Hackmaster

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"NOT for WIMPS!"

– Gary Jackson

Hackmaster (also spelled HackMaster) is a roleplaying game produced by Kenzer & Co, which first appeared as a thinly veiled parody of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in their flagship gaming comic, Knights of the Dinner Table published by "Gary Jackson" (fnarr, fnarr). In 2001, Kenzer bought the licensing rights for AD&D from Wizards of the Coast as part of a court settlement about Knights of the Dinner Table and promptly released Hackmaster as a real game, which continues to this day.

The Game[edit]

Hackmaster is, at its core, a retroclone - or at least a parody thereof. See, whereas your standard retroclone is all about celebrating the grognard vision, Hackmaster throws Old School Roleplaying a cheerful pair of double-middle-fingers, lampooning the fact that despite what rosy memories claim, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was an absolute mess of systems, sub-systems and sub-sub-systems that Dungeon Masters chopped, swapped, and rearranged into Frankenstein's Monster affairs that were ultimately held together with string, bubblegum and hopeful wishes, making for a fundamentally absurd and byzantine base-system.

In contrast to mainstream gaming moving on from the number-crunching minutia of the 70s and 80s to a more streamlined, speedier to play and easier to grasp gaming style, a move that even other retroclones tend to adhere to for all their high lethality and low magic, Hackmaster embraces shameless complexity and overly exaggerated rules.

Basically, take first edition AD&D, with its weird class balance, gender issues (e.g. the infamous "strength cap" for female characters), huge number of charts, and idiosyncratic rules, and add a "building points" system, merits/flaws, a huge critical hit table with thousands of potential results, and a ridiculous variety of monsters. It deliberately eschews streamlining and handwaving; you roll for everything, you keep track of everything, and cutting corners is not allowed. It's a bit more coherent than first edition AD&D ever was, but it jumps on any chance it has to add more charts and tables.

The result is a fully playable if murderously complex fantasy tabletop RPG with a healthy dose of in-jokes and meta-humor from the "Knights" comic strip. It reads exactly like the game from the strip, complete with bizarre rules, typographical errors, and lengthy digression-filled rants from Gary Jackson that read like something between a highly defensive, neurotic man speaking out on behalf of his work and the Unabomber's manifesto.

Editions[edit]

The first version of Hackmaster the game was released in a joking way as "HackMaster 4th Edition" in 2001.

When Kenzer lost the AD&D license in 2007, they rejiggered Hackmaster into a full-fledged and legal retroclone, focusing exclusively on self-designed mechanics so they wouldn't need to pay WotC any more money. This "revamped" version of Hackmaster was released in 2009 as "HackMaster Basic".

In 2011, a 2nd edition of the HackMaster Basic version of the game was released as "HackMaster 5th Edition". Whilst still a comedic game, it had lost much of its previous "grognard mocking parody" ideals, succumbing to market realities and smoothing out its gaming crunch to make a still-complex (for example, combat happens in real time and is based on rolling attack rolls vs. defense rolls) but more easily played game.

The Setting[edit]

Hackmaster 4th edition and Basic takes place in the setting of "Garweeze Wurld", as was the case in the Knights of the Dinner Table strips from which it originated. This is a Sword & Sorcery style setting (with a heavy dash of parody) set on a giant continent, about eight thousand miles across, circling much of the northern hemisphere of the planet Aldrazar. The continent is mapped based on forty-eight "sectors", each one thousand miles across, and reaching from the tropical band of Aldrazar to its Arctic Circle. The setting is fleshed out in the splatbooks "The Garweeze Wurld Atlas" and "The Garweeze Wurld Gazeteer".

In 5th edition, HackMaster switched over to using Kenzer's Kingdoms of Kalamar setting instead.

So, What About Races?[edit]

Naturally, as a pastiche of Dungeons & Dragons, Hackmaster plays around with the iconic races, putting its own spin on the old-school interpretations.

To start with, Hackmaster preserves the idea from old-school D&D of dividing sapients into Demihumans (the good guy races, basically) and Humanoids (your badguys).

Demihumans[edit]

Dwarves of Tellene are pretty standard; short, stoic, subterranean, conservative, bearded axe-wielding warriors. They don't like elves, but reserve their true hatred for orcs, goblinoids and humanoids in general. Tellene dwarf women make up only 25% of the population and are basically dudes with vagoos; bearded, breastless, gruff-voiced and ugly as their menfolk. (And yes: Hackmaster got fem-dwarf miniatures, complete with those beards.) Add to it that a dwarven pregnancy takes 3 years, and there are not a lot of new dwarflings coming into the world. Weirdly, dwarf women are supposedly completely liberated and many don't even bother to get married or have kids at all... which some would argue makes absolutely no fucking sense.

Elves are, once again, rooted in the basic mold laid out by old-school D&D. Described as the biggest, most human-like of the fey races, they are short (5ft tall), magical, incredibly long-lived, and massively skilled in the arts of beauty, craftsmanship, and anything related to design, if only because they live so damn long they learn to get good at stuff. Most elves are either wizards or engaging in mage-based multiclassing. Elf kids are rare, but it's because elven women are usually more focused on their careers than any direct fertility issues, which combines with their incredibly long-view term on the world (a 50-60 year marriage with humans and five kids is a "dalliance" in elfin terms) to make them not really consider reproducing that important. The default elf race are the High Elves, with the other major elfin subraces being the seafaring, reclusive Gray Elves and the somewhat more feral Wood Elves.

