In HackMaster, players begin running characters generally little better than the local commoner. True, some may be head-and-shoulders above their fellow man, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Most HackMaster characters even have one or more weaknesses that make the road to hero even more difficult. The challenge of the game is to overcome difficult situations with a band of allies, none of whom are overly exceptional. To find a literary example of this type of story, one need not look far. Arguably (if not factually) the most popular fantasy story of all is such a tale. In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the main character (as well as his dwarven companions) is a plain everyday person. One of the reasons we love this story is because we can identify with Bilbo; he’s just like us. We root for him as he overcomes the odds on his journey to becoming one of the most storied heroes of Middle Earth. The Hobbit is about the journey to becoming a hero. This is also the essence of HackMaster.
Certainly, playing a roving band of superheroes a la the Justice League has its place, but arguably this is far less heroic than a commoner rising to the challenge. True heroism comes from overcoming the odds and risking life and limb in a perilous situation not the faux valor that comes from defeating supervillains when the chance of failure is slim or none. Does our society not love the story of the everyday man that saves a child from a burning building or rushing river? In HackMaster, your character will be asked time and time again to display true heroism, to overcome personal and situational deficiencies and rise to the challenge. This is not to say that other games are not fun, but I submit to you, gentle reader, that the journey from hero to superhero is less rewarding (and therefore less enjoyable) than the journey from average to hero to superhero. In HackMaster the most atypical thing about your character vis-à-vis society is his will to strive against the odds and make his mark in the world.
If problem solving is the essence of roleplaying, then the journey to hero is the ultimate method of play. The multiplicity and diversity of available quandaries in HackMaster-type play unquestionably exceeds those of the ‘begin play as hero’ types of game. Why bother ensuring your character carries enough rope when your party wizard can simply conjure some? With every move, from positioning in combat, to how rooms are searched, to equipping properly and so-on, if your characters begin as everyman, you’ll need to think through each and every aspect of play. Your characters will need to work as a team and plan to overcome obstacles. And when you do prevail, you will experience a feeling of exhilaration like no other – knowing you succeeded by relying on your wits and gaming skill rather than the sheer awesome power of your character. This is what sets this game apart. Play HackMaster for a few sessions and you will realize that this is the last fantasy roleplaying game you will ever need.
The world of HackMaster needs heroes like you – steel your nerve, ready your wits and answer the call!
David S. Kenzer
Buy the HackMaster Player's Handbook | Kenzerco site