitution or lower.
    2. If you fail by rolling greater than 1/2 your Con you are down writhing in pain for 5 seconds times the difference between your roll and what you needed.
    3. If you roll a natural 20 you are unconscious for 5d6p minutes!

Quirks & Flaws Resource


Note this is information for players in my new Hackmaster 5e game. For details see Hackmaster 5e PHB from KenzerCo.

So, Quirks and Flaws. Fun ways to make your PC more interesting, colorful or memorably obnoxious. This is how it works:

Rolling Randomly gives you full BP Award value for the first quirk or flaw.

Cherry Picking a Quirk or Flaw gives you half the listed BP Award value.

Rolling Randomly for a second Quirk or Flaw gives you the Full BP Award MINUS FIVE.
Cherry Picking for a second Quirk or Flaw give you half, MINUS FIVE of the listed BP Award value.

Each subsequent roll or pick lowers the BP value by a cumulative minus 5. So in other words the third roll is BP Value minus 10, the third pick is 1/2 BP Value minus ten, the fourth is minus 15 etc.

The list is categorized by the 3d10 Result (if you choose to roll),  Quirk Name, then BP Award. Refer to the Basic PDF for descriptions.

01 - 02, Absent-Minded, 20
03, Close Talker, 16
04, Compulsive Liar, 25
05, Fear of Heights, 30
06, Foul-Mouthed, 5
07, Glutton, 10
08, Greedy, 15
09, Miserly, 30
10, Nosy, 8
11, Paranoid, 25
12, Quick-Tempered, 10
13, Racist, 40
14, Superstitious, 15

3d10 Result, Flaw Name, BP Award

15, Allergies, 15
16, Anosmia, 10
17, Colorblind, 10
18, Facial Scar, 2d20
19, Hairy, 5 or 15
20, Limp, slight, 5
21, Limp, moderate, 10
22, Limp, severe, 25
23, Lisp, 25
24, Myopia, 30
25, Pocking, 20
26, Prematurely Gray, 5
27, Sleepwalker, 20
28, Sterile, 5
29, Strange Body Odor, 20
30, Tone Deaf, 5

IMPORTANT NOTE: Backstories are required for all quirks and flaws. Without a backstory the quirk and or flaw may be disallowed.

First Introduction to Tellene

Welcome to Tellene!

Note that this is a character's introduction to Tellene. What most character's would know about their world or can easily find out by talking to a variety of people is presented here. 

There is more thorough information presented about the region of the City State of P'Bapar, for that is the are in which our campaign begins. Most of your first characters will be from P'Bapar of geographic regions very close by. In later sessions you can begin to create characters from farther afield.

More specific information for your individual characters will be provided based on their history. In other words we can talk one on one about the specifics of the local region of origin for your character. You might need to know about a certain forest, or town, city or mountain range depending on your character's background. The information here is general information most characters know, geographically, historically and socially.

Small Ranch Holding near Coniper Gap in P'Bapar at the Foot of the Legasa Peaks and the Krond Heights
Your world is called Tellene--and a fantastic world it is! Tellene is an earth-like planet circling a moderately sized yellow star much like Earth's own called, conveniently enough, the Sun. The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West and most breezes prevail from West to East. Each Year is roughly 360 days long, divided into 12, 30 day months and each day lasts 24 hours. Tellene is slightly warmer that Earth and slightly more moist. Currently the year is 563, Imperial Reckoning (IR) or Year of the King 1044 (YK).
The Known World (img courtesy)
There are six main regions in the known world. Brandobia, Kalamar, The Young Kingdoms, The Wildlands, Renaaria Bay and Svimohzia. Yet while we know of their location and general disposition much remains hidden and mysterious in these far off lands.

The Lands of most concern to us are the Young Kingdoms, and in particular the holdings of the City State of P'Bapar.
The Young Kingdoms ((img courtesy)
The history of the Young Kingdoms starts with the native cattle-herding Dejy tribes peoples that inhabited this region long before other civilized nations arrived here. In about the Year of the King 441, Voleln nephew of King Andovel of Brandobia was granted all the lands East of the Legasa Peaks. Entering with his troops through Coniper Gap he quickly subjugated the Dejy and adopted their cattle husbandry techniques and mounted fighting strategies. Voleln expanded what was then called Eastern Brandobia South to the Renador River and East to the Hadaf Highlands.

