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by Adv R. A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/18/2020 09:45:50

I have been a D&D player since 1983. I have played regulalry since then. Over the years I have enjoyed every iteration of the game that has been released (except for that which shal; not be named) and really enjoyed running and playing 5e. About three years ago I started falling out of love with it because I was struggling to create the kind of game that I really wanted to run using the system. In short 5e started to feel like a game referncing itself rather than referencing the amazing gamut of fantasy story-telling that GMs have to draw on. I got into hacking the system, then designing my own rpgs from scratch. This was very rewarding but incredibly time consuming and taxing. I alwasy wanted a system that could access the whole huge bank of material that here is for 5e, without tying me to the 5e sensibilities and feel. I really enjoy Ole' HF's appraoch to gaming and his sense of humour so I though this product would be interesting.

I have found it amazing. It is not a hardcore mode for the sake of being hardcore ie it is not punishing sp as to earn brownie or OSR points. It is hardcore for a genuine and laudable purpose. It uses difficulty and deadliness to draw out of the players and the GM a new/old way of playing. It makes the little things count and what has been mundane in 5e, exciting again. I ran my first session using these rules and a further mod of my own making. My players are all seasoned veterans of many versions of D&D and countless other game systems. Despite a death in the first session every player (especially the player whose character had died) said that it felt fresh and vibrant (and quite scary).

The only part od the rules that I didn't want to adopt was Zymer's Candle. This felt top contrived for my tastes. My players also felt that a "save mechanic" almost ran against the grain of the rest of the rules and what we thought they were trying to achieve.

I was slighlty confused as to the way in which the rules fudge the differences between Wizards, Sorcerers and Warlocks and then dont reference the latter two classes in the variable XP progression table.

On the whole this is a fantastic addition.

Thanks Ingrid.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
by Dennis B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/13/2020 11:23:16

Edit: Formatting, rewording.

I tried to provide a detailed review for those of you looking to purchase this book. I hope you find the write-up useful.

I've enjoyed Drunken n Dragons videos for many years. I've found some of the ideas to be truly great and and inspirational.

This book is a collection of ideas, many of which have been adopted from older versions of D&D, other systems, or video games. Overall, however, I'm quite disappointed with this product. It's an incoherent mess of ideas, many of which are contradictory and not well thought out. I'm shocked any DM worth their salt would give this a five star rating. There are many far more coherent systems that are superior in writing, content, thoroughness and production quality. It's also missing content. The document states there are 2 adventures included on page 19. There are none.

I'm fairly well-convinced this collection of ideas have either never been fully play-tested, or at the least playtested very little.

At the core if it I'm finding difficulty identifying what the core tenets of hardcore mode are. As near as I can tell, it's these:

  • Be fair, but merciless
  • Be a Friend of Death
  • Prize Intensity over Detail.

I think this is what is meant by those tenets:

  • Once rolled, the dice are the final arbitrators of outcome.
  • To adventure is to flirt with death at every turn.
  • Focus on generating emotion over explicit description.

The first tenet is logical, as 5e includes many mechanics that strongly influence the outcome of dice rolls. So it stands to reason that house rules which favor a simple, unfavored probabilistic outcome would be more "HARDCORE" than not.
The second tenet is also logical, as 5e contains mechanics that are extremely forgiving with regards to character death. Like the prior, rules which no longer favor character survival would be more "HARDCORE" than not.
The last, however, is very system agnostic. I'm not sure what this has to do with D&D 5e specifically.

