Gaming At The Kids Table With The Basic Hack
  • Gaming At The Kids Table With The Basic Hack


    Here at EN World, I’m looking at all-ages tabletop role-playing games, board games, and card games. Do they engage the players at the kids' gaming table? Would they cut it at the adults' table? Are they genuinely fun for every age? The Basic Hack by Nathan J. Hill is a streamlined OSR RPG designed to introduce new players to role-playing. The 58-page book includes a game book/choose your own adventure system rules introduction, character creation, rules for combat and other actions, spells, creatures, an adventure, and character sheet.


    This is an OSR (Old School Revival) styled role-playing game, which, in this case, means it takes its cues from several editions of D&D and, more specifically, The Black Hack RPG by David Black. Despite deriving from D&D, there are points that set this RPG apart from the world’s most popular role-playing game:

    • There are no levels. Instead, the GM awards the adventurers one of eight random benefits ranging from character power increases to hirelings or magic items
    • There is no THAC0
    • When rolling a d20 to hit, for saves, or other tests, lower is better (for all other dice, roll high)
    • Attributes do not add or deduct from tests like 1e. For example, a 17 STR does not add +1/+1 to hit or damage, but it instead changes the target number that you roll under to determine success
    • The GM rolls the damage inflicted by enemies but not the to hit. Instead, the players roll to dodge and only if they fail to get out of the way does the enemy deal damage
    • When dodging, if the PC rolls a natural 20 (a fail), they take double damage
    • A monster’s CR represents the penalty it imposes on the PC’s rolls
    • Armor has HP that is added to the PC’s HP instead of being a separate, limited pool or making them more likely to dodge
    • The game includes the 5e mechanic for advantage and disadvantage
    • Each class has advantage on a specific ability (Warriors on attacks with weapons, Clerics on magical healing, Mages on casting spells against evil creatures, and Thieves on sneaking, disarming traps, and opening locked doors, chests, etc.)


    Nevertheless, the most notable difference is that the rules are taught through a solo adventure like Tunnels & Trolls or a gamebook or a choose your own adventure book with dice. If you have not played a T&T solo adventure like Buffalo Castle or don’t know what a choose your own adventure/gamebook is, it’s a prose adventure that branches into different outcomes based on the reader’s choices. For The Basic Hack solo adventure, In Search of Wyvern, the reader plays a warrior as he searches for his lost puppy while you learn the game’s rules. The concept eases first time role-players into the concepts behind the genre and rules.

    Once the players have created their own characters, the book includes a starting adventure, The Bandit Wizard. [SPOILERS] A wayward illusionist has taken to thievery through a needlessly elaborate ruse involving pretending goblins are chasing him as he rides up to peasants offering to hide with them then putting them to sleep in order to rob them and your party is charged with arresting him. The encounter leads to a series of real goblin raids as they make a play to expand their territory. The adventure is simple but has two flaws, the backstory is all sprawl and, largely, does not play into the adventure, and the adventure is combat-centric without variation.

    While generally a solid product with an interesting rule set, the book does have a few shortcomings. The spells and monsters are broad enough to read options into them. There’s no art. This is a fantasy RPG but the setting is vague for The Bandit Wizard with only a loosely noted region and town. As this is a well considered OSR that’s nothing damning.

    Does The Basic Hack win the kids' table? Yes, but with the caveats that as a D&D-derivative it can be a combat-centric experience, and the lack of art might hinder some new and young players from visualizing what an owlbear is, for example. If the child is an advanced reader then the biggest win is the T&T solo adventure-like/choose your own adventure/gamebook opening. In Search of Wyvern offers the player an opportunity to pilot the rules and the basic ideas of role-playing in a fantasy setting and come to the table with enough knowledge to sling dice.

    Would the The Basic Hack work at the adults' table? Yes if you’re looking for an OSR. As with the kids’ table, its win is the solo adventure to introduce new players to the rules in a self-paced and engaging fashion. At the end of the In Search of Wyvern solo adventure, every player will know enough about The Basic Hack to decide if it’s of interest to them.

    Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links.

    contributed by Egg Embry
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Xaelvaen's Avatar
      Xaelvaen -
      An interesting find - reminds me of the optional non-weapon proficiency system that 2E brought about (roll under stat, modify for difficulty). I had never heard of this, so reading through soon. Thanks once again for a nice article.
    1. Li Shenron's Avatar
      Li Shenron -
      Thanks for the review. I don't see how this game is any better for young players compared to others.
    1. Egg Embry's Avatar
      Egg Embry -
      I appreciate the thoughts about this article and if you're interested in reading other EN World reviews of all-ages games? Check out:

      The FirstFable RPG, Monster Slayers, Mouse Tails, Little Wizards, Hero Kids, Little Heroes, Dagger, and Pip System.

      Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer
      If you're a publisher and have an all-ages RPG that you'd like to have reviewed, please contact me here.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      TBH is super lite, as-is. I think it's about 24 pages, digest size with a healthy font. This "Basic Hack" does not seem much different other than removal of levels based on the review points listed here

      I will have to dl The Basic Hack and give it a closer look.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Things I noticed on quick skim...

      MAJOR difference- The Basic Hack is roll=to or under Ability score for tests. The Black Hack is roll UNDER.

      No "usage die" mechanic for torches,arrows,etc. in The Basic Hack.

      Players always have initiative in The Basic Hack. In Black, you test your DEX. Anyone who fails goes after the monsters do.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Fwiw. This is the best "kids" game I have found yet- Dungeon Squad. Just a few pages.

      http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/dungeon-squad
    1. neobolts's Avatar
      neobolts -
      This "kids' table" series is becoming a fast-favorite of mine. I've also lifted inspiration for rules-light one shot mechanics from some of these reviews.
    1. DMMike's Avatar
      DMMike -
      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      MAJOR difference- The Basic Hack is roll=to or under Ability score for tests. The Black Hack is roll UNDER.
      I'd call that a minor difference, but it's a good catch. Little things like that can keep a game from flowing smoothly, especially if the players are used to a different rule.

      Quote Originally Posted by Egg Embry View Post
      • When rolling a d20 to hit, for saves, or other tests, lower is better (for all other dice, roll high)
      • Attributes do not add or deduct from tests like 1e. For example, a 17 STR does not add +1/+1 to hit or damage, but it instead changes the target number that you roll under to determine success
      • When dodging, if the PC rolls a natural 20 (a fail), they take double damage
      • Armor has HP that is added to the PC’s HP instead of being a separate, limited pool or making them more likely to dodge
      • The game includes the 5e mechanic for advantage and disadvantage
      Points like these make me think "adults' table" over "kids' table."

      Good review though - have you thought about posting it in the reviews section, Egg?
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