Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Black Hack


Looking at another OSR type game that's not just an edit of an old rulebook this week leads me to the Black Hack. I was only peripherally aware of this one until last year when I finally picked up a copy of the rulebook and dove in. I am mainly looking at 2.0 here as I assume that is the author's "best" version to date.

The Basics

We have the usual six stats, the four basic classes, an option for backgrounds but no real race options outside of that background piece.

Normal "test" are made by rolling a d20 trying to roll under the relevant attribute which is very common in OSR-type games . Instead of the traditional list of modifiers for things, though, TBH introduces Advantage & Disadvantage from 5E D&D - that's a good thing. 

In another deviation the game steps away from the traditional dungeon grid of 5' or 10' squares and brings in a range band system similar to say FFG Star Wars among many others.

Combat is also notably different in that PC's make an attribute test to hit an opponent and they also make a similar roll to defend when attacked. This is not an opposed roll situation - rolls are strictly made by players.

Also armor absorbs damage in this system but not in a typical way. The wearer chooses when to use their armor which then absorbs all of the damage from that blow but the catch is that it can only do this a limited number of times from twice for leather armor to four times with plate. This is a version of the "shields shall be splintered"  rule that's been kicking around for quite a while now. One bonus is that there are built-in rules on how to repair one's armor right there in the same section so it's treated as "this is how armor works" and not as some special one-off event that will require a trip back to town. 

Now right here we can see that despite the OSR label this game deviates from typical D&D conventions in many ways. A lot of more modern design concepts are showing up here and this spills over into other areas too, such as monster design. Each monster lists the attribute a PC must defend with but they may also have some special qualities too. Some examples:

- Stubborn
If hit by an Attack with an odd die roll, the Monster takes half damage.

- Striker
Targets must make two Defence Rolls that each only deal half of the Monster’s normal damage

- Frenzied
Every time the Monster misses, it gains an additional Attack in all subsequent Turns. All additional Attacks cease if it deals damage.

Right there these simple modifiers make it easy to tweak the feel of combat against different creatures and liven it up from the simple swing/hit/miss/damage dynamic that can sometimes dry out basic D&D combat.  I like this a lot. Here's a specific example:

Skittering strike - STR (1 Close) 6 dmg
Swift! If the elf is hit by a melee Attack it may Move immediately

 Now we are starting to look more like 4th edition D&D's monster design and that is nothing but a positive in my opinion. Giving monsters (and player characters) things to do besides trade die rolls until someone's numbers run out makes for more interesting fights. 

Spellcasting is simplified but still seems useful - it's memorize one per level up to the character's level. Casting it once is automatic and is then followed by a stat check to see if the caster retains it. After the second time this roll has disadvantage. A success here means the caster retains the spell while a failure means they have lost it until they re-memorize their spells for the next day. 

Other Stuff

There is the expected OSR obsession with random tables on full display here - a good-sized chunk of the back half of the book is random tables, maps that can be used alongside those or as random generators themselves (drop some dice on the picture to see what's here). There is good advice on running a game here as well. 

I'm glossing over a lot of the details but all said this is a a comprehensive game covering all of the little stuff like light levels, diseases, poisons, magic items, etc. The difference here is that things that would get pages or a whole chapter in some modern games are covered here in a paragraph + a table or a half page. It is very flexible, giving the basics and assuming a DM will work from that and improvise as needed. Reading it, I don't see any major gaps but I will test that when I run my first session.

One of my favorite monsters from this book the "Long Dead Future Man" which sounds like a name Hank Venture would come up with.


The level of supplemental material this game has inspired is pretty remarkable. Just go to DTRPG and type in "Black Hack" and well over 1000 items come up - adventures, monster books, class books, race books ... it's impressive. Then add on all of the "inspired by" items like Mecha Hack and the game's impact/lineage/coaching tree is very strong. In short - the game is good and there's a ton of more good stuff for it and inspired by it.

To close out I think this is the best of the OSR type games from the last 5 years. If you like B/X or BECMI type fantasy games but want to change up the system with some different concepts this is a great game to try and at the very least may inspire you to try tweaking a more traditional system in some interesting ways even if you don't go "full hack". I recommend it as strongly as any game I ever have on here.