Chaosium published Hawkmoon
in 1986, the last boxed set they ever released. It was intended as a Stormbringer
companion, and it only had one supplement before the line was discontinued. Strangely, it had an enormous success in France, where many French-only books were published by Oriflam.
It was not a huge surprise when Mongoose announced that they were releasing a new Hawkmoon edition after Lankhmar, also using the rules created for their RuneQuest (RQ).
Mongoose's Hawkmoon is a hardback book written by Gareth Hanrahan. It's only 160 pages long and it contains all the basic rules, so the RQ core book is not needed.
Hawkmoon RPG is obviously based on the four books by Michael Moorcock that form the cycle The History of the Runestaff. Like Stormbringer, they are part of the Multiverse and Eternal Champion stories, and take place in the Tragic Millennium, a futuristic Europe which has returned to the Dark Ages (oddly keeping most of the nations intact) and lost many of its technology.
Introduction (7 pages). The book opens with a nice text introducing the reader to the Tragic Millennium. Then there are several ideas about campaign styles: maybe the players are tomb raiders, a lord with his retinue or agents of a court. It's a great addition that many games should include.
Character creation (13 pages). Many of the information here is reprinted from the RQ SRD (lacking the fine examples and details from the RQ Rulebook) . There is a new cultural background (science enclave) and characters get also skill bonus from their region (which you can choose or roll). The rules for experienced characters are also here, and two tables with the positive and negative traits that non-humans can have.
Gazetteer (27 pages). It's odd to find this chapter here, but maybe they wanted to have the regional skill bonuses next to the character creation. Anyway, this is the single most important section of the book, describing the courts, nations and independent cities in Tragic Europe. The game starts one year before Granbretan invades and conquers the whole continent.
Tragic Europe is more or less like the Medieval Ages with sightly modified names, and all nationalistic struggles remain there (for example, between the courts of Spain and Catalonia). Fortunately the game is not Western-centric, and the East is also well described (from Romania to Ukrania and Persia).
Skills (8 pages). Another chapter mainly reprinted from the SRD, with much less information and examples than the RQ Rulebook. There are new skills like Artillery, Pilot Ornithopter and Signalling, and the improved rules from the Player's Update have been included.
Equipment (20 pages). People in Tragic Europe use mainly swords and horses, but there are many remains of the old technical knowledge. Therefore the chapter combines medieval equipment with science fantasy: flame-lances, ornithopters, cannons... There are rules for exceptional items and a lot of information about vehicles.
Combat (13 pages). Yet another chapter almost fully based on the SRD. The fumbles are ignored, but there is a small section about vehicle combat.
Adventuring (15 pages). Finally new rules. Fate points work similarly than WFRP, and they are used to cheat death, give second chances or strike mighty blows. But using too much fate is not good, because Destiny will fall on the character. The chapter also describes reputations and legendary abilities, with the usual fatigue, movement, healing and improvement mechanics.
Science & Sorcery (19 pages). With the Gazetteer, this is the chapter more specific to Hawkmoon. Both sorcery and science use the same game system, although the results are achieved differently.
Sorcery (and science-sorcery) is similar to the RQ one, but with one important difference that makes it simpler. All sorcerers have a number of Focus points equal to their POW, which can be regained after sleeping. They are used to modify the spell's magnitude, length or range, or to get a casting bonus. As always, spells are independent skills, and sometimes they need special equipment.
Artefact spells allow the wizard to construct wondrous machines, like cannons, time crystals or weather control towers.
Denizens of Tragic Europe (26 pages). Why all licensed games must include a chapter with the main character's descriptions and traits? Anyway, this is the one, starting with Duke Dorian Hawkmoon himself. But fortunately there are also standard characters (brigand, sage, soldier) and the bestiary.
The Deeds of Hawkmoon (9 pages). The final chapter tells you briefly what happens in the Moorcock's cycle, in case you are too lazy to read the books.
The most important thing: the book is too short, the space between paragraphs is really huge and the page borders are enormous. This means that we have around 120 pages of real text, not enough for a traditional core book, and the consequences are huge. The rules are explained lightly, not improving the short descriptions from the SRD and lacking many examples, and the background is sparse.
The writing style is functional but never managed to catch my imagination, and the few interior illustrations are not good nor bad. At least the Tragic Europe map is adequate and well done.
The first Hawkmoon boxed set was OK. Decent rules, nice background, but that was it. Nothing particularly inspiring.
Mongoose's new version is just the same. The game should be cool, but it's not, and I don't know what has happened. Maybe the Tragic Millennium is not suited for a RPG, or the book needed another focus and writing style.
I haven't read Granbretan, and it's possible that this supplement starts an exciting campaign that gives life to the game line. But after reviewing the core rulebook I'm afraid that we'll have to wait for a new edition.