Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”


It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’…

Step 1: Receive Building Points

I get 40 Building Points.

Step 2: Roll Ability Scores

See Chapter 2. OK…

In Chapter 2, we are informed that real gamers use physical dice. Electronic dice simulators are lame. (All formatting in original.) Well, good. I agree. You’ll get my dice when you pry them from my cold, dead, fingers, you commie bastards!

Gary Jackson (the fictional CEO of the fictional Hard 8 Enterprises) pokes his head into the rules to give you advice or explain things. One such thing is that most games claim to use a 3-18 scale but really put the average at more like 14. In Hackmaster, he says, this ain’t the case. Surviving crappy attributes is part of the point, and only wimps would wish otherwise.

If I leave my attributes in the order they’re rolled, I get a 50 BP bonus, or a 25 BP bonus if I only swap one pair.

Transform and roll out! Wait, wrong 80’s pop culture reference…

So, the attributes (in order) are Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Looks, and Charisma.

6/04,9/00,12/66, 8/22, 8/92,11/12, 5/95


Fortunately, there’s an out. The “Shopkeeper” rule says if you don’t have one attribute of 13 or higher, or if you do have two attributes of 5 or lower, you can name the character and hand him to the GM for use as a hapless NPC. “Fred” becomes an NPC. Let’s try again.

4/13, 14/77,7/43,14/57,8/55,9/80,11/80.

So, the initial roll looks like this:

  • Strength:4 (13) (-4 damage, -9 Feat of Strength)
  • Intelligence: 14 (77) (+1 attack, +6 BP)
  • Wisdom 7 (43) (+3 Initiative, -1 Mental Saves, -1 Defense)
  • Dexterity 14 (57) (-1 Initiative, +2 Attack, +3 Defense, +1 Dodge,+3 Feat of Agility)
  • Constitution 8 (55) (-1 Physical saves)
  • Looks 9 (80) (Charisma -1 (So it drops to 10), Honor -1)
  • Charisma 10 (80) (No adjustment)

This could make a decent thief or mage as is. I’ll take that 50 BP bonus (giving me 90 so far), and go for mage. Probably.

I can also spend BP to raise ability scores. Let’s see. 1 BP per 5 fractional. 4 BP raises my Looks to 10, which removes the -1 to my Charisma. Six more will raise my Intelligence to 15.

  • Strength:4 (13) (-4 damage, -9 Feat of Strength)
  • Intelligence: 15 (07) (+2 attack, +10 BP)
  • Wisdom 7 (43) (+3 Initiative, -1 Mental Saves, -1 Defense)
  • Dexterity 14 (57) (-1 Initiative, +2 Attack, +3 Defense, +1 Dodge,+3 Feat of Agility)
  • Constitution 8 (55) (-1 Physical saves)
  • Looks 10 (01)
  • Charisma 11 (80) (+1 Turning, +1 Morale)

So, that’s 11 spent, down to 79, but I get +10 from my Intelligence, so, 89.

Step 4

Choose A Race

(Step 3 was “Arrange Ability Scores”.)

Hackmaster has a BP cost for each class for each race. The best non-human race for a mage is Elf, but Elves take a crippling -4 to Constitution, and my Con is already pathetic. So I’ll go for human, which has a flat 20 BP cost for all classes. This requires no adjustments to things, and I have 69 BP left.

Choose A Class

Well, let’s stick with Mage. As a level 1 Mage, I have a D4 hit points (I rolled a 2) to which is added my Constitution score (8), and 10 for being a human, so, 20.

I have 140 Spell Point, and no save or attack bonus. I have a +2 Initiative modifier, for a total of +4. (Lower is better, here.) My Intelligence of 15 lets me know a mere 3 spells per level.

I roll randomly, of course, to find out which spells I begin with. All mages start with two Apprentice, one Journeyman, and one First Level spell. My Apprentice spells are Amplify Illumination and Phantom Irritation, my Journeyman spell is Bar Portal, and my First Level spell is Birds Eye View. I can spend a BP to reroll, and I will for the first level one, at least. Shift Blame. Oh well. I’ll deal.

Choose Alignment

What the heck, Chaotic Good.

Step 5: Finalize Ability Scores

I can spend 10 BP to raise my Strength full point. (Abilities lower than 9 get +10 per 1/BP). So let’s do that. 59 BP left.

  • Strength:5 (13) (-3 damage, -7 Feat of Strength)
  • Intelligence: 15 (07) (+2 attack, +10 BP)
  • Wisdom 7 (43) (+3 Initiative, -1 Mental Saves, -1 Defense)
  • Dexterity 14 (57) (-1 Initiative, +2 Attack, +3 Defense, +1 Dodge,+3 Feat of Agility)
  • Constitution 8 (55) (-1 Physical saves)
  • Looks 10 (01)
  • Charisma 11 (80) (+1 Turning, +1 Morale)

Calculate Honor

Add all my abilities (including fractions), divide by 7, discard fractions. That gives me 10.43, so, 10.

And More…

Time to actually go and spend those build points! But, since I’m tired of a backlog of half-finished articles in my “Drafts” folder, I’m just going to post this as “Part 1″, and I’ll be back for part 2, you know, whenever. Remember my site’s motto:”Free, and worth it!”

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One Response to Hackmaster 5e

  1. Pingback: Hackmaster 5e, Part II | Lizard's Gaming and Geekery Site

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