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.

Adventurer Conqueror King & Non Vancian Magic

Vancian Magic is seen by many to be one of the hallmarks of D&D style gaming. It is of course only one way of many to do RPG magic, and in point of fact many later editions of D&D chose to explore some of these options. For me Vancian Magic is a rich and deep tradition of fantasy play, that is often seen only for its weaknesses and not for its strengths. But that is for the subject of another post. For today we are going to take a look at how Adventurer Conqueror King does its magic.

First of all ACKS has a great explanation of why it chose to do magic differently from the traditional Vancian perspective which you can read about here. Which I think is important because it ties its rationale to some opinions of some old schoolers themselves. I'm not saying I agree. I prefer Vancian magic. That being said, I really like the philosophical underpinnings of ACKS magic. The reason in fact that I like Vancian magic is because of the implications that such magic makes for the various campaign worlds in which it exists. All you have to do is read Jack Vance to understand a little of what I'm talking about.

It always amazes me how some people play a game by the rules, but not see that the rules have huge implications for the tone, background and reality of the setting in which the game is played. This is exactly what ACKS sets up for its players in its approach to non-Vancian magic. It actually does it fairly well in a number of other places as well, but the case with magic stands out as amazing in my opinion.

Magic in ACKS works much like it does in Classic D&D--not AD&D. There are no casting times or the like. However it is unexceptional from the traditional game in that anything I don't mention can be assumed to work much like it does in the original game. Where it diverges is in what they call Spell Repertoires.

Spell casters in ACKS have a number of spells in what are called their Repertoires. In the case of wizards the Repertoire may have as many spells as the mage can cast in a day. He may however have more spells in his spell book. In the case of Clerics their Repertoire consists of all spells their Deity allows them access to at their given level. This not only makes sense it has awesome implications for the ACK's gaming universe.

Spell Signatures are the last touch that add flavor to ACK by implying spellcasters learn magic slightly differently or uniquely. Each spell might have a special flair, quality or effect that is unique to the caster that work the magic. Such a touch not implies that magic use if very much akin to an art, it also implies magic use must be channeled or directed individually; and that individual will have an effect on the spell's outcome and nature. The hook possibilities are endless.

So not only does ACK create a system that is bound in power--spell selection may be tightly limited but use is expanded--it also offers increased playability in terms of magic users who can cast more spells with greater role playing effect. Long ago in Role Playing Mastery, Gary Gygax said that before one starts changing a system, in this case Classic D&D, be sure you are aware of the spirit of the system and how that changes the game as a whole. It seems to me that the ACK designers did just that. Is ACK a clone of Classic D&D. Perhaps not, but it is certainly a faithful variant to the spirit of what made old school gaming great.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I Expected More

I love Goodman Games and own a dozen or so Dungeon Crawl Classics Adventures for d20 and the DCC RPG and about half a dozen adventures for DCC RPG. All are great. I mean not all of the DCC Adventures of old were stellar, but they all had the old school feel. I had already bought the Next core rule books when I bought these, and was hopeful Goodman Games would put their unique "spin" on some third party Next adventures. Unfortunately there is nothing special here. The price is not bad all told, since they are both relatively short--but neither is an experience worth writing home about. Now, as I often say, don't get me wrong ... They are playable adventures, and the vignette of a crawl they represent isn't reprehensible or anything. Their solid in that sense--and I shouldn't hold it against them that the works don't quite do it for me old school style as that likely has more to do with 5e than Goodman Game's dungeon design ability.

Would I but them again? Probably. But given the chance I would rather put my cash down for more DCC RPG adventures and hack them for AD&D.

Some Changes

Just an FYI to explain some of my dust.

  • I'm removing the link list from the front page of the blog
  • Links will now be on the "Links" page
  • Adding new links and updating old ones
  • I will reorganize them as I go
  • Updates to the "Inspiration" page will also include links to items that inspire me, so you can be inspired too :-)
  • I'm trying to add some social media functionality with Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus--tho' I'm active on those sites I'm not sure the best way to add streamlined connections to other areas of social interaction.
  • I will also be posting again regularly. I have written several posts ahead, so when a day passes without time for me to post I'll have something to share. My goal is still one a day--but I rarely make that.
  • Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs

A day or two ago I posted about gamer smells and staying fresh smelling--all in good fun of course. Now I post a little more seriously about getting high class with utterly gamerly smells. Check out the artisan works below ...

