Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DriveThru Reviews: Fantasy Heartbreakers

The term "fantasy heartbreaker" is a term coined at The Forge to describe a then new breed of fantasy games that were very detailed, but obviously not far from the root game that spawned them, D&D.  To me Fantasy Heartbreaker games always come across as someone's house rules of D&D or how they would have made D&D.  Now sometimes they are supposed to be a game in their own right, a supplement to another game or in the case of more recent years, an OGC/d20 ruleset.

Most times the rules are nothing more than D&D with a different coat of paint, though sometimes were are treated to something new.  Take Pathfinder.  It is basically a Fantasy Heartbreaker that cleaves very close to the original source.  So close in fact that it even has some of the same staff on it as the 3.x version of the D&D rules.  Plus it gives a few new things.

World of Lykarnia
World of Lykarnia certainly feels D&D-ish.  There are 6 traits that map perfectly onto the 6 standard abilities of D&D. There are skills, classes, levels, the standard races. Everything we expect in a FRPG.  The equipment list the same weapons we have seen dozens of times. Granted I am not expecting much there.
A couple of things I felt were odd.  The table of contents is huge, even for a 169 page book.  I think the author could have collapsed a level or so; give us the broad categories, not ever thing to a Level 3 Header.  Secondly the book starts off with (Chapter 2) with an example on combat.  We don't even know what some of the words being used are (Spirit Score?) but we are supposed to follow along?  Didn't like that.
The system is a simple d10 based one, not all that different than Unisystem or True20 (with a d10 instead).  I found that more interesting since I could use this with Unisystem fairly easy (Characters are even ranked 1 to 5 on their traits).  The magic system is interesting, but the spells are not all that different than what can be read in the Basic D&D books.  I do like how they were grouped into classical elements.
The bit about psychotic disorders seemed way too modern for a fantasy game to be honest.
The monsters are just descriptions with their stats at the back of the book in a big table.  Like OD&D.
There is a introductory adventure in the back as well, which I thought was a nice touch.
The author obviously put a lot of work into this book but there is nothing here that we have not seen already.
The included JPG map is very nice.
I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Tome of the Lost Realms Players Handbook
Released not long after the world had heard about 4th Edition, Tome of the Lost Realms does what Pathfinder also sat out to do, extend the life of the 3.x ruleset. Also like Pathfinder, this is a massive book at near 480 pages. The fonts and typography are meant to bring another Realms to your mind I am sure.  The realms themselves are interesting as far as that sort of thing goes. the races section is rather large with all sorts of fantasy races, again many we have seen before. The same classes as 3.x/Pathfinder, with the Warlock replacing the Sorcerer in all but name.  There are skills, feats, equipment and spells just like 3.x but it is hard to tell if anything here is new or not since there is so much of it.  The Section 15 of this book leads me to believe that there is a ton of stuff in this book above and beyond the SRD, but nothing jumped out at me.
In the end this is 3.x or maybe 3.6.  It is not quite Pathfinder and it has not moved past it's D&D roots to be completely unique either.
I gave 3 stars out of 5 since there is nothing really new here.  But the price puts it at a fifth of the cost of Pathfinder, so maybe 3.5 out of 5.

I think the issue here is that if you are going to make a new fantasy RPG you have ask yourself what are you giving us to overcome D&D-inertia.  What is new, interesting or otherwise different than before.  Retro clones will start to fall into the same issues, if they haven't already.


Theron said...

My definition of FHB (and I think, the Forge's as well), differs from yours in one key point: to be a FHB, the game has to have been written largely in ignorance of any developments in the hobby (or even the rules set it's emulating) from the point the author decided to chuck whatever they were doing and write their own game. Because, having owned and read many of these games over the years, that really seems to be a distinguishing trait. You read them, and you go, "Man, if you'd only walked into a game store during the ten years you were working on this..."

By that criteria, I really can't call Pathfinder a FHB, but it's your blog and you can call 'em how you see 'em.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Theron, I will easily admit to ignorance on this point. Frankly I find some of the Forge to be needlessly dogmatic. But you do have a very valid point.

I think of games like "Quest of the Ancients" as maybe another good example.

Phersv said...

Your definition may indeed vary but another element of the FHB according to the Forge is that it must break your heart!

It does because
(a) it is very sincere,
(b) it has at least one original idea or redeeming feature
but (c) it will fail because the authors did not know what the market demands.

Pathfinder is obviously D&D3.75 but it is not a FHB (the same way that AD&D2 was not a FHB). The first real FHB might have Kabal (T&T, Arduin or C&S were too successful).

Theron said...

"Quest of the Ancients" is textbook.

My favorite was one I found online, which was a FHB based on Hero Games' "Fantasy Hero." It was clear from reading their rules (and the inevitable author-inserted justifications that always show up in these things) that the group who'd come up with this had bought "Fantasy Hero" 1st ed when it came out in 1985, and had never seen or played any of the subsequent editions. As someone who's practically addicted to new games and new editions, it was just mind-boggling, like a transmission from a parallel dimension.

Theron said...

Also, yes, the Forge can be needlessly dogmatic. I generally avoid their lingo, but even Stonehenge is right twice a year. :-D