This document then outlines a "cheat sheet" of what the elements are in HARDCORE MODE. Though in truth, it is less of a cheat sheet and more of an outline for the subsequent sections. Each topic is somewhat varied in scope, breadth and technical depth. It feels almost more like a combination of GMing tips and house rules, which gives the document an inconsistent feel.
I've listed the outline below:

  • 3d6 Attributes - Roll 3d6, in order, for stats
  • Pure Hit Dice - Always roll for HP
  • Simple Skills - Roll 1d20 unless you are proficient at something
  • Injured - A new character state that imposes penalties on the character.
  • Death - A simplified, harsher set of rules governing death.
  • Zymer's Candle - A magical item that acts like a save point in a video game.
  • Spells by Level - An adaptation of Dungeon Craw Classics spell system where spell slots are removed.
  • Roll to Cast - An adaptation of Dungeon Craw Classics spell system where spell attacks are rolled on a d20.
  • Level 10 - Capping level at 10. This is a throwback to Basic D&D and similar clones.
  • XP Classic - Varying XP levels to address the inconsistencies of power levels across classes in 5e.
  • The Upper Hand - Basically a DM fiat where he declares everyone to be rolling with advantage.
  • Modded Monsters - A mechanic which computes a monster's stats based upon it's Challenge Rating, a small set of tips on creating "monster AI", environmental hazards, and groups of monsters.
  • GM Style - An encouragement for verisimilitude, abolishing ranges in favor of "here" or "there" locations, rolling initiative
  • Zones - Deconstructing areas into zones (This is also listed as part of GM Style, so I'm not sure why it's in the overview)
  • Theme - Renamed as "The Darkness" in the later part of the book, talks about making your game dark and intense, and also includes 2 adventures.

My first, biggest gripe is that this clearly has never seen a pass by an editor. And it desperately needs one. The fact that the document claims there are 2 adventures in this pdf and there are 0 is an egregious error. That alone makes this document not fit for publishing. The last 3 sections are sort of jumbled and aren't consistent in title with the overview (aka "cheat sheet") in the document. This would have greatly benefitted from a traditional table of contents.

Second, these rules don't really accomplish the overall desired effect. Some of the rules do. Yet there are many mechanics in 5e that have a significant impact on game 5e difficulty that are not addressed in this document. Not coincidentally, all the mechanics which this document does not address (but I many believe are necessary for a more HARDCORE game) have to deal with reducing the power levels of player characters. I believe this was an intentional omission to avoid upsetting players/buyers. For example, characters with perfect recollection, rangers who can never get lost, or always being able to find food and potable water. Addressing these mechanics are critical to increasing the challenge and verisimilitude of the game. Leaving this out reduces value in the product.

Another, seemingly minor (but major in my eyes) point - the author has the word VERISIMILITUDE at the top of a page, and suggests the ideal of VERISIMILITUDE is to stay true to the adventure material, even if it proves difficult or impossible for players. That's not verisimilitude - that's just being inflexible. Adventure material is, by its very nature, a detailed guideline that every DM must adapt to his table. The imperative of the DM is not to be true to the adventure material, but the world. To quote E. Gary Gygax, "It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. Never hold to the letter written...if it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to conformity to major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a whole first, your campaign next, and your participants thereafter..." Adventure material is insignificant compared to ensuring the consistency and realism of your world. Verisimilitude is presenting a world that your players feel so invested in that they believe it to be true; or at the very least, also wish it to be true. This is not a matter of opinion; it is in inexorable truth regarding role playing games.

Third, these rules are inconsistent, contradictory and sometimes incorrect with regards to achieving the desired tenets. Let's review each section and talk about whether or not it is aligned with what I think is meant by HARDCORE MODE as well as the merit of the idea itself.

3d6 Attributes - This is what was done in original D&D. Fine.

Pure Hit Dice - This is what was done in original D&D. Fine.

Simple Skills - Somewhat fine. It helps differentiate those skilled from the unskilled. However, there still remains an amount of variability in the outcome that a seasoned DM may not care for. Better options exist such as 3d6/4d6 under your stat, d20 unders stat, Castles & Crusades SIEGE engine rules, or a simple x:6 chance.

Injured - OK-ish, but they make no practical sense. You become injured and now suddenly you lose your proficiency in WISDOM checks? That just comes across as arbitrary, and certainly cuts across the grain of what HP are intended to be, which is an abstraction of your ability to fight, not think.

Death - This is fine. It's a slight variant on older editions of D&D.

Zymer's Candle - This is literally the antithesis of HARDCORE D&D. Giving players a video game "save/restore" point adds unnecessary complexity, is easily abusable, makes things easier and completely destroys any semblance of verisimilitude.

