Game: Haven: City of Violence
Publisher: Louis Porter Jr Design
Review Dated: 20th, June 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 4/10 [ Just shy of the mark ]
Total Score: 4
Average Score: 4.00
Get on with the game already.
Actually, you’re probably not thinking that as you start to explore Haven: City of Violence. The chances are pretty good you’ll admire the front cover – which is nicely done, the “design” in Louis Porter, Jr. Design is evident from the outset. It looks nice. I wasn’t thinking “Get on with the game already” as I flicked through the 14-paged, full colour, comic strip that introduces the book. I was too distracted by yet more pretty pictures and by trying to work out who was after whom and how many assassins there are.
Then there’s the two page personal statement from Louis Porter, Jr. He tells us that he’s an educated man, he has a degree in Political Science, his girlfriend has a degree as well and his brother is seven years older than him. Mr Porter tells us what’s wrong with the world, or rather, what’s wrong with America. People can’t take responsibility for their own actions and too many people blame Dungeons and Dragons. An example is offered; if a kid commits suicide and plays D&D then it’s D&D’s fault, not the kids. The argument here is that it’s not D&D’s fault. I agree with that, I’d just hasten to add that it’s unlikely to be the kid’s fault either. This scapegoating of RPGs is clearly something Louis Porter, Jr feels strongly about since he uses capital letters all over the place to make his point. He regrets having to include this personal statement in the game. I regret it too; get on with the game already!
A few pages later we find the introduction to roleplaying. We play in character, gain experience and have fun. It’s the usual stuff. At this stage in the book, the first time I read it, I thought such an introduction was unnecessary, I thought Haven could have been one of those games that got away with assuming people reading it are experienced gamers. I changed my mind though; by the time I’d finished the 200+ paged Core Rules I was sure Haven bests suits newbies. GMs are GODs in Haven. Games Operation Director. European LARPers may well remember dealing with G.O.D. as the Games Operation Desk before Christian gamers complained. This large European LARP organisation decided that changing the acronym would be the wise thing to do, I suspect Louis Porter Jr Design will blow raspberries at the Church if anyone complains. The introduction and glossary finishes at around page 28. Mutter. Mutter. Get on with the game already.
No game yet. You’ve got the chance to peruse the “Entertainment Source Reference Guide” first. This is a list of books, films, music, shows, comics, etc that “provide the correct mood, attitude, setting, behaviour and general feeling for Haven”. There’s no shortage of inspiration – 6 pages in total. I like to see a short list of some suitable books and films near the end of the game, but there’s no need for such a huge list. If anything, so many differing titles threaten to defuse the theme rather than reinforce it. Besides, let’s get on with the game already.
Chapter 1 – The History of Haven… but first an 8-paged flavour text story. Hey. I like flavour. The story really does suit the city and the game. Nonetheless when the book actually starts to talk about Haven, at page 45, the cry of “get on with the game already” finally fades. Haven’s on the eastern coast of the United States, um, that’s the eastern coast next to the Atlantic Ocean. The city’s about 50 miles north of Baltimore and is described as “New York City during a blackout and in the middle of a race riot that has lasted for 25 years without a reprieve”. I think that’s a description of “Haven City” rather than the whole of Haven, but I’m not sure. Haven is divided into six areas, one of which is Haven City, the others being Arcadia, Armistad, Freeman Hill, Golden Heights and Rome Island. Each of these areas has their own flavour. This is a neat trick, if all roleplaying with the Haven rules is to take place within Haven itself (as we’re told it will) then it’s good to have a diverse city as possible. In Haven it’s harder to keep your life than it is to make your living, except, it seems in parts like Freeman Hill where people still say “Hi” as they pass in the streets and which still seems to be in the ‘50s. Armistad is described as the Detroit of Haven. Arcadia is a neon entertainment centre similar to Sin City of Las Vegas. The utopian society of Haven is Golden Heights and the polar opposite, described as Purgatory, is Rome Island.
The Haven setting isn’t just the city. Haven is also a movement in time. The core rules describe recent history and the status of the city as it is now. We’re told when the key NPCs arrived in the city, how they’ve changed things and what their plans for the future are.
I’m always pleased to see an RPG that begins by describing the setting and atmosphere of the game before the character creation and combat rules. Haven describes itself as a Roleplaying Game of Modern Violence but it presents the core rules in the non-twinky, roleplaying over rollplaying, order. Back at the start of the book, in the personal statement, its implied that one of the inspirations for the game was Spycraft. I just couldn’t help thinking of Vampire: TM as I read Haven: COV though. This impression is reinforced by the inclusion of some sample characters from key organisations in the City. The first, for example, is for a member of the Carlucci Family and it has a background on the left page, a picture with stats on the right.
