A Call to Glory S04 – Hackmaster

Continuing at the same challenge in the Level 1 dungeon A Call to Glory from TSR’s Dragon Quest, introductory adventure game, this time using Hackmaster Basic Free.
Hackmaster was sitting on my digital library for a while, asking to be played. I always wondered how the tick-time-count would work. Back in the ’90s I had homebrewed a system using a similar count for funsies, so I’m curious as to what a professional application would look like in practice.

I’ll be using a diverse party of 4 characters. I’ll try to include as many different demihuman races and careers as possible to have a party that can deal with most tasks.

Scrolling through the core rulebook, I found several pregenerated characters, and I chose some typical stereotypes that I’ll be using for this game.


The Party

Pregenerated

  • Narvi, Dwarf Fighter
  • Gundo, Halfling Thief
  • Elemmas, Elf Mage
  • Selre, Human Cleric

The Adventure

The heroes have been called before Gustovan, the Burgomaster of Torlynn. Torlynn is a small village set in a quiet, hilly area near the mountains. The heroes have lived here for many years and think of Torlynn as home. Gustovan is known as a wise and kind mayor.
He asks of the heroes to go explore the old, abandoned, dwarven, iron mine, because strange lights and sounds come from within. They’re to find out if there is something wrong there or if the reports are false.

The heroes enter the dungeon. It’s entrance is a rough cavern, cut from the stone long ago by dwarves. They check their weapons and start down into the mine, with the wind blowing in their backs.

Notes: In order to accomodate the Wandering Monster checks, while lacking a turn sequence, I’ll do a check every 10 seconds (out of combat).


A. Tunnel

Wandering monster check: None
Wandering monster check: None

The wind fades away as the heroes move into the mine. A long tunnel leads onward, to the next room.


B. The First Lair

Hackmaster has almost all D&D relevant monsters, so I can use both a goblin and a kobold

Name Initiative
Narvi 9
Gundo 8
Elemmas 6
Selre 8
Goblin 11
Kobold 4

I’ll be denoting movement with the ‘>’ arrows, attacks with an ‘X’
Small creatures move one space every 2 seconds
ToP stands for ‘threshold of pain’

  1. Kob >
  2. Kob >
  3. Kob >, Kob X Narvi: 17/6: Hit: 2-2: 0 damage
  4. Narvi X Kob: 11/21: Near Perfect Defense: 15/5: Hit: 2 Damage to Narvi
    Elemmas >, Elemmas X Kob: 14/8: Hit: 1 Damage
  5. Gundo >, Gundo X Kob: 3/8: Miss
    Selre >
  6. Selre >
    Gob >
  7. Selre >, Selre X Gob: 12/13: Miss
  8. Gob X Selre: 17/12: Hit: 5 Damage
  9. Kob X Narvi: 13/12: Hit: 1 Damage
  10. Elemmas X Kob: 9/19: Miss
  11. Gundo X Kob: 19/11: Hit: 10 Damage: ToP save: 5/4: Fail: Kob is down
  12. Narvi >
    Elemmas >
    Gundo: Coup de grace X Kob
  13. Elemmas >
  14. Gob X Selre: 13/18: Miss
    Elemmas >, Elemmas X Gob: 4/11: Miss
    Narvi >, Narvi X Gob: 8/13: Miss
  15. Gundo kills Kob
  16. Gundo >
  17. Selre X Gob: 0/17: Miss
    Gundo X Gob: 18/22: NPD: 9/25: Miss
  18. Elemmas X Gob: 16/12: Hit: 4 Damage
  19. Gob X Selre: 16/11: Hit: 6 Damage
  20. Narvi X Gob: 20/6: Hit: 14 Damage: ToP save: 7/6: Fail: Gob is down
  21. Gundo: Coup de grace X Gob
  22. Gundo kills Gob

