There are two things in this world I believe above all others:
- Hardcore, old school, tabletop RPGs are awesome.
- Mustard was made for the hot dog.
Abbot and Costello unequivocally prove the latter, while the good people at Kenzer & Company do so for the former.
Kenzer & Company’s first claim to fame was a comic that goes by the name of The Knight of the Dinner Table.
This comic regales the reader with the humorous interactions of a group of gamers that play Hackmaster, which looks and sounds like an AD&D that you probably played in, but funnier.
The fictional game of Hackmaster was created by “Gary Jackson”, a fictional person whose name is one part Gary Gygax and one part Steve Jackson.
From his “bio” on Kenzer’s website:
Gary Jackson was fondly known as the “Gawdfather of Gaming” by millions of gaming enthusiasts around the world. His failing wargame company, Hard 8 Enterprises, was about to close its doors for good in 1977 when Gary tossed the dice on a hastily produced role-playing game, The HackMasters of EverKnight™. The first print run was quickly snapped off the shelves and soon frantic distributors were calling Gary’s three-man shop with pleas of “More!” Gary rode HackMaster spin-offs until his untimely death in a plane accident in 2001.
(For those who want to know what ‘hard eight’ means, it refers to the game of craps where Gary blew thousands of dollars of company money over the years on his frequent trips to Las Vegas.)
Hackmaster Fourth Edition
When AD&D 2nd Edition was scrapped in favor of the D20 system of 3rd Edition, Kenzer snatched up the rights to produce a game based on the previous incarnations. This was Hackmaster 4th Edition (this was actually the first edition of the game. 1st thru 3rd edition of the rules never existed), a parody of AD&D.
Basically, this game featured all of the things that players loved and hated about Gygax’s brainchild and amplified every single aspect to ludicrous levels. From restrictions on class levels based on race and ability modifiers to tables that determined if your character was an illegitimate child or not (and how) or if they were blind, narcoleptic or an amputee this game really took the old rule set and reveled in the pretentious absurdity of it all.
In addition to the overabundance of tables, Hackmaster 4th Edition also used gorier versions of the artwork TSR employed on many of its early products.
Published adventures had similar names and content as old AD&D adventures (for example, Ravenloft was Robinloft in Hackmaster).
My personal favorite thing about the Hackmaster product line is that the products are fun to read. Take the first sentence from the Introduction of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook:
In a world where there are no shortages of lackluster, mediocre games, you’ve managed to pick up one of the rare gems.
The whole product line is like that. Awesome.
Using a fresh, new gameplay system that abandons the TSR based mechanics of yesteryear Kenzer released a Hackmaster Basic in 2009. the game has an old-school feel but brought new and different play mechanics for people that were burned out on the older RPGs. Also, it features the same fun writing of the previous version but isn’t a parody.
Hackmaster basic can be downloaded for free on Kenzer’s website.
A future article will review this product.
2011 saw the release of Advanced Hackmaster (aka Hackmaster 5th Edition). This was an expanded rule set which builds off of the Basic game.
My Favorite Encounter
I’ll wrap this article up with a description of my favorite Hackmaster (4th Edition) encounter.
I was playing a Halfling Thief named Scrodo Fraggins, who had entered a treasure room in a tall tower. As soon as he picked up a bag of gold pieces sitting on a table a skeleton on the floor animated and attacked me.
I took the bag of gold and bashed the skeleton in the head with it. During the battle, a lantern was knocked over, which set the room ablaze. I defeated the undead fiend and didn’t burn to death, which is great, but much like the SS Minnow, the treasure had been lost.