- CC(Vegtam)United StatesThe Shadow knows!
A lot has been said about The Black Hack, so instead of just talking about the game itself, I thought I would do a "potpourri" review, where I talk a little about a few of my favorite Black Hack items so that you get an idea of what is out there and what might be useful to you.
THE BLACK HACK
The Black Hack is a fantasy roleplaying game that emulates original D&D and changes/builds upon it, and most of the other games discussed in this review are variations on this base game. According to the game's page on Drivethrurpg.com, The Black Hack: "might well be the most straightforward modern OSR compatible clone available. If speed of play and character creation, compatibility, and simple - yet elegant rules are what you yearn for. Look no further!"
I would personally agree with this quote. The Black Hack is extremely simple and streamlined, but not dumbed down or silly. It takes the most basic principal of almost any role playing game--rolling dice to see if you fail or succeed at something--adds a few bits here and there (spells, classes with a couple of abilities each, etc.) and makes a whole game out of it. And it really works! The whole game takes up about 20 pages and will have you reading it, rolling up characters, and playing within the hour.
The main mechanic works like this: For anything you want to do, you test an ability score. Want to attack with a sword? That's a strength check. Dodge a dart trap? Dexterity check. See through an illusion? That would be a wisdom check.
Damage is based on class rather than weapon, and encumbrance basically comes down to being able to carry an amount of items equal to your strength score. If you have an advantage in a situation then you roll 2d20 and keep the lowest (low rolls are good in this game), if at a disadvantage you roll 2d20 and keep the high roll.
Another interesting thing to note is that players roll for almost everything--you wont have a monster rolling for attack, for example. When a monster attacks, the player rolls a relevant ability to dodge the attack.
Since monsters basically only roll for damage, their stat blocks are incredibly easy, and is made up of a hit die and a damage die. When adventurers fight a monster with higher hit dice than their level, they add +1 for every hid die over their level for all combat checks against the creature. If a level 2 warrior was fighting a 5 hit dice creature, for example, he would be at a +3 penalty to attack and defense.
It's quick, compatible with other OSR rules and games (and even old D&D products, as I just ran an old D&D adventure with it and it worked great) and is a heck of a lot of fun if you don't mind the non-crunchiness of it.
My absolute favorite thing about the game--and something that I love to port to other games--is the usage die. Every item that has a limited number of uses has a usage die. So, instead of counting every arrow you have, you simply say your arrows have a usage die of d10. Whenever you use the item, you roll the usage die. If you roll a 1 or 2, you step the usage die down. So, if I rolled a 1 on my d10 after firing my bow, I now have d8 arrows. Once you get to d4 and roll a 1 or 2, you are out of whatever the item was. No more marking off each little arrow, torch, etc. I love it!
Additional Things for The Black Hack is just that--a few alternative rules and tweaks. Some of the contents are alternative encumbrance rules, a magic variant, a panic rule that makes adventuring in the dark extra perilous, and the addition of luck points that give heroes rerolls.
My favorite rule tweak is one of the included alternate armor rules. In the main game, armor basically acts as extra hit points, and once those points are gone you have to rest to get them back. In this variant, however, armor now has a usage die (explained above). Once the usage die runs out, your armor is shredded beyond use. I like it because it is a good simulation of extended combat/dungeon crawling, where your gear is getting wrecked from so much abuse.
OTHER BLACK HACK HACKS
There are a lot of other supplements to the main Black Hack game, and too many to go into here in any depth. There are books with new classes, at least one that adds races into the game, a few bestiaries, a book that adds firearms, a book that adds fighting styles, and a few books of solo adventures. And these are just the ones I personally own--I am sure that there are more.
Because of the bare-bones nature of The Black Hack, it is VERY customizable, and there are add-ons for just about any taste.
THE CTHULHU HACK
Like playing Call of Cthulhu but want something a bit lighter every once in a while? Try The Cthulhu Hack! The Cthulhu Hack is an investigative horror game where the players try to solve mysteries while staving off deadly horrors and creatures from beyond.