Spells by Level - This by itself does nothing to achieve the goals of HARDCORE MODE.

Roll to Cast - This makes the game more gonzo in style, and makes magic potentially more dangerous to cast. However, a LOT of consideration should be taken for each spell prior to implementing this rule. As-is, I guarantee this rule will cause more grief at the table than do good. (note: and I'm a huge fan of DCC-style spell slinging).

Level 10 - This is fine.

XP Classic - This idea is excellent, and has been used traditionally in older revisions of D&D to improve class balance. However, the tables here are simply wrong. 5e tried to unify the leveling system which would imply there would be a power curve that's somewhat uniform and independent from class. The truth is that 5e completely failed to achieve this. Adjusting XP per class is a great fix. However, the solution here was not thought out, and creates are worse imbalance than before. A proper solution would be to change the XP levels per subclass. DON'T USE THESE TABLES.

The Upper Hand - This is fine.

Modded Monsters - This does nothing to achieve the goals of HARDCORE MODE. Additionally, it's a really, really bad idea to create monsters this way. The "Challenge Rating" system was a number created to characterize creatures, not a number used to create creatures. The idea of using a simple formula to create a creature has been around for ages, but this is NOT IT. Tables already exist for monster stats based upon HD. Use those. Or use an approach like this one here: ( In short, DONT use CR. Throw CR out the back door, shoot it twice, urinate on it, bury it, salt the grave and put a conrete patio over it. If you want a simple technique for quickly making monsters, use HD. It's a method that's been playtested for 40 years and proven to work well.

GM Style - This will help inject emotion into the game. However, the ideas here will require you to do so much work that it isn't worth it. It leads by telling you to get rid of bonus actions. While it's a good idea at heart, it's REALLY, REALLY difficult to do well in 5e. It also tells you to roll group initiative, similar to what has been done in older editions of D&D. However, it's a little unclear how to do this (though it's easy to come up with an answer). Furthermore, it says to let players roll with modifiers while the GM does not. That flies in the face of one of the presumed tenets of HARDCORE MODE: Be fair, but merciless.

Zones - I don't see how this helps achieve the game's intents.

Theme - Even though the books claims it "contains two adventures to start you (sic) HARDCORE journey", there are only 4 ideas of what could be adventures.

All the good ideas in this booklet are not original and are simply adaptations from previous versions of D&D, or slightly adjusted. The ideas that are new, are nearly all unequivocally bad ideas and I don't recommend you try them in 5e. There was no editing pass and no pass for grammar. It was a "hit F7 and call it done". Content: 1 star. The art is good, though, so I'll give it an additional star for that. But it's not not worth the $3.50.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
by Joseph S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/19/2020 15:18:51

I love this rule set. For me it does an awesome job of making D&D dangerous again. It uses some of the cool additions that come with 5e but handles the "super heroes in a fantasy setting" really well. I definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to run a grimdark/ gritty campaign with 5e. Thanks for the good times, RUNEHAMMER, and keep up the great work!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
by Wyatt S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/18/2020 18:01:18

Understanding what 5e: Hardcore Mode (5e:HCM) IS will be a large determinant on whether or not you find it useful. I've personally been struggling with the 5e mechanics RAW for years now. I've been trying to capture the feeling and pace of an intense, seductive, dangerous world with just the right amount of deliciously exciting lethality that gives combat encounters and situations the proper gravitas afforded to them.

5e:HCM is a 26 page supplement that works with the 5e engine to streamline it into something fast and gritty. Based on years playing with the system, my biggest complaint would be that it builds "epic" characters that lack relative mechanical weight in how they interact with the world around them. I have run 3 sessions using 5e:HCM as an engine modification, and so far both my players and I really like it.

Our takeaways:

*- Lethality has been elevated to what feels like an additional 30% all around, however the potential for TPK death spirals is managed by the generally high-powered magic system. In each instance of a combat, it was always very clear which side had the upper hand, and who was on the backstep, leading to my players being much more engaged with the session, even when it wasn't their turn.

