I read through HeroWars back the days when I wanted inspiration for my own, now published, swashbuckling game, that took its core from BRP. Something I really liked was the idea of scaling through Master tiers, but I always felt the implementation of it was clunky. I never tried the game.
I’m going to do a lot of rhetorical questions below, and I’m reading with a critical eye. It may come out as whiny, but that’s only because I’m trying to keep the length down.
What strikes me is that the document needs an editor with a sharp scissor. The structure of the text is a little bit weird overall, with references to things that appear later in the text. It also feels like the text is written with the assumption that the reader already knows how to use the components in the system.
There are also comparisons to assumptions of how other game systems works (why should I read about those? I want to read about this system). Continuing, the text sometimes spends an excessive amount of words to describe something simple.
I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like the system suffers from terminology sickness, where you make up terminology to describe terminology. You already done this, but I would suggest to take a second round to go through all the terms and really ask yourself if it’s needed. If it’s there to describe another term, it’s probably not needed.
I really like Robin D Laws, and he can surely write, but I can also see how much he developed from HeroWars to Feng Shui 1 in terms of game system building but also, most importantly, presentation. This document suffers from that too, from what I can tell.
I like some stuff that I read. Calling the skill value for target number is really neat, because - in a way - the target number in BRP games is actually determined by the die. If your skill value is equal or higher than the rolled d20, then you succeed. By calling skill value (action score) for target number, you do something similar. Here is, however, what I mean when I talk about “terminology sickness”. You have the terms “ability” and “score” and then you call “ability score” for “target number”. This only brings confusion at worst, and creates complexity at best.
The master tiers are great when it comes to scalability. A human (TN 14) shooting at a spaceship (14M3) just states that the blaster can’t do any harm on the space ship. It’s however hard to calculate. So 14M3 is actually … 3*20+14 = 74 i resistance. Do we even write 74? One example states: »Trevor Okafor is trying to hover a helicopter over a ravine /…/ The GM calls for a roll. Trevor Okafor has 31 in Pilot, written as “11M”«. Why even bother stating 31—that only brings confusion. It’s, for me, more intuitive if we have ability scores that ranges from 1-20M0, then 1-20M1, 1-20M2, 1-10M3 and so on. In other words, when an ability score exceeds 20, it restarts at 1 but with an added Master tier.
I actually think of Master tiers as automatic successes. When you roll a die, you gain one success if the result is equal or under your ability score. Each Master tier then adds another success. So the space ship (14M3) starts with three successes and have a 14/20 chance to gain another. Given this perspective, I don’t really see why you have fumble and crit rules. You mention crit as reaching 1M (by succeeding a roll), but you never explains what a fumble is. However, by having two types of ways to determine the outcome - both the “auto successes” with Master tiers and the result of the die, I don’t see the point of adding more ways of determine the outcome.
I like the bit about equipment, both when it comes to assuming equipments based on abilities and having equipment themselves as abilities. Only thing I can’t picture is if the person is loosing the item. Is the ability then scratched?
I understand the concept of Assured contest, and I think it’s really good that systems explains this, but it’s basically just a simple contest with a demand of 0 “successes”, if I follow my own conclusion above of what the game resolution system really is. It even follows the same structure as a simple contest, so why repeat the information by using another term? Again, terminology sickness.
I’m disappointed in how ranks are handled. You already have resistance, so why do you need to have another way of modifying ability score? If you have two different values - ability/resistance score - to modify, what determines that the game master should modify either ability score or resistance score? But more importantly, what purpose does that fill to do that distinction? Because +3 to the ability score is the same thing as -3 to the resistance score.
The numbers are unintuitive. -3? -6? -9? Then jumping 11 scores to -1M and yet another 20 to -2M. You stated that 14 is normal and a character can only have 6 as the lowest, but that’s a -8 decrease. So giving a typical character -9 will always have to deter to a different rule that says that the negative modification will be negated to -8. I’ve been playing BRP for 30 years, and something I learned along the way is that, for a game that uses d20, ±3 won’t do anything really. It’s basically nit picking, because it’s mostly just stops the gaming with a small calculation with very little impact on the roll.
It’s also hard to calculate these numbers. I would rather see a scale that have ±5, ±10, ±1M, ±2M with the implied caveat that you shouldn’t use modifications unless they actually mean something.
2.3.5 Die Rolls
And here is an example of what I mean when I say that the structure is weird. How a roll is handled should be waaay earlier. Also, crit, fumble… when you already have two other means of determine success. If “bumps” is your answer, it’s just another term to describe a term, namely Master tiers.
It’s weird how you can “crit”, and still fail, because it’s actually the Master tiers that matters when determining the outcome.
»"Your GM narrates the contest outcome«. In a game about heroes, why shouldn’t the player get to describe the outcome of their successful rolls?
I love the concept of combining abilities. I used that in my own published game, and it creates the side effect that every roll tells something about the character by adding “style” to the narration. Again, this opportunity is possibly missed because the game master should describe the outcome, probably not knowing everything that the player had in mind for its character.
However, the implementation of the rule, to roll to see if you get a bonus is just … bad. Why not just give the bonus straight away? Also, you bring in poodle points, where the game master determines if the description is good enough, just like s/he is judging poodles at a dog exhibition. In the long run, this creates a behavior where the players describes what they think the game master is cool, rather than describing what the players think is cool. I would prefer if this would be discussed within the group, just like it’s handled in other places in the rule book.
It’s stated that the player should describe, but that goes against what stated earlier when the game master should describe the outcome.
You may only use one of your own abilities to augment the ability you are using in the contest , and you may not use an ability to augment itself. You may not use a breakout to augment it’s parent keyword , or another breakout from the parent keyword . However, augments from other players supporting you can add together with your own, along with other modifiers , including those from benefits and from plot augments .
This paragraph needs to be rephrased. I don’t understand what “breakout” means, as that’s a term that I never seen before. It says that you can only augment with your own abilities, which in a way means that other characters can’t augment your ability.
I had to reread the following subordinate clause a couple of times to understand that it tried to explain—that you can’t augment an augment: “and you may not use an ability to augment itself.”
I’m not a fan of the game master keeping track of flaws, because that person have so many other things to think about. In Solar System, the players gain something from bringing in flaws in their actions. Burning Wheels lets players loose a tie by activating a flaw. What they gain is experience points so they want to activate them. The players gets experience points in these rules too, so why restricting flaws to only having the game master activating them?
I like benefits and consequences, the description of those should be wrapped up in a tidier way. Benefits is just another way of describing rank, which you also do in the text. I like the waning part, but the consequences doesn’t really make any sense until I read about long contests, which is in a chapter of its own. Another example of structural problem of the text. I can’t say much about the healing rules, because it’s hard to imagine without trying them.
Combining Abilities is to me when the game master should call for an long contests. I would scrap this entirely.
Mobs, Gangs, and Hordes should use the augmented rules instead of being an own section of rules. The same goes with Ganging Up. I do like what you guys wrote about Mass Effort. You stated in the OP that “Second, some aspects, such as the Community Rules, how Flaws worked, etc. seemed like bolt ons that didn’t really flow”, but here are examples that you haven’t gone the whole way. I would suggest to create a couple of dynamic submechanics that can be reused, rather than making up new situations with new implementations. In my experience, as a game theorist, if you have a well built foundation for a system, the rest of the pieces will fall into places automatically.
So this was just my thoughts from reading the first two chapters. It took me about 2,5 hours. Please let me know if any of this is useful, or if I should stop there. I really like the design thoughts in HeroWars, but I don’t like all the implementations, especially about how Master tiers are handled. The same can be said about this system as well.