HackMaster Player's Handbook
HackMaster Player's Handbook Capsule Review by Jeff Klingbeil on 14/07/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
An over-the-top and wacky take on 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons brought to you by the creators of Knights of the Dinner Table and Kingdoms of Kalamar.
Product: HackMaster Player's Handbook
Author: Jeff Klingbeil
Company/Publisher: Kenzer and Company
Page count: 400
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Jeff Klingbeil on 14/07/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Comedy
Kenzer & Company have designed an RPG called Hackmaster based off the fictional game which the characters of the comic "Knights of the Dinner Table" are often seen playing. The second book in this RPG's line of products in the Player's Handbook.
It is a perfect bound 400 pager which easily qualifies as "meaty". While some may choose to pass on this book due to its similarities to 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons, no gamer with a sense of humor should be disappointed.
On the back cover of the book is a small dedication made out to a T. 'Gary' Jackson which it states died this year. This Mr. Jackson is a fictional character from Kenzer's comic "Knights of the Dinner Table". I really don't see a need for a publicity stunt such as a fictional character being killed to help sell their book.
The art both interior and exterior is a collection of comical homage to the art pieces that were in the First Edtion D&D Player's Handbook and are top notch. They capture that "First Edition Feel" immediately as well as get a chuckle or two.
Page 3 contains the disclaimer and forward. The disclaimer is easily the lengthiest I've ever seen. If it was supposed to be a joke, it doesn't go over well. In its last paragraph it even goes so far to state that a fictional company is responsible for all views expressed.
Page 4 contains another forward, but this one is from someone at the fictional company,"Hard Eight Enterprises". In it, the man explains what the game HackMaster is. It's funny if you know of the comic.
The introduction is five pages and constantly refers to a "Third Edition HackMaster" and that this book is "Fourth Edition". This is pure fiction. In the world of reality, this is the first HackMaster game made. The constant reference to "Third Edition" gets confusing at times, especially since Dungeons & Dragons just released its Third Edition. The references to non-existent books goes on as they mention a magazine called "Hack Journal" and "Ladies Hack Journal". These jokes are humorous to those who are dedicated fans of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book, but for others it may seem like stale bread. Next, an example of play is described which is very good. The intro finishes up with a Player's Code of Conduct which has useful applications in a game session.
Chapter 1 speaks of Player Character Ability Scores. In addition to the usual 6 scores of D&D there is Comeliness (one which existed in the older editions of D&D) and a new score, Honor. The scores are well covered - better covered than I've ever seen in previous editions. In 1st edition D&D there was percentile Strength, but in HackMaster, all scores have percentiles, including those below 18. This is an excellent addition to the game. Those who missed the Comeliness rules will be happy to know that it's back. Honor is a strange stat which is explained more later in the book. The end of the chapter explains what a high or low number in each stat would mean to what a PC is like to role-play. This part I liked because it helps flesh out a PC's identity.
Chapter 2 covers Player Character Races, of which there are many. The two-page picture of them all in a barroom brawl is hilarious as well as one of the best I've seen in an RPG ever. A diagram to show everyone's race and gender is included. Along with the standard D&D races are Gnome Titans (war-loving gnomes), Gnomelings (what you get when a gnome and a halfling interbreed), Thug Halflings (a halfling subrace which live by thievery), Half-Ogres (possibly the most popular D&D PC race which was never in a Player's Handbook) and Pixie Fairies (what you get when a pixie and a fairy interbreed). These are all pleasing to read and can provide many ideas for adventures. If anything, it will be better than the same old ragtag group of adventurers which consist of human, elf, dwarf, and halfling.
Chapter 3 covers PC classes. In addition to the standard D&D classes there are Berserkers (fighters with the abilities to rage and frenzy in battle), Cavaliers (a 1st edition PC class which returns - think "noble fighter"), Dark Knights (in 1st edition D&D they were called Anti-Paladins), Knight Errants (a class similar to the cavalier except not noble and fights for their own reasons), Battle Mages (mages that use magic mostly for battle), Blood Mages (only mentioned and seem to have been taken out due to space constraints unfortunately - a mage class which uses blood to power their magic), Assassins (back as a regular class as it was in 1st Edition D&D). In addition, HackMaster classes are listed. These are not able to be obtained initially - only by gaining high Honor and joining a secret organization can one of these classes be taken. Definitely an encouragement for players who want to have something to shoot for. The pantheon of Gawds for the HackMaster spelling is briefly touched upon, although you won't find much information on them in this book. Hopefully, they will be covered upon more in the upcoming GameMaster's Guide.
Chapter 4 covers PC background. In HackMaster, a PC uses Building Points to buy beginning skills and abilities as well as rerolls on the Character Background tables. Additional Building Points can be obtained by acquiring Quirks and Flaws. Not only is it fun for creating PCs using these rules, it also helps define a player's character to a superbly high degree.
Chapter 5 covers Alignment, Honor, and Fame. Alignment is the same as D&D, while Honor is explained. There are two kinds of honor scores - Honor for each PC and Honor for the group as a whole. Many examples are given as to how Honor increases and decreases. Also explained is what happens to someone with a very low honor score (they are Dishonorable) or too much honor (a bit hard to understand - apparently the Gods do not like mortals having too much honor). Fame seems to be similar to the Reputation score from the Car Wars RPG - a very low score grants you Infamy while a very high score grants you Fame. As you can guess, both have their good points and bad points. The chapter ends with a handy Cleric/Paladin Atonement Table for those times when those Alignment bound PC class heroes go against their moral compass.