  • Magic is more powerful, pound for pound in terms of practical use. The reason why is evident in the text, but generally speaking, my players found it to be both interesting and empowering
  • Non-caster classes were often felt that straight up melee was exceedingly dangerous, and had to adopt a more involved form of teamwork to synergize with each other and casters to overcome challenges
  • Monsters and enemies can actually outscale and overpower an underleveled/underprepared party in a more direct way than in vanilla 5e, that is to say, it really means something to kill a powerful being, and will be costly
  • Zymer's Candle mechanic, when focused around a single PC/Enemy/set of actions is much more effective at creating tension, and should probably not be used as a "checkpoint" at any given time. In my games, I used it mainly as a last-ditch effort for the party to try and save a character's life in a crucial moment of truth. It worked out surprisingly well when limited in this respect. *

This supplement is important because of how popular 5th edition D&D is in the tabletop scene. 5e:HCM introduces rules that are at once "hardcore" which is to say, technically more difficult for players, and "empowering" in equal measure, and serve as a potential bridge to open players up to new philosophies surrounding what it means to play D&D outside of the current 5e "meta" as it were.

Notable ideas that are explained in HCM include but are not limited to:

*- Binary injury system with immediate actions and consequence resolution

  • Thematically consequential death mechanic revision
  • Streamlined spell options, reducing what is, in my opinion, a bloated spell system in lieu of a more powerful, more dangerous magic system
  • Casting Mechanics and consequences
  • Alternative leveling system that works to resolve the problem of power creep, game balance issues, and mortal scalability
  • Streamlined CR system that easily redefines monster stats around the truncated level balancing
  • Mechanics for reducing GM fudge and muddy rulings without sacrificing pacing or consistency*
tl;dr If you're looking for a modification on a well-known, accessibly popular engine that promotes a fast, fluid and fair GM philosophy and a meaningful system of action and consequence-based PC-to-world interaction layered with a satisfying balance of grit and impact, 5e: Hardcore Mode is for you.

For what it's worth, this supplement is wonderfully designed and full of beautiful, tastefully consistent art.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
by Leonardo A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/17/2020 12:08:17

I will start by saying that this book commits two sins: it has very little if any understanding of 5e and can't decide if it wants to be high lethal or memorable or wants to be both at the same time (for the record high lethal is synonimus with not memorable, characters can't make much of an impact if they don't stick around).

I will start by saying that I am not the kind of guy that would like to run a meat grinder, I am not the kind that enjoys sending wave after wave of PC to their all but certain deaths but I don't think it is a wrong way to play the game either. Even at the start the game says that this is for a subset of people and not for everyone but I kinda have trouble knowing who this is for, at a glance it is for the said meat grinder people but then they really want at times to make death count and be memorable but yet you can't mourn for too long lets get your backup character ready to be sent to the slaughter.

I will be quaint and just go over the parts of the book, it says to go 3d6 straight down no rerolls. Again in another game this is fine but in 5e it is understood that you are to make characters with some sort of character optimization in mind, even if you roll you are expected to put the highest roll in your main stat (for the record in the PHB you pick race and class first and then you pick the ability scores so you could end up with your main stat as your dump stat). It makes the assumption that somehow low stats will be able to make the game more interesting but I honestly don't buy it at all, being able to do something with a 5 in a stat instead of a 10 will not somehow make things more immersive, it will just lock away choices because they will be not optimal at all, sure you can still try them but there is nothing more inherently smarter about trying to deal with a deficiency, I could have the Barbarian that dump Charisma be the party face and it wouldn't make me a smart person.

Hit dice... just a naked roll based on your class, no Con mods or anything, yes your wizard can end up with a higher HP than your Barbarian and there is nothing that the Barbarian can do about it, yes they are weirdly proud that you can have 5 HP at level 5 where enemies that have five damage for their bonus (that is for later). They say that low HP might lead to good tactics but might as well just play super safe long range characters since any risk might end up with you going down (and you will probably go down at the first sign of unavoidable damage from an enemy spell caster either way). They do say that maybe if the low HP is such a thorn to quest to raise your Max HP... I would say just not mess with the system but that is just me.

