RPG Blog Carnival Rerun: Hoard Review

For RPG Blog Carnival. Let’s face it, one of the reasons why this blog is system-neutral is that in the beginning, I didn’t play what most of the bloggers played, and over the last year, I’ve played a lot of what most of the bloggers don’t play. So an entire month of squealing about games you’re not sure anyone’s ever heard of? I can do that. I can definitely do that. The first game I could think of was Hoard, by Levi Kornelson—now imagine my surprise, at 11:30 pm, when, halfway through my planned post, I realized that I’d written it a long time ago. The game is too good to stay obscure, though—so here’s my take, as originally posted on August 27, 2012.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my group, it’s that “Baby dragons” is the fastest way to get us to do much of anything. Which explains how, with next to no warning, we agreed to jump right in and play in a game of Hoard run by our resident collector of shiny new RPG systems. We came for the baby dragons. We stayed for everything else.

Concept-wise, Hoard is straightforward. You’re dragons. Treasure is important to you (including in a mechanical sense), as is territory, but you can be motivated by whatever you feel like. There’s a threat from beyond the world, there’s a threat from humanity, and of course there’s fun with dragon politics. More, the expected initial game is very young dragons undergoing an adulthood trial; it’s easy for a GM to set that in motion while watching the group and figuring out what sort of longer plots they’re likely to do well with.

The character generation is incredibly simple; I think the hardest thing about it was choosing just one personality affinity to start with, because they all look like such fun! Chargen boils down to “You need one of these (followed by a page each from that category), one of those (a page each), one of these (somewhat more options) and then one of these (a larger number of options, of which you are assured you will get more later).” After all the time I’d spent in other systems flicking from page 20 to page 180 to a quick check in another book to make sure a mechanic worked the way I thought it did, being able to pull a character together in about the time it took my boyfriend to read all the chargen rules was a relief. If you’ve got even the slightest preparation, a pickup game is a piece of cake; even if not, other characters are pretty easy to improvise.

The conflict system was described to me as FATE-like: a bit of an understatement, in my opinion. It seemed to me as more as if the designer ran into the Aspect mechanic and decided, “I will have more of this.” The good news is that the average conflict is almost entirely using the traits of everything that holds still long enough to your advantage: every turn is made up of stringing together actions, each of which calls to one of your traits, your opponent’s traits, or a feature of the environment, after which you decide how you’re going to balance offense (more accurately, pushing the goal of your action) and defense (or more accurately, preventing someone else’s goal). In our game, for instance, we at one point had a situation where my dragon was attempting to injure a human interloper on her fledge’s new island, while the human interloper’s “strike” was attempting to convince her that they should be allowed to leave alive. The catch to this is that it’ll make for longer battles, particularly in online games where type-lag is an active issue, and that a long conflict might lead to rather repetitive stock actions, taking away some of the fun of such a description-intensive system. Combat turns can be highly unproductive; in our game, no consequences were inflicted until everyone was well and truly out of in-game currency, and only about half of the turns thereafter tended to show active progress for either side. I don’t consider this a bad thing, mind; it just means that players expecting instant gratification might be disappointed. Short version; this is on the list of “games I don’t mind getting into combat in.”

Outside of conflict, events are decided through the proposing and counterproposing of scripts. It’s an interesting mechanic, though it took me a few tries to wrap my head around; it balances wagering the in-game currency with being able to throw traits at the situation.

Overall, the presentation is pretty, balancing mechanics with world-detail and with a way of justifying the metaphysics in-world. My one complaint is with the editing; while for the most part the guidebook is at least as well-edited as any big-name company (and probably better-edited than a good number of White-Wolf titles) the consistent use of “it’s” for “its” will irritate any grammarian. Overall, though, this is an excellent game system, and I want to adapt it to everything.

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