Hackmaster 4th Edition Player's Guide
Hackmaster 4th Edition Player's Guide Capsule Review by Charles Phipps on 24/11/01
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Absolute Pure genius!
Product: Hackmaster 4th Edition Player's Guide
Author: Jolly R. Blackburn
Page count: 351
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Charles Phipps on 24/11/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
For those who don't know what Hackmaster is, it's basically the fictional version of AD&D for the gamers cartoon strip "Knights of the Dinner Table". Due to high demand from fans of the comic strip, Kenzerco (which produces the Knights of the Dinner Table among card games like Fairy Meat plus Monty Python and the Holy Grail) decided to produce the game for it's readers. Of course there is the stumbling block in the fact that the strip is more or less built around a game that is D&D with a different name. To quote the books forward "It's like reinventing the wheel". You can imagine my skepticism that they could produce a viable rules system yet keep the jokes intact.
Apparently a deal was made with Wizards of the Coast for First Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules because in effect that's what Hackmaster at base is built on, it's like a surreal alternate universe "Dungeons and Dragons Edition 1.5" where all the flawed rules of First Edition and what made it glorious are kept with treats/flaws from 2nd edition. Remember the Cavalier Class? How about the Barbarians who could hit monsters who could only be hit by magical weapons? I started playing D&D on 2nd edition and it's disturbing to comtemplate how much I apparently missed if it was anything like Hackmaster "4th edition".
Because the game doesn't take itself seriously as D&D 3rd edition did (which I didn't buy after flipping through) it was actually fun to read cover to cover and spot all the jokes written into the text that is 'meant' to be taken seriously. The Knight Errant Class (Basically LG Knights who act CE in the manner players slaying monsters routinely do), Grunge Elves (Mohawk wearing Drow with 'attidude'), "Wuss slap" special attack,a Parody on the "no winners and losers" forward, and other things that no self respecting DM who enjoyed his fantasy in a viable world would allow in his game are treated with as much reverence as the unchanged Paladin and Ranger classes. It makes you realize in retrospect that the attempts to water down campaigns so 'there's something for everyone' occasionally takes the soul out of a game.
The weird thing in reading Hackmaster Fourth Edition wasn't that I actually bothered to read every line of the Table of contents and laughed every few minutes or that this is definately one of my treasured possesions to read cover to cover and again. I expected that from the geniuses at Kenzerco and the wonderful mind of Jolly R. Blackburn. What I didn't expect was that I would honestly start using Hackmaster rules instead of standard Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition let alone Fourth for my "straight" D&D campaign.
Inbetween the straight faced humor that celebrates the gamers lifestyle there is actually a great deal of information that is useful well beyond just playing Hackmaster. Jolly R. Blackburn and the other designers are obviously seasned gamers because we get ideas on what to do in town/dungeons/forrests/etc, as we rise in level, how to start playing sessions when we don't have a group to play with, rules for 'dicing' and in general more information than I've gleaned from my Dragon Magazine archive and all my supplements for the hobby put together (Save the Complete Book of Elves-that's inviolate).
I cannot stress to you enough that if anyone as cheap as me regarding game supplements is willing to purchase Hackmaster and every single supplement they are going to release post-hence (including their Hackopedia parodies of the Monstrous Manuals) then this is well worth the thirty dollar investment. There's sixty dollars worth of humor in this book, sixty dollars worth of gaming info, and 10 dollars worth of not so common sense advice.