The skill and proficiency, here is where the ignorance is egregious. I will just say it, there is no such thing as skill ranks in 5e, you are either proficient in a skill or not and that governs using the proficiency bonus for a skill check. The only thing that they add in this part is that if you are unskilled you don't also gain ability mod if it is positive as opposed to always getting it regardless. It really shows that they did not do their due diligence here.

The Injured mechanic is something that I do like although tweaked to be based on the level of the character as opposed to a flat 10 HP, this can help make things more gritty and dire (but it also messes with the all important speed so it isn't a full on praise). It is one of the few bright spots. Death is also good to use for a more gritty version of the game

Zymer's candle is essentially a save point in D&D that lets you go back to a point in time and the sole reason why you shouldn't feel bad that your characters die all the time because you can just hit the rewind button (mind you as it is written the DM can easily stop any candle shenanigans because it is a candle, I wouldn't feel safe if my lifeline could be severed by an errant gust of wind or interpreting the somewhat vague rules to your favor). Decent mechanic and would help with making things more permanent but still kind of iffy.

The spell section is another blunder of not understanding, I can take it or leave turning spell slots into it all being one time per day use spells (it also doesn't help that somehow you can interpet hat a high level spell caster can have access to the top tier spells in the end, so that a 9th level wizard can rock out 3 level 9 spells when normally they can only cast one level 5 spell, not to mention the 3 spells of a level lower iteratively). The problem is that now spells need skill checks so they don't fizzle out, this is kinda bad because the game already has rolls on most spells anyway and the point of spells being "always reliable" is that there is a limit, of course if you take the obscene amount of spells that wizards can get then maybe this is one wild balancing act but it all sounds ill conceived. Also cantrips are totally useless with this system, better use a crossbow because there is no way that using a fire bolt would be better since you need to roll twice.

The XP system is the biggest point against this entire system. It goes with the old style version of different classes having different EXP leveling requirements, spell casters get high exp costs and fighters and rogues get lower. Except that is not true because Bards have the lowest EXP requirements of them all and they are as magic as they can all get out in 5e; a level 10 bard needs 25k XP to level up, while a wizard needs that amount to reach level 7 and level 10 Bards can have as much magic mayhem as a level 10 Wizard. They really didn't seem to update their conception of the classes from 40 years ago.

Advantages and Disadvantages. They seem to have the impression that 5e is full of bonuses and penalties when it is established that only adv and disadv is the only thing that matters, they are just trying to repackage something that is essentially unchanged in the main game itself.

I'll be honest after this crapshoot affair with the rules I find it very cheeky that they poke fun at the CR rating and yet they also fail to understand it in their own system. Enemies power up linearly in all stats from HP, Attack and Armor, and this is an egregious problem because at the later levels you will have a very hard time hitting anything since all the mooks will have very high armor levels, armor is not supposed to scale up with levels at all. And to reiterate this is for the mooks, the big bads will be encouraged to have more piled on.

Monster AI, I really don't know why does this exist. You can expedite things by rolling instead of actually choosing even though I would guarantee you that picking yourself is the quicker option especially since most monsters have only one true choice, maybe two.

Some words about DMing a meat grinder and how the players are supposed to git gud, the zone system which abstracts detailed area into zones that you can be in, not bad, it is useful for quickness. Same thing with agregate initiative.

This isn't totally befret of merit, there are some good ideas in there so this isn't a total wash but it makes the fatal mistake that somehow deflating the PC numbers means making things more memorable and intriguing. You can easily make a super hard game just with normal D&D 5e as it is written and the book itself even says what you can do to make things harder.

In the end I think 5e makes for a very poor choice in meat grinder (it has the most indepth character creation out of all the D&Ds that I know just because you want a backstory for actual mechanical benefits) and this does not help things at least if you don't want gears to grind to a halt.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Thanks for reading, Leonardo! Not sure I understand your opening thesis, but I hope HARDCORE MODE was a galvanizing read for your table's unique style. May your dice roll high!
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