Thursday, February 18, 2010

REVIEW: Hackmaster Basic

When you hire legendary gaming artist Erol Otus to do the cover for a new RPG rulebook with the word "basic" in its title, it seems pretty clear to me that a big part of your sales pitch is nostalgia. For gamers of a certain age, the 1981 Basic Rulebook for Dungeons & Dragons will always be the definitive version of the game, the one that not only initiated them into the hobby but also shaped their notions of what an introductory roleplaying game should be. Given that, I expected Kenzer & Company's HackMaster Basic to draw heavily on D&D Basic for inspiration. Other than its title and its cover illustration, that's not the case. Whether one views this as a good thing or a bad thing depends, I imagine, on one's feelings about what constitutes a "basic" RPG, a topic to which I'll return throughout this review.

Let's talk briefly about the physical appearance of the book itself. At 198 pages, HackMaster Basic is a large book, its two-column text being dense and chart-heavy. The text reads well, lacking the grating "gamer macho" tone of HackMaster 4th Edition, but still possessing a unique -- and occasionally still grating -- voice of its own. That said, Basic isn't generic; it's very clearly its own game, with its own style, and, while that style isn't my cup of tea, I nevertheless appreciate a game that knows what it's about and makes no bones about it. The book is well illustrated throughout, with art ranging from the cartoony to the realistic. A number of pieces explicitly recall classic images from early editions of D&D, once again playing the nostalgia card. All in all, Basic is a well put together book that's easy to read and, thanks to an index, easy to navigate.

The book begins with 6 pages of "quick start rules," which, despite the name, focus more on quickly generating a character rather than teaching you how to play the game. Because of their brevity, characters generated according to the quick start rules lack many elements of the full character generation system, such as racial ability adjustments and the like. The full character generation chapter takes up 13 pages and that's not including specific treatments of important character-related topics, such as honor, quirks & flaws, skills, talents, and proficiencies, not to mention the descriptions of the game's four character classes, which alone require more page count than the character generation chapter itself.

I mention this not to damn HackMaster Basic, which, as you'll see, I think is a very well designed RPG, but to point out that it's "basic" only in the sense that it's less complex than the forthcoming Advanced HackMaster. It's certainly not basic compared to any edition of D&D, including AD&D First Edition, whose Players Handbook included three times as many class descriptions in fewer pages than HackMaster Basic manages. To put it inelegantly, this nearly 200-page book provides the rules for "Basic Advanced HackMaster" -- a cut-down version of what is sure to be lengthy and complex set of fantasy RPG rules.

HackMaster Basic characters have seven ability scores: the six traditional D&D ones plus Looks. Race options are the classic four: human, elf, dwarf, and halfling. Class options are likewise the classic four: fighter, thief, mage, and cleric. Alignment is the ninefold style of AD&D and its descendants. Basic makes regular -- some might say too much -- use of random rolls in character generation. In this respect, its old school heritage is clear. However, randomness can be mitigated through the use of "Building Points" (or BPs), usually used to purchase skills and other secondary abilities. For example, spending BPs allows a player to rearrange or swap randomly-determined ability scores, while keeping them as rolled earns one additional BPs. Likewise, while each race can take any class, choosing a class "against type" -- a halfling mage, say -- costs more BPs than choosing a class more in keeping with the race's archetype. This is an interesting design choice that I think goes part of the way toward addressing the usual whines about old school randomness without reducing HackMaster Basic to yet another bland point-buy system. At the same time, keeping track of Building Points can be somewhat tedious and I can't help but wonder if the character customization they offer is more than offset by the bookkeeping they necessitate.

And bookkeeping seems an integral part of HackMaster. There are many stats, derived scores, and calculations involved in not only creating a character but also leveling him up. A quick look at the downloadable character sheet makes the point better than I ever could. Ability scores not only include multiple columns of modifiers associated with them, but each ability also has a fractional score as well, such as Strength 15/45 or Wisdom 13/98, which shows how close they are to increasing that ability to the next whole number, much like Cavaliers in Unearthed Arcana. Characters also have an Honor score that goes up or down based on a player's adherence to his character's class, alignment, and so on. Some will no doubt find the concept of Honor a heavy-handed way to enforce "proper" roleplaying and so it is. For myself, its looseness reminds me uncomfortably of 2e's XP awards system.