Then it was that the troubles began. For Voleln's forces had made the native Elves and Dwarves of the regions and heated conflict quickly arose. The Brandobian forces were resoundingly defeated by the demi-humans and successfully contained within the confines of the broad Eastern Valleys of the Dejy. The Dwarves returned to the mountain fastness, but commerce arose with the Elves of the region and the new Eastern Brandobian reaches.

But just as things began to look promising, Goblins from the Northern woods of Brindon and HobGoblins from the Dark Ashul Weald in the South invaded the new Brandobian territories. The initial battles were a slaughter for the new human immigrants, and many were lost to death and or slavery in those dark years. During this time a vast HobGoblin and Goblinoid territory developed under the ruthless HobGoblin King Kruk-Ma-Kali who held the region under an iron grip. It was the Year of the King 203. Eventually however, with the help of their Elven allies and Dwarven patrols the humanoids were harried back somewhat and reasonably contained eventually establishing the Southern HobGoblin kingdom of Norgra Krangrel.

As the Humans and Demi-Humans were rebuilding the lands regained from the humanoids, King Fulakar invaded with his massive cavalry from the South and adopted Eastern Brandobia into the new Kalamaran Empire. King Kolokar is crowned King over he Kalamaran Empire in 254 and shortly thereafter defeats the Hob-Goblins and organizes the Young Kingdoms, separating the area into largely independent kingdoms.

Roughly 200 years later the Kingdoms begin to secede from the Empire as it weakens and eventually become completely independent kingdoms in their own right.

Note: The World of Tellene and the Kingdoms of Kalamar Campaign setting are the creation of KenzerCo. I highly recommend you check them out at their website. For my players, you are free to purchase the KoK supplement, but most things therein are not general knowledge for most PCs.

PC Creation Guidelines

This PC creation paper is assuming you have the Advanced Hackmaster PHB. It will work with the Basic book as well, but there are references to the Advanced material as well. Page numbers for both are, however, included. Basic pages are prefixed with a b, as in b34. Advanced pages are given first and without a prefix, as in 112. So a single reference might read (101 b42), meaning page 101 in the Advanced HM PHB, or page 42 in the Basic HM book.

The following tutorial is for characters in my Virtual Knights Campaign set in the City State of P'Bapar and the Young Kingdoms of the Kingdoms of Kalamar on the World of Tellene more generally. But the tutorial can be used by others if you ignore the setting specific guidelines.


