Saturday, 9 October 2010


Harn. One of the most detailed, evocative and highly rated campaign worlds ever published. So why doesn't it have the market recognition it deserves?

That's certainly not a question I'm sure can answer, though I might have a stab at it in a later article. In any case, I love the game world almost as much as I love "old school" gaming. While the Harn setting was always a little too "magic poor" for the tastes of most of members of my gaming circle in the eighties and nineties, the feudal setting evokes images of the Anarchy period of English History (the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda) as well as the succession crisis and civil wars in the later reign of King Henry the Second and his magnificent wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Because I love both the Harn setting and the OSRIC old school rules, I've decided to mesh the two together for my next campaign. The (very political and not really old school) Dragon Age game I've been running since Christmas last year is about to reach it's end. While one of my players is looking to run a Savage Worlds game, the likelihood that I'll be changing jobs in March means that I'll finally have more time for gaming. As in enough time to play in one campaign and GM another.

The fact that two of my fellow gamers will likely be moving in with me and the missus around that time doesn't hurt either. So, as much as I'm looking forward to outwitting someone else for a change (as opposed to being the outwitted DM myself) I'm already working on the next campaign.

I already foresee several challenges in integrating the magic-poor Harn setting with the OSRIC rule-set. For one thing, I'll have to bend and twist a lot of monsters into shape. The scarcity of magic in the Harn system shouldn't be too much of an issue. The entire island of Harn has a human population (including Kingdoms and Tribes) of just half to three-quarters of a million people. Thus there are very few adventurers to spread those very rare magical items between. The PC's wont have to worry (much) about going to loot a place that's already been cleared out by other adventurers the week before. To most folks, they'll just be yet another band of mercenaries, albeit a group that takes on slightly nuttier risks than most such outcasts.

Additionally, while Harn has very few monstrous humanoid races (orcs being about it) it does have a large number of unique, vaguely-defined creatures created by the "Craven-God", Ilvir. Meaning that I therefore have a built-in rational for incorporating just about any weird beast ever to see print into the campaign. Just so long as I use them in small amounts.

On the other hand, the orcs of Harn are divided into a number of "sub-races". It wouldn't be too hard for me to simply replace some of the existing sub-races of orcs with variations on creatures such as goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears and so on (but not Kobolds, I have different plans for them). True, it could be argued that this would construe a wasted opportunity to inject a little something extra into the culture and lifestyle of the ubiquitous orc. Yet the orcs of Harn are already unique in so many different ways that I see no need to develop them further. I will, however, elaborate on what makes the orcs of Harn so special in a future blog post.

I plan on using the excellent published Trobridge Inn settlement as a starting point for the campaign. It's a small Inn and village located on a main caravan route, the "Salt Road", many days travel from the nearest "civilised" outpost. It's also right in the middle of a half dozen excellent adventure locations. These include three different sets of ancient ruins, several more recent battlefields, the largest Orc Warren on Harn, two hostile (human) barbarian tribes and some adventure locations of my own devising. The Inn is also one of the few places on Harn visited by Elven merchants. Coincidentally, these elven merchants are among the few beings to traffic in magical or high quality expensive goods. Thus, there will be visits by someone that the PC's can sell their most expensive loot to at least a couple of times a year.

Even better, the Inn affords plenty of opportunity for politics and intrigue. The local brigand is something of a wannabe knight and has taken control of much of the settlement; charging tolls for use of the ford and forcing the villagers to pay him “taxes”. Needless to say, as most of the inhabitants live in this dangerous area precisely because they wish to escape the feudal system this brigand is trying to emulate, there is a certain degree of resistance to his plans. This resistance centres around the fortified Inn complex itself, with the Innkeeper (and his mercenaries) having the active, open support of the village Craftsmen and the more tacit support of the village as a whole.

Factor in that the Inn lies in the wilderness almost half-way between the Thardic Republic and the Kingdom of Kaldor (both of whom the Brigand is trying to court in return for recognition of his “knightly” status) and you can see that there will be as much scope for adventure at this “safe haven” as there will be out in the dungeon or wilderness.

And on top of it all, by the time the characters reach “name level”, the Kaldor succession crisis should be reaching boiling point. That includes plenty of time for the PC's to make a name for themselves beyond the relative back-water of the Inn. That is, before they get dragged into this budding little civil war by one side or the other.

DM Bliss.

I'll keep you updated with more articles reagrding the OSRIC-Harn campaign as things progress.


Scott said...

I'll be following this with interest. I'm a Harn fan, at one point owning damned near everything published for it.

I always thought of it as more "magic rare" than "magic poor" ... there's a LOT of powerful, weird stuff out there, it's just that Joe the Villein will probably never see it.

I think one reason it never caught on is that it's hard for many groups to figure out exactly what to do with it. The "band of heavily armed freebooters running around doing as they please" model of D&D is hard to fit into Harn.

It's also associated with an apparently complex system that I think puts some folks off, particularly with its heavily front-loaded character generation.

"100 Bushels of Rye" remains one of my favorite modules ever.

Dangerous Brian said...

101 Bushels of Rye was an excellent adventure, but I think the Earls Progress(a fan produced adventure set in Kaldor) stands out in any system. if you don't have ti let me know and I'll email you a link.

You're spot on with the term "magic-rare" as you define it. Much more apt. it's the go-to phrase I'll adopt in future posts.

I agrre. Harn is a very difficult setting to run a "traditional" style game in. It's why I've gone with Trobridge Inn as the campaign base. It's the only place the characters can really operate outside the limitations imposed on them by feudal law.

In previous campaigns where I've used the Harn setting or the Harnmaster system, I've always constructed the group a round a Knight PC . The remainder of the group wound up playing his squire, yeomen, relatives and men-at-arms (rather like what I'm doing in the Dragon Age campaign, in fact). Unfortunately, I can't run two games at once anymore, not on my schedule (not even come March 2011) so I'm going to try mixing the two campaign styles and see how the soup turns out.

Personally, I think it will work really well. Plus it gives me the opportunity to tinker a little, without going to all the trouble of creating an entirely new homebrew setting.

One thing about Harn that I do miss was the "remove these pages and stick them in your ring-binder" format. having every major entry alphabetised made collating and tracking information so much simpler. It was handy not having to fret about which published book had the material I needed to look up.

Unfortunately, it also means that its very hard to track down old Harnmaster books. I keep looking through old ring binders at conventions, hoping to stumble across some harn material. I havent seen a copy of the older material in years.

Scott said...

I have the Earl's Progress on a CD somewhere. One thing that always impressed me about Harn was the quality of the fanon.

I also love the Encyclopedia Harnica format, which has become my setting binder format.

I gave away an entire big box of Harn material a few years ago. There was a lot of good stuff in there.

Dangerous Brian said...

There's a lot of great fanon out there. Harn seems to be a setting that attracts people who appreciate it's attention to details, and whom make a point of maintaining a certain continuity. Which I'm very grateful for.

Having seen your camapaign wiki, I realise the encyclopedia format is something that should be relatively easy to follow in a digital format. If I ever get around to putting my own home brew setting in a publishable format, that's the format I'll use.

I sincerely hope that you took the time to scan all that Harn material before parting with it. You'll have a nightmarish time tracking it all down again if the notion takes you.