Mystic Ages Publishing

{imagination + fun}

The Basic Hack

The Basic Hack is officially released tomorrow. I waffled back and forth on what to do with this simple hack of classic fantasy roleplaying game rules, inspired by David Black's incredible Black Hack. Think of a streamlined version of that ruleset, rolling under your stats on a D20, but adding in a solo adventure, cutting out levels, and focusing in a bit more on a pure story-driven advancement. And hopefully easy enough for youngsters to play!

With your trusty battle axe in hand, you leave behind your devastated village and begin to explore the surrounding woods. You call out for your puppy. There is no response. You are just about to give up when you notice an old, strange cave near a canyon wall. The entrance to the cave is muddy. In the mud, you can make out what look like tracks leading into the darkness. What would you like to do?

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I've sort of been living under a hole or something, because the Black Hack and White Hack (and other variants) have basically been unknown to me. These are sort of old school versions of D&D, harkening back to some of the original fantasy games. Nostalgia is a powerful force, but some of the simplicity and wonkiness of those classic games are fun.

These new versions often add changes to keep the simplicity and streamline the game. I dig it. It means you have tons of resources that you can easily modify to work from all the variations of D&D, but you can also get playing quick and easy.

Black Hack is the chief among these.

It's my kind of D&D-clone, using a familiar core and then going nuts in a bid for simplicity and speed. I love it. In fact, last night, I started a fantasy campaign with my kids using an even more stripped down version which I call the Basic Hack.

Here's how it works:

  • Use your six core attributes and roll under to succeed. (I like the Black Hack's attribute generation technique to keep things balanced.)
  • Pick a class. Fighters are good at fighting. Clerics can heal and turn undead. Wizards are good at casting spells. Rogues are good at sneaking and stealing.
  • Pick a race. Elves can see in the dark. Dwarves can find secret doors. Humans get a +1 to an attribute of choice. (You can easily switch this up or add more complexity.)
  • Hit points are standard. I gave the fighter 10 and the wizard 4. (Might want to give them more in the future.)
  • For class or race features, I give them advantage on the roll per 5th Edition. Fighters always get to roll two D20s when attacking for instance.
  • I'd give wizards and clerics two starting spells they can cast once per day. In a bid for simplicity, don't worry about levels. Our wizard got sleep and magic arrow (aka magic missile). I'd give a cleric heal wounds and remove curse. The key is to pick spells that will have an impact in the story right away to make all the characters feel useful.
  • Weapon damage can be standard. I like armor as written in the Black Hack to keep things simple. (Plus, teaching your kids math is a bonus.)
  • No experience points, no levels. As the characters advance, give them magical items, extra hit points, new spells, or a new ability. Or let them raise another attribute.

I'll be writing this up in a couple of pages to post on RPGNow this weekend sometime.

-- Nathan