Friday, January 25, 2013
Review -- Honor + Intrigue
Honor + Intrigue is a very clever RPG of swashbuckling action in the "cinematic" 17th Century written by Chris Rutkowsky of Basic Action Games using the rules from Simon Washbourne's Barbarians of Lemuria. I bought it practically a year ago and then ignored it because I felt it really didn't offer anything more than Pirates of the Spanish Main did. I recently reread Honor + Intrigue and I've discovered a game I really want to play.
The basic mechanics of Honor + Intrigue (and Barbarians of Lemuria, for that matter) will seem fairly familiar to players of 7th Sea, the Cortex System, d6, Savage Worlds, the Storyteller or Storytelling Systems, or Unisystem: roll to succeed based on a combination of attribute and skill, spend bonus points to get a better success, use special powers or bonuses from Edges/Merits/Qualities/Traits/whatever, etc. There are additional similarities with Savage Worlds; amongst others, NPC goons are easily thwarted with a single hit while intimidating and taunting your foe can give you a combat advantage. The mechanics are so familiar, in fact, that I glossed over the key difference in my first reading. What separates H+I/BoL from the others is that characters don't have skills, they have Careers.
A beginning PC in Honor + Intrigue has at least four Careers that represent her life experience before play begins; these are ranked with a dice roll bonus of 0 to 3 with advancement capable of raising the rating to 5 or 6. With each Career comes all the necessary skills that go with that Career. An H+I PC with even a measly 0 rating in the Sailor/Pirate Career knows (in addition to a lot more) how to climb the rigging, navigate by the stars, splice a line, and swim for her life -- things that in Savage Worlds, for instance, would require four different Skills that take precious Skill points away from the all-important Fighting and Shooting Skills. And then the Honor + Intrigue PC gets to choose three more Careers that round out her character and make a starting PC at least as competent as a fresh-off-the-farm d'Artagnan or Don Diego de la Vega when he steps off the boat from Spain.
On top of that, Combat Abilities are generated from a completely separate pool of points, so a starting PC doesn't have to sacrifice martial prowess for general competency! How awesome is that?
I really, really like competent PCs. I've hated level 1 since my first game of AD&D 2nd Edition. Throughout my high school DMing career, we routinely skipped straight to third level. I never start a Savage Worlds game out at Novice. I don't think those who enjoy the risk of sudden death for disposable starting PCs are wrong, I just know I don't enjoy it myself. Honor + Intrigue might be the first RPG I've read that feels the same way (and isn't bogged down by complex skill lists like 7th Sea).
In addition to a beautifully flexible basic mechanic, H+I offers a wealth of detail about the 17th Century setting and rules for magic and monsters, mass combat, and naval adventures. My favorite part is the campaign seeds found in the "Secret Societies" section; I'd love to run a game about the Highway Cavaliers (dashing highwaymen loyal to Charles II) and the Shepherds (secret spymasters backing Cromwell).
The PDF version available on DriveThruRPG comes with a version that can be layered according to your printing needs and a separate tablet version for easy reading.
I could swear that some early press for this game claimed it had support material for other eras. This is just not true, but ways to adapt it to other settings are transparent. I could easily use Honor + Intrigue to run a Sengoku Jidai game without inventing a single new Career.
The mix between original art and clip-art to illustrate the game can be jarring and some of the original art is less than stellar. That said, I love the illustration on the "Introduction" page; I can't help but imagine the Conanesque hero is meant to be Robert E. Howard's pirate, Black Vulmea.
Rutkowsky's conception of swashbuckling suffers a bit from the pernicious influence of The Princess Bride (how many times have I linked to that post?), but I can't help but forgive that in a game that quotes "The Court Jester" and references "The Brotherhood of the Wolf" (one of my top five favorite films).
The other thing that has kept me from embracing Honor + Intrigue for my home games is the fact that it only uses two six-sided dice and I'm not eager to give up my varied polyhedrals.
Hmm... Perhaps I need to consider putting together a homebrew mash-up. Savages + Intrigue, anyone?