Review Dated: 11th, September 2006
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 120
Average Score: 8.57
When I first received my copy of HARP in the mail, I was ecstatic, well mostly. It rekindled all the love of simple but comprehensive rules that I had with Basic D&D. I first began by adapting my own home grown world to it and in the process changed the home grown world for the better. I really wanted to see what the designers of the system would do for a default setting. A default setting is very much an expression of what the system is, much like the known world was for Basic D&D.
When Cyradon was released I rushed to get the early PDF release and pre-ordered the physical copy as well. My lack of patience was rewarded. I began delving into a strange world, with stranger names and found a very unique and richly woven setting. I have been running a campaign in this world for much of this year off and on. I have had time both to absorb, and play test much of the material, my initial enthusiasm all these months later has not diminished.
The physical book, I have the hardcover version, is 184 pages, with full color cover and black and white content. The layout and artwork is very typical of HARP publications, well laid out with typical HARP page borders and symbols. The artwork for the setting is a cut above the normal however. Most of it gives a good consistent feel for the setting. A very few are sub par for the work but most are excellent.
It comes with two huge fold out maps measuring about a cubit by a cubit and a half. They hang on the walls of my gaming room and are truly a nice addition. I was impressed by the quality of the maps, fortunately there is a sneak peak of the Belynar and Cyradon maps available on the ICE web site.
The book begins with an overview that gives you scads of new names and stories, painting a broad picture of the word Mythra of which Cyradon is a continent. The names can be a bit baffling at first, the elves, dwarves and gnomes have very unique names and cultures, there are even different kinds of elves, Arali and Sithi who have developed in historically and culturally different ways. There is also a lot of back story in the overview that comes in handy later.
The many splendid races come from progenitor races of the first and second age, the Dragons, the Saena, and the Mythrans. The main races for the player characters come from all three linages, the Nagazi are from the dragons, and make a fine civilized reptilian race, the sort of good apples of their kind. The Saena were mighty animal like creatures, powerful enough to rival the dragons, their offspring, the Gryphons, and mixed offspring like the Gryx and Aoifar are unusual and challenging. The Gryphon’s are both quadrupeds, and winged, with feline and avian natures which makes for interesting choices for role playing.
The other standard races are also present with the notable exceptions of halflings, goblins, orcs, trolls and the like. What no orcs you say? Not a mention of any of these… and it was nice to see. There are holes left in the setting to incorporate any race you want, but these races don’t figure into the thick of things.
The World of Mythra
A fairly standard world with four main continents two of which will never be explored by ICE giving the GM room to expand or integrate existing campaigns should they choose. The areas it does describe are Anias, a large continent where the story line has many ties, the Shatterings, an archipelago with fairly mysterious origins, and Cyradon, the focus of the product.
The next 53 pages describe the world as it is, Anias briefly, and Cyradon in great detail. The shatterings are left to your imagination. Here you run into the History of the planet, and it is a doozy, covering 27000 years in the third age alone. This is a very textured history and a well imagined world, with numerous little plot hooks and historical quandaries. It needs rereading to catch much of the nuance, even months later I am finding small but important hooks within these pages. It also has a fairly logical explanation of how you get a world with many sentient races existing at the same time, and shows how poorly they have gotten on over time. A refreshing change.
This section is 30 pages of gold. It walks new players through the cultures, languages, and training options as well as non standard equipment of the setting. The training packages, are skill sets that characters purchase at a discount that represents the organized method of training. Here they are applied the way they were intended to represent careers or specializations within the setting. This gives you a quick and ready boost to building a character concept that works right from the get go.
I have yet to come across a setting character creation guide as well done as this one. Full marks on this part.
A good blend of animistic, polytheistic and monotheistic religions that show how cultures interact and cross pollinate one another. This has some real merit, it is also a lot to digest. It has a very organic feel to it, giving you a sense of what a resplendant natural religious tapestry might develop in such a varied world. The racial and cultural outlooks on the world are again part of that chewy goodness. But the gods are also very hands off, with many of the clergy being distinctly non magical or simply philosophically inspired practitioners of magic.
