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High Adventure Role Playing

Copyright Tim Dugger and Brent Knorr 2003

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


First of all, I would like to thank Brent Knorr for compiling all of the information contained in this overview of HARP. I made the following comments across several mailing lists and internet forums. Brent went to the trouble of combing all those messages in order to compile my random explanations and comments. I have then in turn, taken them and created the document you see before you.

Many folks who have read The Guild Companion for a long while will know who I am. I am one of the founders of The Guild Companion, and authored a number of articles found here, though mostly in the early years of this e-zine's history. I have also contributed material that was published in ICE's Rolemaster book, Channeling Companion. Since then, I have gone on to become ICE's System Editor.

My connection with HARP is more direct. I designed it, and I wrote it. And thanks to a great bunch of playtesters, I have been able to make it into what I feel is a worthy system, one that I am sure many people will enjoy.

Overview of HARP

What is HARP? HARP stands for High Adventure Role Playing, and it will be a new gaming system released by Iron Crown Enterprises come August of 2003. HARP was designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind. We wanted a full and rich system that was simple and easy and quick to get into. We wanted something that would still be compatible with our other house system, Rolemaster and yet not be as intimidating as Rolemaster can be to new gamers.

In HARP, I feel that we have accomplished all those goals and more. Now on with the show.......

The advertising text for HARP reads as follows:

Tired of restricting rules and boring combat? Tired of characters that are tied to a rigid caste or alignment system? Are you ready for some action, excitement and adventure?! Then you're ready for High Adventure Role Playing!

HARP brings you the flexibility, simplicity, and drama you crave in a quick and easy 96 pages. HARP has everything you love about fantasy role playing: flexible character creation, exciting combat, critical hits, and magic. Fast and fun, HARP will have your friends up and running with new characters and everything they need to play in about an hour. Even better, HARP and Rolemaster are 100% compatible; so new and experienced players can sit down together at the gaming table on a level field.

This unfortunately does not tell you much about the system itself. That is what I am here for. So let us start with the basics, and I will go over each section or major part one at a time and try to cover as much as I can for you.


HARP uses 8 stats for its characters. Those stats are as follows: Strength, Agility, Quickness, Constitution, Intelligence, Insight, Self Discipline, and Presence. Each stat has a range from 1-100, with each stat receiving a bonus that gets added to various skills. There are a number of other features that are based on the stats as well, including Development Points. Development Points are determined by all 8 stats.

Races & Cultures

HARP contains 5 basic races, Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes. It does not contain such races as the Half-Elf, or Half-Orc, although there are special Talents (see below) called Blood Talents that allow your characters to have the blood of other races flowing through their veins. This offers you the opportunity to play a number of unique racial combinations.

Each race has a number of features that makes it unique. Each race also has what is known as a default culture. This default culture is the normal culture that a given race prefers, but characters are not limited to this default culture.

There are about 9 base cultures that a character may select from, each of which gives the character a set of basic skills for their adolescent development.

Professions & Skills

There are about a dozen base profession templates, normally referred to as professions, in HARP. Each profession determines what skill categories the character specializes and focuses in during their training. Each profession gives the characters a number of skill points in what are known as Favored Categories. Players use these skill points to purchase ranks in any skill that they want within their Favored Categories on a one for one basis. Skill points may not be transferred or moved to other categories.

Professions also provide each character with a special ability or trait. This includes such things as free access to a certain list of spells, or possibly a free talent every few levels.

As mentioned above, skills are divided into categories, and you gain a bonus to that skill for each rank you purchase in it. To this bonus is added the bonus from two stats. Skills range from those that you must specialize in, such as various lore skills, to those that have what is known as sub-skills. Sub-skills are related uses of a single skill that may be used for free if you have the parent skill. The sub-skills have a small penalty to the bonus used, but this can often be alleviated through the use of Talents.

All skills, except for Body Development (your hit points) and Power Point Development (your power points for the casting of spells) use a single bonus progression. Body and Power Point Development use progressions determined by the race of the character.

All skills, with the exception of spells, may be attempted without training, or even skill ranks, although the chances of using them successfully are very slim. All skills, with the exception of combat, use a single small, but extremely versatile maneuver chart for resolution.

Combat skills are learned in groups, meaning that certain weapons are used in a similar manner, so you need learn only a single skill for those related weapons. Thus you would have skills such as Long Single Edged Blades and Short Blades. Resolving combat is explained later in this article.

The design of the skill system allows it to be extremely flexible. The GM can easily add or subtract skills or even whole categories of skills without upsetting the balance of the system.

Development Points

As mentioned above, Development Points are determined by your stats. Their use, on the other hand, are determined by the player, and they have a number of extremely flexible uses.

  • Extra Skill Points You can use your Development Points (DPs) to purchase extra skill points. The cost for those points is determined by whether or not the skill point is to be used in one of your Favored Categories or in one of the other categories.
  • Increasing your stats Stats are increased by the player whenever they wish to put DP into them. No rolls are required, and you may increase them any time you gain a level.
  • Training Packages Your character may purchase Training Packages. These are story based package deals which gives your characters free ranks in a few skills along with such things as NPC contacts and ties to specific organizations. Training Packages have a single cost for all characters, and may actually be slightly more expensive than the total cost of all the skills for a character if he were purchasing them through the use of Extra Skill Points. These skill ranks are a bonus of the package, not the purpose of them. The real purpose lies in the in-game benefits you can acquire from them.
  • Additional Professions You may add a second, a third, or even a fourth or more additional professions to your character. When you do so, your Favored Categories and other professional benefits change to those of your new profession while you are developing that particular profession. Once you have added a new profession to your character, you may switch back and forth between them freely for deciding which to develop once you go up a level.
  • Talents There are many talents that you may select and purchase for your character. Certain talents, such as the Blood Talents, are only normally allowed during character creation, while the majority of others may be learned anytime you get to spend DP for your character.
  • Other options There are several other options available for the expenditure of Development Points, but I won't cover those here...

