Monday, June 15, 2009

Growing Skepticism

Back at the end of April, I made a post where I took pleasure in the Erol Otus cover to Kenzer & Company's upcoming HackMaster Basic. Nearly two months later, I still think the cover is awesome, but I'm cooling on my interest in the game itself. Kenzer has released several PDFs intended to give potential customers a sneak peek at what's in store, one of which is a full table of contents of the 192-page book. Left unanswered is the question of how any book that calls itself "basic" can be almost 200 pages long, especially when one considers that the AD&D Players Handbook was 128 pages long and the Rules Cyclopedia just a little over 300 and it covers levels 1-36.

Also found on the Kenzer website is a "walkthrough preview" of the game. It was reading this, though, that really made me reconsider my initially hopeful feelings about the game. Leaving aside its smug tone, which I found grating but realize is as much a part of the charm of the game to some people as AD&D's High Gygaxian is to me, HackMaster Basic simply looks much too rules-heavy for my tastes these days. In addition to ability scores, races, and classes, there are priors and particulars, quirks and flaws, skills, talents, and proficiencies, not to mention the honor system I found faintly ridiculous in the previous edition. Combat has been expanded to include knock-back rules, in addition to special moves, trauma, and other similar complications. I found myself once again wondering what Kenzer thinks "basic" means, only to realize that, compared to the "advanced" release later this year, this book may very well qualify as basic.

None of this is to say HackMaster Basic will be a bad game or that it doesn't scratch a particular old school itch that some people have. But it's definitely not my itch and hasn't been for many, many years. I certainly wish Kenzer & Company all the best with this game and hope it proves very successful for them. I wish I could come along for the ride, but, honestly, I can't see abandoning any of my current games for HackMaster. If I can snag myself a review copy somehow or other, I'll definitely give it a fair shake. I'd love to be convinced that the impression I got from the preview material is mistaken, even though I don't imagine I will be.


  1. It's definitely not basic in the sense of the basic in Basic D&D. That will put some people off as they may have expected differently from the cover. I loved the writing in the old HM, but I could never get a handle on all the rules. After getting to playtest the new basic rules, I can tell you that it's much, much easier to play than before and I can't wait to see the finished product.

  2. I played HM at LGGC last year and had a fun time. That said, it was a lot of material and, for the most part, I relied on my D&D experiences to help me make decisions, also aided by the GM -or my fellow players- with a few of the game's more idiosyncratic rules. So -on many levels- I wasn't dealing with all that makes HM the game it is (was).

    I will probably buy HMB, but I tend to buy games & modules to mine for ideas. It's unlikely it will get run at my table, but who knows? A one-shot may happen.

  3. I have to purchase a copy of the HMB for the amazing Otus cover alone. Really, I have no choice!

    I am interested in reading it as well, but I suspect that I will find it to be too heavy in terms of rules.

  4. Interestingly - perhaps predictably - my reaction to the preview was the reverse of yours. I agree that this is meant to be "basic" only in comparison to the full-blown version of HackMaster that's on its way. It's not a rules-light game or a copy of D&D. I'm okay with that. I've got Basic D&D already (twice, in fact), and the game has an excellent clone in Labyrinth Lord.

    The preview reminded me of Palladium Fantasy and its brethren - the games I got into when I got fed up with AD&D. That style of game gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. But that's just me.

    I imagine Kenzer might alienate a lot of their fanbase, here, but they're actually attracting me to a game I had previously written off.

  5. The Player's part of the book come in around 140 some odd pages, the rest appears to be GM only. Not much bigger then the 1e Player's Handbook, and I expect those pages include combat tables and saving throws. I wouldn't be surprised if the words per page will be less in Hackmaster then the 1e Player's Handbook either.

    Hackmaster is not a "rules lite" games, just like Rolemaster isn't a "table lite" game. Removing options for a basic or express version might simplify some things for new players but it won't change the core of the system.

    Doubt it will be my kind of game, but I'll probably buy it the cover art alone ;)

  6. Yeah, the combat section definitely reminded me of the Palladium system with the attacker and defender both rolling.

    I tried something like that with a couple of homebrew games and Palladium's Robotech, and got extremely flukey results in any given battle. Was it just me, or was that the way it was supposed to work?

  7. Hrm. Must remember to look into Hackmaster. I love games with lots and lots of rules to learn.

  8. I’m starting to get excited about it.

    I honestly wouldn’t want it to try to be a Basic Set. To me, the ideal D&Desque RPG would be a complete “core” book the size of a unified Basic+Expert and a separate introductory product like the old Basic Set. 200 pages is acceptable, if a little on the high-side, for what I’d want in such a “core” book.

    The old HM was of no interest to me except as yet another source to mine for individual ideas that could be judiciously borrowed for D&D. This looks much more like something I’d be willing to tackle. While it may have made different choices about how to spend those 200 pages than I might have, no doubt it will strike some right chords among others in my group. And group is as important a consideration (if not more) than system.

    Now to look at the walk through document and see if my hopes are dashed... ^_^