Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (XI)

Chapter VII: The playing rules

No alternate title on this one. Hmm. Maybe we’re getting more serious!

This chapter will obviously take several posts, and I’d love to breaking these down by topic but with the first topic — character generation — I’m finding that the rules for this are actually spread out over the whole rules section. That is, you’re referred to tables that are stashed in the combat, magic, and religion rules, and also you’ll need to wait until the relevant section to find out what some of the attributes are really used for, and how to acquire mana and piety, and so on. I think in hindsight it makes sense to sort of force players to read through all the rules, but in some cases this sort of “economy,” where nothing is ever repeated, makes things difficult and they really should have included the generation of an example warrior, mage, and cleric. So at some point in the future I may try to compile a “Character generation” document that gives a player everything they need in digest format. Or more likely I’ll give up in frustration, as this is a seriously “simulationist” game, and probably too detailed for me. It might be worth trying to develop a stripped down version, though, as it looks like all the calculations have both a “fixed” component and a “situational” one; the fixed one being constant and based on the character and the situational ones being more variable and based on the opponent/obstacle/spell target. So maybe the whole thing could be mapped onto a simpler model, like a d20 variant or something. I think you’d really have to keep the abilities (which are not exactly like STR/DEX/CON/etc.) and other flavor elements, like the ideas about magic and the ethereal plane. I’ll think about that when I’m done this summary/commentary.

The other thing that occurs to me is that the various D&D cover-to-cover projects all have a huge advantage that everyone knows how the system works, for the most part, and the blog posts just pick out interesting points and variations. Not so here! I’ll try to explain what is going on in the rules without resorting to detailed lists of “factors” … this book is not exactly rare anyway. Next time: the attributes and basic character generation.

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Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I’d love to see an actually playable retro-clone of HLFW. One with decent rules organization. Converting it to d20 or otherwise seems like heresy to me though!

    I feel your frustration, it’s the same thing anyone who’s ever tried to approach playing this game seriously have encountered. At the time, the authors had less templates available to serve as examples of how to lay out an RPG’s rules – and it shows. They seem determined to not mimic in any way those that had come before. This was both a good thing and bad – good because I think there are some genuinely original ideas in there (for the time) and bad because there’s nothing close a to step by step newbie guide to various mechanics, let alone examples being given for say combat or spell casting. At least that I can remember…

    The System of Correspondencies should be fun to write up! Good luck. 😀

    • Well, a problem with retrocloning it is that there is no “OGL” system that is remotely close. But one of the sites I linked to earlier has taken all the tables and lists of factors an put them into handouts. The problem is there are still about fifteen different tables. Even though they all have some similarities (the basic mechanic of add up a bunch of factors to get a sum and roll on that column on the chart) each is pretty different. But Whenever I look at the charts, I think of the Rolemaster/MERP “Moving maneuvers” table, or the universal tables from TSR’s Marvel Superheroes and Conan games. There may well be a way develop a similar table, but you would probably need some kind of kludge to get the various actions’ factors onto the same scale.
      Don’t laugh but while I’m on vacation next week I plan to study the charts and tables closely and see if I can find a way to a single table. (The post will keep coming one a a day. At this point there are 21 parts, and I have even started the extensive religion rules!

  2. I agree, a retroclone would be fantastic. I really love the feel and flavor of this book, but the rules are so dense, I know I would never be able to really grasp it enough to play. I own a copy and look through it a lot, but purely as inspiration for other games, as I can’t figure it out, myself!

    • One of the guys who helped the book told me that the goal was to provide tools to gamers who wanted to run games based on the dark/middle ages along with playable rules. The tools are awesome. The rules needed to be edited by a game designed. But as zeB says, there just weren’t that any models to follow. Still, if you approach like most people actually did AD&D, and realize you can omit some of the rules… it gets more approachable.

      Anyway a retroclone that is a little bit more simple is something I’d love to do but I don’t really think I’m up to the task. Part of what makes me hesitate is that I don’t see a lot of value to the rules apart from all the “background” given in the book, and I don’t want to paraphrase all that! So my other idea is a sort of “player’s handbook” that would put all the rules into a logical presentation, along with a more useful character sheet. We’ll see.


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