They find: leather armor & broad axe

As the heroes enter the room, they notice a couple of beds. Probably used to be the miners’, but now they have new occupants. A couple of goblinoids get up, pick their weapons and attack.
The kobold charges at Narvi, its spear hitting him, but doesn’t get through the leather armor. Narvi hits back, but leaves an opening for the kobold, who quickly takes advantage and score a minor hit to his ribcage. The elf and the halfling surround the kobold, with Elemmas wounding it.
Meanwhile Selre has engaged the goblin, who parries his blow, and hits him back with his curved sword.
The kobold hurts Narvi once more, only to be pierced through by Gundo. The halfling drops the goblin down as he pulls his blade, dipped in black blood. Defenseless, the kobold does nothing as the halfling positions himself right behind him, and executes the creature with a thrust downwards to his spine.
The party of heroes come to the assistance of Selre who parries the goblins blows. After a few failed attempts from the combatants to wound their opponents, Elemmas spills blood with his short sword. Just a second later the goblin wounds Selre who screams in pain. Narvi brings down his axe to the goblin, which falls unconscious, only to be finished off by Gundo.
The heroes search the room and find a nice set of leather armor and a hand axe.


C. Jagged Cavern

Wandering Monster check: No wandering monster

Nothing of interest in this narrow cut cavern in the stone. Only the occasional splashing of water driping from the ceiling.


D. Orc Lair

Name Initiative
Narvi 13
Gundo 4
Elemmas 12
Selre 7
Orc 7
  1. Gundo X Orc: 18/8: Hit: 4 Damage
  2. Orc X Gundo: 20/22: Miss

  3. 12: Gundo X Orc: 20/6: Hit: 12 Damage: ToP Save: 17/6: Failure: Orc is down
  4. Gundo: Coup de grace X Orc
  5. Gundo kills Orc

As soon as the heroes enter this small room, the stench of rotten meat fills their nostrils. With their infravision they make out an orc figure as they close in to engage.
Gundo, charges swiftly and wounds the orc, who tries to hit back but fails. With another quick strike, the halfling’s longsword pierces the lungs of the orc. It gurgles black blood, and the halfling sends him to the afterlife soon after. Within less than 10 seconds, the entire fight is over.


E. Trapped Room

Gundo: Avoid traps: 7/20: Success

A small empty room, with a funny smell. Black ash and soot cover the floors and walls. A steel door with an iron handle sits in the middle of the floor.
Gundo looks around for traps, but finds none. As the halfling tries to open the door he hears a clicking noise. He’s fast enough to avoid a jet of greek fire, that lets of to his head. Thanking his quick reflexes he opens the trapdoor, but it was just a trap as behind it is only rock.


C. Jagged Cavern

Wandering Monster check: Bugbear

Name Initiative
Narvi 10
Gundo 6
Elemmas 10
Selre 8
Bugbear 4
  1. BgB >
  2. BgB >, BgB X Gundo: 22/5: Hit: 4 Damage
  3. Gundo X BgB: 17/20: Perfect Defense: 10/11: Miss
  4. Gundo X BgB: 4/7: Miss
  5. BgB X Gundo: 15/24: Miss
  6. Gundo X BgB: 6/12: Miss
  7. BgB X Gundo: 17/16: Hit: 10 Damage, Knockback
  8. Gundo X BgB: 12/13: Miss
  9. BgB X Gundo: 15/17: Miss
  10. Gundo X BgB: 17/15: Hit: 5 Damage
  11. BgB X Gundo: 11/18: Miss
  12. Gundo X BgB: 8/15: Miss
  13. Gundo X BgB: 21/10: Hit: 7 Damage
  14. BgB X Gundo: 23/25: Miss
  15. Gundo X BgB: 7/11: Miss
  16. BgB X Gundo: 18/27: NPD: 8/11: Miss
  17. Gundo X BgB: 13/14: Miss
  18. BgB X Gundo: 12/25: Miss
  19. Gundo X BgB: 19/9: Hit: 8 Damage
  20. BgB X Gundo: 24/17: Hit: 9 Damage
  21. Gundo X BgB: 19/3: Hit: 3 Damage
  22. Gundo X BgB: 20/16: Hit: 3 Damage
  23. BgB X Gundo: 15/17: Miss
  24. Gundo X BgB: 13/2: Hit: 7 Damage
  25. BgB X Gundo: 19/18: Hit: 11 Damage: Gundo is down
  26. Narvi >, BgB X Narvi: 20/17: Hit: 19 Damage: ToP save: 20/5: Failure: Narvi is down
  27. Elemmas >
    Selre >
  28. BgB >, BgB X Elemmas: 23/22: Hit:10 Damage: ToP save: 17/2: Failure: Elemmas is down
  29. Selre >, BgB X Selre: 27/11: Hit: 26 Damage: Selre is down
    TPK

