Black Sword Hack: An Interview with Kobayashi

Kobayashi's OSR RPG, Black Sword Hack - Ultimate Chaos Edition, is available for preorder on Kickstarter.

Kobayashi creates RPGs in the OSR (RPGs similar to older D&D editions but many with new innovations) space and adds innovations of his own. His RPG, Black Sword Hack - Ultimate Chaos Edition, is currently available for preorder on Kickstarter. Kobayashi was kind enough to talk to me about his new RPG and OSR RPGs.
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Charles Dunwoody (Charlie): Thanks for talking with me, Kobayashi. If you had one paragraph to describe the Black Sword Hack for RPG gamers mostly unfamiliar with the first edition, how would you describe the RPG?
Kobayashi:
Thank you for having me! The Black Sword Hack is inspired by books like Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, Karl Edward Wagner's Kane series, Joe Abercrombie's First Law series or Poul Anderson's Three Hearts, Three Lions. It's dark fantasy where the world is about to get torn apart by the struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos. The book gives you tools to create characters and a setting around this central theme. To match its literary influences, the game makes sure characters are competent, that combats are short and brutal, and that sorcery is effective and nasty.

Charlie: For those unfamiliar with the term hack, what does hack mean in regards to RPGs and the Black Sword Hack in particular?
Kobayashi:
It means building your game system by adapting ("hacking") the rules of another game to fit your own game themes. Black Sword Hack was built using David Black's RPG, The Black Hack, my own previous games (Extinction and Fléaux! notably) and other hacks like Absolute Tabletop's excellent The Mecha Hack. Sometimes there's no need to reinvent the wheel when robust and playtested mechanics already exists and at the same time it's fun (as a designer) to find new ways to expand those mechanics in different directions. Going by this definition, it's simple to see that many RPGs are "hacks" of previous games. This proves the necessity of having open licenses: the Black Sword Hack couldn't exist if David Black hadn't released his game under the OGL. Even if you're writing your game on your own, creation is still a collaborative process: nobody works in a vacuum and everybody works better when information is shared. Or it all might just be a Martian conspiracy to make us say "hack, hack, hack" all-day long.

Charlie: What types of characters can players look forward to playing in the Black Sword Hack?
Kobayashi:
Competent adventurers that are built according to their origin (Barbarian, Civilized or Decadent), and backgrounds. This allows interesting combinations for the players: a duelist that dabbles in sorcery? A street urchin that became a pit-fighter? A legionnaire who became a diplomat and an inventor? The possibilities are pretty vast and allow players to replicate characters from most sword & sorcery novels, be it Elric, the Grey Mouser, Conan or Kane. I don't think a class-based system could do them justice (your mileage may vary of course). Another important thing to consider: your character is competent but remains "human": they will have at most 26 hit points and those low level thugs will remain a threat throughout your adventuring life! This is still a roleplaying game, not a novel, the aim isn't to ape the ebb and flow of a book but to revel in the chaotic string of event produced by play: you may save the world, burn it to the ground, or die in the back alley of the city of thieves...
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Charlie: What tools will GMs get in the Black Sword Hack to help in creating adventures and building worlds?
Kobayashi:
The goal was to give GMs options so they can make decisions about their setting, not adding more to their workload. You don't have to design everything from the ground up, the building blocks are already here, it's up to you what you want to design with them. The book comes with tools to let GMs build the setting that fits their vision: a list of countries and factions, their relationship with Law and Chaos, creating the main antagonist, design a city, tables for traveling events, rules for sorcery, fairy ties, twisted science, demon pacts and runic weapons... Each of the factions comes with adventure seeds, 96 in total to help you develop the world as the campaign goes. You will also find two adventures to launch your campaign as soon as you've read the book, meaning you can skip the world-building part if you want to start right away!

