Monday, June 15, 2009

Basic by proportion

Some folks are expressing a level of dismay at the upcoming release of HackMaster Basic. Our own Pope of Old School, Jamie Mal, has recently joined this chorus. Two main concerns have been repeatedly raised:
  1. 192 pages does not a Basic rulebook make.
  2. Holy crap, this and this sure looks complicated.

I agree with both points. With regards to point #1 I've all but reached the conclusion that I'm not interested in any new RPG with a pagecount above 64 or so. And those two links do hint at a system that's a wee bit more robust than I usually dig on.

But I still plan to buy a copy of HackMaster Basic. A lot of people are turned off to HackMaster because it has a bad attitude and is overly complicated. That's exactly what interests me about the game. HackMaster draws a line in the sand and says "Here. This is where the tolerable extent of the macho/maso nerd excesses of the hobby end." The game then goes three steps beyond that line. That may not interest you but it sure as hell intrigues me. I don't want every game to be like that, but I've certainly got room in my life for one such system.

And regarding the page count, let's do a little math.

Moldvay Basic: 64 pages

AD&D 1st edition PHB, DMG, MM: 478 pages total

Ratio of Basic pages to Advanced pages: .133891

HackMaster Basic: 192 pages

HackMaster 4e PHB, GMG and Hacklopedia: ~1,666 pages

Ratio of Basic to Advanced HackMaster: .115246

(Note: The page count for HM 4e is probably a little low. I estimated each Hacklopedia at 112 pages, but I think some of them are actually one signature larger, or 128 pages.)

I had to use the 4E advanced books because I don't have any pagecount info on the new edition, but I still think there's a point to be made here. The two ratios aren't that different, are they? In other words, a more complicated game is going to have a more complicated introductory set. HackMaster Basic is going to be more complicated than the full monty version of a lot of other RPGs. Is that really a big surprise for anyone?

I'm not saying HMB is the bee knees or that everyone should go buy it. For all I know, I may end up hating it. But I think we need to take a step back and look at what has actually been promised us. Yes, the cover is Erol Otus giving us a great new take on the Moldvay Basic cover. Yes, the word Basic is in the title. But for frig's sake did anyone at Kenzer actually claim to be selling us anything other than a HackMaster product, with all that the brand implies?


  1. Settembrini2:37 PM

    Gene Weigel doesn´t dig Jamie Mal. And neither do I. I feel smarter every day I don´t read Grognardia. The only reason I went there the in the last several months was when I saw a DARLENE interview on the blog aggregator. And that´s now taken down because of Popedoodly. Duh.

    My advice: For unspoiled, unpretentious fun with D&D, avoid Grognardia at all costs.

  2. I swear one of these days it will reach a point where darn near every online opinionator I like will have warned me off of every other one.

    A says B is an idiot
    B says don't pay any attention to that fool C
    C warns to stay clear of D's wrongheaded ideas
    Z suggests that A has no idea what the hell he's talking about.

    Meanwhile, the whole damn alphabet soup seems pretty interesting from over here.

  3. I might still get it but it's in now way definite. Taking tiny actions every second doesn't appeal to me. It's more likely to give a wargame feel than freewheeling fun. The character sheets are not going to be simple and clean.

    It may not be a bad game, but it doesn't sound like it will be to may taste. The blatant appeal to Basic when it appears that it's going to be quite different annoys me.

  4. Hey, that guy Pat?

    He's a jerk.

  5. I'm looking forward to it. I use HM as a supplement to my AD&D stuff and just to mine for ideas. I doubt I'll be playing it, but I do think I'll be using some stuff from it to make my S&W game just a little crunchier.

  6. I enjoy an RPG based on how I enjoy an RPG. I've been thumbing through HM (I think it's 4e?) and giggling with glee. I don't look at each new release with religion. I look to see how I can use it. That's why my bookcase shares space with all sorts of books and nonsense. Even unexpurgiated Carcosa. :P

    Oh and don't read that Chgowiz guy. He's an idiot fool with all sorts of wrongheaded ideas, he obviously doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

    Oh wait...

  7. I think Kenzer really shot themselves in the foot when they got Erol Otus to do that cover. It got a lot of "old schooler" buzz, but when the game revealed itself as something other than a Basic D&D homage/clone/what have you, the old schoolers feel like they've been duped.

    Then you've got me, who was actually warned off by the Otus cover (too 70s trippy for my personal taste) but then sold on it when I got to know how the game works. Personally, I like what I've seen of the system thus far - to me, it seems like it's taking the good bits of HM4 and dumping some of the cruddier parts of AD&D. But then, I like D&D 4e, too, so I've never been a card-carrying grognard.

    Oh well. At least Kenzer did make a preview, so people will know what they're getting into before they order the book sight unseen just because of the cover.

  8. Settembrini3:11 PM

    If there´s no infights, Popes and Counterpopes, it´s a dead movement.

    What I really want is a nerdrage smackdown between Kellri & JimLOTFP, the winner getting the ticket to deconstruct Grognardia´s reactionary purity vision.

    I´m rooting for Kellri, but that´s just me.

  9. Anonymous3:21 PM

    I believe JM knows about what he talks about, but when I read grognardia, and I don't know why, I have feeling he makes it look like he has no idea about what he is talking about, and not on purpose.
    Maybe it's my bad english.

  10. HackMaster draws a line in the sand and says "Here. This is where the tolerable extent of the macho/maso nerd excesses of the hobby end." The game then goes three steps beyond that line.

    So let's say I'm the kinda guy who bought and reads SenZar just for that reason alone. You're saying that HackMaster is right up that alley?

    verification word: Cantly (adv) - Passing off a ordinary statement as if it were in code, slang, or double entendre.