Gnomes on Tellene combine elements of D&D's rock and forest gnomes, resembling short, long-bearded dwarves who dwell in subterranean forest homes, gather gems, tinker with engineering, and practice practical jokes. Tellenish gnomes are distinguished by their dark sense of humor, with a particular tendency towards pessimism and sarcasm. Unlike dwarves, gnome women are clearly distinguished from their menfolk and quite abundant (50% of the population). However, between the fact females are only fertile for a 30 year period after their first century, and gnomes of both sexes have an almost panda-like disinterest in sex, and the race is about as reproductively screwed as the dwarves are.

Halflings on Tellene are hobbits. Much like AD&D, they don't try to hide it. They're small, peaceful, food-loving folk largely concerned with a comfortable, easy life in a pastoral environment and very much wanting the world to leave them along, thank you. They are the most fertile of the demihuman peoples; female halflings are about as common as males (actually slightly more common -55%- by adulthood, since males tend to get themselves killed in hunting or farming accidents), gestate for 10 months, and have no weird biological or psychological hangups about making kids - in fact, female halflings tend to be very happy homemakers, and halflings have large families.

In addition to the above, Tellene is home to two other distinctive demi-human races.

Grel are an elf subrace, also known as Grunge Elves, who hail from the great civil war. But whereas the dark elves fled underground, the grel remained on the surface, and have continued their vendetta against the high elves ever since. Having interbred with humans and hobgoblins, they are more robust, aggressive and powerfully built than the standard elf. Unlike other demi-humans, they are largely evil, with the standard grel society being a nomadic warband that ravages the land of all they can use before moving on to fresh territory. They consider themselves proud, mighty warriors. There is a distinct dearth of womenfolk amongst their ranks, largely because they treat them like shit and tend to kill them as babies - females make up 51% of births, but only 35% of adults.

Pixie-Faeries are your standard "little winged elf with antennae" type fey. They are small, magical, benevolent folk who largely avoid the human settlements and live quiet lives in the wilderness. They are explicitly stated to be a result of ancient crossbreeding between pixies and fairies, which are a separate think in Tellene, but are now a truebreeding race.

Humanoids[edit]

Bugbears resemble a cross between an anthropomorphic bear and a massive goblin, whom they are considered related to. They are stealthy, vicious warriors with a voracious appetite for flesh and a culture that embraces cannibalism - the flesh of elves is a particular delicacy to them. As they're big enough and strong enough to be able to wield most two-handed weapons in only a single hand, fighting them isn't easy. Though not stupid, they are lazy, content to scavenge, raid and pillage. Their reproduction is notably odd: a female bugbear only becomes fertile after she eats a small child or baby from a sapient race, and even then she only remains fertile for three days, so male bugbears must constantly abduct babies to be able to father offspring. As a result, they are hated by pretty much everyone in Tellene.

Gnoles are humanoid hyenas, and follow the basic outline of old-school gnolls. The big difference is that Tellene gnoles are very much based on AD&D gnolls plus spotted hyena lore; they are matriarchal and technically amazons, since females are the bigger, stronger, more aggressive sex who very much rule the roost, and even come complete with pseudo-penises. In addition to the common, or Savanna gnole, there is also the Arctic Gnole (white furred, black skinned, active hunters) and the Sand Gnole (also known as brown or striped gnole due to its coloration).

Goblins are pure evil; vile, cruel, wicked, sneaky little humanoids who despise beauty and revel in inflicting cruelty and suffering. They are surprisingly industrious in digging, building and crafting stuff, but they are also absolutely rubbish at it, producing notoriously ugly, shoddy work. They breed like vermin and treat their women like crap.

Hobgoblins are a larger, stronger, smarter version of the goblin with a well-organized, militaristic mindset. Unlike goblins, they actually do have a fairly advanced civilization, and even a strong cultural sense of honor... unfortunately, they view all non-hobgoblins as honorless savages little better than beasts. They sometimes cooperate with orcs, goblins or other humanoids, but mostly in the sense of rounding them up for use as slaves and cannon-fodder. Their fertility is much lower than that of the goblins, between a gestation period that is nearly twice as long and the fact their womenfolk are fully emancipated and tend to prioritize career over children.

Kobolds on Tellene resemble a cross between a humanoid dog and an imp, combining the basic form of an anthropomorphic, hairless dog with imp-like horns and imp's devil-like tail. Most notable for their immense xenophobia, they are fairly skilled trap-makers, but largely have a social structure akin to a dog pack.

Lizard Men on Tellene comprise a wide array of subspecies, from small gecko-like critters to hulking crocodilian brutes, and culturally range from animalistic to fairly advanced tribal cultures. They are generally content to live and let live, but they often consider sapient mammalian life as something of a delicacy, so relationships can be tense.

Orcs are disgusting, brutish humanoid hogs, but their tendency to drag women of other races back to their lair as unwilling brood-sows means the race is extremely variable in its appearance. They're basically bigger, stronger, nastier goblins. They can also create an even nastier version called "black orcs" if they can create magical pools of slime empowered through human sacrifice. Other notable orcs are the underground-dwelling Gray/Deep Orcs, the arctic-adapted White/Highland Orcs, the desert-dwelling Brown Orcs, and the orc/ape crossbreeds known as Simian Orcs.

Troglodytes are... basically identical to the D&D version; a super-primitive underworld-dwelling lizardfolk with a powerful noxious musk.

One humanoid race unique to Tellene is the Grevan, a newly emergent intelligent, civilized, warlike race created by a powerful but fragmented magical artifact through a generations-long interbreeding program that united human, elf, orc and ogre bloodlines into a single race.