Last night I played Hackmaster (the original) with two friends. It causes me no small amount of consternation that my pal Josh spent almost more time generating the character than he did playing him before he died a horrible, and somewhat unnecessary, death. The extensive, detail-ridden character creation process of the game is not a feature to me.
I'm not sure what it is about Hackmaster, but in every game I've played in, regardless of GM or group composition, there has been a palpable undercurrent of mean-spirited sentiment between the player characters. The tone of the game has ranged from passive-aggressively adversarial to outright violence between player characters, but the strange atmosphere of enmity has been a constant. I do not enjoy this. I have found that even when some players in the group want to play it "straight" (that is, a more mechanically robust hybrid of AD&D editions first and second) there is an element that will cultivate the hostility. It seems to be an inevitable part of the Hackmaster experience. I shared this hypothesis with the GM earlier this evening, and he agreed with me on most parts, and expressed a bewilderment that Hackmaster groups don't work together, given that the game encourages an adversarial relationship between the GM and the players.
I have considered asking the GM to perhaps play the game less by the book (and by the atmosphere that the book seems to encourage) and to treat it like a straight fantasy game with some parody elements. I just know that I will not be long for playing a game that makes you spend so much time rolling up a character only to have you constantly wondering if it's going to be a trap that kills him, or his fellow player characters.
I will say a few things in Hackmaster's defense: I think there is a fantastic game down there, somewhere, but you have to strip away things like the more ridiculous aspects of character creation, the silly skills (Basic Looting, Groin Punch, Wuss Slap, Berate, etc.), and the rulebook prose that reminds me somewhat of a "Gaming Tea Party," if you take my meaning. Like Palladium, I cling to the idea that if you just house rule enough, there's a good game down there.
Of course, there are a few bits in Hack that I liked enough to steal and modify the last time I ran AD&D. The method for ability score increases as characters gain levels, bits and pieces of the skill system, and parts of the equipment list. (Elderberry wine instead of "liquor, good quality" or something to that effect? Don't mind if I do)
The GM wanted to have a session tonight, which would have marked five days in a row of glorious gaming (a feat that I haven't been able to duplicate since high school summer vacations), but I'm not feeling that well tonight. I've summoned up enough strength to post this blog entry, but now I shall retire to the couch to watch my wife play Dragon Age II and leaf through my slick new hard cover copy of Stars Without Number.