The Black Hack

(text based on the Black Hack v1.2 - 2016-04-03)

An ‘OSR’ First Edition Hack
developed by


With elements borrowed from ‘original’ era rpg gaming and modern d20 theory.


In no particular order - Peter Regan, Tony Tucker, Olav Nygård, Chris McDowall, Mick Reddick, Eric Nieudan, Brian Wille, Jarret Crader, Greg Welty, All the work the Grognards have put into the game, UK OSR Hangouts crew, Everyone who backed the Kickstarter (you're all ace!) plus all those other people who had a hand in developing the hobby we get so much mileage from.

What’s this?

The Black Hack (TBH) is a traditional tabletop roleplaying game, played with paper, pencils and dice - it uses that Original 1970s Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a base. But it adds and takes away elements to make it a distinct streamlined flavour of the original roleplaying game.

The core mechanic

Everything a character might possibly attempt that could result in failure is resolved by testing attribute stats, in order to successfully test a stat - a player must roll below it on a d20.

Monsters don’t make tests - a character must avoid their attacks by making a test, the only time a monster would roll is for damage.

Rolling stats

Stats are generated with 3d6 in the following order Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), Charisma (CHA). If a stat of 15+ is rolled the next must be rolled with 2d6 + 2, then continue with 3d6 until the end or another 15+ is rolled. Once all stats are generated 2 may be swapped around.

Choose a class

There are 4 choices. Warrior, Cleric, Conjurer, Thief - your class determines how much damage you do, your Hit Points and unique abilities.

Buy equipment

Every new character starts with 3d6 x 10 coins with which to buy their equipment. They also start with a set of clothes and a one handed weapon as allowed by their class.

Armor points

Armor provides protection by reducing all incoming damage. Each type will reduce damage by a limited amount. Armor Points are regained after a character rests. Once the player or monster has used armor to absorb its maximum amount, they are too tired or wounded to make effective use of it again - they then begin taking full damage.

Type Points
Gambeson 2
Leather 4
Chain Mail 6
Plate & Mail 8
Small shield 2
Large shield 4

Monsters have 1 point of armor for every HD above 1, to figure this out quickly simply -1 from their HD - They can also carry shields. (All to a maximum of 10)

Armor proficiency

If a character wears armor that is not listed in their class, they add their total Armor points (despite how many they have used) to any rolls to Attack or Avoid Damage.

Gambeson 50 - 2 Armor points
Leather 100 - 4 Armor points
Chain Mail 350 - 6 Armor points
Plate & Mail 600 - 8 Armor points
Shield Small/Large 50/100 - 2/4 Armor points
Backpack 5 - Carry +2 extra
Flask of oil 2 d6 -
Work Tools 2 - -
Holy Symbol 25 - +2 to WIS when banishing
Holy Water 25 d4 -
Iron Spikes 1 - -
Lantern 10 - -
Handheld mirror 5 - -
Preserved Rations 15 d8 -
Fresh Rations 5 d4 -
50' Rope 1 - -
Small Sack 1 - -
Large Sack 2 - -
Thieves Tools 25 - -
Flint & Steel 3 - -
Torches (6) 1 d6 Each Torch has a Usage Die
Wineskin 1 d6 -
Wine 1 - -
Assorted Common Herbs 10 d8 -
10' Pole 1 - -
Quiver of Arrows / Bolts 10 d10 -
2-Handed Weapon 50 - -

Converting saves

The Black Hack ignores saves and instead asks the player to roll attribute tests when any spell, trap or effect would impact them - using the below as a guide. Remember the advice in the Powerful Opponents section.

Physical Harm that cannot be dodged. Physical Harm that can be dodged. Poison, Disease or Death.
Resisting Spells and Magic. Deception and Illusions. Charming effects.

Players turn

During a player’s turn a character may move and perform an action. They could attack, look for a clue, talk with an NPC, cast a spell - interacting with the world is an action. Often they will test their attributes to determine the outcome.

Time & turns

There are 2 important types of tracked time - Moments (rounds) and Minutes (turns). Moments are used during combat and fast paced scenes of danger and Minutes are used when exploring and adventuring. A GM may advance the clock as they need substituting Minutes for Hours, Days or even Months should the adventure require it.