So I've been meaning to post a brief coverage of this little alternative perfumery where you can buy deliciously dark and fantasique concoctions of odorous delights with which to anoint your physical frame and define your sensual identity. But I must say that Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs is particularly relevant to us for it's Fantasy Gaming related scents that some of us might find a unique contribution to our presence at the gaming table.

My personal favorite is Mage

D&D 5e, the New Wave and I'm Still Old School

Well, 5e, aka D&D Next, is in full swing and my wonderful kids and wife have bought me all the existing rule books, which I have been reading off and on for the past few months.
And it's not a bad game really. But then neither was 4e speaking in strictly "gamist" terms. 4e was an imminently playable game, tight rule-set (if you liked long combats); but not my preferred schtick. This version is far more narrativist in style, but I find that not hard to believe since the latest new wave in gaming is to go extremely rules light and narrativist in structure. Games like Dragon AgeDungeon World13th Age and Savage Worlds are all part and parcel of a certain approach to gaming that favors "storytelling" over simulationism or gamist elements. In fact I'm sure there are some in the D&D Design/R&D departments that would consider such a comparison high praise.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that 5e is some sort of clone of those earlier interpretations of this gaming style or tries to copy their approach. It is it's own game as much as each of the above are as well. However, my point is that as I contemplate the game I learned and grew up on in the early 80's, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons I find my feelings trending more towards this expression of dissatisfaction and disaffection.

Though I'll admit this computer game designer is likely just tooting the horn of his most recent employer at the expense of his old, the things he says ring out with a certain clarity and truth to me. Personally I don't think Paizo is the new messiah, I've been to church with the Pathfinders and failed to be converted. But it does seem that they know what they are about. They know they are playing to 3.5 fans and continue to do so with power and joi de vivre. For these reasons I agree that the D&D brand has lost its way. Some will of course disagree as they have all during the age of the edition wars. These defenders will, like social commentators, explain that TSR and then WoTC were simply responding to the demands of gamers across the world that were crying for something different, for something new wave.

And so here again we have the new version, 5e, D&D Next, or simply Next. Not a bad game at all. It just, once again, isn't my game.

Catching Up

Had a comment some time back asking for the Hackmaster posts from my last campaign. So I re-posted them for your general use and reference.

I have been neck deep in grad school and my new job as a school administrator. While I never stop thinking about gaming, reading about it, talking about it with those who are close to me, and working on my adventures and campaigns I have not been doing much actual gaming. Regardless of a few failed attempts to start long term campaigns with friends both near and far it hasn't been a complete dry spell; but most sessions have been one-offs with immediate and extended family when they visit. I even found a fellow whom I identify with quite a lot, Kenny, the Solo Role Player. I admire his efforts at building the Solo Roleplaying community, but I think even he would admit that going it solo is not quite the same thing as social roleplaying--it is in fact a different sort of hobby. But What Kenny has made me aware of is that I am not the only one out there dying to game more, but for whom life has gotten so busy that a regular gaming schedule just isn't quite happening. Most days I finally pull out my game books around 10:45 as I'm laying in bed trying to get to sleep--and I still have to be up at 6:00 the next morning.

Unfortunately, my blog has taken a back seat. That's a shame really, since I've learned from Kenny it means a lot to the gamer masses out there that you aren't alone when you can't find time in life to game. None of us can game round the clock, and most of us are lucky to game once a week. So just knowing that gaming life goes on even when that is the case is important. It has been important to me anyway.

In my late night gaming ponderings there have been some progress made, I'm just now sure where or how it fits exactly with my blog. My blog has had two main foci: 1) a place to discuss my current games and the thoughts and experiences that arise because of them and 2) a philosophical stream of consciousness regarding the nature of old school gaming. Obviously the first is simply not happening as of now, and the second has seemed a little pointless when I'm not gaming. I have tried to shift the paradigm of the blog a couple of times, but it simply hasn't happened. Hasn't been able to sustain itself in my blogging efforts. Hopefully I can manage that with this next go 'round.