As I noted earlier, HackMaster Basic includes not only quirks and flaws (minor advantages and disadvantages), but also skills, talents, and proficiencies, each of which is subtly different in concept and mechanics. Skills are much as you'd expect, while talents are similar to what D&D III called "feats." Proficiencies mostly pertain to weapons and armor use. Taken together, it's all a bit much for my tastes, but, like the random detailed character backgrounds (height, weight, handedness, family ties, etc.), these things do add a kind of goofy depth that I associate with the Silver Age of D&D. Indeed, HackMaster Basic feels very much like a product of that era and I suspect one's opinion of it will depend greatly on how much one liked late 1e.

Character classes are fairly straightforward, each with its own feel and mechanics. I appreciate the lack of homogenization here, with the fighter being the simple hit-stuff-until-it-dies class suitable for newbies, while mages require more cleverness and skill to play effectively. Arcane magic is somewhat different than in D&D, with spells costing Spell Points (SPs) to cast. Spells can still be memorized and doing so halves their cost in SPs. Clerics, on the other hand, differ much less from their D&D inspirations, although Basic presents several generic religions -- The True, The Caregiver, The Overlord, etc. -- that dictate what spells, weapons, and special abilities a cleric can wield.

All classes are much beefier than their D&D counterparts, starting with hit points equal to their Constitution + Hit Dice. New Hit Dice are gained every other level, with "dead" levels granting a re-roll of current hit points in order to improve the score. Again, I'm of multiple minds about this, but, ultimately, I find it mildly baffling that game like HackMaster, which claims to be "hard hitting old-school gaming," should care much about the supposed fragility of low-level characters. (In fairness, I should add that dice "penetrate" in HackMaster, which means you get to re-roll and add if your first roll is a maximum result. This process is open-ended, so it is possible to kill even the toughest character with a single stab from a dagger, even though it's extraordinarily unlikely)

HackMaster Basic's claims to basic-ness is sorely tested in its combat rules, which are lengthy and complex, with lots of sub-rules, special cases, and exceptions. Granted, many of these could, as in D&D, be safely ignored, but I have to wonder why an introductory game includes them at all. Wouldn't things like knockbacks and trauma, to cite but two examples, have been better saved for Advanced HackMaster? I ask, because the underlying combat system, consisting of opposed rolls between an attacker and a defender, is simple and reasonably intuitive (though the same cannot be said for its initiative system, which reminded me unhappily of Champions, though that's probably unfair). The game does include a helpful 9-page, text-heavy Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip to show how combat works. Again, pictures speak louder than words.

Rounding out the book are chapters on dice and the "proper" use of them in the game (11 pages in length), monsters, treasure, and a cursory (2 pages) presentation of the "canons" of conduct for a Game Master, such as "The GM is Always Right" and "Let the Dice Fall Where They May." It's difficult to tell whether these canons are meant seriously or as a joke, but, like most things associated with HackMaster, it's probably not an either/or proposition. The monster section is solid and includes a good stable of creatures to use, while the treasure section is a bit spottier, which I suppose is to be expected given HackMaster Basic's focus on levels 1-5. The rules heavily imply a "proper" amount of treasure and magic items based on a chart that reminds me of D&D III's encounter levels -- indeed, the term "encounter levels" is explicitly used -- so that's worrisome but easily dispensed with if one is so inclined. Unless I missed something, XP is gained solely through defeating opponents.

And that, in a nutshell, is HackMaster Basic. It's difficult to do full justice to this game in my review, however lengthy and detailed I made it and I have certainly overlooked and maybe even misrepresented some aspects of its contents. That, to me, is its great glory and its great disappointment. Its glory is that this a game you can really sink your teeth into; it's not an airy, calorie-free indie game but a super-sized bacon cheeseburger of the old school variety. Its disappointment is that it's neither a good introductory RPG in its own right nor even a particularly good introduction to HackMaster for those not already well versed in its idiosyncratic ways. The game is needlessly complex and arcane for anything calling itself "basic" and I think that's a pity, because I can see how one could really enjoy a game like this. As I said, it's meaty and flavorful and probably one of the more cleverly done D&D pastiches in a hobby filled with them.

