Hard-Knock World is a streamlined tabletop roleplaying game where players adventure to learn new skills at the metaphorical ‘school of hard knocks’: advancement is open-ended, using broad fictional descriptions. Each PC can master a new ability related to their class each session, but this happens diegetically (in the story) rather than being chosen between sessions from a list of advanced moves—
- The cleric discovers a sacred text among the treasure of a tower.
- The druid seeks out and studies the essence of an animal whose form they can now shape-shift into.
- The fighter trains with a legendary warrior to master a new feat.
- The rogue finds rare ingredients, recorded recipes in a tower, or someone who teaches them how to make a new poison.
- The warlock defeats a monstrous opponent and studies its corpse.
- The wizard studies the arcane arts or discovers scrolls or magical artifacts.
Players only need four standard dice, a pencil, and their character sheet to play. Rather than require custom playbooks per class, everyone uses the same two-page character sheet to start. These list the common moves, which are adapted from Homebrew World, a Powered-by-the-Apocalypse fantasy game by Jeremy Strandberg. In addition to the common moves, each class and background (draconic, dwarf, elf, half-elf, human) provides a move, with the ability for players and GMs to collaborate on custom backgrounds and classes. Inventory tracking uses a simple encumbrance system (a character can carry up to 10 checked items) with consumables (e.g., ammo, armor, books, herbs, scrolls, gear) each providing three uses, marked only on poor rolls.
The 14-page rules include:
- A complete campaign setting, with a hex map with a dozen keyed locations and four adventure fronts
- Statistics and moves for 35 monsters
- Suggestions for advancement paths and opportunities for each class
- Rules for character creation, safety tools, and guidance for hook questions
- GM advice on principles, flow of play, advice for combat, shared worldbuilding, fronts and long-term threats, and wrapping up a session
- This is a Powered by the Apocalypse game and would not be possible without the willingness and encouragement of D. Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker to allow adaptations of the system of Apocalypse World. Special thanks to Meguey Baker for approving the game’s use of the PbtA logo.
- This game is a direct spiritual descendent of Tony Dowler’s homebrew hack, Apocalypse D&D, which provided the game its original structure (though iterated away from).
- Jeremy Strandberg’s PbtA games Homebrew World and Defying Danger.
- The DW Discord community for their feedback and constructive criticism.
- Sage LaTorra’s Monster Codex, a crowdsourced site for creating and sharing monster stats and moves.
- Beau Jágr Sheldon’s Script Change safety tool.
- Primarch’s Chasing Adventure for the idea of a trap kit.
- 538’s analysis of the most widely played classes and races in 5e.
- The Creative Commons organization for promoting consensual shared use of copyright material.
- Phenomenal character and monster illustrations, copyright © 2019-2020 by Jason Glover. Used by permission.
- Alex Schroeder for Text Mapper, which lets you create hex maps from text descriptions, perfect for non-artists like me!
- The Noun Project for their great collection of licensable icons. Special shout-out to Rena Rohrbacher for the evocative scroll in her collection.
- Public-domain map generated by Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator.
- Custom cover illustration copyright © 2021 by Axebane. Used under license.