Being stuck at home more often than not lately, I finally got a chance to dive into a couple of new games that I purchased on the cheap a while back, and I was more than pleased with what I found once I did. They’re both systems that are heavily inspired by the fantastic old school revival that’s currently going on, which is a great trend as the open gaming license has given a lot of independent game designers a chance to really shine and put out some wonderful products. A casual flip through the pages of each and I immediately noticed some stark differences between the two, which split my opinion on which one I’d inevitably end up preferring. One attempts to pay homage to high fantasy and the grand adventures inspired by the likes of Tolkien and his contemporaries, while the other is a much grittier take, with its roots based firmly in the sword and sorcery and horror genres. In the end, I finally thought what the heck and decided to review them both, letting you fine and intelligent folks decided which one sounded better for yourselves. With that said, let’s jump on in, because we have some good stuff to cover.
We’ll start off with the Heroe’s Journey 2nd Edition, a wonderful RPG that perfectly captures exactly what it sets out to do, and that’s high fantasy with clear lines of good versus evil. The author has stated that he really wanted to express the feel of Middle Earth and the Fellowship but focus it through the lens of rules sets like Swords and Wizardry and Whitebox, which he more than succeeds at. First off, the book looks absolutely great, with clean layouts, smooth organization, and nice artwork. The art is all composed of well-done illustrations, with simple black and white line drawings that captures the old school feel and atmosphere of a true group of well to do adventurers. There are no big splash pages or paintings to be found, but I find that the simpler style really harkens back to the classic days of D&D, which is a good thing considering I’ve always really enjoyed that type of game and the vibe it gives off.
Getting into the system, there are a few tweaks the author has made to the classic formula, but if you’re at all familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons or anything D20 related this shouldn’t be all that drastic of a change. Attributes are still handled by rolling 3D6 and recording the values and bonuses but the attributes themselves look a bit different with this one than what you might expect. Instead of the usual six we have might, finesse, resolve, insight, bearing, and wealing, and you can kind of figure out which subs in for which just by looking at them. Might is strength, finesse is dexterity, insight is intelligence, bearing your charisma, and resolve your constitution. Wealing, on the other hand, is a new concept, and represents a character’s connection to a larger fate and destiny. It’s a great innovation when given the high fantasy feel the game shoots for, as a PC’s wealing bonus can be spent to give a character advantage, roll two dice and take the higher number, on a number of dice rolls equal to the bonus. It’s a nice addition that fits in well, as I’ve always thought some kind of “hero point” mechanic was missing from this style of game for quite a while now.
Again, classes should be familiar ground as well, with a few things added in and a couple of twists here and there to keep it interesting. Knights take the place of Paladins in the book, but have none of the magic or baggage that the later carries with them. Instead, they are mounted warriors without peer, which can really add a hell of a lot of hitting power to an adventuring group, especially if they’re on horseback or open ground. Burglars are basically the thieves of the game and come off as more of a Bilbo Baggins type rather than the sneaky, backstabby rogues that are portrayed in other systems. The two new classes I enjoy most, however, are the Swordsmen and Yeoman, as Swordsmen are pretty much dashing swashbucklers and the Yeoman akin to peasant adventurers. Swordsmen are great in a fight and have a wonderful flare for the dramatic that you’re rewarded for playing out, while Yeoman take it upon themselves to be the bodyguard of another character during play, granting extra bonuses and defenses in combat. There should be something here to fit everyone’s tastes, just remember to keep it light and on theme when creating your hero and you can’t go wrong.
Speaking of combat, it runs pretty much as expected, save for the way armor is handled, which I have to say I’m rather fond of. Wearing armor doesn’t make any character harder to hit as it does in other systems that bear a similarity to this one, as AC is simply ten plus a character’s finesse bonus and perhaps a shield modifier if they have one. Instead, armor has a damage reduction rating, absorbing a certain amount of damage to save the character’s skin from having to suffer the blow. This idea doesn’t bother me a bit, as the more I think about it the more it makes sense. If you really want to ramp up the high fantasy feel you could always allow a characters armor to both reduce damage and improve AC, which could really make heroes seem all the more epic and bad ass, and a house rules section even encourages you to do so.
Magic is next and is another area where the game takes a new approach, but given what it goes for, it’s a fresh and welcome change. Spells are still memorized in advance by spell slot but no more are the familiar spell levels that we’ve all become so used to and comfortable with over the years. In their place, the author has created a small, concise list of spells, but for each spell a character knows there are three possible effects that can be cast. An example is the first level spell Breath in Silver, which takes only one spell slot to memorizes but casting it can either charm a low hit dice creature, create a minor illusion, or cause a stinging pain. All of the spells are like this right down the line, which adds even more flavor to an already excellent high fantasy theme, especially with the rather poetic names they’re all given.
The book rounds out with a nice little chapter on running games and establishing an appropriate narrative, and finally closes out with a generous bestiary to give your do-gooders some baddies to fight. In all, I like a whole lot (meaning damn near everything) that this book has to offer, as I feel it’s just so good, and minus a setting, as close to an all in one product you can get. If I have to say anything against the game it’s a personal bias only, as I often prefer to run games for myself in low fantasy worlds more akin to a sword and sorcery theme, but I’d love to play in a long term campaign with this system as a player. Heroes Journey ticks off so many boxes that there’s very little to find wrong here, which is a hard thing but this one pulls it off beautifully. And for fifteen bucks at Drivethru RPG you can’t go wrong, so be sure to check this one out if you’ve got the spare change laying around.
Next week we’re going to leave the grand adventures and aspirations of noble heroes far behind, diving into a game that’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. If high fantasy isn’t quite your bag be sure to join me then, as something gritty and whole lot dirtier is coming up, so be prepared. Until then, happy gaming, gang. Later.