Thursday, October 14, 2010

Harn Weapons And Armour

In the 1990's, I was briefly in love with Harn. For those who have been smitten, you'll know what I mean. Gorgeous maps. Intricate world-building. Complex character generation. Detailed combat. Harn seemingly promised those two holy grails of game design, granularity and verisimilitude.

My Harn materials are mostly gone now: lost in a garage fire. But a couple of items remain. The amazing maps, from Cities of Harn and Son of Cities, survived, as they were placed in a binder that followed me on several moves. I also have one or two Encyclopedia Harnica folios.

Some Harn-related notes and characters also survived, in the same binder as the Cities of Harn materials. Among the notes are lists of melee weapons and armor.

Melee weapons in Harn had three potential damage aspects. Every weapon is rated on how much damage it inflicts, if used to do blunt, edge or point damage. This system is not unlike the three weapon types in 2nd Edition AD&D: bludgeoning, slashing and piercing.

But while the AD&D 2E system gave each weapon only one (or at most, two) damage options, many weapons in Harn allow you to do damage with any of the three weapon aspects.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

The Handaxe is rated as Blunt 4, Edge 6, and Point 3. The Shortsword: Blunt 2, Edge 4, Point 4. The Glaive: Blunt 6, Edge 7, Point 7. The Falchion: Blunt 4, Edge 6, Point 1.

However, some weapons only do damage in one or two aspects. The Mace is only rated as Blunt 5. The Warhammer: Blunt 6, Point 4. The Throwing Dagger: Point 4.

Obviously, the benefit of having a weapon that can do damage in any of the three aspects is that the weapon is more versatile. All of the swords fit in that category, as do the Handaxe and Battleaxe. The flails and clubs do significant damage as well, but are limited to blunt damage only.

Armour, at least in the version of Harnmaster that I possessed, was needlessly complicated. Every type of armor was broken down into the types of armor pieces available for each of the 16 locations of the body. I might buy a short chain hauberk, combine it with some plate greaves, a ringmail half-helm, hardened leather vambraces, and quilt gambeson, and then need to figure out my coverage, for each of the 16 hit locations. What you gained in realism you lost in endless record-keeping.

I did like the Harn shield rules though. Different shields were more effective against different classes of weapons. Light shields were better against light weapons, while heavy shields provided more protection against heavy weapons.

Coming back to my favorite out-of-print boardgame, Avalon Hill's Magic Realm, the three weapon aspects of Harn combat (Blunt, Edge and Point) nicely line up with Magic Realm's three attack directions (Smash, Swing and Thrust). Like most of my half-formed ideas, i've long wanted to find a way to combine the Harn weapon aspects and Magic Realm matrix into a diceless or near-diceless combat system. My quixotic quest continues.


Scott said...

Huge Harn fan, but for me, it became like Tekumel ... too much canon to keep track of. Like Tekumel, if I were to run it again, it'd just be with the original Harndex, and *maybe* Harnplayer.

Timeshadows said...

I really find it puzzling that you guys feel you need to be true to canon to the point of not playing in a setting you'd otherwise enjoy.
--Is that a guy thing?

Timeshadows said...

@APiC: I am more than convinced you can, and in all likelihood, will create your combat matrix --and sooner than later.

I am looking forward to reading it. :D

Scott said...

I really find it puzzling that you guys feel you need to be true to canon to the point of not playing in a setting you'd otherwise enjoy.

I have no problem ignoring canon. That's what I do with the Wilderlands, and what I'd do if I ever ran Harn or Tekumel again. :)

I'm not particularly masculine, though, so mileage may vary.

steelcaress said...

I think "canon" for me is more like a "cannon," held to my head.

The few times I've run in published settings, invariably there's a fanboy who has kept track of every subplot and read all the novels. And I get called out for inserting details into the world that supposedly "shouldn't" be there.

That's why I run in my own settings, where I can put what I want in there and no one can say otherwise -- because it's mine.

I dunno if masculinity has anything to do with it, but, come to think of it, my wife is a lot more accepting of whatever mishmash I throw together...

Sean Robson said...

I never played Harn, but I do have Cities of Harn; what a wonderful book of city maps. I've gotten a lot of use out of it over the years.

Andreas Davour said...

Canon have indeed became "cannon" for me once again, after my short contact with official Glorantha.

For something more fun...

I really liked how different weapons in MERP/RM could do different kinds of crits. I seem to remember that a morningstar did both crushing and impaling for example. This always felt so natural to me, and it flowed well in the game. I have totally missed that Harn had a similar system.

Maybe it's kind of telling that it's the armour that makes it weird in those games as well.

Now I feel some twitching to reach for those rules and figure out a way to make it right...

ckutalik said...

I've always been fascinated by diceless tactical matrix as a mechanism. I like the idea of having a tactical choice match up with a counter-tactic from round to round ala the unarmed and martial arts tables in the first edition of Top Secret and the dueling rules of En Garde.

The rub is trying to ensure that there isn't a tactic that seems to become the no duh one. I seem to remember that lunging to the head in either of the above were a good bet. Any way eager to see what you come up with.

Maybe the problem with Harn though isn't so much canon as it is the stick is bent way too much in the hyper-realism direction (the anti-Tekumel). I mean feudal society circa 1100 AD without a just little more fantasy anachronistic tempering seems kinda grim.

Or maybe it is a guy thing.

Scott said...

There's actually an extraordinary amount of crazy magical and supernatural stuff going on in the Harn setting, it's just that most people will never see it - Godstones, Earthmaster ruins, abandoned Dwarf cities, aliens, mere-dragons, Gargun complexes, demi-planes, terrestrial gods and godlings, etc. Presumably, PCs have a greater chance of encountering such things, or at least evidence of their existence.

One thing we discovered when playing out Harnmaster combat was a "death spiral" effect - the guy who gets in the first hit sees his chances of winning the combat go up significantly because of wound penalties. This is realistic, but it's something one should be aware of when designing encounters and combat NPCs.

I think Harnmaster is comparable to, say, BRP in complexity once one has PCs generated. If Shek-Pvar characters or pious clergy are in the party, the complexity grows, but we never found it unmanageable. In most campaigns, combat is not something to be undertaken lightly.

Andreas Davour said...

YEah. Harn is an odd mix of mundane shit and weird oddball happenings. Strangely enough, most fans seem to emphasize just the former.