Review of the HackMaster Player’s Handbook by Kenzer and Co.
Hackmaster was originally a parody game of Dungeons and Dragons in the pages of Knights of the Dinner Table (KodT) published by Kenzer and Company. KodT gave me a lot of belly laughs, especially the Gazebo incident. After receiving many requests, Kenzer, made Hackmaster 4th Edition. Although it was a game with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it gained a devoted following. Enough of one that when their license with WoTC ran out they made a new game simply called HackMaster. It is this game, or at least their Player’s Handbook that I am reviewing in this article.
The book is highly produced with a sturdy cover with a colorful inset graphic. The tooling on the cover is subtle but very nice. The layout is pleasant and the text easy to read. The art is well done and never distracts from the game content. The writing style is what hooked me when I read a sample. It is politically incorrect, irreverent, and breaks the fourth wall in many places.
“Engaging in combat is not the most important thing in HackMaster; it’s a weak third behind surviving and most importantly, winning combat!”
– HackMaster Player’s Handbook page 217
It is a much better read than the many technical manuals passing as game books these days.
For me, the most intriguing system that HackMaster has to offer is second by second combat. In short, characters roll initiative. The number rolled is the initial second that the character may begin to act. From that point different actions take various seconds to complete. The GM counts off the seconds and the characters jump in at appropriate moments. While it seems a bit weird to many of us who are use to turn base combat, I think it will play well once the players become familiar with it.
Other likes: Spell points (screw Vancian magic), armor as DR, opposed rolls, a variety of combat maneuvers.
What I don’t like is character creation. While it may be my lack of proficiency in the system, it takes entirely too long to make a character that can bit the dust in the first encounter. The background is far too detailed for a character of unknown destiny. Who cares if Grog the Fighter’s mother loved him or not? Character creation should be short and sweet. 15 minutes tops. Very disappointing.
Overall I recommend this book and Hackmaster in general. If you can get past the cumbersome (to me) character, I believe the game will be an enjoyable one. I will be running a game at Cabin Con (an annual gamer getaway with my pals in Michigan) and will have a report when that happens. Sooner if I can get a game in before.