5e HackMaster Player's Guide by Kenzer & Company
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  1. #1

    5e HackMaster Player's Guide by Kenzer & Company

    HackMaster Player's Handbook, 5th Edition
    Publisher - Kenzer & Company

    This core book is the second in the newest iteration of the HackMaster line, which started with the Hacklopedia of Beasts. Technically, it started with HMBasic, but since this is an extension and expansion of those basic rules, I choose not to include it in the HM line. The book is (will be) a massive 400-page behemoth, weighing in a 4.5 pounds (if the HoB is comparable, which I have been informed it will be). However, back to the PH. My review will be for the PDF version, which should be identical to the leatherbound hardback edition when it comes to store shelves in a few months.

    From the Introduction to the Index, it is apparent that the Kenzer crew put their heart and soul into this tome. Every mechanic screams out 'Old-School' while still establishing them in new and modern ways. The power level of the game is "Low Magic", and takes place in the Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign world of Tellene. There are campaign setting books published for D&D 3.x, 4.0, and these books have everything you need for the campaign world, and it's quite likely they can be found rather cheaply. Check online auction sites or your local game store's bargain bin. As well, you can check the Kenzer&Co website and get some of these books on PDF at reduced prices.


    This system uses a stat-based character development and level-based class system. The stats used are the staple of the familiar DnD (STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA), however, they also include LOOKS (think Comeliness). Alongside of these main 7 stats is another stat that is an amalgam of your others. Honor. Your honor is how you abide by the game-world society's ideal. If you are a NE thief, and you start playing as though you are LG, you will be docked Honor, because you are not playing the class correctly. This helps prevent metagaming, and also rewards and encourages great role-playing.

    The system assumes, and is written as such, that all stats are rolled 3d6 in order. Not 4d6 drop lowest, or 3d6 reroll 1s. This brings the average back down to 10-11, the same as the D&D of old. This is HackMaster, son, not kindergarten!


    There are over 15 races. You have your staple fantasy humanoid races. Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling and Human. The Kalamar setting of Tellene also has 6 subsets of Human: Kalamaran, Brandobian, Dejy, Fhokki, Reanaarian and Svimohz, based on their ethnics and location on Tellene. The other three races are the Grel (grundge elves), Half-Hobgoblin (Sil-Karg) and the Pixie-Fairy. The PF is an option race in the appendix. There is a taste of the class, and stats required to play it, however much of their information will be spelled out in a future book. The PF is best played by those who are familiar with the race in HM4e, and only with the DM's approval.


    In this game, there are many classes. You have the standard fare of Fighter, Mage, Thief. However, you also have the more exceptional classes such as Knight and Paladin (both of which are ONLY allowable to the Human race), Ranger, Barbarian, Rogue and Assassin. Completing the list are 3 specialized Multi-Class specialties. Also known as Dual Classes and perhaps even a watered down Gestalt form. The Fighter/Mage, Fighter/Thief and Mage/Thief.

    I don't think I really have to explain much about these classes, although there are a couple which might need more explanation. The Rogue is similar in vein to the Thief class. But while the Thief is mainly dependent on his DEX and sneaking, thievery and shadowy traits, the Rogue gets by on his wits, CHA and use of deception. The Assassin is not a sneaky ninja killer of the shadows. Picture James Bond, Jason Bourne.. (wow, i see a J.B relevance..wait.. Jolly Blackburn. That explains a lot) Anyway, the Assassin is a killer for hire.


    You notice there are no Druids, no Bards, and no.. Clerics? There is NO Cleric class. There are, however, 14 cleric classes. There are 43 gods in the Tellene campaign world.. The PHB covers the gamut of the alignments. The rest will be released in the future publication.

    I really like what they have done to the Clerics. Every Cleric of a diety is different that of another deity. Each cleric class has their own spell list, their own features, class bonuses, traits and abilities. The Cleric of the Cathedral of Light is your holy undead killer. The Cleric of the Temple of the Patient Arrow is a holy hunter/tracker. The Cleric of the Caregiver receives healing spells far sooner than another cleric might. The Cleric of the Bear is granted shapechanging abilities as he levels up. The cleric of the House of Knives is a holy assassin.

    The cleric of a god of Music, for example, would be a holy bard. He isn't in the PHB, however. But by using this format, building up a cleric class around the god/church itself, it opens up so much more roleplay opportunities, and actually allows you to fine-tune your character as you see fit. How many times did you want to play a thief who was a devout follower of a god (with follower benefits), or another class. This actually allows you to create almost any type of class as a cleric. Again, the remaining of the 43 gods will be covered in a future book, once the GMG is complete.


    The system uses percentile dice. Your choice of class and race both give you free rolls to certain skills. Your first roll in any given skill is the total of a d12p + your lowest relative attribute. The 'p' in d12p means the d12 penetrates or 'explodes' into another die roll, less one. So for the skill of Disarm Trap (INT and DEX), you would take your lowest score (INT-07, DEX-13) of 7 and add a d12p.

    Let's say you rolled 12, 12, 6. You would add 12 + (12-1) + (6-1) + 7 (INT) and end up with 35 for your initial roll in the skill. Not a bad first roll! Your further rolls in the skill do not use your INT score, but a skill modifier based on the score, which is -2. Since your current score is 35, you roll a d8p and subtract 2. I rolled a 6, -2 is a 4, so my second roll raised my skill up to 39. Had you rolled a 2, you would not have added 0, but a minimum of 1.
    The great thing about this skill system is that there are no perfect characters. Every character is different, and every character perfectly playable. You may have horrible skills in Disarm Trap, but even so, if you roll low enough on your skill check, you can still beat the trap. Besides, there's always next level, when you might hit a couple penetrates on your skill.