Movement & distance

Rather than track precise numbers, TBH uses 4 abstract ranges for measuring distances. Close, Nearby, Far-Away and Distant. On their turn every character can move somewhere Nearby as part of an action, performing that action at any stage of the move. They can forgo their action and move somewhere Far-Away instead. Anything beyond Far-Away can be classified as Distant and would take 3 moves to get to.

This system is designed to support the narrative ‘theatre of the mind’ style of play, and is less concerned about tracking squares and fiddly distances. For converting existing movement rates or measures (for spells or areas of effect) use the following as a guide :

0 - 5ft 5 - 60ft 60 - 120ft


When combat breaks out, everyone must be sorted into an order so they each get to act and react in turn. Every character tests their DEX, those that succeed, take their turn before their opponents, they must then act as a group - deciding their own order for actions. Those that fail their DEX tests, go after their opponents.

Monster HD

HD represents a monster's level and the number of d8 rolled to determine its HP.

Attacking, defending & damage

When a character attacks a creature they must roll below their STR stat for a Melee Attack or DEX for a Ranged Attack. Likewise, when a creature attacks, the character must roll below its STR against a Melee Attack and DEX against a Ranged Attack to avoid taking damage. A GM will often give the stat required for the test.

The damage an attack deals is based on the character’s class or the number of HD a monster has.

To make a Melee Attack an opponent must be Close. Ranged Attacks against Close opponents are possible, but the attacker suffers a Disadvantage.

Monsters deal damage based on their HD - refer to the table opposite, but if you’d prefer to use the damage stats listed in a module that you are playing, you can certainly do that instead.

Two handed weapons

Larger, more deadly weapons are handled simply by adding +2 to any dice rolled with them. They deal additional damage, but are also harder to hit with.

Critical damage

If a player making an attack rolls a 1, they double the result of the damage dice they roll. If they roll a 20 when avoiding an attack, they take double damage. Armor Points are used normally.

Monster HD Damage
1 d4 (2)
2 d6 (3)
3 2d4 (4)
4 d10 (5)
5 d12 (6)
6 d6 + d8 (7)
7 2d8 (8)
8 3d6 (9)
9 2d10 (10)
10 d10 + d12 (11)

Death & dying

When a character is reduced to zero Hit Points (HP) they are taken Out of Action (OofA), they are unconscious and cannot make any actions. When the fight is over/are out of danger, a character that is taken OofA can roll on the table (following page) to see what happens to them. If they survive they gain 1d4 HP.

If the characters lose the fight or are unable to recover the body of the character, they are lost forever!

Powerful opponents

For every HD above the character’s level, add +1 to every roll the player makes for any attribute test that would determine the outcome of a conflict between them and an NPC. - A level 3 character defending against a HD 5 monsters attack would add +2 to their roll.


Characters can gain Hit Points from Spells, Potions, and Abilities. They can never gain more than their maximum - and can never go below zero either. When healing a character who is OofA, just start at zero and count up. That character is now back on their feet and no longer OofA.

1 KO’d - Just knocked out.
2 Fat Head - Disadvantage on all tests for the next hour.
3 Cracked Bones - STR, DEX and CON are temp. -2 for the next day.
4 Crippled - STR or DEX is permanently reduced by 2
5 Disfigured - CHA reduced to 4.
6 Dead - Not alive anymore.

Advantage & disadvantage

A GM may decide that a particular course of action or task has a higher or lower chance of success. They will ask a player to roll an additional d20 when making a test - with advantage the lower result is used and with disadvantage, the higher.


When characters rest for about an hour, they regain the use of all their Armor points. Also once per day, after resting, they may roll a Hit Die associated with their class and regain that many HP.


Adventurers learn through defeating and overcoming obstacles. Killing one boring Kobold won’t bring a revelation of learning to someone. Surviving a dungeon, completing a quest or simply living to tell the tale are the things that bring perspective and growth. The old experience system has been completely discarded.

For every session / dungeon level / quest / major event the character survives they gain a level.

The GM will decide which, and it’s recommended that this decision remains more or less a constant throughout the campaign - and a GM should be clear and upfront with the players so they know where the ‘goalposts’ are.

Gaining levels

When a character levels up, their maximum Hit Points increase by rolling the Hit Die for the class. Also a player should roll a d20 for each Stat, if the result is higher - that Stat increases by 1.


A character can carry a number of items equal to their STR with no issues. Carrying over this amount means they are encumbered and all attribute tests are taken with Disadvantage - you can also only ever move to somewhere Nearby. They simply cannot carry more than double their STR.