One of the interesting things that this game includes is "smokes" and "flashlights". Now, these don't necessarily represent actual cigarettes and flashlights, but they do represent your character's ability to continue an investigation (flashlights) or their ability to get information or charm someone (smokes).
Each of these traits has a usage die, and every time you use an ability that links to one of these traits, you roll the usage die for it. So, for example, if you are searching for clues, you would roll your flashlight usage die. If you run out of the "flashlight" trait, then you have exhausted your investigative ability, your leads, or whatever else is appropriate.
This is great because it never leads to a moment where the adventure stops dead because of a failed check for clues. You will find something, and if you are out of the flashlight trait, then you know not to even bother looking (although there might be other ways to obtain the information you are looking for...). This also increases the drama of the game. Instead of running into every room the GM presents to you and say "I'm searching here, I'm searching there, I search again..." you have to really be careful and think about exactly what you want to do because the ability to search or interrogate people is a finite resource.
Some other aspects of the game that were added to the basic Black Hack formula are sanity (of course) and the ability to build classes, "free form" characters.
There are already a bunch of supplements out for this one, including a setting (Convicts and Cthulhu) and some adventures.
THE JACK HACK
This is the game that got me into the Hack games because I found the premise so interesting. In The Jack Hack, you play a down on your luck bum (for lack of a better term) in Victorian England. You might be a washed up boxer, a worn out prostitute, or a once mighty kingpin that is now powerless and mocked by the underworld and police force that you used to rule. And these are just examples; there are plenty of archetypes to play with in this game. With your broken down characters you will try to survive in the streets, solve a mystery or two, and maybe even get wrapped up in the Ripper murders one way or another.
One neat thing about this game is the two new usage dice: the "black die" and the "white die". The white die is your outer influence. It is used to find a safe place to spend the night, get information, or maybe beg some extra cash off of someone. The black die is your inner turmoil, and can be used to help with tasks, or rolled when something might cause you to go into a downward spiral. If you run out of the black, then something terrible (but not necessarily game ending) happens to you. Maybe you get black out drunk in a gutter, maybe you helplessly wallow in self-pity, or perhaps you spend the night selling your body for a sandwich and a drink.
As you might have guessed, this one deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, so reader discretion advised.
This game has at least two supplements: Penny Black (which adds supernatural elements into the game) and The Great Game (which is a grab bag of new classes, background information, and adventure hooks).
THE BLOOD HACK
Do you like Vampire the Masquerade/Requiem but want something a bit lighter? Then give The Blood Hack a try. In The Blood Hack, characters are a member of a vampire clan in the modern era. Some innovations in this Hack are morality, which shows how much of a monster you are, and a blood usage die.
Since this game takes place in the modern era, it also has a lot of useful information for any modern Hack game that you might run. It has modern weapons including explosives and firearms, and information on vehicles.
AND ON AND ON AND...
I have talked a little about The Black Hack and some of my favorite Hacks, but there are far more than I could comfortably fit into this review. Like superheroes? Give The Powers Hack a try. Like pulp? Maybe The Pulp Hack is for you. Want to play a modern game but don't want The Blood Hack? No problem! Just grab a copy of The Modern Hack. Ghostbusters fan? Try Ghost Hackers.
There really is a Hack for almost any taste, and because they are light and cheap (the main Black Hack rulebook is about 2 bucks), there are few reasons to not at least give one a try. Maybe you are strapped for time and want a game that you can jump right into. Maybe you are teaching someone who is new to roleplaying. Perhaps you want some sourcebooks to supplement an OSR game that you already like. Maybe you are a rules-light/OSR fan already. It could be that you want to play some old D&D but don't want to use a D&D ruleset (I have done this myself and it works great with very little conversion needed). In any event I heartily recommend The Black Hack system, and if you take nothing else from this review, give the usage die mechanic a try the next time you sigh when thinking about marking down each arrow that your ranger owns. It might change your gaming life .
- [+] Dice rolls