    I love this magic system. Every mage level has it's own spell level. You're a 5th level mage, you can cast 5th level spells. BRILLIANT! Mages can memorize 1 spell per level. Your fifth level mage has memorized 1 spell each of levels 1-5, plus 1 spell from Apprentice and 1 from Journeyman levels (mostly cantrips or low-powered useful spells). Memorized spells cost Spell Level x10(+40) spell points. He can cast ANY known spell, though, not just memorized spells. Non-memorized spells, however, cost double the spell points (Spell level x20(+80)). So an unmemorized 5th level spell costs 180, while memorized 5th level costs only 90. Also, mages can automatically pump in more spells points into a spell to increase damage, distance, saving throws or duration. A spell can only be increased to 300% of the base cost of the spell.

    A magic system that uses memorization, spell points AND integrated metamagic feat system of d20 3.x. Just make sure you don't blow all your spell points in the first battle, before you come upon the BBEG. This is known as "premature magiculation", and has been known to be the end-all of a good party.


    No rounds. No turns. What? That's right. This system uses the "count-up" system that was also used in Aces & Eights. I like to think of it as a "real-life second-by-second" system. Lowest number goes starts the combat faster, and then you proceed according to your weapon speed.

    Base INIT is a d12p, modified by some classes or even by your level. Higher levels use a small INIT die, such as d8p, d6p, d4p or d3p (the minimum). Certain circumstances can also increase your INIT to a d20p. If, for some reason, your main fighter or mage penetrated on his INIT, and has a horrible start time of 20 or so, you can always pimp-slap him out of his stupor. Mitigating the initiative averages your combined score. Your Thief (INIT was 6, and Mage (INIT was 20), difference is 14/2 =7. Both PCs mitigate their INITs by 7 (Thief increases his wait time while he is busy smacking the mage, and the mage lowers his while he is being made aware of the situation). Regardless of INIT, you can always act 2 seconds after being struck by an opponent, if you're still standing, that is.


    Basic combat in HackMaster is very simple. Attacker rolls d20 + bonuses, Defender rolls d20-4 + Bonuses. Tie goes to defender. Very simple. Very quick. Very elegant. But there is more crunch. With the 'count-up' system, you aren't stuck standing in one spot hammering your foe every round and being hammered back. Real combat is fluid, there is movement, and in HM, you can do anything you can in real life. Every second you can move. There are combat rules for different fighting styles. 1-handed weapons, 1 weapon and shield, 2-handed weapons, two 1-handed weapon fighting, 1 weapons atk/1 weapon defend, shield only, and two shields. Plus there are optional combat moves: Called Shots, Jab, Hold at Bay, Aggressive Attack, Charge, Tactical Move, Readying Against Charge, Fight Defensively, Full Parry, Give Ground, Scamper Back, Fighting Withdrawal, Flee, Rear Attacks, and Knockbacks. Not to mention rules for Fatigue, Mounted Combat and even Unarmed combat rules.. Again, these are all optional, and have been designed to mesh seamlessly into the game so your combat can be as fluid and complex as you like it. Chances are very high, however, that your combat scenarios will still take far less time than a regular DnD combat. At least, once you gain the feel of the ease of use of the combat counting system.


    There is no AC. Heavy armor and shields do not make you harder to hit. In reality, they make you much easier to hit, but they reduce the damage you take. For example, the epitome of Fighter armor, Plate Mail. This has a DR of 7, and a 5 Def Adj. So not only does this armor grand you a 5 bonus on your defense roll, any attack that hits you is reduced by 7. Even a Medium shield grants you a DR of 4, and a +6 Def Adj. The shield is perfect for any character class.


    There is no "grunt of constipated agony" and suddenly you heal your wounds, like in some lesser games. Nor are there heal-bot clerics that can bring you from the brink of death to full health in a moment. Healing does take more time, but not as long if you play your cards right. In HackMaster, each wound is tracked separately and they all heal individually. Wounds heal according to wound size. a 3-point wound takes 3 days to heal 1 point, then it becomes a 2-point wound. A 3 point wound takes (3+2+1) 6 days of rest to heal. that 8-point gash, if left to natural causes, would take (8!) 36 days of rest to heal.
    There are ways to mitigate this rest. Talents can decrease the resting time. Skills, such as First Aid, are very beneficial, and clerical healing can also remove and alleviate the damages. All wounds heal simultaneously, so if you had a dozen 2-point wounds, you would still be fully recovered in 3 days.


    Well, I've gone through quite a bit of information here, and there is still a lot to read. But the system is very well designed, very well thought out, and has had the 9-month input of a couple dozen play-testers and forum-readers in order to make this book one of the most error-free and errata-free books. There is also a 12-page Knights of the Dinner Table combat scenario in the book, in order to help you watch a combat session in progression and further understand the game-play mechanics.

    Another winner. The PDF is gorgeous and the pages are well laid out. Each chapter page has it's own table of contents. There are wider margins on the sides which hold "tip tabs" and misc notes of interest. These are very handy, and prevent you from searching through the actual text to find these gems of information. Granted, the margins are also there on pages that do NOT have tip tabs, however it's not that distracting. And if ever you need to write your own house rules or errata, there is room for them.

  2. #2
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Germantown, TN
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    Block Greylond

    Here are some links to some sample pages:

    Illustrated Combat Example featuring the characters from KODT(PDF):

    Will post other sample pages once they have been released...

  3. #3
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

    Join Date
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    Block Greylond

    HM PHB Forward:

    HM PHB Introduction:

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