The religious orders presented at the end of the cosmology chapter show what kind of character customization HARP was made for. No cookie cutter clerics here, very distinct and considerably varied both in what they do game wise and what they have as functions in their respective societies. There is not however a full slate of religious orders here and I was left wanting a few more. Hopefully in some future supplement.
Like the clerics, no mage escapes entirely the magical roots from which he comes. The idea of custom mages for a setting is very well done here. Each culture approaches magic with a different outlook and thus a different style, selection of spells and methods of casting.
These are codified as spheres and casting traditions. Spheres are principally bound to professions, with custom versions for the varied cultures, they reflect the available spells. Casting traditions reflect the look and feel of things, whether magic is flashy or subtle, whether the focus is on powerful spells or other intrinsic harmonies.
For example the Gherek Scouts who are from a greater culture that fears and loathes magic so there magic is subtle, slow and almost imperceptible so as not to be noticed. Where as Mablung Trallen (Dwarves) are practical and not in the least concerned for subtlety with wide gestures and pronouncements that focus on results and powerful pragmatic casting.
There is lots to like in this section… a word of note here everything in this setting can be played with just the HARP Revised Edition rule book, here the magic section borrows spells and cantrips from the College of Magics expansion and reprints those that it mentions. This is a boon for the budget conscious.
The start of the campaign, Belynar a city built on a volcano by an ancient and powerful race has a 7000 year recorded history. It is also where refugees from Anias end up when they flee through a magic portal called a Royal Road. It is a city in the middle of a wasteland. Strange aberrant creatures abound and the few surviving creatures are warped and twisted.
A very inhospitable beginning improves with the aid of the Rhona (Gnomes), and Gryphons with further help from the Nagazi. The elves of Cyradon (Arali) give a frosty reception and do a remarkable bit of politicking, No sweet and nice people of song are they.
There is just enough information to whet your whistle here and it leaves you wanting more. It is a place with enormous potential. You could run an entire campaign without leaving the place… and that is a good thing.
This is a non typical fantasy bestiary. It is not a kobolds and goblins and orcs oh my sort of thing. The creatures are distinctly different and frightening. They are also tough opponents for low leveled characters, so as a GM you find your self looking for ways to tone them down and use fewer of them at the beginning. There are templates for creating all manner of monstrosity, aberration, elemental, and demonic. Now this gets interesting because it opens up the flood gates as to what can exist… The one regret I have here is that it did not go into more detail about how to incorporate more of the core rulebook monsters, or those from Monsters: A Field Guide into the setting.
The book concludes with adventure seeds and advice on starting a campaign. Lo these many months later I am just coming to the end of these ideas for play. This section even has a sample bit of an adventure in Sefnar, a town near Belynar. The old adage advises to leave them wanting more, and well, this does that.
A bit of insight from many months of adventures, this setting is absolutely full of possibilities. And the setting hangs together well. We have yet to leave the area around Belynar. I am still surprised by some of the threads of subplots I come across, so the basic setting has much to offer.
What it really needs are some official adventures and further supplements there are a few freely available fan written adventures, but these are no substitute for official cannon.
My players have appreciated the undercurrent of back story, they have also found the setting a challenge, I admit that I like to instill a healthy dose of fear into my players so the fault for this is mine. My fear inducing encounters have yet to see them run though, which fills me with sadness and grudging admiration.
I have found no shortage of inspiration, quite the opposite, I have too many things I want to do with the setting. I look for more official cannon to free me from the compulsion to create more of my own. But really that does in the long run speak well of the setting.
This is a great beginning to a world with tremendous detail, the world is well presented, and the book is a very good smaller press product. For inspiration and a non standard fantasy setting this is top notch. My time with the product has been good. This setting will be in my rotation for years to come.