Monday, April 22, 2024

There and Hack Again RPG Review (LakeSide Games)

There and Hack Again is the second of two reviews for RPGs from LakeSide games. My hope is to put a really awesome RPG that you may not know about on your radar.

There and Hack Again is one of what are generally referred to as Old School Rules or OSR style games. It's based on another OSR work called "The Black Hack," which is what the "Hack" in the title refers to. OSR games are based on early versions of D&D. This game is no exception, but it makes substantial changes to the game. This is where the term "Hack" comes in. The rules have been "hacked." They've been changed, but the idea is to not increase the game's complexity or to make it unrecognizable for people who are comfortable with the old school D&D rules.

There and Hack Again, as the name implies is an RPG based on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien's the Hobbit (and other related works.) What concerns me about this choice of title is that players that are interested in a role-playing game based on the Lord of the Rings will likely ignore it and choose the officially licensed The One Ring RPG by Free League. While others who see the title will, because they don't want to play a game based in Tolkien's Middle Earth, also give There and Hack Again a miss.

I hope the title doesn't keep the fantasy RPG fandom at large away from this game, because it is awesome. There and Hack Again is inspired by Tolkien (among others) to tell heroic stories of high fantasy. There and Hack Again takes inspiration from The Lord of the Rings in the same way that Dungeons and Dragons does. It focuses more on the way these stories are told than D&D ever did, and that's a good thing. There and Hack Again is built to tell a hero's story in a high fantasy world, and while inspired by Tokien, this world is not Middle Earth. The world is yours to create.

T&HA uses the core six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, but it doesn't use ability score modifiers. Instead the ability score itself becomes your basis for success. This means that every point of an ability score matters. However, this isn't a roll under system (as is used in the Black Hack and in Dragonbane.) It's a roll high system, which is what D&D players are more accustomed to. That's a smart move. This is accomplished by taking a higher number and subtracting your ability score from it to reach a target number. That "higher number" decreases as you level up making your target number smaller. So, the system has a sort of built in Proficiency Bonus … clever.

T&HA has race and class separation and includes the races of Men, Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. While classes are divided by Archetype. There are three archetypes: The Brave, The Cunning, and The Wise. Each Archetype provides the core rules for the character, Hit Points, Weapons and Armor Allowances and some key abilities common for all members of that Archetype. Class then usually adds just one or two advantages and some flavor.

Under each Archetype are three character Classes.

Classes under the Brave Archetype are: Champion (an armored knight), Ranger (a warden of the wilds), and Warrior (a general man-at-arms.)

Classes under the Cunning Archetype are: Hunter (an archer of the woods), Rogue (a sneaky hero), and Swordmaster (a fencing swashbuckler.) 

Classes under the Wise are: Bard (Charisma based magicians of story and song), Druid (Wisdom based magicians of nature and healing), and Wizard (Intelligence based magicians of elements and illusions.)

The Wise are spellcasters and can cast each spell that they know up to three times a day. That's it. No complex charts or tables to reference. Casting spells requires a check, which determines the spell's overall effect. A failed check doesn't mean that a caster was not successful in casting their spell, it just means that the ultimate effect was not the one desired.

Spellcasting rolls and all other rolls are player facing, but enemies of levels higher than your own will make your chance of success more difficult. Conversely, weaker enemies will make your chance of success more likely. The same is true in combat (or for any opposed roll against a non-player element). Enemies don't roll to attack, the player rolls to defend.

Characters also have "Boons" These are special powers, abilities, feats or talents that players can use to fine tune their characters. Some Boons are tied to a character's class or race, but most are available to everyone. The race of man allows a player to start with three boons while the other races provide two. Players will gain additional boons as they level up their characters.

There are no experience points in the game. Players level up following milestones and a period of downtime. This downtime element is really interesting to me. It requires that characters take extended breaks between periods of adventure. The characters are people that live within the world. They have homes and families and places to be. This requirement grounds the characters in the world, and I love this.

Intertwined within the game's mechanics are: Faith and Despair. Faith is the good stuff that gives players hope and makes them heroes. Despair is the bad stuff that hurts players and gives the game a feeling of grandiose scope and its sense of good and evil without resorting to something as clumsy as an alignment system. Faith and Despair really mean something in the game. Faith can be used to mitigate bad die rolls, or cast an exhausted spell, or use an exhausted special ability. Despair can overwhelm a character giving them a penalty to all dice rolls until they are able to overcome it.

Faith and Despair are designed to focus game play on the heroic. There is also the fact that money in the game is abstracted. Players have no motivation to become murder hobos or to hoard gold (and in fact, doing so would increase their despair.) Finally, there is the Adversary. This is the "big bad" of your story or campaign. T&HA is meant to tell big stories of normal folk becoming heroes and taking on seemingly insurmountable odds. This is the good stuff folks.

There and Hack Again is my favorite OSR style game. It's awesome, and I think every gaming group should give it a try. It's a tragedy that Hasbro's D&D is played by millions while a game like this languishes largely unplayed or talked about. There and Hack Again is a masterpiece, and it's the high fantasy RPG that you should be playing.

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  1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I hope you enjoy playing it.

  2. You are most welcome. Thank you for writing some awesome games.

  3. There and Hack Again does sound like a great D&D alternative. I will give the rules a good look for sure!