Monday, May 18, 2020

A Little Bit About the 1st OSR Game....

A Little Bit About the 1st OSR Game....
Still not Erik.

When you've got an audience who presumably likes the same things you do, and you want to share something that might be a shared interest....what do you do? In my case I think I'll try to share some things that might not be known to the audience.

In this case I think the Tavern might like to hear a little bit about the OSR, specifically the 1st OSR game....which is probably not what you think it is. Wikipedia talks about the "Old School Revival" starting with the OGL in 2000, and I'm going to call BS on that. Let's look at the dates of some early OSR games:

OSRIC - 2006

HackMaster 4th Edition
Yeah....well HackMaster beats all of them by more than half a decade! Yeah, I'm calling HackMaster the 1st OSR game. Hear me out. HackMaster wasn't published by TSR/WotC/Hasbro and it doesn't use the OGL.

 I know that too many see HackMaster as a "joke" game and definitely don't see it as an OSR game, which is a shame. Yes, there is a decent bit of parody elements written into the game, but like any game, the real comedy doesn't come from the game.....it comes from the gamers. Murderhobos doing KTATTS generally don't differentiate between systems!

If I haven't lost you yet, hear me out. Now I played HackMaster 4th edition and did transition to the new edition and I should have a clue what I'm talking about as I was a volunteer for a number of years for KenzerCo. I should be a level 5 GM, but I never bothered to apply because by the time I qualified I no longer cared.

Level 5 GM? What? Yeah, well HackMaster was a product of its time and to say it was crunchy was an understatement. At it's core HackMaster 4th Edition (as in it was the 4th edition of D&D.....that was part of the joke, but really what most players thought of it) was about 50% 1st Edition AD&D, 25% 2nd Edition, and 25% home rules. 

Think of it like this. You're in a home group that has been playing D&D for a couple decades. You're all brainy types.....a lawyer and a bunch of engineers and you have an opportunity to print your home game rules for others to play.

In short this is what happened. Wikipedia hits some of the high notes and hopefully I can fill in a few blanks I've learned 1st hand from the D-Team themselves (what we call the KenzerCo folks). Hopefully it'll be obvious where I'm expressing opinion.....that bit about percentages, technically an opinion, but not mine. David Kenzer told me that personally.

Speaking of David Kenzer, HackMaster really exists because of him, even though originally it was just a generic name of a game being played in Jolly Blackburn's Knights of the Dinner Table (KoDT) comic. I'm also not discounting the many contributions to the game from the rest of the D-Team, KenzerCo staff, and other contributors (I've written a game rule or two that got published through the HackJournal).....but I digress.

My introduction to Kenzer was at a con where some rabid fanboy had him cornered and was trying to explain how a particular rule worked despite the fact he was a) wrong, and b) speaking to the guy who literally wrote the rule. Kenzer's response was epic and I wish I could remember the fine details, but he basically told the dork he was wrong because he wrote that rule, and that it was literally his game and if he wanted to make a rule stating that this nerd got a permanent -1 to all his dice rolls in a HackMaster game then it would be so. Don't get me wrong, Mr. Kenzer was not being impolite to the guy, but he was kind of being a bit of a dick.....and believe me when I say that won me over instantly. He's actually a great guy, just doesn't suffer idiocy well because he doesn't have to.....

The Messed Up KoDT #4
OK anyway a super important thing to know is that Mr Kenzer is a lawyer and not just any lawyer, but an intellectual property lawyer. KenzerCo was doing their thing and Jolly Blackburn was transitioning from publishing Shadis to breaking out KoDT to it's own comic. He put out three issues before a problem occurred: the printer totally screwed up the printing of issue #4. IIRC there aren't too many issues of the messed up copies out there, but I have one and it is unreadable as it looks like the font was substituted with some knock-off win-dings font. A disaster of this magnitude is the kind of thing that would put the comic under. Luckily Jolly was able to join KenzerCo and they funded the re-print. Now I'd argue KenzerCo is more known for KoDT than HackMaster, which is a shame since they've had a few other hits...and at least one big miss. 

Now I can't recall the exact timeline, but WotC, just barely pre-Hasbro, released the  Dragon Magazine archive in PDF form.....and they didn't have the rights to reprint the KoDT strips. Just a head's up, probably not a good idea to violate the intellectual property rights of a small company headed by a well-known intellectual property lawyer! Eventually WotC was rolled into Hasbro and plans were well underway for D&D version 3.0. 

The way I heard it, the powers that be figured nobody would care so much about 1st & 2nd Edition once 3rd Edition came out, so settling a guaranteed loss in court for rules nobody will miss....seemed like an easy choice for Hasbro. KenzerCo went from maybe having a different publisher make a game for them to having the rights to print their home game. I'm sure Hasbro wasn't too pleased when HackMaster won Game of the Year at Origins, and the game ran strong until the rights/terms of the settlement expired. We had some great tournaments at the big cons, smaller cons, but I'd say the game was a bigger hit with countless home groups that had been playing 1st/2nd Edition in someone's basement for a couple decades. I've lost count how many people told me they loved/played HackMaster with their home group, but would never consider coming to a con to play (which is a shame).

HackMaster 4th Edition GMG
If you like playing 1st Edition you really should see if you can get your hands on 4th Edition HackMaster, especially some of the supplements. The Goods & Gear, the Spellslinger's Guide to Wurld Domination, all of the Hacklopedia of Beasts...all good stuff. Just drop anything that sees too silly, but take a second look 'cause under the right situation even the stupid stuff might work. KenzerCo cannot sell most of the line anymore, but you can still find it out in the wild if you keep your eyes open. I was in a random hobby shop outside of Ft Bragg last December and found a full set of Hacklopedia of Beasts at a good price.....too bad I've had several sets, but down to one now.


  1. 100% my language. I love HackMaster and have made this statement for years, glad I'm not alone.

  2. The issue with Hackmaster is that nobody could take advantage of it to realize their own take on the classic editions whether it is was set of rules, setting, or adventure. The same with Castles & Crusade.

    Basic Fantasy and OSRIC marks the beginning of the OSR because they were the first to show how to open the gate to support the classic edition directly. Not something like them.

    1. I have to disagree with you, especially since HackMaster was literally the D-Team's take on the classic edition. They had an opportunity to print their "home-brew" game. Sure, subsequent releases needed more, but that is the nature of publishing....

  3. I'm a huge Hackmaster 4th edition fan. Still have all my books and I still play them.

  4. I've run 4th edition HM and had a blast with it. 5th edition is a rock-solid game, but has some SERIOUSLY crunchy rules... Do not think you're going to take this game lightly. :)


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