Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Game 'Old Style' like its 2013

The Black Hack could be described as being like Original Dungeons & Dragons, but… Published by Gold Piece Publications following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the ‘but…’ involves the adoption of two modern design features that serve to streamline the senisibilities and structure of the original RPG without losing either. These two design features consist of having a single integrated mechanic and making play player facing. The result is a slick, simple addition to the Old School Renaissance family that can be used to run any scenario for Basic Dungeons & Dragons or its Retroclone derivatives.

The easiest way to explore The Black Hack is to look at a character. A character has the same six attributes as Dungeons & Dragons, but there are no attribute bonuses. It should be noted that whilst the basic roll to determine the value of an attribute is the traditional 3d6, it switches to 2d6+2 for the next attribute roll if the previous roll resulted in fifteen or more, before switching back to 3d6. This is an odd mechanic, but it mostly serves as a balancing factor in a retroclone where a character’s attributes play a major role. Also noticeably absent is Armour Class. Instead a character has Armour Points derived from the armour he is wearing and these points are ablative. 

Rogi the Brave
First Level Warrior
STR 15 DEX 10 CON 10
INT 10 WIS 12 CHA 13

Hit Points: 12
Armour Points: 12 (Plate & Mail, Large Shield)
Weapons: Sword (1d8)

Every character also has a Class and since The Black Hack is derived from Original Dungeons & Dragons, there are only four and none represent the classic fantasy races of Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings as in Basic Dungeons & Dragons. Indeed, The Black Hack is entirely humanocentric, its four Classes being Warrior, Cleric, Thief, and Conjurer. (There is already one expansion, The Race Hack, published by Cross Planes Game Studio, which addresses this issue with two options, one being to combine Class and Race as in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, the other being to allow Race to be played as a Class as per Basic Dungeons & Dragons. The first option presents nine Races—drakes, dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halfling, half-orcs, humans, and tiefling, whilst the second offers the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Halfling. A second expansion, The Class Hack, adds another ten Classes, mostly inspired by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.) Each Class determines a character’s Hit Points, the arms he can use and armour he can wear, how much damage he does—character do damage by Class rather than weapon type, special features, and bonuses when leveling up. 

So for example, the Warrior uses the ten-sided die for Hit Points and Hit Point recovery, can use all arms and armour, does 1d8 damage with any weapon or 1d6 when unarmed, makes one attack per level, can sunder and have destroyed his shield to ignore any damage suffered in combat, and rolls twice for his Strength and Dexterity when leveling up. Of course the Warrior is the simplest Class, whereas the other Classes have to account for limited use of arms and armour, different special features, for example, the Thief’s attacks from behind and the Divine and Arcane spellcasting of the Cleric and Conjurer respectively.

The core mechanic in The Black Hack is rolling under an attribute on a twenty-sided die. Need to make an attack roll to hit that marauding Orc? Roll under your character’s Strength. If you want to throw a dagger at the Orc, then roll under your character’s Dexterity. Need to avoid an incoming blow? Then roll under your character’s Dexterity. A roll of one is a critical success, whereas a roll of twenty is a fumble, whilst any difficulty is represented by a penalty that is added to the player’s roll. This difficulty—and its associated penalty—can represent a more difficult monster faced by the characters or the level of a spells that a character is trying to cast. The traditional saving throws of Dungeons & Dragons are replaced by saves made directly against a character’s attribute. For example, rolls are made against Charisma to to save against Charm effects and Intelligence for spells and other magical effects.

In addition, if a character has the advantage in a situation, then the GM can award him an Advantage die, a second twenty-sided die to roll on the action,the better result being used to determine the outcome of the action. The Disadvantage die works in a similar fashion, but in reverse. For example, the Thief gains an Advantage die when testing his Dexterity to avoid damage or effects from traps and magical devices, or when attacking from behind. This is essentially the same mechanic as Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

The core mechanic of having the players roll for everything—to hit, to avoid being hit, and so on—is very similar to that found in Monte Cook Games’ Numenera. Like the Cypher rules, this means that The Black Hack is essentially player facing. That is, the player has to make all of the rolls rather than the GM, which reduces his workload and allows him to focus solely on running the game.

Combat in The Black Hack adds a couple of twists. To start with, a Dexterity check is made to determine initiative. Succeed and a character goes before the monsters, fail and the monsters go before the character. Then instead of Armour Class, a character wears armour and this Armour Points. These are lost when a character is successfully attacked and once lost, any further damage inflicted is taken off a character’s Hit Points. These Armour Points are regained after a character rests. What this represents is the character’s endurance in wearing and fighting in his armour, as the fight progresses, he becomes tired and cannot make effective use of his armour in combat. Lastly, two-handed weapons are represented by a +2 bonus to damage rolls, but a +2 penalty to rolls to represent that the weapon is harder to use.

Consumables in The Black Hack are also handled as dice rolls. Each Consumable has a die type, for example, a flask of oil has a Usage Die of d6. When used rolled and the result is one or two, the Usage Die switches to a lower type. In the case of the flask of oil, from d6 to d4. After the d4, the Consumable is consumed.

Lastly, The Black Hack does not use Experience Points. Instead, the GM decides when the characters level up. This can be after every session, dungeon level, quest, or major event, but it is up to the GM to decide. When this happens, each character rolls against each of his attributes. Roll over any one of them and the attribute goes up by one with each Class able to roll against one of a pair of attributes, for example, Intelligence or Wisdom for the Conjurer.

The Black Hack provides for ten experience levels, plus up to seventh level spells for both the Cleric and the Conjurer. For the GM there are forty or monsters against which to pitch his players and their adventurers. There is no advice for the GM, but this is not really an issue given that The Black Hack is designed for experienced GMs and players.

Physically, The Black Hack is a twenty-page, digest-sized black and white booklet. It is not illustrated, but the layout is clean and tidy. The booklet is an easy read and any experienced GM will be able to pick these rules up with ease.

The Black Hack is designed to handle Old School gaming in as unfussy and nontechnical a manner as is possible. This it does with a solid and contemporary set of player-facing mechanics that both support its play and acknowledge that ‘modern’ can be better whilst adhering to an Old School style. Plus the the mechanics do mean that the players get make all the rolls, leaving the GM to get on and run the game. The result is that The Black Hack is a slick, streamlined treatment of Dungeons & Dragons-style role playing that looks back to 1974 before just yelling, “Just get on with it!”.


Gold Piece Publications will be at UK Games Expo.