Fictional (at least, now) RPG produced by Hard 8. It seems to be a mish-mash of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Rolemaster. Two related games are Spacehack, the Hackmaster space opera game, and Cattlepunk, the Wild West game.

It's also the name of a class of swords in Garweeze World: see hackmaster +12, also Knights of the Dinner Table. July 20, 2001: The Hackmaster RPG is no longer fictional. The game as released is a parody of AD&D 1st edition, but knowing that, at the heart, the game is all about meeting stranger new monsters in exotic lands, killing them, and taking their stuff, and throws many pretenses of being a "dramatic" game out the window.

Hoody hoo! Kenzer and Company has finally released 4th Edition Hackmaster, the game played in J.R. Blackburn's fabulous Knights of the Dinner Table comic!

The game's mechanics are totally based on 1st and 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Rumor has it that K&C acquired the license to the material by not suing Wizards of the Coast over the fact that several KODT strips were reprinted without permission in the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM Archive, but that's really neither here nor there. Since Hackmaster truly is a heart and soul spoof of AD&D, there's really no way to do it right without using the AD&D system, and personally, I don't think the game could work without using that time-honored system.

On to the book itself. The development team arranged the book to remain true to all of the references in the KODT strip, right down to the appendices. Here's a quick breakdown of the book.

*Introduction: Organization of the book, how HackMaster works, required materials for play.
*Chapter 1: Ability scores - how to generate them, what they mean, and how the numbers affect game play.
*Chapter 2: Player Character Races - prerequisites required to play a demihuman race, descriptions of the races, and their abilities.
*Chapter 3: Player Character Classes - Class groupings (fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief), descriptions of all playable classes, and a peek at the prestige HackMaster classes (HackFighter, HackMage, HacKleric, HackSassin).
*Chapter 4: Character Priors and Particulars - Description of Build Points, and character background generation tables.
*Chapter 5: Alignment, Honor, and Fame - Lengthy discussion on the Honor stat, and description of character alignments.
*Chapter 6: Character Quirks and Flaws - Tables for Quirk and Flaw generation, their corresponding Build Point bonuses, and descriptions of the Quirks and Flaws.
*Chapter 7: Skills, Talents and Proficiencies - Skill types and how to use and improve them, talents, and weapon proficiencies. Oddly enough, this chapter does not include a list of skills or talents, or how to obtain them. This information is in appendices F, G, and H.
*Chapter 8: All That Glitters: Money and Treasure - Everything you need to know about getting and spending money, and quick descriptions of the kinds of treasure you might find.
*Chapter 9: Goods and Services - What you can buy and where to buy it. Also includes encumbrance rules.
*Chapter 10: Magic - Describes the schools of magic, how to learn new spells, and how spells are cast.
*Chapter 11: Experience - Description of the experience point system used, and how to advance in level.
*Chapter 12: Combat: The Art of Hack - All about combat in Hackmaster. 'Nuff said.
*Chapter 13: The Adventure and the On-Going Campaign - The organization of your average adventuring party, types of adventures, and how to prepare for adventures.
*Chapter 14: Encounters - How the GM is going to kill your character. Also describes surprise rolls.
*Chapter 15: NPCs - What they are, and what they do.
*Chapter 16: Time and Movement - The difference between game time and real time, measuring time in game, and how you move.
*Chapter 17: Vision and Light - Rules for seeing things.
*Appendix A: Spell Lists - Alphabetical, divided by magic-user spells and cleric spells.
*Appendix B: Notes on spells - Describes how to read the spell descriptions in the following appendices.
*Appendix C: Magic-User Spells - Descriptions of all magic-user spells, divided up by level (Cantrips through 9th level) and listed alphabetically.
*Appendix D: Cleric and Druid Spells - Cleric spells, 1st through 7th level, and then Druid spells, 1st through 7th level.
*Appendix E: Spell Planner - Massively useful section. The entire spell list is divided up by level, listing the name, school, range, components, duration, casting time, area of effect, and saving throw where applicable for each spell. Five boxes are located to the left of each spell name, and text beneath the spells instruct you to underline all spells available in your spellbook and to check a box for each spell memorized.
*Appendix F: Skill, Talent & Proficiencies - Tables listing all skills, talents and proficiencies, and their relavent costs, etc.
*Appendix G: Skill Descriptions - Descriptions of all skills, from the arcane and academic to various combat procedures. My favorite skills: Dig Hasty Grave and Pimp Slap.
*Appendix H: Talent Descriptions - Descriptions of all talents available.
*Appendix I: Step-by-Step Character Creation Procedure - Crib sheet for character creation.
*Appendix J: Step-by-Step Advancement Procedure - Crib sheet for character advancement.
*Appendix K: Character Sheet - Poorly placed in between two sections, so the only decent way to photocopy it is to cut it out.
*Appendix L: All Things Dice - Mostly humorous section, designed to introduce neophytes to the various dice they will be using, along with all etiquite involved. It includes a recognition chart, instructions for "fame rubs", the care and maintenance for dice, and proper dice rolling procedures.
*Appendix M: Official Map Symbols - Self-explanatory.
*Appendix N: Glossary - List of terms used in the book. What else would be in the glossary?
*Appendix O: HMA Bylaws - The HMA, or HackMaster Association, is an organization created to keep HackMaster standard all across the nation. Woe to those who use house rules when the HMA comes to call. This section includes all bylaws in the HMA, including creating local groups, becoming a GM, playing in tournaments, and a bunch of other stuff. Another mostly humorous section.
*Appendix P: Index - It's an index. What more do you want?

