Friday, August 26, 2011

Heartbreaker your time has come, can't take your evil way

I have talked before about the Fantasy Heartbreaker.
Fantasy games that attempt to "improve on" D&D but in the end break your heart.

Here is the Ron Edwards/The Forge standard definition. (circa 2002-3)
characterized by (1) the basic, imaginative content is "fantasy" using gaming, specifically D&D, as the inspirational text; (2) independently published as a labor of love, essentially competing directly with D&D in the marketplace; (3) the rules are similar to the majority of pre-1990s RPGs.
And some links:
Fantasy Heartbreakers
More Fantasy Heartbreakers

reviewed a couple in the past and made a number of posts about one of my favorite ones, Quests of the Ancients.

I was going through my stacks of books (and PDFs) to figure what I had and what I should look to buy at the most recent Gen Con and came on a bunch of what could be called Fantasy Heartbreakers.

I have no idea why these games fascinate me so much.
I *could* claim it is an academic interest that the design of these game reflects either the personal psychic of the designer or the inherent zeitgeist of the times.  But in truth, I don't care enough about the first and the later can be better observed in better more popular games. (Thesis topic: Is the change from oWoD to nWod a direct reflection of the post 9/11 world or merely an attempt to make more money? Another post perhaps.)

I *could* claim that each one is a fascinating game evolutionary cul-de-sac, but that is often giving them too much credit.

I think I like them because each one is insight to someone else's process of writing a game.  A flawed process from a flawed premise.  The flawed premise is "I can make a better D&D than D&D" rather than "I can make a better FPRG than D&D".  I say it is flawed because D&D is the best D&D there is.  There are great FRPGs that are not D&D and they do a wonderful job.But the FHB does not try to be a fantasy game, it tries to be D&D.

There is one thing I always find interesting in FHB's, their "Appendix N" or list of books to read.
Sometimes, rare times, there are good tidbits here.  Most of the time it is a bunch of pretentious posturing of "ooo look what I have read! You read it now to or you are stupid!"
I get putting in Lovecraft (if you have actually read his stuff and not just the bits with Cthulhu), Howard and Poe.  But "Walden", really???  How is transcendental thought going to help me in my game of mass murder and theft (killing things and taking their stuff).  I am going to put list John Dewey (a major figure in my academic life) in one of my books one day JUST so someone will call me on my shit.
Seriously.  The one-up-manship in these is crazy sometimes. In others I am convinced they never actually read the books they mention since the bulk of their game so antithetical to the writings of the author they listed.

But I digress...

Before I go on too much more let's get to today's post.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) Fantasy Heartbreakers?


What is the state or role of the FHB in this post OGL, retro-cloned world?


Rhonin84 said...

I believe it fits your criteria so...Stonehell Dungeon comes to mind.

Zzarchov said...

How can I not pimp "Neoclassical Geek Revival" as my favourite fantasy heartbreaker?

I think it is better than all other fantasy heartbreakers because it looks nicer on your gaming shelf.

BlUsKrEEm said...

I'm going to have to go with Spellcraft & Swordplay. It has a bit of a home field advantage on this blog, but it is a nifty little game.

Pulp Herb said...

Forge Out of Chaos, which is a great game. To this day I'd run or play it.

Senzar is a close second for just the sheer insanity of it.

In the post OGL and Retro-clone world I think they have the same role: a high individualized take on the basic tropes of D&D. What will be interesting is to see how the baseline of D&D evolves for them. When 5th ed rolls around will we see 4th ed heartbreakers as we did a few OGL ones.

As for the retro-clones and their relatives I'm not sure when they will cross the line to heartbreakers. Is LotFP still or clone or has it crossed the line. What about Spellcraft & Swordplay?

In the end we'll still see them but not as the "spend money and get in a store" dream that Edwards talked about. The game store world they existed is has gone. I'm sure we'll see even more at PDF outlets, though.