I doubt I'd ever play, let alone run, a HackMaster Basic campaign; it's, as I said early, "too much" for me. Still, in the midst of an old school renaissance that's made "rules light" (or whatever other phrase we're using these days to describe do-it-yourself gaming) a singular virtue, HackMaster defiantly hoists the flag for the days when calculating the bone density of giants and arguing over terminal velocity in order to get your falling damage article published in Dragon was the cool thing to do. That it does this without pretension or self-seriousness and without descending into parody is a pretty remarkable thing. Again, it's not for me, but then I've already got plenty of games that are. For old schoolers who prefer their fantasy a bit more "buff," though, HackMaster Basic may be just what they're looking for.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10

Get This If:
You're looking for an alternative to the "light" old school RPGs out there these days.
Don't Get This If: You don't like random chargen, derived statistics, complex combat systems, and fantasy that doesn't take itself too seriously.

48 comments:

  1. I have to say what irked me the most was the chapter devoted to the proper use of dice. It was not only incredibly patronising upon the part of the authors, it was also an utter waste of space that could have been better used to provide more monsters or more treasure, or even an actual scenario.

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  2. I wasn't keen on the dice chapter either and would consider it a waste of space in most RPGs, but, in HackMaster, it's part of the game's style. Not to my taste, certainly, but I can't rightly fault the game for being what it is, though, as you say, the page count could have more profitably been used for other topics.

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  3. I bought this when it first came out and was utterly bewildered by it. It's way too complicated for a "basic" anything, and I really didn't see the use of the complexity. The "humorous" bits fell flat: I either want less funny stuff or more, and the hedging "satire" in the midst of a book that wanted so desperately to be taken seriously just came off as an unpleasant muddle. I sort of liked the countdown initiative system and made a half-hearted attempt to retrofit it into my Swords & Wizardry campaign, but that turned out to be a major headache. Fortunately, I was able to sell the book over Amazon for almost my full purchase price.

    Cool cover, though.

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  4. I think the new HackMaster line occupies a weird place in the hobby and I'd be amazed if it gains much traction outside the existing HM fanbase. Tautological though it sounds, I think it'll appeal greatly to the kind of people it appeals to. I feel no burning desire to run it myself, but I have known people for whom this would be the perfect RPG. I'm just not one of them.

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  5. I guess I fall on the other side of the fence here. I really like the game, although I haven't yet had a chance to play. When I first got it, I couldn't stop reading.

    The game is designed to prepare you for Advanced Hackmaster. I don't know how much more complex AH will be, but perhaps the authors wanted to get as much of AH in the basic game as they could so it wouldn't be as large a leap.

    I know a lot of people dislike the chapter on dice, but I'm glad it's in there. It's preserving the Hackmaster attitude. Heck, I did the Two Fisted Monkey Roll last week in our AD&D campaign. It worked!

    I've never had the opportunity to play HM, but I would love to.
    If I could convince our current DM to run it, I'd play it in a heartbeat.

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  6. Bought it when it came out, started to read it and zoned out. I really, really, really wanted to like it, but alas it was not so.

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  7. I had read a couple of less detailed reviews, including by someone I respected (still do!), and excitedly bought the game. I guess I don't regret buying it, for, like James here, I can respect the coherence and flavor of the game. It was just not basic enough for me; I will never play it, and will probably give it away to a grad student. Even stuff I thought I was going to like - honor - didn't do it for me. But I agree with James - there are lots of people for whom this will strike a sweet spot.

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  8. I, too, was pretty underwhelmed by HMB's schizophrenic tone. I am intrigued by what I've heard about the Advanced game, though, because I'd like to see an ultra-crunchy fantasy game with the production values of Aces & Eights (which is what they've promised). We'll see what happens.

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  9. Hackmaster seems like a game with a design mission statement to make me dislike it as much as possible.

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  10. I think that if I wanted to run a fantasy game that was at least as complicated as my AD&D, but with beefed up characters, I would just use my Champions/Hero System stuff.

    I don't really know the entire history, but didn't this game evolve from an internet cartoon? If I want a game that is in any way jokey, I guess I could finally get some use from my Toon rulesbook I bought years ago.

