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Learn to Hack! events are being held all over the country in order to raise awareness about the 5th edition of the HackMaster roleplaying game. As Dungeons and Dragons scrambles to re-establish a connection with their dwindling fan base, these HackMaster grass-roots events are being encouraged by the publisher of the game, Kenzer and Company. But unlike massive corporate marketing campaigns like those employed by Wizards of the Coast, publishers of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, the events promoting HackMaster are almost entirely driven by their fans. These are fans who are passionate about telling good stories and enjoy game mechanics that make sense. These are fans that are out to spread the good word of HackMaster and expect nothing in return. Other games are gaining market share while Dungeons & Dragons fights against its greatest competitor: previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Games like HackMaster and their loyal evangelists have an opportunity to grab some new players into their camp.
Kenzer and Company has made the sales pitch incredibly simple for their acolytes of fantasy roleplaying by offering the entire HackMaster Basic rules set for free on their website. This 231-page PDF contains the complete rules set needed to take player-characters from 1st to 5th level. HackMaster Basic offers all four base races and classes, whereas the Advanced HackMaster Players Handbook nearly doubles the number of races and classes available to players during character generation.
The Introduction of the HackMaster rules congratulates the reader in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, thanking them for choosing the greatest game ever developed by mankind. Having recently played a demo game of HackMaster Basic with an experienced game master, as an experienced gamer I am really pleased by what I saw. I had spent several hours the other week rolling dice at a table of strangers with unfamiliar rules, the promise of blood, adventure, and a vague promise of an intangible reward of ‘bragging rights’ should I and the other strangers complete a short introductory adventure. My local friendly game store The Source Comics & Games had a flyer on their events board that exclaimed ‘Learn to Hack!’ This was to be an official introduction to the newly revised HackMaster 5th edition game system run by local HackMaster enthusiast Chris Wheatley. Chris is part of a fan-driven group of HackMaster evangelists that calls themselves the Hack Pack. When I asked Chris, a veteran RPG game-master of 20+ years why he now runs HackMaster over other games on the market he did not have to think long to come up with an answer. He said that initially there was some resistance because it would be hard to give up the Dungeons & Dragons brand. D&D had always been the simplest way to explain his gaming history, to connect himself to the community of fantasy gaming enthusiasts that he loved being part of. When pressed further about why he promotes HackMaster, Wheatley shared his conversion experience:
I knew that it was time to make a change when I tried Hackmaster Basic with my D&D (4th edition) group, and the newest player told me that this was far more exciting, far easier to understand, and far “more real” than any other game I’d run. If I can have the superior combat mechanics of HackMaster, and even a new player can find it more real, that is the game I need to be running.
There has been a trend over the years to play incredibly heroic games, because after all who doesn’t want to roleplay a hero? Lead Designer David Kenzer writes in the foreword of the HackMaster rulebook about how heroes are very good at resolving a crisis, whether through force of arms, might of magic or otherwise. Kenzer dedicates an entire page of the book foreword to describe what makes HackMaster a unique gaming experience. He writes:
Here is where the HackMaster game sets itself apart from other fantasy roleplaying games. The HackMaster game is about more than just playing a hero that fixes troublesome predicaments. Indeed, HackMaster allows for heroic play – play long enough and you will experience such a game. But HackMaster includes another element overlooked by the other games – the journey to becoming a hero.
There are many gamers that will recognize the name HackMaster, as it is the game played by the fictional characters within the pages of Jolly Blackburn’s popular comic, The Knights of the Dinner Table. What was originally a game system built on parody and humor has proven with it’s latest edition that it’s no joking matter. Fans of the first three editions of Dungeons & Dragons will find a lot of familiar elements to the game mechanics and flavor. The system has a number of unique twists that has me very excited to try my hand at running this game system with my friends at some point in the future. With HackMaster Basic being free, the price is right for me to give it a try.
To find a local Hack Pack demo event near you, check the Kenzer and Company forums thread for scheduled demos and meet-ups.