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Thursday, 19 March 2015

[RPG] How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love HOW...


I cannot tell a lie, I was rather taken with Heroes & Other Worlds from the moment I started reading it.

As I've said before, The Tuesday Knights had just started our Chronicles Of Cidri campaign (although it had no name at that stage) under Pete's stewardship, using The Fantasy Trip (TFT) rules we'd enjoyed as teenagers when Steve ran a classic campaign for Pete and I.

Meanwhile, I was directed to Dr Mike Burns' Dark Fable Miniatures site and Mike, an old school TFT enthusiast, told me about a retroclone of TFT that he was using Heroes & Other Worlds (HOW).

I ordered myself a copy of the core rules from Lulu, cracked them open and fell hard.

When Pete handed the campaign off to me, I opted to upgrade it to HOW and things went very well.

However, towards the end of last year and the start of this, I began to get that typical gamer ADHD twitch and I started to question my love of HOW. I then embarked on all-too-familiar crusade of trawling other fantasy game systems and seeing how easy it would be to translate the characters from HOW to this new system (as I had done 'porting them from TFT to HOW).

The problems came because I generally go for class and level-based games, rather than skill-based games, and, already, the characters of the Tuesday Knights were too diverse to fit easily into a rigid character class.

Pete's character, for instance, is a (non-magical) healer by profession, but he uses a bow and a selection of swords - so he certainly isn't a cleric!

Sometime in recent weeks, a light-bulb lit up over my head and I suddenly realised I shouldn't be concentrating on what HOW doesn't do, but what it does. And what it does well.

Several years ago I was writing screeds and screeds of material for a houseruled hack of Crypts & Things (itself an adaptation of Swords & Wizardry, an OSR retroclone), but the key elements I liked from 'my' game were the multiple d6 skill checks (rolling against a statistic plus a bonus, usually the character's level), especially how they worked with magic - as I was wanting to move away from the default auto-casting of Dungeons & Dragons.

Now, here I was, playing a game that had already cracked this conundrum. What I was trying to shoehorn into a D&D clone was already working just fine in Christopher Brandon's Heroes & Other Worlds.

And, of course, when you have a comparatively simple system like HOW you don't need the straitjacket of set classes because you can sculpt your character's progression as the mood takes you - if she doesn't develop as you saw her going to start with, you can simply pick up some new skills and take her in a new direction.

Sure, there are still some aspects of HOW I'm having to adjust to: for instance, rolling more than one die for combat (usually 3d6) adds a degree of uncertainty, but is a bugger for mass combat. I also have issues with the use of positive "Die Roll Modifiers" (DRM) to indicate a penalty; I always opt to modify the requisite statistic down instead, as I think this is more intuitive and keeps the game flowing.

Ultimately these are minor quibbles and are drowned out by the perfection of the skills and magic system.

HOW is a hardy rules engine, resilient enough to tweak and drift (carefully) without breaking any of the core mechanisms.

It may not be everyone's perfect system, but, gawdammit, I reckon it's as close as I've come to finding mine (in 30+ years of gaming).

I no longer catch myself looking wistfully at alternate systems, but am seeing if any of these other systems have ideas that I can graft onto Heroes & Other Worlds.

The Tuesday Knight's campaign - The Chronicles Of Cidri - is now really gathering momentum (in my eyes) and is not only our longest running game, but I'm increasingly convinced that it has the legs to run and run.

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