Class weapons

When using a weapon not listed in their class, combat tests have Disadvantage.

Random encounters

The GM should roll a d4 every 15 minutes of real world play (you are paying attention, right?) A result of 1-2 means the players will encounter a randomly generated creature or distraction in the following Minutes (turn).

Creature reactions

Some monsters and NPCs will have predetermined personalities and goals that will guide a GM when choosing their actions and feelings towards the characters. Those that do not, such as randomly encountered creatures, make a Reaction roll on the following table :

Roll Reaction
1 Flee then roll again.
2 Avoid the PCs entirely.
3 Trade with PCs.
4 Give the PCs aid.
5 Mistake the PCs for friends.
6 Trick the PCs (roll again)
7 Call for Reinforcements.
8 Capture/Kill/Eat the PCs.

Banishing undead

Clerics can attempt to banish all nearby undead as an action. They must successfully test their WIS for each group of creatures they are attempting to banish, adding the creature's HD to the roll. A GM will determine which creatures are in any particular group.

Undead monsters that are Banished by Clerics must spend all their movement (and convert actions to movement) to move away from the Cleric for 2d4 Moments after being Banished.

Usage die

Any item listed in the equipment section that has a Usage die is considered a consumable, limited item. When that item is used the next Minute (turn) its Usage die is rolled. If the roll is 1-2 then the usage die is downgraded to the next lower die in the following chain:

d20 > d12 > d10 > d8 > d6 > d4

When you roll a 1-2 on a d4 the item is expended and the character has no more of it left.

Magic items

Magic weapons typically add +1 to any attribute being tested whilst using the weapon and +1 to each damage dice rolled. More powerful weapons (+2/3) can be found if the GM includes them.

Magic Armor doubles the amount of AP armor would normally have, for example Magic Chain Mail has 12 Armor Points. They operate per the normal Armor Points rules.

Traditional OSR games deal with magic items by adding +1 or +2 to attack rolls and AC. If the GM intends to give out stronger magic armor (+2/3) to high level players, carefully consider tripling the Armor Points.


Starting HP : d10 + 4
HP Per Level/Resting : 1d10
Weapons & Armor : Any and All
Attack Damage : 1d8 / 1d6 Unarmed or Improvising

Special features

Once per hour, whilst in combat, a Warrior can regain d8 lost HP.

As part of their action a Warrior can make 1 attack per level.

If a Warrior fails a STR or DEX test and would be dealt damage from an attack, they can opt to sunder (destroy) their shield - if they have one equipped - and ignore the damage.

Leveling up

Roll to see if attributes increase, roll twice for STR and DEX.


Starting HP : d6 + 4
HP Per Level/Resting : 1d6
Weapons & Armor : All Swords, All Bows, Daggers, Gambeson, Leather, Small Shields
Attack Damage : 1d6 / 1d4 Unarmed or Improvising

Special features

Roll with Advantage when testing DEX to avoid damage or effects from traps and magical devices.

Rolls with Advantage when attacking from behind and deals 2d6 / 2d4 + the Thief's level damage.

Rolls with Advantage when performing delicate tasks, climbing, hearing sounds, moving silently, understanding written languages and opening locks.

Leveling up

Roll to see if attributes increase, roll twice for DEX or WIS.


Starting HP : d8 + 4
HP Per Level/Resting : 1d8
Weapons & Armor : All Blunt Weapons, Gambeson, Leather, Chain Mail, All Shields
Attack Damage : 1d6 / 1d4 Unarmed or Improvising

Special features

Roll with Advantage when testing CON to avoid damage from poison or being paralyzed.

A Cleric can spend an action to banish all Nearby undead by testing their WIS and adding the creature's HD to the roll.

Leveling up

Roll to see if attributes increase, roll twice for STR or WIS.

Divine spellcasting

Beginning at second level, Clerics can cast a number of Divine Spells per day, see the Spellcasting section.


Clerics start with a large spellbook containing a total of 1d4 spells from the Level 1 and 2 Divine Spell lists.


Starting HP : d4 + 4
HP Per Level/Resting : 1d4
Weapons & Armor : 1-handed Sword and Staff
Attack Damage : 1d4 / 1 Unarmed or Improvising

Special features

Roll with Advantage when testing INT to avoid damage or effects from spells or magical devices.