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  11. Having played the previous version of Hackmaster I found that:

    I love the homage/parody of AD&D crunch, but if a game's character generation is super labor intensive, then don't make the game incredibly & gleefully punitive on the players.

    That said I really like what the Hack guys do, and they certainly nail and represent a certain flavor from the AD&D Dragon Magazine days.

    Similarly to James' "Gygax on OD&D and AD&D" post though, I have wondered if I'm not infected with some Waukegan AD&D regionalism, and that is how AD&D went down in the Northern Chicago suburbs and towns. Maybe the Hack gaming aesthetic is primarily regional.

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  12. I have to admit that I had refrained from looking at HackMaster because its joke elements and its complexity, but I was very impressed by Aces & Eights which had the crunch, but not irksome attitude. So I was prepared to look at HackMaster Basic when it came out and found engaging enough. Curiously though, HackMaster Basic promised the removal of the joke elements, but I would consider the inclusion of both the comic strip and the dice chapter to be joke elements.

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  13. Bought this -- I mean, look at that cover -- and while there are some bits here and there that I found cool, I can't see myself running a HM game without heavy modification of the standard rules.

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  14. HackMaster was first mentioned in the Knights of the Dinner Table comic. As portrayed there, HM was a rules-heavy, complex old school game whose players liked to out-maneuver one another -- and their embittered GM -- with a combination of rules lawyering and geek machismo. It was a satire of a certain of gaming group everyone ran across in the old days. As a result of some legal goofiness, its creators were able to mine 1e and 2e rules for the basis of a real version of the game but the terms of their agreement with WotC required that the resulting game (called HackMaster 4th Edition) be over the top and silly, even though it could be played straight (not that I ever knew anyone who did).

    HM Basic and the upcoming advanced version is a totally new game that, while it retains some of the attitude of HM4, isn't a joke game. It's not a parody or a satire, even though some gamers might see it as such. The tone's not one I especially dig myself, but I don't want anyone to think that HM Basic isn't a "real" game. It most definitely is and it's meant to be played straight. Don't let the fact that it has a sense of humor about itself fool you.

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  15. I really enjoy Knights of the Dinner Table, but Hackmaster 4th was way too crunchy for me, plus any game that would encourage the behavior we see around the Knights' table is kind of scary. ;-)

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  16. "There are many stats, derived scores, and calculations involved in not only creating a character but also leveling him up."

    You know, I say this as a fan of both: at some point, when your mechanics involve this much math, you should really lean back, take everything in and honestly say "You know, maybe I should be making a video game and letting a computer do all this."

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  17. I may be in the minority, but as a Class of 81 Basic graduate I found the cover off putting. Otus copying Otus doesn't do it for me. slug/hydra creatures don't get my vote.

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  18. It's a mix bag but I do like quite a few things in it. Most especially the combat system which I think has a lot of potential and I actually like their HP system and think they even improved on some of the classic D&D monsters.

    I think the Kenzer guys hit the nail right on the head were they say you can make HMB as silly as you want or dead serious.

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  19. It struck me as a misguided attempt, to "fix" AD&D.

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  20. I enjoyed reading the core HackMaster books as satire, but was put off by the level of complexity, even for something as fundamental as character creation. I had hopes for HMB, but I'll definitely steer clear after reading your review, since I was hoping for a lean "blue box" or "red box" presentation that would not try my limited patience for complex chargen and combat systems.

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  21. My problem with the dice chapter are 1) it's a copy of the dice chapters from previous editions, 2) it's a free download 3) they claim game is now no longer a parody 4) there are important things missing from HMB that could have gone in those pages.

    I must be the only one who loves that initiative system. I think if more people actually tried it out (preferably with some props like I did) they would have different view. Mine is - it is faster, easier to track durations of stuff, more dynamic and fuller of tension than the per round systems. I really want to use that initiative (and exploding damage) in D&D but I fear it will make it too much "not D&D".

    But, we're largely in agreement. You said it best "it'll appeal greatly to the kind of people it appeals to"

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  22. @Norman: I love the initiative/speed system too. I think it works really well.

    Not that I normally use it, but, still, it's a terrific mechanic.

