Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Hârn

Issue #73 (May 1983) contained the following advertisement:
Is this the first time Hârn appeared in the pages of Dragon? I think it is. Even if it's not, it's the first advertisement I remember seeing and the one that pretty well encapsulated my thoughts on it. While most gamers who speak highly of the late N. Robin Crossby's fantasy world do so on the basis of its depth and "realism," for me, it was always the setting's maps that appealed to me. That little snippet of Melderyn we see in the ad captivated me more than anything else in it and I bought Hârn solely for its maps.

Even after all these years, I still consider Hârn's maps among the finest ever made for a fantasy roleplaying product. I've never actually used Hârn as a campaign setting, however. I find it a little off-putting in many ways and a little too closely tied to Anglo-Saxon/Northern European history and culture for my tastes. On the other hand, I've long admired the fact that all Hârnic materials are set in an "eternal present" whose timeline never advances outside of events in one's own campaign. To me, that's the ideal model for any campaign setting -- which makes it an even greater pity that I've never used Hârn or any of its support materials in play.


  1. For years I recall seeing the Hârn stuff as well and wondering what it was all about. I eventually ended up with a few Columbia Games Hârnmaster books (picked up for source books mostly). I don't think I've ever actually met anyone who has experienced a bonafide Hârn campaign. I'd like to hear some war stories from someone who has experienced it :)

  2. "I've long admired the fact that all Hârnic materials are set in an "eternal present" whose timeline never advances outside of events in one's own campaign."

    Yes. The rise of the "meta-plot" was one of the worst things to happen in the gaming industry. One of the biggest mistakes that Gary Gygax made (with the "Events of the Flanaess" series in Dragon magazine).

  3. I love the idea of a vast setting all wound up and poised to go, and it's a shame that it's not an approach that's used more often. Like Faoladh, I'm not fond of setting metaplots; if you want to write a novel, write a novel, don't shoehorn it into a game.

  4. @faoladh - I'll drink to that. It was always possible to ignore the metaplot but always likely that you'd disenfranchise someone who was invested in it, and what gives you or I the right to invalidate that investment?

  5. I liked Harn a lot. My only problem with it is that the default is the very low magic and too much realism implied in all the materials. One thing D&D does right is let someone run a girl warrior and be accepted without question. In Harn, she'd probably be laughed at and maybe executed for having a sword.

  6. I am a long time Harn Fan and have been steadily collecting everything they made since 1983. Harnlore was the 2nd gaming magazine I subscribed too. (the first being Pegasus).

    Harn organizes itself into loose leaf articles. Which Columbia Games (http://www.columbiagames.com/cgi-bin/query/cfg/allharnitems.cfg, http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?filters=0_0_0_0&manufacturers_id=2182) sell separately. Kelestia also sell Harn material. It is not a modular but it is equally good and focuses mostly on the mainland continent of Lythia. (http://www.kelestia.com/)

    The values of these is that many of these are self-contained and can be used as backdrop of your campaign. For example Aleath (http://www.columbiagames.com/cgi-bin/query/cfg/zoom.cfg?product_id=5661) could be a port city.

    Harn may be low magic but in recent years they have come out with articles exploring the creature of Harn and they give plenty of hooks for an outright fantasy campaign.

    Finally there is http://www.lythia.com probably one of the best fan site for a setting/rpg there is. Also use the Harn Link to find other great harn sites. The Harn Pottage series is particularly useful for most fantasy campaigns. It is filled with generic locations that can be placed where needed. http://www.lythia.com/2008/01/review-pottage/

  7. Harnmaster is a percentile based system designed to emulate a low fantasy medieval society. It most unique aspect is the combat system. It doesn't use hit points. You take injuries that degrade your skill and make saving throws for bad results like falling down, fumbling, passing out, amputation, and death.

    It appears to be complicated but the character generation system is designed to front load all the calculation. In play things are quickly resolved by using the Combat Card.

    In the handful of campaigns I ran players found it highly immersive, it naturally produces detailed damage results. For example you take a stab to the right arm, a slash to the face, etc.

    For a comparison between it and d20 look at this from Bill Gant's Harn site.


    The rest of the RPG is pretty straightforward and plays most like the skill system in Basic Roleplaying. They have well designed sub system some that are brutally realistic. For example disease and wilderness survival can be brutal for the ill-prepared. Most of them use skill rolls in conjunction with a simple saving throw system against the character attributes.

  8. It's a fairly realistic,* low-level fantasy campaign and game system. Even Chivalry & Sorcery tends to be much more fantastical, and I think that hurt it's adoption by many people, as most people tend to want something that is much larger than life in their fantasy gaming. [That, and calling the Goddess of Peace "Peoni." <grin>**]

    Although that may have been the effect of the people who ran the campaigns I played in.

    But the production values, both in terms of system and world design, were really beyond compare. And being intentionally modular meant that it could readily be collated into a single document. [Something I think is of great benefit when it comes to electronic publication.]

