The Black Hack was a solid, lightweight, OSR game that I played a few times and enjoyed. It did a lot of clever things, but I was always more of an Into the Odd kinda guy.
So when I heard The Black Hack Second Edition was recently released I was more curious than anything. What possible reason could there be for a second edition? The game was already pretty stripped down. Maybe more classes? Item lists? Spells?
Then I checked the page count…
126 Pages? WHY!?!
That’s over 6 times as large as BH1. Now I’m really curious. I’ll buy a copy and see what could possibly fill all those pages.
2 hours later
This book is a gem y’all. I am completely blown away. So flabbergasted that the only way to continue this “review” is with random exclamations and disjointed commentary. Think a Questing Beast review with less insight and fewer moving pictures.
AHEM. Let’s begin.
Player Rules and Stuff
Rules, rules, rules. If you like clever OSR abstractions then you’ll like this. Not seeing any-
A Wild Battle Map Appears Whoa. Why is this here? In the rules? Is this book meant for scribbling and sketching? Also the Marching Order is kinda cool.
Experiences as XP. I can dig it. Kinda dodges a lot of the goofy numbers and boring accounting. I like how XP is spent in-universe, rather than just invested in the mechanics. Fun stuff!
Hello Usage Die. You’re still cool.
Magic seems pretty straightforward.
The armor rules are weird. I would want to play them before making any judgements, but that’s something new, at least. The rest of the rules seem pretty par for the-
A Wild Hit Location Chart Appears Whoa again. Great picture, but why is this here, right next to the damage rules….wait. OOHHHH! This book is written as if you were learning the game WHILE playing it at the table. Fascinating. Also a really fun hit location chart. Awesome. What’s next?
I like how clear the character generation is, and it all fits nicely on a single page. Awesome. This book REALLY wants to hit the table ASAP.
Player Classes get a really cool looking picture and a dual-page booklet setup. I dig it! looks ready for players to start scribbling all over it. I like how each class has a few cool abilities and includes the level-up rules right there.
They all look pretty fun and varied. I’d be hard pressed which one to try first.
Spells seem solid; but I’d probably end up using the spell list from Knave.
This section actually tells the players not to read it. I have seen a few games do that, but I never really understood why. Seems a little silly. If I bought the book, I’m gonna read all of it.
Anyway, if you’re a player reading this review TURN BACK NOW!
The GM section doesn’t waste any time, jumping right into running the game. Strangely, the first thing mentioned is running a game “step by step”. It lays out 5 steps that a GM can fall back on at any time, going from step 1 to step 5 over and over again. It’s a really interesting choice, but I LOVE how practical things start out. Very cool.
Gives some advice about which attributes tie in to which actions, expected damage, NPC reactions, morale, random enco–
Wait a second. Under the “Random Encounters” section, the first thing listed is “What and Why?”. I love it! It doesn’t just assume that you know what Random Encounters are for, and it does a great job explaining why so many games include them and why they are important. Brilliant.
What follows are a bunch of useful tables. Example random encounters, a bunch of monsters, example equipment, and so on.
Hirelings…ugh. I have NEVER liked hirelings in games. More characters just slows things down, and adds more burden to the GM. I was hoping TBH2 would have some brilliant revelation to change my mind, but no such luck.
Light rules, panicking, disease, poison, all look fine.
A really fun table for how characters discover new spells; definitely stealing that!
50 magical side effects. YOINK! stolen as well.
How to start a campaign, with a BUNCHA random tables. Good stuff.
The Reason for the Writing
This next section of the book is what made me sit up and begin shouting excitedly to myself.
5 pages of an example hex-map, several hex-generators, and….wait for it…
A blank hex map just BEGGING to be filled.
See I’ve read a lot of games with random tables and adventure generators. But TBH does something simple but brilliant: it IMMEDIATELY presents you with the opportunity to apply what you’ve read. Like a good math book, it explains how to do a thing and then immediately gives you a challenge to do it.
I cannot get over how awesome this is. And so simple!
And it doesn’t stop there!
Next few tables are about generating a random settlement, random tavern, and then immediately gives you a blank map to fill out and complete yourself.
Advice on stocking a dugeon, generating rooms, monsters loot, and then two incredible BLANK dungeon maps ready for your adventures.
TBH doesn’t have a GM section; it has a GM WORKBOOK!
Next are some cool monsters, with great info on using them in-game. Each monster has a cool illustration as well as several tables and tweaks to make them feel different.
Magic items, how to make interesting loot, etc.
Finally an example adventure which looks pretty solid.
Like I said before, this not only contains a solid system, but it acts like a GM workbook walking you through EVERYTHING you need to know about running a game. Not rules and monsters, but by showing examples and then encouraging you to try it right there on the pages.
Blank dungeon maps are more common than ever, and thanks to people like Dyson, more beautiful than ever. Training GMs to use pre-made maps and fill them with STUFF is genius and so healthy for the hobby.
I’m sure the print edition is gorgeous, but I plan to print the PDFs myself and scribble all over them. Then print them again and scribble all over them. Then again. And again. And again.
I’ve never seen a book like this one before, and I hope to see many many more like it. This might replace Dungeon World as my recommended “GM Training Material”.
I was surprised and delighted by The Black Hack Second Edition. Let me know what you think in the comments below.