High Adventure Role Playing, , in its original form, flew past my radar when I wasn’t looking for a new fantasy RPG. I knew of it, and that it was said to be a “simplified” version of the renowned Rolemaster (famous for its charts and tables). My experience with the latter was also with Middle-Earth Roleplaying, also Rolemaster in a simplified form, though I had only played a little. Iron Crown Enterprises games always intrigued me though, and I’ve always wanted to take a closer look. Now, many years later, still intrigued by the offerings of ICE, I have cracked the digital covers of the revised HARP Fantasy to uncover that it is a very good moderately crunchy adventure fantasy game, that offers more gameplay than one would expect.
One thing I found interesting overall, is that there are numerous sidebars and examples in the text referencing the changes from HARP to HARP Fantasy (henceforth referred to as HARP). Revisions are offered as options in some cases, in others the writers explain why the changes were made. It helps to give insight into the intent of the game and is just generally interesting.
Who You Play In HARP
Character creation involves choosing a Profession (your area of trained expertise), then the generation of 8 statistics, inherent capabilities that will produce a bonus to relevant rolls. Professions are more templates than restrictive structures and they provide bonus Skill Ranks and a Professional ability. In some cases that’s spellcasting, in others combat abilities. HARP is a level-based system and you can take on additional Professions upon advancing in level. You should be well-suited in your options to cover all character concepts.
Statistics cover physical elements like Strength and Quickness and mental ones like Intelligence and Presence. Three options are given to generate these, from random rolling, to point buy, to a hybrid. Throughout character creation you have the option to spend Development Points (DPs, your overall pool of build points), and raising Stats is one of your options. After Stats you pick a Race from Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Human, and Gryx (look like orcs but aren’t inherently violent etc). These provide some Stat bonus modifiers and, because the next step is Culture, Races don’t have any monoculture inherent to them, all additional abilities are part of their biological nature. Culture helps further determine learned characteristics, granting additional Skill Ranks in relevant areas – Nomads may gain bonus ranks in Animal Handling, Sylvan cultures in Climb.
The split between race and culture, where elves don’t inherently know how to use bows better, is the right way to do it. What I also appreciate is that the physical descriptions of races is very minimal, mainly pointing out major physical features like pointed ears or size. No dark-skinned dark elves who are dark of heart and evil, no light-skinned light elves who are pure and good. You can still have your underground dwelling elves by picking the Deep Warrens culture, but it still says nothing inherent about the objective morality of their people.
Also of note, the Gryx are a replacement for half-orcs, thereby removing a species which as often been depicted as having problematic origins. All races are able to breed with each other for a cost of Development Points, based on how strong the other line is. Interestingly enough, humans aren’t assumed to be the baseline, as you can be a dwarf with human blood. Nice change that.
Skill Ranks and Talents are what fully define a character. Because Armor and Weapons are Skills, it also means you’ve got a lot of flexibility in building your PC. Though they may cost more DPs, every Skill is open to characters. I really like that Armor is a Skill, representing that training in the use of Armor is more important than just wearing it. I’m curious about the specificity of some Skills like Contortion and Poisoning, as they feel a little niche, but don’t see why you couldn’t make those subskills of more general Skills if you felt like it. Talents are bought with DPs and are the final step before you buy your gear. They are unique elements and advantages for your character like Giant size, Lightning Reflexes, and Skill Specializations. It’s also cool that Regeneration and Shapechanger are included, as they’re not traditionally available in these kinds of options (1st level character who can shapechange into a wolf? Why not?). While they are not actually Talents you can also spend DPs on social status or special starting items. It’s a good way to wrap up and widen character possibilities.
How You Play HARP
Skill tests in HARP are known as Maneuver Rolls and are open-ended (roll again and add both rolls of the first roll is 96-100) percentile rolls. The dice are rolled, skill rank bonuses and modifiers are applied, and the result is compared to the brief Maneuver Table. The table resolves standard rolls, extended rolls (actions over time), spellcasting, and resistance rolls versus certain effects. Resistance rolls are also used during opposed tests to set the target number and the primary actor will roll on the chart, with the secondary rolling against the result. Exceptional results on a spellcasting roll can also be generated on this table. I especially like how actions over time are determined with it. The player rolls, then compares to the “Percentage” column which will inform them the amount of the task that is completed. This also applies when damaging inanimate objects and other similar situations. The table will also tell you when your roll is a Fumble, a significantly negative outcome. Rolling on the Fumble Table will determine the severity of the event, resulting from the comical (tripping over an unseen imaginary deceased turtle), to the deadly (rolling on the relevant damage table for a self-inflicted wound). Overall, the Maneuver Table is an elegant quick-reference method of task resolution.
