Welcome to FANTASY HACK, a role-playing game. Many readers who find this will already know all about the role-playing game hobby, but for those who are new to the whole adventure, skip ahead to the Introduction. This Author's Note is where I get to talk to other role-players who have experienced possibly many other games in the hobby about what I’m doing with this particular game and why.
In this era of the Open Gaming License (OGL) and the Old School Renaissance (OSR) both of which encourage and even facilitate the notion of the Do-It-Yourself aesthetic, I suppose, why not? But most especially, because I've never found any other system that did exactly what I wanted it to, so I figured why not create one myself that does? Luckily for me, this was accomplished without too much work, because the wonderful little m20 engine is perfect for my needs, and easily "hacked" or customized to provide me all kinds of potential variations and options. I've used variations on the system in various ways for a long time now already, but most of them were specifically designed to emulate a particular setting, be it a kind of unique dark fantasy or a swashbuckling space opera where people used magic and had sword fights in spaceships, or various other iterations. What I'd never done was try to emulate the specific D&D experience in any meaningful way.
I suppose I could simply have used one of the existing D&D emulators in the m20 sphere, of course. The original m20 document turned the 3e d20 experience into an extremely rules-light game, but it emulated fairly faithfully the actual 3e d20 experience, all things considered. There have been really well done interpretations of m20 that are meant to emulate various older versions of the game too. But one of the most interesting things to come out of the OSR was the idea that rather than simply retreading the late 70s or early 80s, one could take the same mechanical "chassis" if you will, and turn it into your own game. It used to be that in order to do this, you had to lay out a fair bit of cash to print a game up and sell it in stores; nowadays, with the OGL and better understandings of what copyrights allow, anyone can make their own game, whip it up as a PDF and sell it on an online store, or get it funded through a Kickstarter, or just put it out there for free for anyone to use and peruse as they see fit. And if nobody does except the guys in your own group for whom you're using the game, that's fine. And if you don't even have a group and designing games is fun in its own right, hey, the hobby has room for that too, right? Some of these games, like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, or Delving Deeper are specifically meant to emulate in enough exacting detail an earlier version of D&D that when you're playing them, you honestly can't really tell the difference. This is a cool feature for those who want to use those rules again, but can't find them readily.
The more interesting ones are those that go back and say, basically, "well, if I were to have written D&D back in the day, especially with the gaming experience that I've had since then, this is how I would do it," and do something a little bit different. This game is more like the latter. I sometimes tell people that I'm not old school, but I am old fashioned. I liked the old wild and woolly DM ruling style of play, rather than the more codified, big rule-books with lots of rules and strict adherence to them style that evolved later. The old OD&D or B/X would have been the best games for me in terms of assumed playstyle, at least. That said, I never much liked the specific rules. The rules here are newish—m20 is a drastically rules-light iteration of d20 after all—but the sentiment and tone is not. Some of the changes are meant, in ways, to replicate different types of fantasy as well, or maybe just draw on different pulp influences than D&D specifically did (for example, I consider my magic to be very Lovecraftian rather than Vancian—but no doubt Gary Gygax would have appreciated that concept nearly as much; he was clearly a fan of Lovecraft too.) It may be naive of me to think that the next time someone asks me to run D&D, I can hand them this document and say, "sure, but this is the version we're using," but in many ways, that’s the implicit purpose of it.
If any of that sounds even a little intriguing to you, I hope you enjoy reading this document. It's fairly small, light, and easy to get through. The game is also extremely easy to run, but it really is only appropriate for those who are comfortable with very rules-light approaches and all that that entails; namely, being ready and willing to be decisive and make rulings on the fly. There will not be a lot of detail on exactly how to do everything in this game; in fact, the purpose is deliberately to provide a more logical, robust framework for you to adapt to your specific needs than some earlier versions of the game did. And then add some of my own idiosyncratic tastes to the mix.
Welcome to FANTASY HACK! This game is a role-playing game set in an action/adventure fantasy world. Role-playing games are a great hobby if you have a creative bent; as a player you will create a player character (or PC). Doing this combines aspects of being an author or actor creating a character, and being a gamer creating a game piece that has specific rules that interact with the rest of the game. Playing the game is not purely playing a game like Sorry! or Monopoly where your playing piece is completely abstract and only reacts with the rules nor is it purely as an author creating a character and then writing stories about him, but it does contain many elements of both. During the course of the game, you will be expected to control your character, make decisions for him, as if you were an author. But you control only your character; one other player, called the Gamemaster (or GM) will control every other aspect of the setting including potentially a great many characters that belong to no player, or non-player characters (NPCs). When you make decisions for your character that have an element of risk of failure, this is when your character interacts with the rules. The GM will tell you what dice to roll to see if you are successful, and will tell you the results of your successes and failures, which in turn will lead you to have to make other decisions, and so on.
