The rules, HârnMaster (regardless of whether you use the Columbia v3, or the Kelestia Gold – and there’s a story in that but it’s not where I’m headed today), were an elegant simulationist RPG set. Comprehensive, rational, consistent; skills based on the d100. The best part of them were the combat options that were required when attacking. You didn’t just roll a naked dice and scored a hit: you had to declare what kind of attack you were doing. And this cross referenced with the defence to produce a range of results. Magic!
However from this lovely idea comes the cruel reality that there is an awful lot of detail that goes into reading these charts and discovering the resulting damage to relevant body parts as protected by various layers of protection. It sounds great, but combat is slow. If you prefer story telling, as I do, then this system is a such a handbrake. I want to love it. I really do. But every time I bring it out and run through the process I start to yawn.
The second great and awful part of Hârn (on a Mac you hold down the <opt> key and press i then release the <opt> and press a to get an â) is the map. The map is prepared to look like a genuine real world map and as a map lover I really appreciate this. I can see elevations and and distances and relationships between places and it sparks my imagination.
However, the geography is not very realistic when you look at it through this lens. This is a pity but not a deal breaker. A greater problem I find in actual use is the stultifying level of detail. It is wonderful to explore the literature and know exactly who lives where: it is a great research project. But when playing I really do wonder where the stories can come from because it is already all known. True, all the people in the land do have names and this could be captured, but does this mean I am creating a new story when I play or just running down someone elses’ tracks?
A similar criticism, if it is one, is levelled at Tekumel. Could anyone run these games except the original conceiver of the setting and then only for naive characters? I do not know.
Hârn remains the system and setting that I have never played but has been consistently fascinating to me. The map hangs on my wall to this day and I consult it often, if only to picture what walking along those tracks would look like. I’m not in the mainstream but I suspect that Hârn is probably only known to a vanishing minority of older players. This is a shame because all of the material is still available today and it still remains a perfectly conceived and engineered set of rules and setting.