Macchiato Monsters

Since I had the good fortune to get some actual play of Into the Odd in, my mind revisits other great games that I have encountered. Like Macchiato Monsters, which is an elegant and creative descendant of Black Hack and White Hack, both derived from Old School Dungeons & Dragons.

Just another retro-clone?


Macchiato Monsters links together many of the common mechanics like

  • Six D&D attributes
  • Roll Under
  • Advantage / Disadvantage
  • Risk Dice, as popularised with The Black Hack
  • A wealth of random tables

and some less popular or less common ones, like

  • 3d6 in order
  • Invent your own trait (a bit FATE-concept-like)
  • Daily extra ability (a bit FATE-stunt-like)
  • Fuzzy magic rules
  • Random Starting Equipment
  • Choice of various Level-up-options

Resource or Risk Die

We all know the Resource or Risk Die, be it from The Black Hack or from any other game system that has adopted it. A Certain Die “Size” gets stepped down if it rolls bad enough at certain decision points. Usually the Downgrade-Threshold is at 1-2. Macchiato Monsters is slightly more volatile with a 1-3, so once the Resource Die stands at a d4, the odds are great that the Resource will be gone very soon.

The Risk Die is used for items, the weather, treasure, and much more.


Good or bad, combat is still at the heart of any roleplaying game. The moment where the roll of the dice is most meaningful and fraught with danger.
So how does it work in Macchiato Monsters?

With a slight bend toward the narrativist instead of the gamist angle. For one, there is no initiative as such. Similar to Risus, it is only half-important who actually goes first, as someone is going to get hurt, and it will be either the attacker or the defender.
In short, the attacker rolls under STR or DEX, depending on his tool of death-dealing. Success means the foe was hit. Failure means he himself got hit.

Hit points are not commonly very many in Macchiato Monsters. A great many characters will have only 1d6 hit points at the start of play. So it is prudent to not get hit. But if push comes to shove regardless of any clever schemes, there is armor to save a character’s bacon. A shield can be splintered to negate one damage, and on the first hit during any combat you roll a Risk Die associated with your armor. The result of that throw determines how much damage the armor will stop in *this* fight. On a 1-3 the armor is damaged and gets stepped down, but it can be repaired.

Important aside: Macchiato Monsters does not shy away from using guns as very deadly weapons, and even offers optional rules to make them MORE deadly. Which means handily that the game does not prescribe any particular tech level. As it is often with Macchiato Monsters, the group and GM decide much among themselves, as the fancy takes them.

Anyway, at Zero Hit Points a character is out for the count and may die. A CON check will decide this. So Encounters can go from funny to bloody very fast.

Speaking of…

Some of Macchiato Monsters’ most charming elements are its encounters and its hirelings.


With a slight twinkle in the eye, Macchiato Monsters calls encounter personnel “monsters”, and it underscores that the term will be used even for friendly unicorns.

If the reaction to the party is not obvious from the situation, it can be decided with, you may already guess it, a Resource Die. It will tell what they are doing, if they are arguing, exploring, looking for help, or whatnot. So the options vary greatly.

The same goes for their motivation, which can be “Looking for Love and Friendship”, but also “A Death Wish”.


Hirelings and retainers in Macchiato Monsters are treated as a resource (which they, at its most basic level, are). They can carry a certain number of things, and otherwise their skill and morale are handled with the near-omnipresent Resource Die. Once they have stepped down too much, they flee or quit, or maybe even die. It will depend on the situation and the decision of the GM. The outcome for the party is the same either way: The retainer or hireling is gone.

Actual Resources

Losing people who may carry your stuff is a big deal in Macchiato Monsters, because resources are important. We spoke about the low count of hit points. That is true, but on the other hand, hit points can be regained relatively easy, by eating (according to resource die, of course), or sleeping (1 HD worth of points). Both of those measures can be done every couple of hours — but also subject to the situation. How much food do you still have? (It will get fewer thanks to the risk die!) And do you have a safe place to sleep?

A so-called “long rest” to get your act fully back together, heal up and replenish your resources, is “a couple of days in a safe place with access to supplies”. So “long rests” are scarce.

This is the OSR vibe in action: Pick your battles wisely!

The Arts Arcane

Magic gets a bit of short thrift.

It is done with the same Roll-Under mechanic that powers any other activity, but it is kept vague, and much depends on how a player sells his plans to the GM and how said GM will judge the cost and effects. That means that verbose players will be able to pull out more concessions, while shy players may end up as less successful wizards. It is so vague that the rules themselves advise the GM to ignore them when it comes to magic monsters. In essence, they suggest to just make some effects and limitations up and don’t bother following any hard rules for it. This is a weak spot that will leave many GMs hanging, and likely trying to pull spell descriptions from other systems.

On the plus side, having to roll for a spell and powering it with hit points is a more interesting way to go about the Arts Arcane than the quasi-technological “by the numbers” hexing that is going on in most RPGs.

A Work of Love

All told, Macchiato Monsters is obviously a work of love that oozes heart, done by someone who is an obvious lover of games and fun. The tone of the rules, the Art, the self-deprecating humour, it all says: Have fun. That makes this rules set one of the most charming out there — but it is still a complete system that stands up to playtests and works seamlessly (with the possible exclusion of the hand-wavey magic system), includes practically anything you would need in a game, even black powder weapons and overland travel, a map generator system, spell mishaps and drugs, even off-screen-expeditions between adventures that can end in death… PLUS the elusive domain play and a small mass combat system. (Again with a risk die, what else!) Despite this wealth of content, it is quite short.

Recommended for imaginative gamers

All things told, I recommend Macchiato Monsters.

But I must say that it demands creative minds, and is ill-suited to rules lawyers and people who want every detail spelled out to the last degree. Macchiato Monsters aims to inspire play, not deep studying.

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