Why I Like HackMaster

I’ve never played a game of HackMaster in my life, and yet I have the HM books with me every time I run an AD&D game. Yes, I shelled out the bucks for all of the Hacklopedia of Beasts books, too.

I see HackMaster as a wonderous sourcebook of optional rules that I can, or can not, apply to my AD&D game. The fact that the underlying systems are the same naturally helps immensely. But HackMaster is almost the Arduin of the modern day; a bewildering array of optional rules that can be bolted on to any AD&D game (or, I would think, OD&D game, too) with a minimum of fuss.

The things that I find of the most immediate utility are the monsters and the equipment descriptions and price lists. Every DM is always on the lookout for additional beasties to add to the stable, and Hackmaster does not disappoint in the least. There are ones that are of great use and could have come out of MM2, such as the Baboon Man. There are ones that are of everyday use and should have been included in MM2, such as new species of bat and beetle that fill in many gaps. And there are the way-out-whacky ones like the Great Red Marauding Beaver. The equipment lists are far more extensive than even those in Unearthed Arcana; we finally learn that a mandolin costs 28 g.p. and thank Pholtus that mystery is now solved!

The quirks and flaws lists are rightfully seen as the heart of the fun and silly side of the game, where you could end up with a magic-user who has a phobia about magic. But within reason, and being chosen rather than rolled (to avoid the possibility, for example, of a double-arm-amputee fighter), I think they could be of use. Certainly they are good guidelines for players who would like to include such things as part of their character development without the mechanism of gaining extra ability points in exchange.

There are a plethora of new spells as well, which could very easily make their way into a game via spell book or scroll. For those who think that a skill system is absolutely necessary, the one in the HM Player’s Handbook is as good as, or better than, any I’ve seen (including the one in the Wilderness & Dungeoneers Survival Guides).

I approach HackMaster not as a game to be played, but a resource to be mined. There’s a lot of good stuff of instant utility, and much more than can be used as guidelines with just a little effort. On the whole, if you can find the HM books on eBay or at your LFGS, you could do a lot worse than to snatch them up.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Why I Like HackMaster

  1. I'm thinking about a C&C campaign and had been wondering if I could appease players that wanted more customization by stealing from Hackmaster. So your post is very timely.

    I was thinking of the skills myself, not the quirks/flaws.

    Do you use the quirks then? If a character has a quirk/flaw, do they get a corresponding benefit?

    Anyone else tried this?

  2. I recently posted some musing about Hackmaster myself, including using parts of it in AD&D/OSRIC. I really like a lot of the material, but I never cared to play a "parody" game. I also liked a lot of the new classes in Hackmaster's expansion books.

  3. Hmm, I’m going to have to take a look at Hackmaster now, I love finding little quirks and strange little things to try.

    to avoid the possibility, for example, of a double-arm-amputee fighter

    The Black Knight after battle? It’s only a flesh wound!

  4. I love Hackmaster in all of it's quirky gore and wish I could get a regular game of it going. Memories of playing AD&D in high school were filled with all sorts of house rules, including critical hits that severed fingers, hands, feet, genitals, etc., magic items like 'meat glue' that could be used to re-attach severed limbs (providing you used it right away)… Hackmaster seems like such balls-to-the-wall games taken to their inevitable 'turned to 11' conclusion.

  5. Joeseph this is off topic…

    Just downloaded your Castle of the Mad Archmage and love it. I would like to do old school style maps for you, if you are interested.

    You can contact me on Dragonsfoot if you are interested. User ID: Braggi

    I am also on gmail, although the spam filters may give trouble. For that route use my DF I.D. (all lower case) at gmail dot com.

    Keep up the *great* work!

  6. Actually, I play hackmaster all the time, and it's got it's moments, but on the whole, it doesn't really get all that silly. It's nothing like say paranoia, or something along those lines.

  7. I have been playing Hack master for a few years and I actually used the Great Red Marauding Beaver as a monster several times it became a bringer of woe to our parties Paladin

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