Wednesday 4 July 2012

Heroes Against Darkness by Justin Halliday

Heroes Against Darkness - Download for free nowI've never really* played D&D. I've never owned any of the books. The nearest I've got has been reading Order of the Stick. Then Heroes Against Darkness fluttered into my inbox, a game that unashamedly exclaims that it is D&D seen through the Justin's goggles. Tweaked. Fixed. Improved.

I bet you have house-ruled D&D into sentience. So did Justin. He then published it for free. I was priviledged enough to see Heroes Against Darkness before its major release; and it was so good that I borrowed and read D&D 2e Players Handbook and 3.5 Core Rules. That doesn't make me an expert but it makes me a few shades less ignorant. That's why it has taken me so long. I still prefer Heroes Against Darkness, so I won't refer to D&D again.

I wanna be a Half-Elf Berserker

Your character is formed by Class (your job), Race (species) and Ability scores (attributes). Class and race are not bound together but certain races are better at certain jobs. Your attributes include Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution, Intelligence and Charisma. They are generated by rolling or assigning or a mix of the two. Then add Race and Class modifiers. That choice is left to the group.

Typical of Heroes Against Darkness throughout, Justin has given easy to use examples of use. For example, if your campaign is going to have epic characters from the off, it tells you how to do that. Without it, playing the game is the only way to tell if the scores you've chosen are appropriate.

Derived attributes are there to speed up the mechanics and Anima Points track how much magical skullduggery those reality-bending types can get up to. Advancement is with experience points and levels. Character background generation is wonderful and applicable to any fantasy RPG.

Higher is better

The mechanic is D20, add Modifiers and beat a target number set by the GM. For everything. If you're here for spiked dice juggling or non-linear mathematical acrobatics, you're not really paying attention. The magic system is simple and just restrictive enough, your class gives you a selection of spells and you burn Anima points to cast them. There are limits on how much Anima you can pour into your spell. Limits you can break. But you might die. Which is nice. I can imagine my black hearted player group devising a way of forcing magic users to do enough magic that they explode.

Combat is opposed rolls with modifiers for equipment, the situation and attribute bonus. There are different sorts of defence depending on what's coming at you. A stabby-stabby (technical term) is defended by Armour Defense and magical artillery from the cowardly Anima junkies are against Evasion Defense. It's just enough crunch to be interesting. The power (and the crunch) is contained in the modifiers, which might get a little out of hand given combinations of whether you are prone, standing, hopping, in a volcano, distracted by a passing minstrel playing a song that reminds you of the scent of your mother's hair, extra magical sword stabbyness, etc etc.

You can use a grid and minis but you don't have to.

Two Hundred and Thirty One Pages

The first 37 pages cover everything you need to play. The other 194? Oh, nothing much really. Just armour. And equipment. Potions, prices for things, rowboats - and lodgings. Smithing, magical gizmo smithing, movement, transportation, encumbrance and terrain modifiers. Oh, then there's how to roleplay encounters with combat or surprise, nasty conditions your character can befall, recovery rules, class powers, more class powers and class powers again. And spells. Spells for Warlocks, Healers and Necromancers and golly!


A GM guide at page 103, designing encounters with balance, with examples, tips, tricks and thoughts on TPK. Help with modifiers. Help with skills. Help with XP and progression. Helpful magic how-tos and rule insights.

Still hungry?

Then there's a World Building Toolkit. Governments! Medieval detail! Guilds, Cults and Orders! Seasons, taxes, laws and settlements. Inpsiration tables with pre-gen names. An illustrated bestiary with monster builder and ready-to-go template cards. Reference tables!

It is breathtaking.

Guess what's missing

There's no example setting. This won't be a surprise to Justin (or any regulars here or on 1KM1KT). The setting here is implied through the classes, races and rules but there is still a lot of work for a GM to do before Heroes Against Darkness can be run. For the time-strapped GM, I'd like to see an example setting that demonstrates its strengths and depth. You could rightly argue the world builder is good enough but there's still a lot for the GM to do. I want to be able to print it, chuck it at a GM and say GO.


Heroes Against Darkness is beautiful. Art (used with permission) peppers excellent layout and typography. It is beautifully written, the language throughout is thoughtful and evocative. The system isn't groundbreaking but it is solid, familiar, like a moth-eaten sweater you should have torched years ago. The magic sells it for me over... errr... the-other-game-I-wasn't-going-to-mention. It's an unmissable Post-Old-School fantasy RPG. Most remarkable of all for a free RPG:

It's finished.

Congratulations Justin and thank you for sharing.

* Except now-and-again at conventions but that doesn't count.

1 comment:

Rodney Sloan said...

Great work Justin. It was cool to see how your book developed over time and I've been really impressed with the quality of it. Now I just need to take it to the table.