Heroes and Other Worlds

I have been on a bit of a mad rpg frenzy. Work has just got some heavy and so dense that I had to take a holiday in my head, so I've put in 17 hours playing Torchlight, read about 6 rpgs books straight, 4 graphic novels, and oh yes, stopped watching TV.

On the way I bought, read and have been playing solo adventures using Heroes and Other Worlds which is a retroc clone of the old Steve Jackson game The Fantasy Trip, a clear precursor to GURPS.

The game is simple, it's definitely evoking an OSR feel, and yet with a ruleset that I never owned or played, although I have played and run GURPS.. but it wasn't popular with my friends. Essentially you play an Adventurer or a Wizard, and it's cheaper for a Wizard to buy spells, and cheaper for an Adventurer to buy dexterity based skills.  There are 4 stats, STrength (ST), DeXterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ) and ENdurance (EN). Basically ST allows use of weapons, is the pool of hit points or magic points to either withstand damage or power spells, IQ is the default stat for which spells you can learn, how many spells/skills you can know, and the base stat for thinking type checks, DX is the go to stat for most physical stat checks. EN wasn't in TFT and is a fudge, it's a pool of easily recovered points to power spells and absorb damage. It seems to be a PC only stat, NPCs don't have it. As I said it's a fudge stat, but I can see from the solos and the stats of NPCs that without it a PC would die far too often to be fun.

There is an extensive spell list, many of which are short sweet and suited to the tactical combat nature of the game. There is a simple combat system that delivers a good hex/square based tactical game that is satisfying and yet not slow. The author delivers a bestiary that is clearly as influenced by D&D as anything else.

The referee section, ominously barred from player's eyes, is very good. The game is not billed as an rpg but as an "adventure game", and the emphasis is on adventure base upon combat, treasure, monsters and the ref section has a very good random dungeon system, a good random plunder system, a solo adventure (good luck keeping the player's eyes off that, and a well crafted adventure. Noticeably, although the author makes stance against emotive roleplay, the system neither supports or prevents as much narrative ham acting as you like, which is often the point made my OSR supporters. [Bit like Traveller.]

So, I created 4 characters and we launched into the solo adventure, alright, the 'programmed adventure', which is written by Dark City games. Wow, what a retro rush. I've not played a solo in years, and this, with it's hex sheet cleverly laid out to setup all the combats, it's multi PC style, and the simple flow of the story was great fun. Ann did laugh out loud when she saw me at my study desk "playing figures with myself", but it was fun.. dangerous and deadly for one of my PCs, but fun. Last night I downloaded another freebie adventure from DCG, The Sorcerers' Manor and bished, bashed and looted my way through.

So, what do I think? Well, the text is fine, albeit with a few rules issues that need a gentle tweak for newbies (I never played TFT so I suspect that the author sometimes assumes knowledge), one or two explanations need moving around, but the system is light enough that a competent reader can judge what's what, and in fact it's well drafted. The fudging of EN is necessary due to the inherent low power base of retro starting characters, but also since the development curve for the PCs is quite slow, and in this clone the core stats cannot be changed, which is a potential problem if, like one of my wizards, he really isn't clever enough to cast his spells, and will never get better. [There is a curious bit of text which implies that there is a skill bonus to spell casting but I can't see where from.].

Combats are tactical, finely balanced, and magic can play a really big role, which shows the TFT roots as a tactical game. The combat is a straight forward roll under stat+skill to hit, opponent may react with a parry/dodge but lose next move, and then damage is rolled, armour is subtracted from that, points come off EN or ST. The plunder rules are light and fun, generating interesting treasure, the spell lists are enjoyable, and the layout and illustrations of the core book are nice and redolent of the source material.

I like the idea of the Old Skool Revival, of playing simple fun games that recreate the hobby's youth. However I never really liked D&D mechanically, so for me this is a nice reminder that there were other games out there that are worth another look, have a similar 'feel' but had mechanics that IMHO were better. [Hey, like Traveller.]

So, expect an old skool game of Heroes and Other Worlds from me at a con.

8/10

Contacts: http://heroworlds.blogspot.co.uk/
http://www.mediafire.com/heroworlds [there's a short rule set in the Caludron 0 magazine]
http://www.darkcitygames.com/index.php

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