  1. Get some scratch paper & a pencil
  2. Get your dice
  3. Print off a clean copy of a HackMaster Character Sheet
    1. I prefer you use a character sheet, as it will have everything I need, but you can use notebook paper if you like, just be sure and include everything.
    2. Do NOT use the Basic character sheet
  4. Secure a copy of the Basic rules, or Advanced PHB 
  1. Mark off a spot on your scratch paper and write down 40 Build Points.
    1. Everyone starts with 40 BPs.
    2. You may earn more as you go;
    3. You also will need to mark some off as you use them.
    4. This will be the space to do this.
  1. Roll 3d6 for each ability score and record the results on your scratch paper
    1. Strength
    2. Intelligence
    3. Wisdom
    4. Dexterity
    5. Constitution
    6. Looks
    7. Charisma
  2. Roll d100 for each ability score as well, so each score will have a score from 3 to 18 and then from 01 to 00 after it e.g. 12/52 or 18/01 or 9/38 etc.
  3. You may now choose to rearrange your ability scores.
    1. You can swap two ability scores and get 25 more BPs.
    2. Or you can leave them as is and receive 50 more BPs.
    3. Make your choice and add the appropriate amount to your BP scratch sheet.
    4. There will also be a place where you can adjust ability scores by spending BPs later on.
  1. Choose a race.
  2. Basic Book (b39+)
    1. Human
    2. Elf
    3. Dwarf
    4. Halfling
  3. Advanced Book (18)
    1. Human
    2. Elf
    3. Dwarf
    4. Halfling
    5. Gnome
    6. Gnome Titan
    7. Grel
    8. Half Elf
    9. Half Hobgoblin
    10. Half Orc
  4. Keep in mind when choosing your race that certain classes are not suited to some races, and cost more BPs. (Yes, you will "buy" your class with BPs).
  5. Apply ability score adjustments according to race. 
  1. Choose our race and deduct the necessary BPs from your scratch paper.
  2. If you chose Cleric, you will need to choose a deity
  1. Pick an Alignment
  1. Time to finalize your starting ability scores.
  2. You should have adjusted your ability scores based on your race.
  3. Looks may of course adjust your Charisma score.
  4. Be sure and add adjustments to your BPs from Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma if you haven;t already done so.
  5. You may now tweak your ability scores by spending Build Points
    1. If your score is below 9/100
      1. You can spend 1 point to get 0/10 points until you reach 9/100.
      2. e.g. say you had 8/52; you could spend 10 points to get to 9/52; five more points would put you at 10/02. After this it would cost more than 1 per 0/10
    2. If your score is 10/01 or above
      1. You can spend 1 point to get 0/05 points.
      2. e.g. if you were at 13/11 it would take 20 points to get to 14/11
    3. If your score is 16/01 or higher
      1. You spend 1 point to get 0/03 points.
      2. e.g. you would have to spend 33 points to get from 16/01 to 16/100
  1. Add all of your seven ability scores and divide by 7.
  2. This is your starting Honor score.
  3. Adjust Honor if required due to Charisma and or Looks.
  4. There may be other Honor adjustments that arise due to background, quirks or flaws. Add or deduct them as they come up.
  1. Calculate Starting Age
  2. Calculate Height & Weight
  3. Calculate BMI
  4. Calculate Handedness
  5. Calculate Heritage and Lineage
  6. Flesh out other details such as:
    1. name
    2. eye color
    3. hair color
    4. body shape
    5. voice
    6. facial hair
    7. other noteworthy features or mannerisms (note these make be quirks and flaws)
    8. personality
    9. etc.
  1. Decide if you want Quirks and or Flaws
  2. These can lend distinctiveness to your character as well as extra BPs
  3. You may roll randomly or cherry pick, but cherry-picking lends less rewards
  1. Time to spend BPs on Skills, Talents and Proficiencies.
  2. This is can be an involved process, so keep it simple at first.
  3. Lots of points in one skill can be more useful than a few points scattered over many skills.
  4. Weapon proficiencies and bonuses are purchased here as well if you want extra abilities with a weapon.
  5. You may also choose to reserve some BPs to spend later.
  1. Roll Hit Points
  2. Your starting HP will be
    1. CON score + Size modifier + Hit Die roll (as per class)
  1. Calculate your Base Initiative
    1. Wisdom Modifier + Dexterity Modifier
  2. Calculate your Base Defense
    1. Wisdom Modifier + Dexterity Modifier
  3. Calculate your Base Attack
    1. Intelligence Modifier + Dexterity Modifier + Class Modifier
  4. Calculate your Base Damage
    1. Strength Modifier
  1. Receive Grub Stake
    1. 35 + 2d12 silver pieces
    2. May spend BPs to receive greater starting stake
      1. 5 silver pieces / 1 BP
  1. Buy equipment as per the equipment list in the Basic Rules (b92)

While the above gets you through the essential steps, there will likely be other stuff that hasn't quite fallen into place yet. Stuff like:

Q. Should I choose a God if I'm not a Cleric?
A. That depends. Gods are powerful allies, but they can be overbearing micro-managers at times. Numerous Gods and Goddesses involve themselves in the affairs of Tellene, and that involvement is usually achieved through the work of their worshipers. If you are interested in that kind of work, by all means don't hesitate. But rest assured, your involvement with the divine will not be overlooked by the GM.
Q. The Character sheet asks if I'm anointed or not. I chose a God am I anointed?
A. No. The PHB rules aren't too clear on this, but at this time I am assuming that only Clerics are anointed except under other unusual circumstances.
Q. Should I go ahead and fill in all the modifier info for my abilities now?
A. Yep, you can find that in the ability sections.

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.