Character sheets are nice and simple in Haven, there are ten attributes (primary and secondary), skills, benefits and drawbacks, special abilities and languages. Languages seem to be important; most people seem to speak three or four. Skills are simple too, there’s no annoyingly long list in which to record the minutia of expertise for every sub-skill, instead there’s likely to be a half dozen areas of speciality that benefit from a bonus of +1, +2 or so. There’s no blank character sheet in Haven and that’s a surprise. I would have thought it would have been something this visual book leapt on. Character Generation is point based.
The game mechanics involve rolling under your ability score (modified by difficulty, etc) on 1d20. At least, this is what the game mechanics seem to be. The book doesn’t actually explain them. The Abilities chapter tells us that a roll of 1 is always a success and a roll of 20 always a failure and it tells us the modifiers for different difficulties (-2 for easy, -25 for impossible). It then goes on to present the rules for lifting heavy stuff, “phases, rounds and turns”, movement, falling damage, fire, ice and so forth. In order to find out how to use these values then you need to read the example of the system in use. Hmm. Not so good.
There are some quirks in the Haven mechanics. How far you can throw a grenade is based off your movement value. You’ll never be able to move your full movement value either since the carrying rules state, “While carrying up to 25% of their maximum weight, a character may move at 75% of their MV.” A load of 1% of their maximum weight capacity is “up to 25% and so there clearly needs to be a lower level without a penalty. These are just a couple of examples but the latter one really is something you’d expect an editor to pick up on and correct.
Haven credits two editors and a whole team of quality assurance. I don’t think they’ve been as successful as they could have been. I found the language of the book to be clumsy and awkward.
Here’s an extract from the paragraph describing dice, “These dice will be numbered one to a specific number with a number belonging to a corresponding side. So if a die has ten numbers then it is a 10-sided die.”
This excerpt is from the paragraph headed Shooting Initiative and from the start of the Combat and Conflict chapter, “The first action when resolving a firearm combat situation is to figure who gets to make that all important first attack, is know as Initiative in Haven.”
Actually, it’s easy to find awkwardly written paragraphs. There are a few which are rather funny though. Has anyone heard of brakes?
“The most often employed way to stop a vehicle is the use of firearms.”
You thought walking around was easy, “Movement is simply defined as the ability to travel from one point to another. It seems extremely easy but in reality it takes many forms.” Watch out for the dread downward movement, “One of the most common types of downward movement is falling. When you are falling, it is not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end of the trip”
My favourite quote comes from the start of the Character Generation chapter, “Congratulations, you decided to have us stop spoon-feeding your lazy ass. Like making your own street machine, this system will let you fine tune your character concept into a mean son of a bitch who will take on the streets with his bare hands.”
Fortunately, strange wordings and typos don’t ruin a game and even though you may find yourself re-reading paragraphs in Haven, I don’t think you’ll be throwing the book down in disgust.
Haven is an unusual mix of action adventure with real roleplaying. The importance of staying in character is, well, to use their words “spoon fed” to you but if you’re imagining a group of high school boys picking Haven as their entry point to the hobby then this is no bad thing. The experience point chart is telling; you get experience points for turning up, you get experience points if the G.O.D. has fun running the game and for doing well – but you loose experience points for acting out of character and gain them for working in a group. It might be a crude way of promoting good roleplaying but it is a way of promoting good roleplaying.
The back of the book calls the game “the newest and most innovative modern action-adventure genre role-playing game of its type.” Well, the title “newest” is as easy to claim as it is to loose, “most innovative” can hardly apply to rolling under a target number on a d20 but at least the system is intuitive. Haven is a modern game, it’s the only RPG I can think of which begins it combat chapter with rules for firearms fights and then provides rules for melee fights as an extra. Haven contains rules for vehicle chases and duels as well. If you want to do a John Woo style game then Haven is a real candidate and that certainly one of the game’s targets.
I think Haven could be a good introduction to roleplaying. It’s action orientated but it stresses the importance of roleplaying. It presents mechanics for most situations but doesn’t get hung up on them and this is a nice safety net for the new comers. Haven also looks to be well supported. The main book is labelled “Core Rules” and there are adverts for no less than three supplements. There’s a sample adventure in the book too. It’s written by Steve Long and boy can you notice the difference in writing style.
I don’t Haven quite makes the grain when put under the microscope but the book is far from a write off. If you’re interested in an easy to start and easy to play cinematic game then Haven is a real candidate. If you’re willing to shrug you shoulders and just get on with the game already – then it could be quite fun. If you’re just looking for a new RPG then you can probably do better than the City of Violence. I’ll be interested to see where Louis Porter, Jr and the company he named after himself takes the series. If Haven does well, I think we could see the early publication of revised rules.