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  23. I found the book to be a rather enjoyable read. However its what I would describe as Neu Old School. Its very much written with an old school mentality but with some newer rule mechanics (for example all the stats have real value, even to a tank fighter) and Ive always been a huge fan of the honor rules Kenzer has developed.

    Its very crunchy but there are definitely rules I would strip out to use in a more low complexity OSR game like Initiative and Honor.

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  24. To everyone bashing the dice chapter:

    It wasn't originally intended to be included, but the printer did it's runs in bunches of 16 (if I remember correctly) pages, and the original count came in under that. Instead of cutting some of the actual content, they took the dice chapter from HM4 and added a little to it the day the print run was to start.

    In other words, the dice chapter was never going to be anything else, and if it wasn't included there would have actually been less content. Just one of those strange quirks of the printing buisness.

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  25. I think that's a very fair review, James. HackMaster Basic is not for me either, but it has many good bits and pieces, and even - dare I say it? - a few innovations. The char gen system for one, while complex, is a cool little solo sub-game by itself. :)

    I know people who swear to it, and they are the kind of guys who like crunch. So I believe that there's quite a market for HackMaster out there.

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  26. Played a few session of this, and I hated it. When a game which calls itself "basic" is more complex to play than 3e (and 4e), something is amiss.

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  27. Oh, not to say the appeal to "old-school". If there is something old-school, I haven't found it.

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  28. Just a point of order aside: the "generic clerics" that you pointed out are, in fact, not generic. They are specific deities of the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting. They have generic sounding names because one of the premises of the setting is that all peoples worship the same deities, but know them by different names, and so from the high level like this, they get referred to by titles such as "The Caregiver" and "The Overlord" rather than specific names that have been applied to them.

    Your review of HMB largely mirrors my own feelings on this. It's basic only in comparison to what is coming, though to be honest, I"m of mixed opinions here. I really do like the basic underlying system here. It just looks too much like a fetishistic exercise in book keeping that keeps turning me off.

    I do recommend to you, though, the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, if only as a very excellent campaign world that learned a great deal from Greyhawk and is, if I'm allowed to gush just a little, a spiritual successor to the style of Gygax's Greyhawk with a little of Forgotten Realm's style thrown in.

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  29. I've been playing D&D since Red Box and I admit that I played 3e, but have since switched to HMB. I've been running a campaign now for a little over 6 months and our group has been really enjoying it. Now, I know it's not for everyone, but it certainly has worked for us. Our group often refers to it as "Old School Feel with New School Mechanics". We haven't really had an issue with the level of crunch as much of that is in character creation. Although there is a lot of details there I've certainly found it (as a DM) MUCH easier to run than 3e.

    One thing I'd like to point out as well is that we've really found that it plays different (and better) than it reads, and I like how it reads. Although the first combat or two were a little shaky, we quickly got in the groove of the initiative system and everyone has REALLY loved it as it gets them more engaged. Although you start with more HP than in 1e, keep in mind that not only do weapons penetrate (explode) on max numbers, but generally do double the damage of 1e weapons. For example, a longsword does 2d8 plus str modifier. Suddenly starting with 30 hp isn't so much...

    Although I can understand the concern with complexity of so many seemingly advanced rules being in the "basic" game, I do feel they are core to the system and needed. For example, Trauma damage is key because if you ever take ~30% of your HP total in damage, you have to make a check against 1/2 your con to see if you drop to the ground in pain, effectively taking you out of the fight (how long depends on the roll). This really changes the dynamics of the fight as you can't count on being up at full fighting strength until you run out of HP.

    My final thing to point out is that the "power curve" during character advancement is shallower than in many games. As was mentioned in the review, you only get a full hit die every other level and your other abilities also increase at a slower rate than in some other games. What I love about this is that encounters such as orcs and goblins are still dangerous at higher levels.

    In the end, everyone has their own styles and play preferences and I know this isn't for everyone, but it's been great for our group. I run a game just west of the GTA if anyone ever wants to give it a try.

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  30. I think people are going a little over the top on the complexity angle here. Sure, it's a complex system compared to Swords & Wizardry but it's a masterpiece of clear and concise writing compared to the AD&D DMG.

    Once you've run through one combat the game goes like clockwork. Most of the number crunching is done as chargen and the answers are then on your character sheet for future reference.