Charlie: What other support is there for the Black Sword Hack beyond the core book, in print or upcoming?
Kobayashi:
Support for the game comes in the form a zine: The Chaos Crier. GMs can already grab issue #0 of the Chaos Crier which comes with adventures, monsters, NPCs, optional rules, etc. As of now the goal is to have two issues per year. People who know about the Merry Mushmen's Knock! magazine know they will aim for the highest quality possible, so I'm excited to see what different authors will come up with! Of course most of the content will be of use to anyone running sword & sorcery campaigns even if they don't play the Black Sword Hack.

Charlie: Many readers of EN World are D&D 5E and Pathfinder players. What would you say if they asked why should they should try the Black Sword Hack or other OSR RPGs?
Kobayashi:
I don't think they "should" try the Black Sword Hack or other OSR RPGs, especially if they're happy with their current game and/or campaign. I would frame the question differently: do you have any interest in the books we mentioned? Do you look for a grittier fantasy? Would you like to try your hand at world-building? I think Black Sword Hack has something that may interest you. Maybe you want to try the game but none of your players wants to give it a spin? The book comes with advice for solo players and an oracle. Many of the tools we mentioned above can be used in any fantasy RPG so even if you don't play the Black Sword Hack, I think you'll find useful stuff in it for your own campaigns. The simplest way to know if the game is for you though, is to consider one of the adventure's set-up:
"You wake up inside the ruins of a temple, you're naked and covered in blood. With you is a flayed corpse. The thing speaks: "You have served your sentence and the memories of your crime were erased, as requested." The figure turns into a red mist and disappears. Outside, you hear someone shout: "Fresh meat from the Spire!", what do you do?"
If you want to know what happens next, hey, maybe the Black Sword Hack is for you!

Charlie: Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
Kobayashi:
Many things brought us to RPGs: curiosity, the will to nurture our imagination, and the desire to share that imagination with others. Roleplaying games give us the means to do the latter while the former is what allowed us to discover RPGs in the first place. Sometimes we have the opportunity to try something new, whether with our group or new friends. Go for it. Even if you end up disliking it, this will let you define more precisely what you want from an RPG. There's plenty of roleplaying games out there, old and new, waiting to be discovered by your group, take a chance when you have the opportunity!
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


J.M

Explorer
As a fan of the source material, I have to say this looks great. Unlike many sword and sorcery inspired games, it understands that the characters and their antics are more important than the setting. So yes, the PCs should be more competent than typical first-levels, and no I don't need hundreds of pages about the setting. The stories are about Elric, Conan and Kane, not the Young Kingdoms, Hyborea or uh..."Kane's world".
 
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Sounds pretty awesome.

I agree. I will likely review the game as well because there is so much not covered yet: rules for running a sailing ship, mad inventions and fairie powers, world and city building rules that interact with the PCs, unique monsters, and an actual world altering end game as Law and Chaos clash in a titanic finish featuring the PCs as stars and main contenders whose actions help determine which side wins and which one loses. The art is amazing as well.
 

As a fan of the source material, I have to say this looks great. Unlike many sword and sorcery inspired games, it understands that the characters and their antics are more important than the setting. So yes, the PCs should be more competent than typical first-levels, and no I don't need hundreds of pages about the setting. The stories are about Elric, Conan and Kane, not the Young Kingdoms, Hyborea or uh..."Kane's world".

Agreed. However, the world does exist (built partially with PC interaction) and it doesn't care about the PCs. So while the game is about them (of course) the world may act on them with or without their active participation. Hence, a PC might end up knifed and mugged in an alley somewhere despite their powerful ties to Law or Chaos or trying to walk the thin line in between.

Edit: As Kobayashi points out, the RPG isn't trying to model itself after a novel. We all know Conan isn't going to die. But the PCs live in a violent dangerous world like Conan's Hyboria but without his plot protection (past a certain point; they are tough of course as J.M stated).
 
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Ordered this today based on this interview! The pdf of the UCE and the zine look great - really capture that S&S feel. Can't wait to dig in and play. Great work :)

Glad the interview was helpful. Kobayashi does great work with providing both players and GMs lots of tools to actually play his RPG and he does so by creating a concise well written and organized RPG. And like I said, the art is stunning as well.
 



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