At the discretion of the GM, Development Points may be spent to purchase some of these options across levels. This means that you can start paying for it one level, and then finish buying it later. Of course there are some guidelines to go along with this capability, but I will leave those for you to read when we release HARP.


Spells in HARP are not separated into divisions such as divine magic and wizardry, instead all magic is considered to be essentially the same. The only differences is the source of the magical energy used to cast spells, and that is something that should be story defined, not defined by mechanics. The only division of spells lies in which professions may learn what spells. The spells that a Mystic learns are different from those that a Mage or a Cleric might learn.

Spells are also not classed into levels in HARP. Instead, we use what is called scalable spells. This means that the character learns the base form of a spell, and that his general knowledge of magic allows him to adjust certain attributes or aspects of the spells at the time of casting. Of course doing so increases the difficulty of the casting of the spell, and costs more power points, but as the character gains more skill with a particular spell, this will balance out for that spell. Each spell is learned individually, as if it were a separate skill.

Spell casters in HARP have no restrictions about what weapons they are allowed to use, or whether or not they wear armor. The wearing of armor does interfere with spell casting increasing their casting difficulty and power point expenditure.


HARP contains four combat charts. Three of them are for physical combat and one is for elemental attacks, be they from magic or the special abilities of monsters. Each of the physical charts contains 8 attack columns, one critical chart, and small tables for use in determining Hit Locations. Six of the attack columns on each chart denote an attack size. For instance, a broadsword would attack on the Medium Slash attack column while a two-handed sword would attack on the Large Slash attack column. The other two attack columns denote Holy and Slaying attacks for the physical attack charts, and Minor and Major Elemental Ball attacks on the Elemental chart. There are four elemental critical charts, giving you a total of 7 critical charts. There are also three fumble charts included as well, one each for melee, missile, and spells.

Combat is never dull in HARP. Each character has a selection of combat actions that they may perform instead of making a normal attack, and there are a number of attack styles that a character may also learn with each style giving some benefit over normal attacks.


As characters adventure, they gain experience. The experience point system is an important part of any system as it is what is used to determine how quickly a character can advance as well as being a measure of the character's power level and abilities.

Unlike many other systems, HARP uses a goal oriented system for awarding experience. This means that the GM determines what the goal of the adventure is, and the characters then strive to achieve that goal. A goal does not automatically mean combat unless that is what the GM intends. Goals are divided into four main categories, Major Party Goal, Minor Party Goal, Major Personal Goal, and Minor Personal Goal.

The Party Goals are the adventures that the characters are having. The Major goal will be the climax of the adventure, while the Minor goal or goals are the steps that the party may or may not accomplish on their way to completing the Major Goal. Personal goals are just that, the personal goals of the individual characters. Such goals should be things that are highly important and/or life changing for the character. Goals are also rated on how difficult they are to accomplish. The more difficult a goal is, the more experience it is worth to the characters.

Party Goal Example:

The characters have been hired to rid a town of a terrifying monster. The GM has determined this to be a Very Hard Major Goal for them to accomplish. Minor Goals include the party persuading the only survivor of a previous attempt to slay the monster to either tell them where to find the beast (a Very Hard Minor Party Goal), or to get him to take them to its lair without using force (a Sheer Folly Minor Party Goal).

Personal Goal Example:

Your character has decided that he wants to join an exclusive order of knights. This is his Major Personal Goal, and the GM assigns it a difficulty of Extremely Hard. To be able to join this order, the character must convince a member of that order to sponsor him for admission. The GM decides that this is a Minor Personal Goal, and also assigns it a difficulty rating of Extremely Hard since there are very few members of this order, and they are very choosy when it comes to sponsoring new candidates for entry.

Additional Teasers

There are a number of supplements already being planned for HARP. One such supplement will include rules for using HARP as either a profession-less or a level-less system, or for using both such options.

These Advanced Options will allow you to customize HARP to just about any degree that you wish to. HARP will also eventually include rules for playing monster races as characters as well.


HARP also has its own exciting setting, Cyradon. The original concepts for this new and interesting world come from ICE's own Heike Kubasch and it is being written by Gavin Bennet, a very talented writer. I like what he has already accomplished with it, and I am sure that all will be extremely pleased with it.

The following is the advertising text for Cyradon, but I will not reveal more about the setting here. In due course, I'll be writing a preview article on Cyradon for The Guild Companion.

Cyradon is a brand-new world setting for HARP and Rolemaster. The land waits, petrified, deserted, waiting for life to return. In the centre of the wastelands, lies the wizard's city; its streets empty and silent save for the echoing of the wind and the shifting sand. In the great mesas, high above, the Gryphons sleep.

Below in a great courtyard, there's a strange pattern carved into the stone. A small jewel is embedded into the ground. The patterns stream out from that central point. And one night, the jewel flickers into life, and thousands of humans weary, defeated, starved, and terrified, emerge into a whole new world.

Westward, beyond the desert, beyond the western mountains, lie lands unexplored for millennia...who lives there now? What will your role and destiny be in this new world?

Includes a lush, full-color 16X20 inch map.


ICE's new product schedule reveals our plans for expanding our current product lines and introducing a few more in order to bring you the very best gaming material that we possibly can. In this article you got a glimpse of HARP, the new gaming system to be released later this year.

HARP will be contained in a single book, 96 pages long and will retail for about $20.00 USD. It will be available in August of 2003. We are also planning several promotional events and surprises to go along with the release. I hope you enjoy them ...

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