    So saying, I'm not going to be ditching Spellcraft & Swordplay (my current campaign) for Hackmaster Basic, but when that campaign winds up, I would certainly consider running its successor with HB.

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  31. Maybe the Hack gaming aesthetic is primarily regional.

    That's certainly possible. I've seen repeated evidence that there was/is, for example, a "California style" of gaming, of which Dave Hargrave and Greg Stafford are good exemplars. It makes sense to me that there might be similar regional gaming "cultures" in other parts of the world.

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  32. Curiously though, HackMaster Basic promised the removal of the joke elements, but I would consider the inclusion of both the comic strip and the dice chapter to be joke elements.

    This is where the notion of "gamer cultures" probably comes into play. Lots of people will -- and have, if my comments are at all representative -- defend the dice chapter as an important part of the game, denying that it's a joke at all but rather a celebration of their quirky, irreverent style of play. I think that's a perfectly valid point of view, even if my own sympathies lie elsewhere. As I see it, HM Basic is a very particular kind of game and it's written for a particular audience. Not being part of that audience, a lot of goes over our heads or is misconstrued as something it's not. That's not deny the validity of our criticisms of it, but I think it's important to place HM in its proper context and understand that, like many things in life, it's probably an acquired taste. One man's caviar is another man's cat food, after all.

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  33. You said it best "it'll appeal greatly to the kind of people it appeals to"

    And, truthfully, I think that's awesome. There's frankly too much expectation that I or anyone else like the same things as everybody else. There are, for example, lots of books, movies, and TV shows that get plaudits for every corner that I simply cannot stand. Rather than simply accept that I like different things because I'm an individual, I get people trying to "prove" to me that my dislikes are irrational and that I should give X, Y, or Z another chance. That attitude really irks me.

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  34. Just a point of order aside: the "generic clerics" that you pointed out are, in fact, not generic. They are specific deities of the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting.

    I know nothing of Kalamar, so thanks for pointing that out.

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  35. We haven't really had an issue with the level of crunch as much of that is in character creation.

    Speaking for myself, crunchy character creation isn't something I look for in an old school fantasy RPG. If I can't create a character in 10 minutes or less, then it's too complex for my purposes. I realize that's a minority opinion these days, which is why I don't fault HM for being more complex than that, even if I don't have any interest in it myself.

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  36. I think people are going a little over the top on the complexity angle here.

    Complexity is relative. If one is used to OD&D or Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry, HM Basic is definitely complex. And, I'm going to be frank here, a game whose cover is an homage to the Moldvay rulebook, painted by the the very same artist as the original, does set up the expectation that it's a pretty mechanically simple game. Certainly, the game's introduction makes it clear that it's "basic" in the sense of providing "the basic rules" to Advanced HackMaster. That's fair enough, but, as I say, I don't think anyone can be faulted for assuming, based on its title and the cover illustration, that it's more in the vein of Moldvay or Mentzer than it actually is (or was ever intended to be).

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  37. Do you find it at all disturbing that a game billing itself as a "complete game" with "everything one needs to learn how to play" provides no chapter/rules on how to run a HMB game or even design an adventure scenario? I'd call that a bit of false advertising.

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  38. JB- I hope I don't come off as a jerk here, but I don't think they are marketing their game as a "hand-holding-welcome-to-roleplaying-games" game. I look at it as the experienced gamer who wants to take the next step, not the new gamer looking to try out rpgs.

    It has all the rules for characters 1-5, a decent equipment section, good list of spells and a really good section on monsters. I'd say that's pretty complete for what a person would need to play the game.

    I said it before and I'll say it again, I would love to play this game given the chance to.

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  39. Do you find it at all disturbing that a game billing itself as a "complete game" with "everything one needs to learn how to play" provides no chapter/rules on how to run a HMB game or even design an adventure scenario? I'd call that a bit of false advertising.

    Here again, I think the term "basic" is tripping a lot of people up and rightly so. Kenzer wants us to understand "basic" as meaning "the basics" of the HM rules; it's an introduction to the forthcoming Advanced HackMaster, not an introduction to roleplaying games generally, which is what many others expected when they see the word "basic" on the cover.

