Observations & Propositions for Growth
These are just some observations I have, proposals for possible future development, and invitations for feedback. They'll come as spitballs first, then explanations after for anyone interested in the background.
SUMMARY: In short, this is a completely bad-ass system that makes me want to play it... strongly. But there's little-to-no foreplay, if you'll forgive my metaphor. In spite of its genius and bad-assery, it is EXTREMELY intimidating and risks turning off newcomers. There's readily-available content, and a lot of it; but the content appears to be aimed towards a reader and less so towards a player, particularly a new one -- if you follow my meaning. Also, due to lack of footprint, YOU have to SEEK HarnMaster; my impression is that it's extremely rare for someone to come across it on its own and wonder, "What's this all about?"
OBSERVATION 1: To me, this is hands-down the best system I've come across. As both a D&D and Call of Cthulhu player, I enjoy fantasy roll-playing, but have come to lament the "party of murder-hobos" into which D&D has degenerated. Call of Cthulhu has many similar aspects to HarnMaster, and it focuses players on the mystery/adventure more-so than being "murder hobos"; but it's not fantasy. The Skills-based system is a home-run.
OBSERVATION 2: This is not intended to be condescending, as I think we all agree this is the current state of affairs -- HarnMaster has a comparatively TINY player base. Hardly anyone I know has heard of it, so it's just BRUTAL to find a group of people to play with.
OBSERVATION 3: For an inexperienced GM, without an existing player base for good critique, I do NOT do justice to the system when trying to introduce players to it. There is a STEEP learning curve with character creation and combat flow.
OBSERVATION 4: Speaking of combat, once the learning curve is surpassed, this becomes a HUGE selling point of HarnMaster that I love. (1) It's graphic; it's brutal; it's visceral; it's DEADLY, and almost always has dire consequences; (2) which is how combat should be! It took players ONE combat before they stepped back and said, "Ok... how 'bout this is our last resort from now on?" Exactly, ladies and gents... exactly. This promotes an attitude more towards finding solutions and solving mysteries rather than a party of murder-hobos.
OBSERVATION 5: No levels? No problem! Again, with accolades towards the skills-based system, it's great that there's no such thing as a lvl 76 fighter that can wade through a never-ending sea of kobolds with nary a scratch. You can excel in arms but yet be completely incompetent in investigation, if that's your forte. And woe to the noble knight who gets beset by a dozen peasants with pitchforks and rope.
OBSERVATION 6: There appears to be a significant lack of adventure-modules, and those that exist -- while they are most excellent in terms of mood and background -- can be nearly impossible to play if played "properly". Dead of Winter and Staff of Fanon come to mind. For those who haven't read them, I'll keep the spoilers out. Dead of Winter has an AWESOME setup and story; but I can't for the life of me figure out how the villain CAN'T accomplish his goals without a total and complete lock-down, if he is played properly. And in the Staff of Fanon, (a) too much of the dungeon is non-populated and (b) it INVITES players to get insta-wiped in a certain room. (The exception is 100 Bushels of Rye... a most-excellent starter adventure.)
OBSERVATION 7: I have no idea how to do Magic. Keep in mind my only reference is D&D with this. I FEEL like it's awesome that the spells are vague and open-ended. However, with no experience upon which to call, expecting me and my players to develop our own spells is a daunting ask.
OBSERVATION 8: Religion and rituals are awesome, and this was probably the easiest way for new players to incorporate spellcasters into a game session. The effects were specific and straightforward.
OBSERVATION 9: New content comes pouring out, but it APPEARS it's mostly history, overland maps, and background. Now all of that is GREAT, but where's the game-playing meat to entice new players? Are we pulling in PLAYERS or READERS? I have little interest in the goings-on of the main continent when I can't even get my head around the isle of Harn itself, let alone get into it and adventure with some folks.
PROPOSITION 1: 100 Bushels of Rye -- or a new product very similar to it -- should be the tip of the spear for bringing in new players. In fact, let me revise that already and stress A NEW PRODUCT. Even 100 Bushels assumes basic familiarity with the HarnMaster system. I'm thinking a ready-made module that calls for certain rolls at certain events and that sort of thing; something to ease in both a new GM and new players. Set scenes; set events for investigation; set events for certain skills; set events for dialogue/interrogation; set combats, at least a prelude and a climactic battle; set events that require spells or rituals; and so on.