  11. So let's say I'm the kinda guy who bought and reads SenZar just for that reason alone. You're saying that HackMaster is right up that alley?

    Man, I totally see a connection in terms of sheer balls-to-the-wallsness. But a critical difference would be that HM assumes the PCs start out as totally sucky. You have to earn the right to be half as cool as a starting SenZar PC.

  12. Personally I like Hackmaster because it can make jokes without being a joke. I don't play it, but I do like reading the books.

  13. Settembrini4:06 PM

    The problem I have with Hackmaster as a game is that if I have a group willing and able to play, I could be playing AD&D1st. So we do that instead.

  14. Sett: The players get the game they want and you can loot HackMaster for monsters, treasures, etc. What's not to like?

  15. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I'm going to get HMB, cause I want one game that's more detailed than the rules-lite systems I usually go for and OSRIC looks d-u-l-l.

    I like that spell points system, it looks FUN.

  16. Bah Hackmaster has nothing on GURPS 3e even GURP 4e is now getting up there.

    Come on Jeff try GURPS you know you want too ;) Heck I will even run a on-line session if that what it takes.

  17. I preordered.

    I've never played HM, may never play HMB. But the books are great sources for house rules and other bits from.

    Hacklopedia of Monsters is great. The henchmen/protege/etc, honor, are neat.

    The tables, my god, they alone are worth the price of admission.

  18. Anonymous6:09 PM

    How can people hack on Grognardia? How innocuous can you get? I like reading Grognardia because you never know what to expect and he is a prolific writer.

    As to Hackmaster Basic, I am going to let the slovering mass read it first, I am too busy with S&W and LL.

  19. I went to a local game store awhile back and asked if they had anything old schoolish - the only thing they said they had anything like that was Hackmaster...with this HB I'd be a little sad to see if it fills that role in the local stores instead of what I see as better mantle bearers, namely S&W and LL. Sounds like both may be nearer to local game store presence soon though. But as far as the cover of HB goes, I freakin love it.

  20. I basically don't read blogs. This saves a lot of time and seems to cost me nothing :)

    The only full-on exception is this one, though I do take occasional happy jaunts over to Rotwang's blog and to Uncle Bear, and ... that's it, really. I visit others only when reminded to for some specific thing.

  21. Settembrini4:30 AM

    @Jeff: That´s exactly what I do: mine Hackmaster for material for my 1e games (oh, and 2e and 3e games too). But sadly, this rather lowers my interest into 5th Edition of HM. I know things are as they are, but still let me drop a tear.

    @ancientvaults: If someone pontificates, he might get reactions. The whole blogging thing is about statements and counterstatements. Again, if there´s nothing to argue about, it´s dead.

  22. I never had a previous interest in Hackmaster, pretty much dissmissed it as a joke game, but after learning about this latest edition and reading through the spoiler thread on the Kenzer forums, a task that took close to a week of lunchtime browsing, I find myself eagerly awaiting the arrival of my pre-order.
    Now once I try it out, it may well turn out that the game is not for me, but based on what I've read on the forums, the new game seems almost tailor fit to my gaming tastes.

  23. I will be picking up HackMaster Basic when it comes out. I have my problems with the full system as it's played, tons of book-keeping compared to most games... Advanced will be even more so. But it's still a very rich and detailed system.

    For the record, I have and will continue to play and run HackMaster 4e. Yes, it may read like a joke system, and can easily make a game a joke... but it's all in the hands on the GM. I find that having a bit of humor (even silliness) really helps add a massive amount of contrast with the gruesome brutality the system can provide.

  24. Dunno, maybe it's just a tad bit hyperbolic to refer to James Mal as a Pope or that the life or death of this humble trend rests on the word wars of the blogosphere. I think I may fall into the camp of those you take actual gaming as the real barometer--and that test seems pretty strong in backwards ass Texas at least.

    Plus, dude, I cut all our first-tier bloggers an enormous-sized piece of slack. In my day job, I get paid to write--and find it hard to consistently produce quality on demand. These folks are doing it all-volunteer and attracting relatively large readerships to our side of the gaming world. I say kudos to all of them, up on precarious soapbox or not.

  25. "maybe it's just a tad bit hyperbolic to refer to James Mal as a Pope"

    Say it isn't so! ;)

    By the way, I was raised Lutheran. Think about that next time I refer to James as the Pope.

  26. Anonymous11:40 AM

    Firstly, I think James says what is on his mind, offers information and gives us peeks into his campaign, I don't really see him pontificating.

    Secondly, I think blogs are tools for all sorts of things, not just opinions, I see them about various topics and the only opinions I state on mine are what type of art I like on Saturday, every other day I offer something for oldschool gaming, well, ok, so Saturday is a two post day.

    I guess my problem with people hacking on James is that he is a founding member of TARGA and we all try to organize the oldschool community to help everyone who wants to play these games and he and Jeff Rients (among others) get to deal with my concerns and panic attacks.

  27. Anonymous12:43 PM

    I'd say HackMaster Basic's page count is due to it being 'detailed" as opposed to 'complicated.' Comparing it to Moldvay Basic isn't really a fair comparison. I think once people start looking through the rules this will become more apparent.

    Combat is quite simple and easy to use, with new added things (like knock-back, which has been mentioned) being just an additional effect of dealing a lot of damage. There's a great deal less calculation than there was in HM4th ed. Honor, for instance, isn't the pie-chart monstrosity it was in 4th - it's essentially a simple die roll bonus based on your Honor level - no harder to use than a bonus to damage based on Strength.

    - Mark Plemmons

  28. Anonymous7:28 PM

    I am going to give it a try, or a look through, either way, I will buy it.