The Black Hack is a very simple and incredibly elegant role playing system created by David Black. I originally was introduced to this system by Matt from AFistfulOfDice over a year ago, and had forgotten about it until since. However, my wife, some friends and I went to a Pen&Paper convention the other day and while I was debating if I wanted to go as a DM, I had flashbacks about this system.
I ended up not being a DM at the event, but had loads of fun as a player with a DM that allowed all my crazy shenanigans. He had us play his own RPG system that was interesting and refreshing. After that session, I knew I wanted to give The Black Hack a go with my players. We have been playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition since 2013 and have slowly felt burnt out at times. Playing a different system has rekindled a flame in me that loves playing and tinkering with new things. I really enjoy playing with smart designs and thinking “oh, this makes so much sense!”, and I had those experiences both with the DM’s own system and with The Black Hack.
I also took a few cues from the event’s DM, as he had us define a goal for the party before we even started playing. My players love it when I create interesting stories and “railroad” them through it, but it is exhausting at times when I am always trying to outsmart myself. My wife especially will mostly figure out my NPC’s motivations and traps before I even give out most of the information, and while I love seeing her outsmart me, it always pushes me to think one step further. But by asking the party for their goal for a one shot, I could forget about it and just go with the flow, knowing that my players are getting mostly what they want.
My players ended up with a succubus-cleric, a pixie-thief and an orc-soldier. The black hack doesn’t have any stats for races like in D&D, so I told them to be whatever they wanted. I gave the Pixie player a “ring of growth” that they could wear for normal interactions and combat, but still transform into a tiny flying beast if they wished to (and they did on numerous occasions).
Next up was defining a party goal for the one shot. While they were talking about it, I prepared 3 NPC names with races and gender. Once they told me their goal is to open up their own tavern to make money, I had everything I needed for a session.
To keep this story somewhat short, I started the session by stating that their previous patron told the party that they could have his old run-down tavern in a small village he no longer uses, and told them they were now arriving at that village. They proceed to the location after asking for directions from locals, and find out that the previous patron’s ex-fiancée is living in the run-down building with her children. The party take pity of her situation, and decide to find another solution. While the succubus-cleric and pixie checked out the competition at the local tavern, the orc-soldier went to the mayor and asked about available property to buy. Among the locations was a cheapish run-down tavern that was infested with giant rats in the south of the village.
While the orc was busy, the other two stole from a local drunkard, who realised and attacked the party in the street to get his stolen gemstone back. This was our first experience with the combat of The Black Hat, and it was a lot of fun. It was easy, the players loved rolling for their attacks and those of the enemies, and it went well. After incapacitating two of the drunkard’s friends, the drunkard runs away and the local guard come and arrest the party for causing a fus in the street. To avoid being severely punished, the guard chief tasks the players with cleaning up the giant rats from the old tavern, giving them little choice in the matter, as they had no gold to pay for their fine anyway.
Next up was some investigation, some stealthing into the abandoned tavern, and some killing of giant rats. The Black Hat comes with a few monsters in it’s 23 page booklet, but it was easy for me to merge some various monster stats together to best fit giant rats (even making some of them poisonous).
The session ended before they could finish clearing out the abandoned tavern, but all the players had loads of fun with the system’s simplicity. The nicest thing for the players is that they could try everything and have a decent chance at it, since there is no “DC” to speak of: you either succeed your throw or you don’t.
All in all, I think I will try The Black Hat more in the future, especially for new players or larger groups. My biggest complaint with D&D 5e is that when you have 7 or more players, especially combat becomes a huge slog and is fun for no one. The Black Hack bypasses a lot of that by being simple and fast.