PROPOSITION 2: Due to its currently small footprint in the market, an online-available solo adventure -- again, calling for certain rolls during certain events -- can also help introduce players to this awesome system.
PROPOSITION 3: Also due to the small footprint, combined with the horrendous challenges of the COVID world, a ruleset for Fantasy Grounds would not only help facilitate online play between people all over the world, but its presence on such a platform could expand -- perhaps greatly -- the player base; and an expansion of player base = $$$$.
PROPOSITION 4: If there are any open-source, public-domain adventures from the classic era of D&D, perhaps a conversion of such a module (Keep on the Bordlerlands?) to HarnMaster can help entice those players into this FAR superior system.
PROPOSITION 5: When it comes to magic, I'm NOT proposing a more exhaustive and comprehensive spell-list, as I understand one of the major selling points of HarnMagic is player-created spells. But, as I mentioned above, I'm just not getting it. Perhaps more examples of spell creation, or nudges in some directions, could help ease players into the intimidating occupation of Shek-Pvar.
PROPOSITION 6: Maybe something I missed, but what about an officially published Harn adventuring CAMPAIGN? Something world-shaping (or island-shaping) in which players can participate using officially published adventure modules? I understand this would move the publishing timeline of adventures past the year 920 or whatever it is, but again... keeping an eye on expanding the player base...
PROPOSITION 7: And with all of the above already mentioned, the most obvious proposition is MORE OFFICIAL ADVENTURE MODULES, whether they are on Harn or the continent or wherever. This puts money in your pocket, obviously. It also entices the player base. But furthermore, as I perceive the current HarnMaster audience is an older generation, like myself... guys, I just don't have TIME anymore to create my own adventures and long-term campaigns. I need something I can buy, read in a week, and hit the ground playing with some people -- most likely online in Roll20, The Foundry, or Fantasy Grounds -- without a ton of prep and fuss.
I came across HarnMaster 2nd Edition (apologies! it's the first one I found out about!) before or after 2000. The needle entered the vein, and I've been sold on the system ever since. I then got 3rd Edition (again, apologies), found out about all the fuss between those other people and Robin, got HarnMaster Gold, and just started a collection of any adventure module or world reference material I could get my hands on.
At this time, my RP friends were heavily into D&D 3rd Edition (or 3.5 or whatever). I had grown up on AD&D, then AD&D 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition, and with that, everything started to go FLAT. D&D just became a game system of murder-hobos (as you've likely noticed I've like to refer to those kinds of players). With HarnMaster already in my veins, I continually got more and more disenchanted with the whole combat = XP, XP = levels, Levels = power, Power = invincibility. D&D just became a broken system.
But whenever I tried to pull friends into trying HarnMaster... Christ, it was just CLUMSY. We were constantly flipping through rules, checking charts, trying to figure out how magic works, and that was after the 2-hour long character generation process. So whereas I was totally enamored of this system, introducing others to it fell 95% flat. The conclusion in most cases was: (a) I don't want to make a character, (b) combat is too cumbersome, (c) there's too much paging-through-rules, and (d) I don't feel like I'm progressing with this character. Now all of those are FAIR CRITICISMS. I have dissenting or countering views on each objection, but that's not the point. That seemed to be almost universal in the feedback.
I'm a salesman by trade, and this is definitely a system I WANT to "sell", right? I WANT to get more players. I want to play, and because I want to play, I want to get a larger footprint, or at least make this easier to ease people into it, so that I can HAVE more people to play WITH.
Right now, my IMPRESSION is that this is a product that is SUPER VALUED by the CURRENT BASE. What I'm pointing out here is... what's the plan to get past the current base and bring more people in? Definitely challenging, as NO ONE wants to move PAST the current base. The goal should be... INCREASE THE BASE, yes? And so this is all just some mental diarrhea towards that end.
Thus the reason for this lengthy post!
Any tips/feedback/contrary view points are welcome. I'm all ears!