A table-top roleplaying system that's a hack of a hack of the original Red Box version of a certain popular hack-and-slash fantasy game. That's a lot of hacking.

Some thoughts on Combat and on Authority

Thu 8
Posted by at 4:12 pm. Filed under: Design Notes

At this point, I’ve pretty much put my 7-player set of laminated combat cards on the shelf for good.

I have the hex-based combat tracker pasted in one corner and under the laminate of my wet-erase poster sheet and I’m at the point now where I’m convinced that things just go quicker and more descriptively using it with the tokens I can just slide around during the declarative part of each combat round.

It comes down to the scene having a little more depth if the players aren’t thinking in terms of “I do one of these 6 cards in front of me” and more along the lines of “I just come up with something that relates to what’s going on right now in combat and then we’ll quickly figure out which phase is mostĀ appropriateĀ to it.”

The micro-negotiation of that particular player/DM exchange – the bit between the DM asking, “what do you do?” and then someone moving the PC token into one of the combat phase hexes, in many ways, that’s become the juiciest part of the game.

I’m not opposed to using the combat cards. In fact, the combat cards were an absolutely crucial part of playtesting and of nailing down the combat order and the combat system to where it is; and I don’t want to make any sort of canonical declaration about not using them here. I want to recognize that there are probably players out there that prefer the more tactically-focused playstyle of using the cards, the convenience of having those rules more specifically handed out to everyone, so I plan to keep them in the rules for people to have them if they want them.


Which brings me to one last point in this post, which is that it remains very important to me that the game stays somewhat untethered from playstyle advocacy. Certainly there are playstyles that Old School Hack favors. Certainly there’s a particular style of play that I enjoy, and certainly I wrote the game with the direction of that playstyle in mind.

But the position I’ve tried to maintain is that people are welcome to use these rules however they want. That’s something I’ve taken from the old school bloggers and gaming philosophers that I respect the most, “here’s some cool stuff, go nuts, use anyway you like”. I’m not staking some sort of equitability position here – personally I do think there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to roleplay – but the internet’s full of those arguments and I see no need to add to them.

I do occasionally get people asking for what I would call “official” rulings on the right way to play Old School Hack, and I always find myself hemming and hawing at how to answer them, because I don’t consider myself the final authority on how to play Old School Hack. Certainly I’m the final authority on what gets put down on paper (er… e-paper) for the OSH documents that I host on this site. People like Matt Jackson and Andrew Shields have taken the system and done awesome things with it, maybe in ways I might not’ve, and that’s not only okay, that’s a good thing and something I want to encourage.

Read the rules, enjoy playing with them, and make the game your own!