Basically, I waste him with my crossbow. [Sort-of HackMaster Basic Review]
So, I got to try out HackMaster Basic today. My overall reaction would be more or less "fuck yeah."
I should preface by admitting that it was a pretty stellar and Hack-appropriate group, so the target audience was firmly in place. The player group consisted of: Dale (who runs the monthly-or so HM 4th Edition game I play in, and who hosted), Tyson (he'll be joining Dale's regular game next week), and myself (with a BTB HM4 campaign on hold and a HM4/AD&D hybrid campaign in early prep stages). GMing was Charles Brown, who's authored a couple Kenzer HM modules (Dead Gawd's Hand comes to mind as I write this); Chuck's a pretty active HackMaster booster in the local gaming scene.
I was ready to be fairly critical, sitting down at the table - I play HM4 for the AD&Disms, and tend to cross-pollinate the two systems pretty freely, so the news that HM5 wasn't going to be AD&D-based was a downer for me. Overall, new HM material is only useful to me as far as it's easily converted / ported over to my heavily-customized AD&D engine. That said, I was also licking my chops anticipating what cool rules I could steal for my HM4 game.
Come to find out that, while it may not strictly be "1e on crack" like HM4, it's not that damn far off. It sure as hell isn't d20 (and it's a far cry from World of 4craft). From AD&D, we still have "6+1 stats" (the familiar 6 along with "Looks" subbing in for Comeliness), and the super-granular stat bonus charts from HM (most bonuses and penalties start below 9 and above 11), but the functions of these scores has been shuffled around. Strength no longer provides a bonus to hit, however both Dexterity AND Intelligence do. Similarly, Dexterity provides a defensive adjustment - as does Wisdom (!). (The dumb fighter, as both Dale and I would learn, is not nearly as effective in HM5 than in previous editions.) Score generation is more flexible now - you have the option to take six-in-a-row, swap two scores, or arrange to taste - but you earn big Build Point bonuses by taking the more restrictive options (25 for swapping, 50 for taking it like a man). Scores can still be increased by cashing in Build Points (5 fractional points per BP as opposed to 25 in HM4). I rolled decent Dex, average Str and Con, and abysmal everything else. I decided to play a dwarf fighter. (When all was said and done, I was able to buy the Str and Con up to respectable levels, but everything else stayed crappy - I ended up with a 3 Charisma.)
Skills are percentage-based, where the score to hit is the relevant ability score plus whatever mastery dice the player bought in character creation (this more or less directly from HM4), but now we have a whole list of skills that regular people "just have" at a base rate (a nice addition). Also, wherever a skill depends on two scores, the lower is used (where previously they were averaged). I kinda like that - again, makes dumb PCs a little tougher to deal with. There isn't really a dump stat in HMB. With my lower-than-low mental scores, most of my skills were absolute crap. I also took a roll in swimming and one in first aid on top of the freebies.
Nobody played a spellcaster, but apparently there's a spell point system. *shrug* I like my clunky old slots/level Vancian dealie, but I'm sure that's house-rule-able.
Quirks and Flaws: In HM4, these are rolled randomly (as many times as you're dumb enough to ask for), and you earn BPs based on how hard you get boned. Here they don't buy you anything, instead all PCs roll for one Quirk (mental) and one Flaw (physical) (I think). I got "Foul-Mouthed" (like he wasn't gonna be anyway with a 3 Charisma) and "Pocking" (i.e., I got acne scars, -1 to Looks).
Combat: Here's where things get crazy/awesome. First off, instead of ACs and to-hit charts, combat is an opposed test. (Lots of things seem to be opposed tests.) The attacker rolls their to-hit (on a d20, no worries), and adds any bonuses from level, abilities, specialization, talents, magic, and so on. (These are, thankfully, all summed up on the weapon profile - no hastily adding them up on the spot.) The enemy makes a defense roll (d20 if they're aware, d8 if surprised or prone), adding in defense modifiers from abilities, magic, and such. If the attacker wins, the enemy is hit. Shields and weapons both boost defense (if the character is aware and can bring them to bear), whereas armor does NOT - however, both armor and shields absorb damage from a successful hit. If a shield is hit (i.e., makes the difference between a hit and a not-hit), it makes a save against breakage (modified by the damage and shield size). There's also knockback if you score enough damage (not sure of the math, but it happened once or twice). Interestingly, there's still crits, but now you can also roll a Perfect Defense and score yourself a free counter-attack.
Initiative is cascading - everybody rolls once (on a d12!), and then initiative is counted up from 1 (no rounds, the count doesn't "reset"). Attacking adds your weapon's speed to the count, attacking again adds it again. It's surprisingly fluid, and makes high-speed weapons like daggers nice and mean. (Honestly, this is a big change but I think I really like it - HM4 has this weird dichotomy between its round-based initiative (imported almost verbatim from the 1e DMG) and its tracking of movement and non-spell-melee-or-missile actions by segments. This system seems to remedy that.)
We played the introductory module that (as I understand it) is downloadable from the Kenzer & Co. site. To sum up (SPOILER ALERTS): Stuff is missing, go find out who took the stuff and get the stuff back, murdering the stuff-takers is optional. We got to the place, fought some wolves, fought some snakes, defeated a (normal, non-magical) apple tree, talked to (and successfully resisted the urge to murder) an old lady, murdered some halflings (the GM insisted they were kobolds but we had decided early on that the culprits of the stuff-taking were halflings, and wouldn't be dissuaded) ("mountain halflings" my dwarf theorized), and got the stuff. Then the guy wouldn't pay us because he keeps his money in a module that hasn't been published yet (no, really, I'm not making that part up). A good time was had by all, we won at HackMaster.
So, I'll be ordering myself a copy about as quickly as I can manage - it's pretty crunchy, which is not exactly how I prefer my AD&D, but as its own game it's got an awful lot going for it. (I'll be stealing from it liberally, both for 1e and HM4.) And the one-book presentation is a big plus. If you can arrange to sit down at a table for a test-drive, do yourself a favor. Thumbs up.