Disclaimer: I was a published author and contributor for Columbia Games Ltd for a limited time, and my name appears in the list of contributors in the HârnMaster Religion book.
Game Concept Synopsis
HârnMaster is a fantasy game designed and published for the gaming world of HârnWorld. Published by Columbia Games and initially written by N. Robyn Crossby; it is in its third iteration. The game focuses on skill-based improvement with a combat system that is generously referred to as “lethal”.
It is difficult to talk about HârnMaster without talking about the background (HârnWorld). HârnWorld is the campaign background for a HârnMaster game. The published regions of Harn to 13th century Europe; and is often described as both realistic and detailed. The world map (and world index) strongly suggest that there are other cultures and a much larger map to explore. HârnWorld is a traditional low magic fantasy setting, but the low-magic limitation is a socially imposed one rather than a limiter within the game system.
Unique Selling Points
I attack the door: The defender can not only block or dodge the attack, but counter-strike the attacker (as one would against any inanimate object).
BEP(F) – Blunt, Edge, Point (and Fire!): HârnMaster gives different damages for each aspect of the weapon. A sword wielder can use it’s edge or point, or even its pummel (blunt). Different types of armour have different protections based on the type of damage received. Quilt is lousy against point but very good against blunt, whereas plate is the opposite. While fire damage is rare, when it happens each type of armour has a fire rating. If it receives more fire damage than its rating – the armour catches fire!
Injury levels: The game’s lack of hit points is made up for by injury levels. HârnMaster is a skill-based game, so for every injury level, all your skills go down by 10 and your stats go down by 1. So the longer your fight and the more damage done to you, the harder it is to remain conscious or perform tasks of any kind (including combat). Tactically, it is very bad to fall unconscious before your enemy.
Skills vs specialties: Skills are checked on a d100 roll versus the skill’s mastery level. Most skills can be divided into sub-skills or specialties after a skill reaches 40. If you improve the base skill, the specialty improves by 2; but you can focus and improve the specialty without improving the skill. This keeps the number of skills in the game low while giving you lots of flexibility to add skill specialties.
Crits: Any roll of d100 that is a multiple of 5 is a critical. Multiples of 5 below your skill are critical successes, whereas multiples of 5 above your skill are critical failures. All non-critical results are considered marginal. Criticals add additional spice to the game: making failures or successes greater.
Straight-forward combat mechanic: The mechanic is easy to maintain and easier to learn. After the party member attacks a door, they get the hang of the dice and the tables required.
Simple situation rules: There are very few modifiers for dealing with situations. The game has no rules about facing (it is assumed the attacker always faces the defender), and bonuses based on whether you are attacking or defending are already written into your character sheet.
Incredible localized fan based support (and conventions!): There is a huge amount of information on lythia.com; including a forum, numerous free downloads and a wiki or two. The game has a devout but small following that is quite vocal. There’s even a HârnCon at least once a year!
Sliding morality scale: The morality is a range from Diabolical to Exemplary. It can be rolled on 3d6, but usually players pick something in the middle (Corruptible or Law-Abiding). The morality scale is based on guilt and suffering not good and evil.
Minor, Serious, Grievous, Kill (Amputations, fumbles and stumbles oh my!): Wounds come in four forms: Minor (a bruise), Serious (a fracture), Grievous (a crush), or Kill (a mortal wound). In some cases these are accompanied by the potential of a fumble or stumble roll or an amputation roll. Fail a stumble roll and you fall to the ground prone. Fail a fumble roll and you loose your weapon! Fail a kill roll and, well – you die.
Table-itis (minor case): The game relies on tables to: determine the number of dice used for damage, the strike location, and the amount of damage done. Additional tables help with weapon damage values and armour protection values (and since you can wear armour in layers, there’s an armour layer table).
Hardness and difficulties (the conditional vagueness): In previous versions there were rules for BF&I (Brute Force and Ignorance). Now there isn’t. How much strike damage can a stout door take? How about a locked chest? The wood or metal it’s made of should count as armour, but beyond that the rules are vague. There are, however, several sets of house rules to cover this situation.
The magic systems (there are 2): The system has a small list of thaumatergical spells broken down by convocation, and another set of rituals by religion for priests. The game system doesn’t provide enough structure for creating your own spells and the spells provided are a lousy source upon which to base rules as they themselves are too greatly varied and situation-specific. This is a long-standing complaint of mine. Magic is not required to play HârnMaster, and the magic system can easily be replaced with by another system (GURPS and Hero are popular options).
If you’re not afraid of tables, and willing to add detail to your combat scenarios without complicating them, then I recommend HârnMaster. Percentile-based systems are “old school” and not having stereotypes (classes) upon which to build a character gives your players a lot of leeway to create anything they want.
But then again, I am very very biased. Give it a try and see for yourself.