HARP Read Through – Gamemaster Guide

I have decided to get this HARP read through finished. I have skipped the chapter on treasure generation. Not because there is nothing of real value in it, it is just as competent as the generation in C&T but in a more condensed package, as one has come to expect from HARP.

The final chapter is the Gamemaster’s Guide.

This chapter starts with a few pages of basic GM tips. The stand out tips are probably these two:

Don’t let the dice rule the game: This issue is more one of style than anything else. Some GMs make all dice rolls in front of the players while others do not. This applies mostly to those GMs who do not make every roll in front of the players. Part of a role playing game is telling a story, and sometimes a roll of the dice can have an adverse effect upon the story. If this happens, then feel free to change the result to one more suited to the situation.
Don’t fudge dice rolls and get caught: If you fudge dice rolls, don’t do it often, or let the players catch you doing it. This provides you with the ability to make things interesting without killing characters by accident. Fudging dice rolls should always be done sparingly.

I picked these two out as I know that GMs definitely fall into those that fudge and those that don’t. All Rolemaster games are deadly and HARP is no different. The idea that fudging dice is actually introduced as a GM tip in the core rules, to me, makes it look like an officially sanctioned technique. Other tips include not killing characters, such as:

Don’t kill characters needlessly: If a character does something stupid that will get him killed, especially if you ask the player “are you sure?” before letting him go ahead, then let the dice fall where they may. But in other situations where random chance would kill the character, you might want to provide a way out for the character. Include a secret door where
there wasn’t one originally, or have back-ups fail to show up on time.

It feels to me as if the way that HARP gets around the lethality of the RM-style combat system is by putting the onus on the GM to moderate the results. Maybe I am being too mean. It is a built in flaw of the all the RM variant combat systems that there is a death spiral that isn’t found in D&D or Pathfinder.

Wounds in both HARP and RM frequently come with penalties to actions, stun results and additional hits. When you hit certain break points of lost hits you get more penalties. In HARP you get a -25 when you have lost more than 50% of your hits. The more penalties you get the harder it is to hurt your opponent and the harder it is to parry them to protect yourself. Once you start to lose you are relying on a lucky strike and open ended roll to turn the tide in your favour. DnD or PF don’t have this, you can fight just as well with 1HP as you can with 60HP, no accumulating penalties and no death spiral.

It feels to me that the HARP solution to the death spiral is to cheat.

So what other tips are there?

I really like the profession and culture customisation tips. These include customising clerics to reflect their gods’ aspects and custom magicians. It then goes on to discuss setting and cultural customisations.

Next we get a section on using language and lore skills and relating ranks to level of knowledge.

The final part is all about experience points. The experience system is the same system as is currently used in RMU. The experience system is based around goals rather than kill points and criticals. What we get here is three pages of advice and examples of exactly what makes a particular goal worth a particular level of experience. And that is it. The last pages are the character sheet, skill sheets and a full index.

So what do I think of HARP?

I think there is a lot that is very good in HARP. I also think that if HARP had existed back in the 1980s I probably would have picked HARP over RM2. I have always said that I prefer lighter rules. I have also said that I wished there was a setting and HARP had a setting, Cyradon. I don’t own Cyradon so I cannot comment on it.

Incidentally, I bought into HARP because I have lost my SpaceMaster rules and campaign notes. I wanted to run something Sci Fi so I bought HARP SF as an alternative. Having looked at HARP SF, I wanted to see what HARP Fantasy was like.

HARP’s weakest feature is its combat rules. They lack the variety of critical of RM and fights turn into fairly repetitive turns of the same critical after same critical.

HARP’s strongest suit is its scalable magic system which has features that RM lacks despite it being a more condensed system.

I have found something that stood out and was noteworthy in every chapter. It is a good game and I can see how and why lots of elements made its way into RMU. I wish that Cascading RRs had made their way into those rules as well but maybe it was too much of a simplification for RMU.

If I were to run a convention game or game night at a store then I think I would probably choose HARP over RMC or even RMU right now. The reason being that it is an easier system to pick up and get going with but I can also see a clear upgrade route from one to the other once RMU has been released. HARP would keep new players going until RMU is released be it 2019/2020 or surely before 2030?

One Reply to “HARP Read Through – Gamemaster Guide”

  1. I very much enjoyed the HARP read-through. I have to say, I was expecting to intensely dislike this system, but I’ve come away with a more favourable view of it.

    I understand what you are saying about officially sanctioning fudging, but at least HARP is doing it in a better way than DnD 5e: 5e didn’t include any caveats about a ‘roll everything in front of the players’ playstyle. They basically just advised all DMs to fudge. For those of us who don’t fudge, it was terrible; I’m not sure I’ve ever been so annoyed at a DnD article.

    (I wish I could find the article: it was in the last few years, on the official DnD site, and it gave advice to new DMs. The DnD website has always been an atrocity though, so I can’t find it.)

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