    Given Kenzer's intentions for the game, it is complete. The problem arises with, as I keep saying, the conjunction between the cover art and the word "basic," which naturally conjures up very different expectations in people not already plugged into the HM community and the development of the 5th edition of the game. Kenzer clearly was not trying to be deceptive, but I do think they contributed to some confusion by having Erol Otus ape himself for the cover art.

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  40. There's a reason the dice chapter is in there. The guys were ready to go to print but at the last minute realized they really wanted to squeeze in 4 more pages of rules. The printer can only accommodate 16 page increments and so they needed a few pages of filler. Rather than leaving the pages blank, they inserted the dice chapter.

    The other alternatives would have been leaving out several pages of important material or significantly delaying the production process while more new material was written.

    I was one of those people thinking "That dice chapter was a waste of space where more important stuff could have gone", but that idea was before I knew the reasons behind it, and now I'll give them a pass for that one.

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  41. On the subject of "gamer culture" and Hackmaster, I gave up on the original comics very early on, as they completely went over my head. I have no point of reference for the people in those strips, because while I have met rules lawyers and exasperated GMs aplenty, no one I've ever played an rpg with has ever taken the game as seriously as the Knights of the Dinner Table. As such, there are no chuckles of recognition for me, just a sense of discomfort as I'm invited to laugh at these socially dysfunctional types.

    Or maybe I just don't get the jokes.

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  42. As an aside I have to say the Otus artwork really grabs me. I love the loose imaginative artwork as opposed to the super-detailed grim and gritty of mainstream RPGs. Leaves more room to imagine.

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  43. How can anyone honestly review a game without playing it? HMB plays different from how it may seem at first read through. You really have to play it a couple of times, and learn how smooth it flows, before you realize it.

    As soon as I read, "I didn't play this game but,..." I immediately stop reading and totally discounted the reviewer's opinion. If you played it and it isn't to your liking that's one thing, but to try and provide a review of a game without out playing just shows to me that you are already biased against the game and you haven't given it a fair chance.

    But then again, I'm finding that is a standard of online game reviewers...

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  44. Greylond,

    If you think I thought HM Basic was a bad game, you clearly need to read what I wrote again.

    But then I find commenting on blog posts without actually reading them is standard for a lot of Internet denizens these days.

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  45. You're correct, like I said, I stopped reading at the point that I realized that you hadn't played the game...

    Glad you liked it, but my point is still the same. How can you honestly Review a Game that you haven't Played? IMO, not very well.

    I am VERY Interested in reading reviews and fair criticisms of the game, but from someone who hasn't played it.

    My critique of your review/critique is that no matter what your opinion, it isn't a very good review considering that you haven't played the game...

    To put my point in a very clear way, whatever your opinion, my comments are about your "Review Process" not the final product...

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  46. "How can you honestly Review a Game that you haven't Played?"

    The same Way you capitalize a Noun that isn't even proper as well as a Verb for some weird Reason. :)

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  47. I review plenty of things I haven't played. I state as much when I do my reviews. If something on reading it sounds awesome or butt, you generally have a good idea if its worthwhile or not.

    It isn't a perfect indicator, but its a good one.

    If a gaming book doesn't excite you from reading it, its probably a BAD GAME.

    Honestly people need to start reading some of Zero Punctuation's reviews. The guy makes a good point that a good group of people can make ANY game fun.

    The rules have to stand on their own. Its why OD&D as WRITTEN blows. Because the rules are shoddy, inconsistent, confusing, and don't actually tell you how to play the bloody thing.

    Do many people in the OSR community have great OD&D games?

    YES. But its because OF THE PEOPLE PLAYING IT, not the game itself.

    As written Palladium RPGs are widely considered terrible. But lots of folks have very awesome campaigns. Heck, Kevvy S doesn't even really play by his own books' rules but he is known for running some utterly righteous game sessions.

    So if we really want to be anal any gaming book needs THREE REVIEWS.

    Rules review.
    Rules in practice review.
    Rules with 2-4 different groups of players review.

    The latter is patently UNREALISTIC, and these days even the second one is a toughie.

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  48. James,

    Thanks for taking the time to post your review and thoughts.

    As you say, not everyone likes the same thing, and that's okay, but it's a distinction that too many reviews lack. Thanks again.

    Best,
    Mark Plemmons
    Kenzer and Company

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