Gaming groups are like primate species that evolve into functional intelligent being over time. As gaming groups evolve, so do the processes and rules they utilize outside of the system they are playing on. A lot of the time, these rules are as strange as having glue covered skin or being able to launch a protective spike out of your tongue.
When I read the first few pages of Action Games Hardcore Rules: Volume 1, I cringed a bit. With relief, my hesitation was for naught. Hardcore Rules is a creative, yet accessible, collection of rules that can be implemented into any d20 system. Though some are a little nichey, they never venture too far into the far realm of gaming group weirdness.
The 16-page PDF contains 5 (though the authors say 3) additional rules. Most of these have been tried and true, but the thorough descriptions make them seem a little fresher than previous incarnations. I also appreciate the brevity. Too often, independent DMs relish in the “brilliance” of their house rules and tend to speak over the audience instead of presenting to the audience.
Hardcore Rules begins by presenting possibly the most niche of the supplements, a redesign of the armor system that adds depth and realism to wearing armor. It is a different departure to simply “armor as Damage Reduction” and makes people squishy again without overcomplicating things. The next chapter is taken as one rule, but feels more like three. There is a critical hit chart which wades into the brutal field of a critical hit. Breaking limbs and tearing off fingers is certainly not something I have seen frequently on these types of charts. There is also a Critical Failure chart, which greatly punishes failures. The third rule in this chapter is a simple skill critical and failure result chart. Bravely, and wisely, the author did not try to detail every skill. Longtime DMs know that players and situations are too diverse to single out instances. The final part was a called shot list. Though creative in the penalties for making the called shot, the defense bonus to the opponent feels too low. A simple +5 for a head shot that renders the opponent unconscious can end many a battle very quickly. It feels like this part probably works with the previous armor part, in that certain armor would add or subtract from the defensive bonus.
For the Dungeon Master
I found the skill chart a fun addition to put into the game. Simple, yet effective. With some modification the called shot can get some nice use as well.
The Iron Word
Hardcore Rules: Volume I is smart enough to know that not every group wants to become the group that originated this material. The presentation is short and sweet, and the layout work is visually effective. The additional rules have enough differences from similar rules in other materials to make them worth the purchase.