HârnWorld Capsule Review by Elton Robb on 17/07/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
HarnWorld 2nd Edition is an excellent world system, low magic, low monsters and low treasures encourage not Hack'n'Slash, but actual Roleplaying. Definitely not for the Hack'n'Slash GM!
Author: N. Robin Crosby
Company/Publisher: Columbia Games, Inc.
Page count: see below
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Elton Robb on 17/07/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Historical Other
With all the focus turned on the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting by Wizards of the Coast, I thought I should turn the focus to the Forgotten Realms' exact opposite: Hârn.
When I checked out the HârnWorld page on the Columbia Games' website some years ago and ordered it, I recieved the best World system ever. And I was at a loss on how to use it at first . . .
You see, unlike Forgotten Realms, HârnWorld was not made for an RPG. It was designed to be used with any system. From Rolemaster, to the D20 Fantasy Roleplaying System, to GURPS, to Rune Quest, to . . . well you got the idea. You can even use it with Big Eyes Small Mouth if you are so inclined.
Also, so unlike Forgotten Realms, the HârnWorld was made to be in balance. Instead of hoards of treasure, you have little treasure. Instead of High Magic, you have rare magic. Instead of a lot of monsters, you have . . . not that many monsters. Instead of being designed for Hack'nSlash you have a world system suited for Character Development, Interaction with NPCs, and some adventure thrown in for balance. GMs are free to run any kind of scenario they wish: from something like Penumbra's Three Days to Kill to something straight out of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing.
HârnWorld was designed for the GM and the player who are looking for the other half in a roleplaying game: Roleplaying! The average age of the roleplayer who buys Hârn is Twenty-One. So, what is in Hârn that attracts the mature player? Powerful Gods that play Realmsian Politics? Gut busting magic? Or is it because it is actually a Middle Ages culture that was detailed and not something semi-medieval? I'll tell you what attracted me to Hârn.
What is it about Hârn?
All my roleplaying days, I have reduced my criteria for a powerful campaign setting down to these:
1. Historicity: A good Roleplaying game must draw on the familiar. Either from the present or from the Historical Past.
2. Realism: A Campaign Setting must have some Realism in mind.
3. Imaginative and Originality: and it must be Imaginative and Original in it's presentation as well as substance.
The three settings that fill these Criteria for me are: Earth (any Age, even the Age of Atlantis and Lemuria). Earth for me is the Quintessential Campaign Setting. Not one campaign setting can match its beauty, familiarity, and Strangeness all at the same time.
Birthright: Birthright is based on historical cultures: Medieval and Renassiance cultures from Earth makes up it's basis. Also, it appeals to the hidden Royalty inside of me. It is also magic rare as a campaign setting and rivals Hârn in several respects.
Hârn: Harn is the last. Because it is so detailed, and so much has been worked on it that I have great freedom to run anything I like. As long no one on Harnlist dictates how my game must go, or what Mythology I want to use.
WHAT IS IN HÂRNWORLD?
Hârndex Harndex lists everything you need to know about the island of Harn. In alphabetical, Encyclopedia format, you get basic information on the Guild of Arcane Lore, Several Kingdoms, a small smattering on the cultures of the Khudzul (Dwarves) and Sindarin (Elves/Sidhe), the Gargun or Orcs of Harn, and even the Ivashu -- beasts created by the God Ilvir. It describes a basic introduction to the Island of Hârn and provides the player and the Game Master almost everything they need to start a game.
HârnWorld The Book on the Harn World itself, provides the meat of the setting. It also provides the introduction to the setting by N. Robin Crossby, who explains why he developed this great world system in the first place.
The first section Harn (which is 38 pages) describes what the island of Harn is like and it's cultures are like. It gives an overview of European Feudalism and Law, how the economy works (with an Economic Map of Harn), a price list, and the coinage system, which is given in Medieval English pennies (equivalent to a Dinarius or d.), English farthings (12d.), and Medieval English pounds (equivalent to a Libram or 240d.). It also describes the guilds and their Mercantylist system and tells a little on how the Wizards of Harn, the Shek-Pvar, operates. the final page provides a simple table of Weather generation for Harn.
The Second Section is Kethira (which is 8 pages) and it describes the world of Kethira. However, it is truely the best example of World building ever. With Plate Tectonic Maps, Ocean Current Maps, Prevailing Wind Maps, a Political Map, and a good looking Physical Map of the Continent of Lythia. Kethira provides all the information on the Physical World of Harn. Even a small map of Kethira's Solar System is provided.
The last section is Lythia (which is 24 pages). This provides all the basic information of the world outside Harn, the history of Lythia, a Language map, a trade route map, a discourse on Lythian Trade and so forth.
HarnMap The final piece of the World System is the Harn Map. And what a map it is! A very good map, it is probably the best full color map produced by any RPG company for any RPG. with that Authentic feel, although not a cloth map, this map of Harn is very impressive. It actually looks and feels like a Map that was made the 1800's.
So what is the best system to use with Hârn? In my humble opinion, the best system to use with HârnWorld is actually the D20 Fantasy Roleplaying System (i.e. Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition) produced by Wizards of the Coast. Many on the HarnList might not agree with me, but I stand by my choice because of the following reasons.
1. the D20 Fantasy Game System is easy to learn, and most any Roleplayer knows how to play it. 2. The D20 system and Harn can be fully integrated with each other without sacrificing Harn's realism by a Savvy, Intelligent DM. 3. Columbia Games fully support the D20 System for use with Harn (see their insert for their Harn Publication Nasty, Brutish, and Short). 4. Wizards of the Coast may have designed Dungeons and Dragons for the Dungeon, but in actuality, they have really short changed the potential of the game. It has the potential to be truly so much more.
Conclusion Of course, you can use your favorite roleplaying system, but I support the D20 Fantasy Game System full use with Columbia Game's product for the reasons I stated above. But for those who want more realism than the D20 Fantasy Game System can provide, check out their own game for Harn, HarnMaster. However, because of physical space problems, I won't be reviewing HarnMaster.
After all, HarnWorld 2nd Edition is an excellent example of world building. I highly recommend it in that it is a Work of Art in the same way the FRCS is a work of art, but for different reasons. A lot of knowledge and time went into HarnWorld to make it impressively realistic and for me N. Robin Crosby succeeded. I give it a 4 for Style, and a 5 for Substance. At the time of this writing, it is available for $29.95.