There are copious spot rules, covering most anything you’d need for an adventure game, including heat/cold, deprivation, visibility, traps, poison/disease, etc. While it comes only a few pages later, I would have preferred the sections on Injury to be included in the following Combat chapter, if only to have context presented first. Speaking of combat…
Right away, the writers give tips on how to cope with fighting. Fantasy adventure game aside, combat in HARP can be dangerous, so the first rule is “don’t fight if you don’t have to”. Sensible advice. But it also talks about using terrain, ensuring you have ranged weapon skills, and so on. If you’re going to fight, be tactical.
Combat is pretty straightforward and is resolved like an open-ended skill check. Roll dice, add your Offensive Bonus (made up of skill level, weapon modifiers, etc.), subtract the opponent’s Defensive Bonus (armor, maneuvers like Parry and Dodge, etc.), if the result is higher than 1 make a couple more adjustments and compare to the attack’s Critical Table. The Critical Table depends on the attack type, so maces use Crush, sabers Slash, nets Grapple, lightning Electrical, and so on. They’re short tables so pretty easy to keep in order. The result tells you how many Concussion Hits (life points) are inflicted in damage, as well as any additional effect like Stunning or Bleeding. This means a high enough roll is just as likely to dispatch a foe through effects as by delivering Concussion damage. In fact, a high enough roll will outright kill the target (and still do Concussion hits). As was stated earlier, get in fights because you have to, not want to.
A couple of things that I especially like about HARP combat are the number of possible combat actions and how armor is handled. Not just a means of increasing your Defensive Bonus, armor puts caps on bonuses to certain Maneuvers, can be piecemeal and fitted to your character, and, because it interferes with the flow of magic, increases the Power Point cost for any spell cast. It makes you have to think about your options regarding protection and where you might sacrifice defense. Now speaking of spellcasting…
I’m quite pleased with how magic is set up in HARP. Any high or epic fantasy game deserves a magic system that you can sink your teeth into, even a little, and I feel the HARP system will please magic-user players.
HARP uses a spell list organization, further divided into Spheres: Universal, and one for each magic-using Profession. Universal contains Stat enhancements, detectors, an arcane bolt, and other generic utility spells. The Profession ones are more specialized. Clerics can cure wounds, manipulate undead, and have nature spells that would fall under a “Druid” category. Spells function and are bought like Skills, requiring Maneuver rolls, incurring Resistance, and so on.
It’s intriguing how Skill Ranks and Power Points are connected. Spells have a Power Point cost to cast, which is a good way to manage that resource. Power Point Development is also a Skill, meaning you can increase that resource independent of other Profession features. But you require a Skill Rank equal to, or higher, than the Power Point cost of the spell to cast it. Spells have flexibility and can be enhanced in range, duration, etc., all of which incur an increase in Power Point requirements and cost. Armor also interferes with magic, increasing Power Point cost overall for spells. So what do I like so much about it? It gives a solid structure to the idea of learning a spell over time, since you can put ranks into a Spell but not have enough to cast it, then add ranks over time until you’ve truly mastered the spell (Skill Rank wayyy higher than the base Power Point cost plus the modifiers).
How You Run HARP
The Encounters and Creatures section is good, with advice for a beginning GM on how to structure random or preplanned encounters. A handful of creatures are included in the Bestiary – enough to get you started while you await the upcoming HARP Bestiary book. They’re presented very traditionally but the best part is the breakdown of the Development Point cost to design them, deliberately giving GMs a base to modify them to scale to the PCs power level.
The Gamemaster’s section is very helpful for newcomers. It covers table management, rule #1 being to make sure everyone is having fun. While HARP was released before it became more common to include safety tools and consent guidelines, I still like that this is the first thing you’re presented with. The rest of the section covers customization of Professions, Magic, and Setting, and guidelines on setting difficulties to Maneuver rolls, Lore and general knowledge, languages, etc.
I like HARP. I appreciate the structure that a Profession/Level System brings, but it’s flexible enough that I don’t feel hindered by it (I also love percentile systems so that’s a big bonus for me.) I’d bring it to my table whenever I felt like a fantasy adventure game that would allow me a fair bit of flexibility in my world building and rules and if I wanted a grittier, less-predictable outcome to gameplay. By that same token, HARP includes enough options to bring it beyond the “adventure fantasy genre”. You could easily run “wizard school” games, have your PCs all be members of the nobility, and more, all while allowing them to be drastically different statistically. For a slimmer core book (compared to some), it really provides a lot to play with.
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This copy was provided for purpose of review.