There are many styles of play, ranging from pure exploration and combat with essentially disposable characters on one end point of the spectrum, to what amounts to impromptu method acting on the other. I personally prefer a point on the spectrum that isn't too close to either end point; characters are more fun both to play and to interact with characters if they are in fact interesting with intriguing broad personalities—but don't fall into the trap of taking your characters too seriously. After all, this is an action and adventure game, and they could end up being killed or incapacitated by one of many potential hazards and dangers that they will face over the course of their career. If that happens, it's part of the fun, and hopefully your character at least goes out in an entertaining blaze of glory. Whip up a new one and be ready to join the game again with a different character as soon as the GM finds a break to allow you to slide back in.
In addition to you and the GM, there may (and in fact probably should if you can find them) be a few other players with you, each managing their own PCs. Together, your PCs are often called "the party;" a group that adventures together like the ensemble cast of an exciting movie, book or TV show. Some players really enjoy the idea of your characters working together to solve what seem like insurmountable challenges like a well-oiled team. Others have parties of players who don't work well together, and may even bicker and challenge each other as much as they do the rest of the environment. This can be fun too (haven't you ever watched an ensemble cast movie or TV show where the main characters did this?) but make sure that character bickering doesn't translate into player bickering. The players are actually you and your friends; your characters are your fictional alter egos. If your characters are bickering or fighting, that should be entertaining for you, the players. If it's not, adjust your game. This is, after all, supposed to be a fun social occasion for all of you. Unlike many games, there's really not anything to "win"; the whole purpose is the experience itself, which is fun in its own right. If your characters are successful in meeting goals made in the game (or even if they're not) once you're done, you move on to new challenges and new experiences. Maybe a TV show is a better analogy than a movie or book, because you keep coming back after you're done for more episodes in the same season with the same characters, until you either get tired of them and want to try something different, or the game comes to a natural end and the GM tells you that the season is over and the show is cancelled. At which point, you can always start a new one!
What You Need to Play
In order to play a game of FANTASY HACK, you'll need only a handful of things. First off, this book will be essential. The rules are simple enough that you probably won't refer to them much during play (unless you're the GM) but you need to have read through them and understand them fairly well to play; or at least have a GM who can talk you through steps like character creation, and task resolution and stuff like that. A handful of friends to play with would be nice. In a pinch, two can play; one as the GM and one as a regular player, but the game often tends to be more fun with 3-5 players or so in addition to the GM. You'll want some paper to take notes on and a pencil to write with, unless you prefer to do that kind of thing digitally or have a super good memory. You'll also need a character sheet. You can easily whip one up on your own with nothing more than a piece of notebook paper or even an index card, but if you'd prefer, there’s one included with this book that you can use. And finally, you'll need a set of polyhedral gaming dice. These can be bought online, or from many hobby stores. Gaming dice are often colorful, and always come in a variety of funny shapes, with a variety of ranges on them. Probably the single most important of these is the twenty-sided dice (or d20) which you'll use all the time in combat and task resolution. There is also a twelve sided die (d12) probably two ten-sided dice; one of which has 10, 20, 30, etc. instead of 1, 2, 3, etc. If you roll the two of them together, you get an effective percentile dice giving you a result from 1-100. Rolling just the ones dice is called a d10, while rolling the two together is often called a d%. There is also a d8, a d6 (shaped like a cube with numbers 1-6; just like regular dice that you're probably used to from every other game you play), and finally a pyramid shaped die that’s called a d4. Occasionally the game will refer to a d3, but there is no three-sided die. To get this result, roll a d6 where a result of 1 or 2 = 1, a result of 3 or 4 = 2 and a result of 5 or 6 = 3 (in other words, divide by two, rounding up.)
Finally, you'll need a stash of some kind of tokens. Almost anything will do from poker chips to a handful of pennies to a bag of garbanzo beans. My own personal preference is to use some party favor fake pirate coins that I bought at a Halloween store years ago, but that’s only because they look kinda cool; anything will do. Other than that; at the risk of sounding a little hoaky, bring your imagination, maybe something fun to eat while you're playing, and be ready to have fun.