A Palm Pilot tool similar to the Windows Control Panel, or to extensions managers for the Macintosh. Provides patching of system functions, allowing for a wide variety of user-customizable features. HackMaster is shareware, produced by DaggerWare.

Official website:

HackMaster is only as much a parody of a role-playing game as everyone decides to make it.

As the producers of HackMaster themselves note, "In another time, in another world, this may have been the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons." Gamers familiar with first and/or second edition AD&D will feel almost immediately at home with the system: the three dice used to roll up attributes, the lucky twenty-sider that always rolled a critical hit when you needed it to, the 10' by 10' square rooms scattered throughout the myriad dungeons, all of that has been retained.

With regards to the actual way the game is played, the two biggest changes that differentiate HackMaster from its predecessors are the addition of the Honor total and the concept of alignment infraction points. A character's Honor is based on his words and deeds in the world, and helps to determine his place in the pecking order of the world- rewards are considered upon the player character's alignment, their class, and the actual nature of the deed. Kicking ass is one of the most sure-fire ways to get it; getting mocked by the hirelings is one of the most sure-fire ways to lose it. Characters with an optimal Honor ranking gain bonuses to their die rolls as well as the opportunity to re-roll one die roll every session; characters with below acceptable Honor suffer penalties to their die rolls.

Alignment Infraction Points, abbreviated AIPs, are a concrete method that a GM can use to track a character's moral activity. Since your average PC has a general history of burning down every other village they come across, a GameMaster can track a slow and steady descent from a pleasant alignment such as neutral good into something less good as chaotic evil, or his attempt to redeem himself and stay true to his beliefs- and, if necessary, inform the character that his behavior has crossed the line. Alignment changes carry a good deal of stigma in HackMaster- not to mention a strong penalty.

Interestingly enough, the problem that most people have with HackMaster is the way the writing is done. The style of the writing demonstrated in the HackMaster Player's Handbook and in the HackMaster GameMaster's Guide both have a notable edge to them- throughout the PHB, the tone is one of conspiracy, of the stereotypical attitude that the game is really, truly a competition between the players and the gamemaster. As a counterpoint, the attitude presented in the GMG is one of smugness- the person reading the book is urged to affect a tough-but-fair stance towards his fellows. Players aren't there to be coddled, they're there to hack and cut and slice their way to the top of the world- the sense of achievement will be more rewarding than waltzing through life with a silver spoon.

The difficulty that most players have with HackMaster, by far and large, is not the revival of level limits for demihumans or the inflexibility of character advancement- it is the attitude presented in the book that in order to "be a real HackMaster player," they have to abide by EVERY rule in the book, and above that, shell out the membership fees that come with being part of the HMPA or the HMGMA. Unfortunately, those who complain about this are often unfamiliar with the Knights of the Dinner Table and what goes on in there- KenzerCo is hardly going to mock you to your face for playing a game that doesn't abide by all the rules if you're not sanctioned. (You'll be mocked by the people on the forums for having a wuss GM if that may be the case, but that's another story =D)

If you were disappointed with the direction Wizards of the Coast began steering D&D 3rd Edition, away from the history of previous iterations of the game, you'll likely be pleased with HackMaster. If you're up for a strong fantasy role-playing game, investigate the books or check out a demo. You may find yourself surprised- or, you may not.

For all those who are still unconvinced and think that Hackmaster is nothing more than a joke product. There has been a volume of products produced by Kenzer and Company (fictionally in license by Hard 8 Enterprises) proving that Hackmaster is a bona fide RPG. So with this wu I present:

The Hackmaster Product Line:

Core Rule Books:

  • HackMaster Player's Handbook
  • HackMaster GameMaster's Guide
  • Hacklopedia of Beasts (8 Volumes plus Monster Matrix and Field Manual)
  • Hackmaster Supplements:

  • The Spellslinger's Guide to World Domination
  • Zealot's Guide to Wurld Conversion
  • The Combatant's Guide to Slaughtering Foes
  • Hacklopedia Magica (? Volumes)
  • Gawds & Demigawds
  • Hackmaster Game Aids:

  • HackMaster GameMaster Shield
  • GameMaster Campaign Record Book
  • GameMaster Coupon Book
  • Player Character Mat
  • Official HackMaster Miniatures (Tactical Combat Miniatures)
  • Character Record Book
  • Hackmaster Adventures:

  • Little Keep on the Borderlands
  • Quest for the Unknown
  • Smackdown the Slavers
  • Annihilate the Giants
  • RobinLoft
  • Slaughterhouse Indigo
  • Descent into the Netherdeep
  • Sir Robilar's City of Brass
  • Tomb of Unspeakable Horrors
  • And there is even more in the pipeline, to be added upon publication.

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