Chapter 6 lists and explains all Quirks and Flaws. These range from the inconsequential (Color Blindness) to the high handicapped (No arms). These rules really give one the freedom to create ANY kind of person they want as their hero and adds a sense of realism and humor to the game (such as a thief with no arms trying to pickpocket with his/her teeth).
Chapter 7 covers the Skills, Talents and Proficiency rules. A lean 4 pages, this may be a blessing to some who hate going over long rules chapters or a curse to those who may have desired greater explanation or more examples. Included are the specialization rules from 1st edition D&D. These rules I often seen missed by gamers who are used to being able to create characters in other game systems who can start off being very good at combat who feel average in D&D 3E at first level.
Chapter 8 covers Money and Treasure. In it a new type of coin is included, the Hard Silver Piece, which is obviously another joke about the fictional company which "created" HackMaster, "Hard Eight Enterprises." The chapter covers how to divide treasure and how to "call dibs". While funny, it also covers a topic which adventuring groups do have to discuss - how to divide the treasure. This subject is well-covered in this chapter and other games would do good by taking example.
Chapter 9 covers Goods, Services and Equipment. I am very impressed with the long list of items there are. For example, while some alcoholic beverages are listed in D&D, HackMaster covers them well by listing 27 kinds of alcohol. Clothing, Food and Lodging, Livestock, and all the many other lists contain exquisite attention to detail which is rare and welcome to find in an RPG.
Chapter 10 covers Magic. Illusions are well explained how to handle in the game along with Spell Components and Magical Research. These last two subjects are of greater importance in HackMaster than they would be in standard D&D. The monsters of HackMaster will be often possessing something that can be used in either area.
Chapter 11 covers Experience. Within this chapter, how to raise a character's statistics when he rises to the next experience level is thoughtfully explained step by step.
Chapter 12 covers the Combat rules. The rules of combat in HackMaster appear to be easier to comprehend than the troublesome Attacks of Opportunity rules of 3rd edition D&D.
Chapter 13 covers Adventuring. It explains how to adventure. While some may find this chapter redundant, others who are new to gaming should find it useful to help set goals for their heroes and how to be a smart adventurer.
Chapter 14 covers Encounters. It covers Traps and Tricks that a GM may throw at an adventuring party. The examples given are intriging.
Chapter 15 covers NPCs. It covers how NPCs get into an adventuring party and are broken down into types. I especially enjoyed this chapter because it gives a player a chance to be in charge of someone and creates a new dimension to the standard dungeon crawl when you have to watch out for someone. Briefly mentioned are Protegee rules on how to keep a backup PC available in case your hero dies.
Chapter 16 covers Time and Movement. This chapter is refreshingly short. How to handle time has a very good example given.
Chapter 17 covers Vision and Light, which is clear and detailed.
Now, while there are nothing but Appendices left, you won't even be halfway through the book. I'm not sure if this was done as a joke or not, but a book shouldn't have its appendices take up more than half of its pages.
Appendix A to E lists and describes all the spells. Many are the same spells from D&D while some are new creations based on spells cast in the Knights of the Dinner Table comic, such as the many fireball spells (some for every level) and cantrips (something which was covered in D&D, but never as much as it is in HackMaster). The many cantrips are very enjoyable to read about.
Appendix F to H lists and describes all skills, talents, and proficiencies.
Appendix I and J breaks down how to create and level up a PC step by step.
Appendix K is a Hackmaster Character Sheet. On it are spaces for a will such as PC sheets in 1st edition D&D.
Appendix L is a humor only section called All Things Dice. Inside explanations are given on how to roll dice and how to create lucky dice. I have never seen anything like it and doubt that dice will ever be covered in such detail.
Appendix M show all Map symbols - a very useful section which enables any GameMaster to understand another's maps. Standard symbols are very much appreciated.
Appendix N is a glossary which covers many, if not all, terms used in the game. Some I think were mentioned for laughs and giggles, however, such as Hack Jockey, Dice Squirrel, and Don't Get Your Dice Bag in a Wad.
Appendix O covers the HMA Bylaws, which I found the least informative and entertaining. Apparently, the folks at Kenzer and Company are trying to create the HackMaster Association, a copy of the RPGA. While some may have interest in it, this isn't really necessary for an RPG rulebook and would have been better left out in place of the Blood Mage character class or other missed rules. I also don't like how in order to help out Kenzer & Company as volunteers at a game tournament you have to pay a membership fee. This is sad and the low point of the entire book.
Appendix P contains the index. Standard.
Appendix Q contains an Adventure Company Log which is very handy for a GameMaster. It holds a good amount of information listing all PCs and NPCs in the adventuring group.
Appendix R and S contains the lists of equipment and ability scores all over again. I'm not sure why this was included if for no other reason than to "copy" the 1st Edition Player's Handbook format. Not sure if using all this valuable space was worth the joke, though.
The last two pages contain one sheet of map graph paper and a page of coupons which a GameMaster can give to players when it suits them. I couldn't find any mention of the coupons in the book. This is an excellent idea for GameMasters who want to be kind to some players in their group. Who knows, maybe a GameMaster could give one out to the player who buys the pizza and sodas for a session or two.
While the book isn't perfect, there is much to be thankful for in this long awaited RPG. I think those who never got the chance to play 1st edition D&D would enjoy it just as much as those who did and miss the "good old days".
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