Leveling up

Roll to see if attributes increase, roll twice for INT or WIS.

Arcane spellcasting

Conjurers can cast a number of Arcane Spells per day, see the Spellcasting section.


Conjurers start with a large spellbook containing a total of 1d4+2 spells from the Level 1 and 2 Arcane Spell lists.


Conjurers and Clerics have the ability to cast spells that are chosen from their appropriate class list (on the following pages).

They can cast any spell they know by reading from their spellbook or can memorise a number of spells equal to their Level and cast those without it.

They have a number of 'spell slots' they can cast each day - as shown in the two tables opposite. These represent a magic user's 'energy' and the taxing nature of casting spells over a long period. When they run out of spell slots, they cannot cast any more spells.

Once a spell is cast the Cleric/Conjurer must test their WIS/INT - adding the spell's level to the roll. If they fail then they reduce the number of 'spell slots' corresponding to the spell level just cast by 1. When a memorised spell is cast it is not forgotten.

After roughly 8 hours rest, the number of 'spell slots' a character has refreshes to its maximum.

If a spell from a traditional OSR or original era game calls for a creature to make a save, the character must test their INT or WIS - to see if the magic cast was powerful enough to overcome their defences (remember the Powerful Opponents rule).

Daily cleric spells

Note: columns are spell slot levels, lines are character levels.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 - - - - - - -
2 1 - - - - - -
3 2 1 - - - - -
4 2 2 - - - - -
5 2 2 1 - - - -
6 2 2 2 - - - -
7 2 2 2 1 - - -
8 2 2 2 2 1 - -
9 3 3 2 2 2 1 -
10 3 3 3 2 2 2 1

Daily conjurer spells

Note: columns are spell slot levels, lines are character levels.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 1 - - - - - -
2 2 - - - - - -
3 3 1 - - - - -
4 3 2 - - - - -
5 4 2 1 - - - -
6 4 3 2 - - - -
7 4 3 2 1 - - -
8 4 3 3 2 1 - -
9 4 3 3 2 2 1 -
10 4 3 3 2 2 2 1

Divine spells








Arcane spells








Creature HD Actions and Specials
Fire Beetle 1 Light glands have a usage die of d8.
Giant Vampire Bat 1 1d6 damage next moment after attack.
Deadly Centipede 1 Bite (0) plus CON test or ‘OofA’ - only has 1-2hp.
Manes Demon 1 2 Claws (1d2) + 1 Bite (1d4), Half damage from non-magic weapons
Goblin 1 Only has 1d6 hp.
Hobgoblin 1 Usually has a backup shield if one is sundered.
Human Berserker 1 Disadvantage on defense rolls when Berserker attacks.
Giant Ant Warrior 2 Poisonous Bite (1d6) + CON test or add 2d6 damage to the attack.
Carrion Creeper 2 Bite (1) + 6 Tentacles (0) + CON test or Paralysed.
Ghoul 2 2 claws (1d3) + 1 bite (1d4) + CON test or Paralysed.
Giant Leech 2 Drains a Level the moment after dealing damage.
Bugbear 3 All DEX tests are rolled with disadvantage.
Harpy 3 Song - CHA test or PCs must move towards it.
Wererat 3 Cannot gain Advantage when attempting to surprise a Wererat.
Shadow 3 Touch (1d4 and -1 STR), only hit by magic weapons.
Doppleganger 3 Change form in a moment, disadvantage against magic tests.
Wight 3 Can only be hit by magical or silver weapons, Drain 1 Level with Hit.
Blink Dog 4 Teleport nearby once per fight.
Grizzly Bear 4 2 claws (1d3) + if both hit hug for 1d8 damage.
Gargoyle 4 2 claws (1d3) + 1 bite (1d4) + 1 horn (1d6).
Gelatinous Cube 4 CON test on touch or be Paralysed, immune to cold and lightning.
Werewolf 4 Only silver weapons can hurt it.
Ogre 4 Gives advantage on all CHA tests made against it.
Cockatrice 5 Bite (1d3) and CON test or Petrified.
Owlbear 5 2 claws (1d6) + 1 bite (2d6) + Hug for 2d8 if to-hit roll is 1-4.
Basilisk 6 CON test on eye contact or be petrified.
Succubus/Incubus 6 2 Claws (1d3), Advantage on magic tests, immune to non magic weapons, level drain (-1) with kiss. Can cast Charm person (spell) once per hour.
Mummy 6 Attacks stop healing until cure wounds cast, immune to normal weapons, half damage from magic weapons.
Banshee 7 Shriek - CON test or Paralysed for 2d6 moments.
Djinni 7 Can take Gaseous Form, Create Objects, Create Illusions, Cast Invisibility (spell) as action.
Spectre 8 A person killed by a Spectre will become a Spectre in 1d6 minutes.
Chimera 8 2 Claws (1d3) + 2 Goat horns (1d4) + 1 Lion bite (2d4) + 1 Dragon bite (3d4) or Breathes fire as a Dragon (3d8).
Balor Demon 9 Sword (1d12+2) + Whip (0) DEX test or be pulled Close to the Balor and burnt for 3d6 fire damage.
Hezrou Demon 9 2 Claws (1d3) + 1 Bite (2d8), Cause Fear (as per Banish) or Darkness (spell) - each once per fight.
Black Pudding 10 Metal objects that touch it melt the next moment.
Frost Giant 10 Throws boulders or great chunks of ice.
Stone Golem 12 Only spells that affect rock or stone work, weapons must be +2 or better to damage it.
Giant Slug 12 Spit Acid - d4+2 nearby targets (1d12) test DEX for 1/2 damage.
Dragon 9 to 11 2 Claws (1d8) + Bite (1d10), Breathes fire - d4+2 nearby targets (3d8) Can cast 1d4 1st level spells + 1d2 2nd level spells.