    I never really stole any ideas from it (beyond borrowing the name "Shek Pvar" for a reclusive order of monastic librarians), because it really deserved to be a cohesive whole. It deserved to live as it's own campaign world, in the company of the likes of Glorantha or Tekumel.

    [* By "fairly" I mean that it is much more realistic than almost every other game in existence. Only really improvable by living in the world.]

    [** You know something is good when the studied condescension expressed by people encountering the game concentrates on something as ridiculous as the choice of name for a deity. But it did amongst many other gamers of my acquaintance.]

  9. I love the Harn setting. I've never used it *as* Harn for a game (though I did use individual cities and castles for my old Greyhawk campaign) because it was too early medieval for my tastes, but I truly admire the thought and work that went into it. And those maps! Like you, James, I much prefer their world-design decision to not advance the setting beyond a certain year, to avoid undercutting home games.

    Thank you for posting those links! I had no idea Kelestia.com existed. :)

  10. I've been playing in a monthly Harn campaign for about six years now. It's been super fun. Mostly we do political intrigue. Currently we are working on weakening Kaldor from within, to be eventually annexed by the nearby kingdom of Tharda, which we are from.

    The detail of the setting is great. It helps that my GM not only is a great GM, but studied medieval history so he really brings the world to life.

    I don't have time to go into specific war stories, but I will say that I spent my first several sessions tracking down a murderer, and eventually discovered he was a fellow PC. :) That was a pretty great reveal. And the murders were the least of his crimes- yet I follow him today. I'm not sure what that says about my character's honor. :-D

  11. "I'm not sure what that says about my character's honor. :-D"

    Saying "My character is from Tharda" pretty much says all that needs to be said about that, doesn't it? You might as well just say "My character worships Agrik". ;)

  12. I got into Harn right when the 2nd edition came out. The old Shadis magazine was offering a free game if you subscribed. I remember there being several good ones, but Harnmaster was something that always piqued my interest (thanks no doubt to those ads in Dragon). Right around the same time, Columbia Games was offering the Harn World campaign guide for free. So I was able to pick up two very high quality, normally high dollar game items for free. Unfortunately, I ended up having to blow a bunch of money on Ebay attempting to pick up all the original region guides. The only two I never got were Melderyn and Rethem. I stopped collecting right around the time Harn Religion came out, so I've missed all the new stuff of the past ten years or so.

    If your looking to play a more historically accurate game, or just looking to cherry pick from the regional material, you really can't go wrong with Harn.

  13. @Rob Conley:
    Is it a problem that character generation is front loaded and the combat system so realistic? In D&D if a character dies (relatively frequent in my games) he is back in the game with a new character within ten minutes. How does HARN handle it? I don't get the impression that dungeon crawls is what HARN is concerned about. Is that how it handles it: by avoiding combat in the first place? This is a similar concern I have with Rolemaster.

  14. @BeZurKur - with Rolemaster, I tend to give newbies a nice large cache of healing herbs to help them figure out how to handle combat. There are several other options, depending on the campaign world (local healers, healing potions/scrolls, etc). But yeah, Rolemaster PCs tend to learn how to pick their combats wisely!

  15. @BeZurKur, You can use random generation for the entire process if you like. On the whole character generation is more involved than D&D but not as much a GURPS (I am not familiar with rolemaster). Mostly because of the above random tables and the liberal use of templates.

    You are a trapper? No problem here are your base skills. They do have some free skill raises. The most complicated part are the use of attribute triples. Basically your skill has an opening bonus equal to the average of three attributes. For example the OB of a broadsword is (STR STR DEX)/3 while a shortsword (STR DEX DEX)/3. Also your birth sign (like in the zodiac) modifies this by one or two points. Pretty much it's own major quirk compared to other RPG.

    One you know your OB the rest is easy as all free and template increases are given in multiple of your OB. For example a trapper may have a OB3 in shortbow.

    The attribute triple issue is solved by making a chart before hand that index the total of three attribute with their average value.

    The front loading some from filling out the character sheet. If you have everything filled out then play is as fast as D&D and other lite system.

    As for the deadly combat, yes that is a major difference. Again I am not familiar with Rolemaster but I do play GURPS which is equally deadly.

    It not a matter of avoiding combat but picking your challenges wisely. Do what you can to understand the situation and then make your move. Harnmaster starts you out as an experienced professional (equivalent to a journeyman). So if you pick a fighting occupation you are going to have an small advantage over a run of the mill thug, tribesman, gargun (Harnic orc).

    And it is possible to roll up a gimp (literally) character if you get too greedy. I wrote about this in a blog post. The basic issues is that you get attribute bonuses if you take rolls on the medical trait and psyche table. While there the chance to roll nothing, some of the possibilities are pretty brutal. I go into detail about this in this blog post.


  16. totally agree about the quality of maps, unfortunately for me this another product i bought that goes in the 'never to be used' box :(

  17. Thanks Rob and Arcadayn. The Bat in The Attic post was very enlightening (and entertaining!)

  18. Rob, you really should check out Rolemaster (either 2e or Classic, which is 2e repackaged). It is a great game.