As the party checks the small rooms in the narrow jagged corridor, a huge bulking creature appears. They’re all set up in line against it, and cannot take advantage of their numbers. It grows and charges at Gundo. Behind him Narvi, Elemmas and Selre can only watch the fight.
The massive humanoid hits Gundo again and again with its morningstar. The halfling fights back valiantly and wounds it severly, but is no match for the monster. The halfling lasts for more than a minute, but in the end, Gundo falls, and quickly Narvi steps up to take his place. The bugbear’s reach is greater though, and with a quick hit, before Narvi has even got a chance to score a hit, the morningstar smashes his helmet and he’s down. Elemmas considers casting a spell, but it’s too late, as the morningstar is the last thing he sees. Selre ponders fleeing, but he’s no coward. He faces off the bugbear, and a quick blow to the ribcage sends him flying back 5′, dead.
Thus ends the story of the heroes.

The System

So first of all regarding the time-tick-count system. It’s really good on practice, really difficult to solo bookkeep, and there are some cases where there are problems with RAW. For example, because the bugbear was able to finish off it’s opponents one by one, he could attack each and every second. Unless I missed a rule, in the book, there was nothing there to prevent it. In general I found the rules lacking. Both the layout and the explanations felt like they were missing some parts. I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that it’s the Basic (Free) version, but that’s what I have and tested upon.
Combat was okay. On one hand it is a rule system that makes sense mechanically (as opposed to say D&D), but it fails and falls in the Hit Points abstraction trap, and it fails to take advantage of the opposed rolls to generate interesting results. You end up with rolling so many dice, but the results are mostly binary, with exceptions regarding critical hits/defenses/fumbles. It was mostly evident in my fight with the bugbear, where there were a lot of hits that did nothing or close to nothing. No narrative feedback whatsoever.
Explanations on skills, traps, and similar leaves a lot to be desired. Also I found at least two cases where the example provided didn’t fit with the rule described, which made things even more confusing for me.
A nice system, but there is a lot of room for improvement, which seems to have been stagnant considering its age.

What about the Dungeon Crawl?

Hackmaster lends itself nicely to dungeon crawling, even though it lacks a meta luck mechanic or easy healing.
The TPK didn’t happen due to bad dice rolls, or the fact that the bugbear was overpowered for my party. It mainly happened because as a solo player, I could not see the tactical options I had. After my party perished, I sat and wondered what could I have done better, and I realized I could have set a nice trap for the bugbear. The fighter and the mage could have entered the side room, and the halfling could retreat in the corridor. Then they could flank it and take advantage of their numbers, and maybe a nice scorch spell.
The failure lies entirely upon myself here, and it’s a nice opportunity to consider the tactical options provided in a dungeon board.

Summary

I could see a potential new version of Hackmaster working better than this one. I’m glad I took the opportunity to play this out, because now I know how the ticks mechanic works. It’s really interesting, and I think the best part of it is the granular movement which feels more realistic. Melee attacks timing leave a lot to be desired though.