Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2008

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the 114th issue of The Guild Companion. This issue is a trifle short as I need to ensure it goes live before I disappear on conference duties and don't have the luxury of waiting on articles emerging from the editorial queue - but they should be ready for the next issue.

Making HARP Better?

On the ICE forums, there's been a series of threads of suggestions to make the various flavours of Rolemaster and Spacemaster "better" for some definition of better. I try very hard not to think about how to "improve" (for some definition of "improve") Rolemaster or Spacemaster because it is far too easy to be distracted by such matters when I'm meant to be working on three HARP books (Something Wicked and SysOp's Guide for ICE, Construct Toolkit for Guild Companion Publications). It is always much easier to think about topics than actually write about them.

On the other hand, thinking about how to "improve" HARP is on-topic, even mandatory, when I'm working on HARP books.

So what would I do or suggest to "improve" HARP?

The major area of fragmentation among HARP fans is the combat system. There is the HARP core combat rules, the Life Points system, Martial Law and its location-specific criticals (with and without armour adjustment), Hack & Slash, and various alternate combat systems presented in diverse issues of HARPer's Bazaars, including ways of using Arms Law critical tables from Rolemaster in HARP. When it boils down to it, I think the problem with the HARP core combat system is the limited number of distinct results on any given critical table. It's the same problem that MERP had. Run enough combats and the same results keep turning up and people get bored. If I was running HARP in a fantasy setting, I'd be using either Martial Law (but without the complication of armor adjustments) or harvesting critical tables (Tiny = A, Huge = E) from Rolemaster and simply ignoring the various must-parry etc results that don't happen in HARP. In HARP SF terms, the same problem exists - I'd suggest that instead of location-specific tables for sf, have distinct tables for different kinds of projectile ammunition (rather than the abstraction of adjusting OBs and critical results) and perhaps distinct tables for different weapon attack sizes.

One set of results appearing on all of the HARP critical tables that are especially annoying are of course the stun results. In fantasy, these are unfun as they prevent players having a significant opportunity to take an action whenever their character gets stunned. In sf, because characters can't parry ranged attacks, stun results can be fatal. I've suggested in a previous article ameliorating the target numbers for resisting stuns. In HARP SF, various technological means in terms of drugs and cyberware take the place of herbs in curing or preventing stuns. I'd suggest that characters be allowed to retry resisting stuns each round until the stun wears off or the RR succeeds as that would give players of stunned characters something to roll for on their turns. I'd be keen to put an Unstun or equivalent spell into HARP fantasy (again, see the archives for one that didn't make it into College of Magics.) - I may try again in a different form in Something Wicked.

I've discussed previously the problems of the virtuous spiral regarding buying stats with Development Points and in turn getting more Development Points, and proposed a stat gain roll process in a 2005 article and included a refined version in the HARP SF manuscript. A bolder move that many people have taken is to decouple stats completely from Development Points and simply award a set number of Development Points per level. That option (with the number at 50 DPs) is also in HARP SF and is the option that I'd make core as being fairest and avoiding the whole nonsense of average stat characters having no DPs to buy skills. 50 DPs, rather than 40 DPs, because new skills, spells, psi disciplines, etc. have been added to HARP and HARP SF, and a bit of leeway prevents players from feeling starved of DPs.

An innovation that I'm particularly happy with in HARP SF is that of multiple subskill proficiencies for skills such as Riding, Space Pilot, Foraging/Survival, etc., (as described in the issue #104, October 2007 editorial) where characters choose one subskill to specialise in and can perform the other subskills at a penalty, unless and until they buy modest-priced Talents to reduce and/or eliminate the penalties. It also allows GMs and SysOps to create their own variant speciality sets for skills without triggering skill bloat.

HARP Revised altered spell durations, significantly reducing them in many cases, and leading to some infelicities in terms of spell effects. Now even if I won the lottery and bought HARP from ICE, I'd think twice about resetting the durations because it would invalidate far too much HARP supplemental material. As my epic spell-casting article (from August 2004) and temporal potency talent (from September 2006) will attest, I've been wrestling with solutions to this and indeed to the unmet need of providing high-powered magical effects in HARP for some time. Since I am busy on a HARP fantasy book, I'm taking the opportunity to include in Something Wicked substantially refined mechanisms for supporting epic spell-casting in terms of both spells and rituals (yes, Greater Rituals will be appearing in the manuscript enabling ritualists to transform themselves into Undead, summon rains of frogs, ruin harvests, and compel unwavering obedience into hapless victims). Add in alternate mana sources such as dark and red mana, new Talents, and a new form of charmcraft, and I'm hopeful that Something Wicked will provide not only new opportunities for GMs to make their archvillains suitably evil but also offer player-characters new routes to power (though they must always remember that great power exacts a great price!).

Farewell for now ...

I'm trying to finish a chapter of Something Wicked to inflict it on my playtester cadre so I'm off to do more writing. We'll be back in September with issue 115, but until then …

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion