Combat is the ultimate and usually very final method of dispute resolution in HackMaster. Because HackMaster battles are so lethal, characters typically only engage after other (less dangerous) methods of solving differences fail or been dismissed as unlikely to succeed. Of course, experienced players perform such dismissal in the wink of an eye, sometimes cleverly getting the drop on their foes, other times accidentally butchering someone for an important bit of information that could have been gleaned peacefully. However, this chapter’s not about advising you on how to avoid such pitfalls; it’s about helping you learn enough about the combat rules to avoid getting your hide flayed by goblins or skull staved in by passing ruffians five minutes after rolling up your shiny new character.
Some folks say that battles aren’t all that central to HackMaster. Indeed, it’s a multifaceted game with many other fascinating elements such as engaging NPCs in meaningful discourse, gaining knowledge of exciting new peoples, locations and things, discovering and mapping new lands and so on. This author won’t waste the space in these exalted pages to ponder such a rhetorical topic. After all, it doesn’t take a bloody genius to notice that most of those other topics don’t have an entire freakin’ chapter devoted to them, do they? On the other hand, there are those who'd tell you that battle is the be-all and end-all, melee is glory and combat is the most important thing in HackMaster. I’m here to tell you that the players trying to sell you such nonsense are nothing but inexperienced rubes. Engaging in combat is not the most important thing in HackMaster; it’s a weak third behind surviving and, most importantly, winning combat!
Your careful study of this chapter will help you survive and ultimately win most violent HackMaster situations. By learning the nuances herein, you’ll dramatically improve your character’s chances of survival as well as keep the GM on his toes (and avoid being taken advantage of because your GM happens to be ornery or forgetful). While the GM is always right - and darn near infallible - it always pays to know the rules, just in case you find yourself at the table of a junior GM or one that’s not yet HMGMA certified. Yes, this chapter shows you how to take advantage of surprised foes, shoot enemies from a distance, set them on fire, hack or club them to submission and more. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
If you’re an avid game player, chances are you’re used to choosing an action or actions on your “turn” - probably from a list of allowable actions or categories of actions. This method works great for outdated games with boards and certain inferior (I hate to even credit them with the term “role-playing”) games that have to hem in players because they either prefer simple games or plainly lack the genius to play the Greatest Game Known to Man.
In contrast, much like in real life, your HackMaster character can attempt any action he wants at any time. For instance, in real life, to walk across the room you think about doing so, start moving and after a certain number of seconds you accomplish the task. Likewise, in HackMaster, if your character wants to take an action (such as crossing the tavern floor), you simply declare his intent and after a certain amount of time (if there are no unexpected obstacles) he completes his action.
Thus, HackMaster has no artificial time segmentation such as “turns,” “rounds,” “segments” or “phases.” In HackMaster, your character’s actions are measured in seconds, by time and time alone. I know this concept can seem difficult after a life of being restrained by unnecessary rules, but I promise that after a session or two, keeping track of actions (using actual time like your ancestors intended) will come naturally for you.