Example of play

DM : So you're in the sewer, knee deep in muck, it's dark and to the north there's a portcullis, what do you want to do?
Thief : Is the portcullis Nearby?
DM : Yeah.
Thief : I'll move to it and as my action I’ll check it for traps.
Warrior : Assuming it's safe, I want to bend the bars.
Conjurer : And I want to cast light on my staff.
DM : Ok, Thief, test your Wisdom by rolling a d20 under your WIS score - to check the portcullis for traps.
Thief : *rolls* Made it!
DM : You're confident it's free of anything designed to do you harm, Warrior, still want to bend the bars? If so test your Strength!
Warrior : *rolls* Piece of cake!
DM : Good stuff, now Conjurer, you cast Light on your staff. That's a level 1 spell right?
Conjurer : Yup.
DM : Ok, well test your Intelligence and add one to your d20 roll, if you fail you lose a level one spell slot for the rest of the day.
Conjurer : *rolls* I need to roll under, not on it, right?
DM : That's right.
Conjurer : Damn, I failed.
DM : Unlucky! Beyond the bent iron bars is a long dark sewer tunnel heading deep down. What do you want to do?
Warrior : Explore down the tunnel..?
Thief : Agreed! I'll sneak ahead.
Conjurer : And I’ll protect the rear!
DM : Ok Thief, you move down the sewer, still Nearby to your friends, please test your Dexterity to see how quiet you are - remember you get Advantage on tests when sneaking, roll two d20's and choose the result you like.
Thief : *rolls* despite rolling two dice I’ve got a 17 and 19. What are the odds?
DM : Ouch. You're making so much noise being sneaky, a Ghoul hiding in the darkness close to you leaps and attacks!
Thief : Bugger!
DM : Initiative time! Everyone test their Dexterity, passing means you act before the Ghoul, failing means you go after. Thief you test with Disadvantage.
Warrior : I go before.
Conjurer : I'm after.
DM : Thief?
Thief : How long was it to roll up a character again? I go after.
Warrior : I want to run down the sewer and smash the Ghoul with my Broadsword.
DM : Ok Warrior, you move Close to the Ghoul. Test your Strength to see if you hit it, you should add +1 to the roll, as the Ghoul's a powerful opponent.
Warrior : *rolls* Rolled a 7! *rolls again* So that's 8HP damage.
DM : Good hit! Now the Ghoul's turn. Thief test your Dexterity to try and dodge the Ghoul's paralysing claws and bite. Remember the +1.
Thief : *rolls* Ugh! 18.
DM : Oh dear. You feel a painful numbing sensation run through your body. Test your Constitution, if you fail the Ghoul paralyses you.
Thief : *rolls* Do I add the +1 to this too?
DM : Yes. Conjurer, you see the Thief fall rigid to the floor, what do you do?
Conjurer : I'll start backing away slowly.
Thief : I'll get you in the next life you git!