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Author Topic: HDL Universal Tactical Role-Playing Game Basic Rules  (Read 567 times)


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HDL Universal Tactical Role-Playing Game Basic Rules
« on: February 21, 2007, 06:42:47 pm »

Most gamers seem to have their own ideas about what they would do if they were game designers. This can range from making some interesting house rules for their favorite system to actually sitting down and knocking out a whole new system to play in.

Mr. Boyle has done that, what makes it interesting to me is that he has gone completely the opposite of where I would have gone had it been me writing the book.   I'll get into this in a moment.  

HDL is a refreshingly new look at gaming. The main book, as we see here, is cheap but attractive enough, and the basics are quickly graspable if you take a few minutes to read the book. More importantly, I can't just point the reader to another familiar game and say 'HDL is like this...', because it simply isn't so. HDL is the name for one of the two systems in play here, and describes the basic dice mechanic.  

That's right, there are two systems in this book. HDL is the primary system, used for all skill checks, stat rolls and every thing else. It stands for Half Dice Level, and is partly a notational system. It is a single number, representing the 'median' outcome of a dice roll plus a second number representing a flat bonus.  Aside from having to look at a chart for a bit to make heads or tails of it, it isn't that bad of an idea.  A 2, for example, represents a d4, while a 10 represents 2d10.  While the chart goes to 60 (12d10) I found nothing to suggest that you will ever toss that many dice. Ever.  

The second System is Scom, which is best summed up as 'tactical combat'. You see, you can play combat out with just dice and descriptions and rolls, or you can roll out the hex map and start using action points, facing and... well, the Scom rules. Since the dice and skills remain the same this makes for a simple expansion, and in fact is less than a third the size of the basic rules chapter. The rules for mass combat using Scom are elegent and take up less than a single page.

So far, so good, right? Now lets look at everything else.

Mr Boyle, who I swear is familiar sounding but could NOT find online, seems to have a fetish for average realism and endless subdivision. There are 13 stats, with an average of 5. Amazingly enough players get 65 points to divide into those 13 stats (giving them... wait for it, 5's across the board).  I could suggest that 5 is merely 'average adventurer', but there are a few bits that reinforce the averageness of 5.   Skill points are determined by three seperate stats, leading to a likely 'average' of 75 points, which turns into 15 skills at an average level of 5. This is, btw, almost a direct quote from the game itself.  As for skills, they are divided up endlessly. In order to shoot someone you need two seperate skills, three if using two weapons. You need two other skills (minimum) for close combat.  One skill is 'ranged combat', the other is 'Firearms:pistols" or what have you. Gah!  There are seven armor skills, one for wearing it, three to design it, and three to build it!  Even with short descriptors this takes five or six pages, and there is a two+ page chart just naming them all, and sorting them into catagories (combat, physical, social, artistic, academic...etc) with some crossover.

There is an interesting dichotomy at work. It is possible to 'Grok' character creation in about five seconds, yet I forsee it taking hours to actually crunch the two numbers you actually start with. I tried it and broke down horribly in picking skills.  You can, of course, simply pick '15' skills at '5' and be done with it, but given the volume of skills it is somewhat implied that you will be suffering during the game if something comes up and you have no skill at all. More, because the default difficulty is 'ten'... an average roll for a Stat 5 (HDL=1d10) + skill 5 (the bonus).

One of the minor issues that might influence you: for a generic 'tactical' game, there is a surprisingly strong focus on ESP, which we can assume is the default method of all sorts of magical mayhem in 'generic' settings.

On to the system. I've mentioned the basics of HDL, but how does it actually look?

Simple, in a good way. Not perfect, certainly, but nothing horrible either. You have several attacks a round, which changes based on ranged or close combat, primarily based off your skill, and always defaulting to the lowest possible number of attacks. You can defend with your attacks, even more than once per attack, which might be a bit much.  Your attacks are used to compute your 'Action points' in Scom 'mode', with very simple cost per action rules.   I did have a few minor issues, however. The combat is lethal by default. Having disgusting stats can help, obviously, but they are nearly impossible to get without crippling yourself in other areas, and given that there are 13 possible ways to influence combat (13 stats...) it's difficult to pick just one to be 'ugly' at.  Going along with this is the concept that ranged combat can not be defended against. The target number to hit someone is based on their Luck stat and whatever penalties the shooter has. Actively dodging  is verboten (unless you have superhuman reflexes or the Gm is a nice guy), based on the 'realism' that you can not dodge bullets.  I could argue that you don't dodge the bullets, but the guy shooting them, but this is neither here nor there.  the point is, this makes for a dangerous, and slightly disempowering combat system once guns come into play.   Your mileage may vary, etc.

Slightly more problematic is the armor system. On the surface I rather like it. Armor takes damage, can be 'avoided' by a good shot, and has the ability to ignore weak shots. All good and reasonably simple to use. The difficulty comes from the application of the Threat Rating of the armor and the attack. If the TR of the armor is higher than the attack, it bounces, if the TR of the armor is lower then the armor is useless. It gets damaged, but so does the wearer as if they were completely unarmored. Only when the TR is equal does armor seem to function as intended (taking the damage for the wearer)... which is a somewhat narrow range. This 'all or nothing armor' irks me on some level.   The saving grace is the Armor's TR+1 level, where the wearer takes 'non-lethal damage'. That said, the 'stacking armor' rules are very elegant in and of themselves.   Problematic because i can't just laugh at it and say they are broken, yet they irritate me on some level...

The worst aspect, aside from the excessive focus on being 'average' characters, is determining the damage of melee weapons. That said, it's not ruinous, just 'unsimple' in an otherwise simple game. You add three numbers together and divide by two. Two of those numbers are 'fixed' per weapon (TR and size modifier), and thus should have been pre-figured for you in the weapon charts.  It's not brain breaking math, though the chart for melee weapons should have been organized better, but it is annoying.  Damage, for the record is recorded as an HDL, as most variable numbers are.  This game does use hit locations, with a supplemental hit chart for the head for your amusement (broken jaws are common apparently)

Included in the book are the basic rules for making stuff, along with inhuman critters and other tidbits of stuff. Thankfully, its not designed around making everything rigidly codified and lockstep perfect, but more focused on getting usable, fast guidelines so you can get on with playing the game.

The book ends with a character sheet, which is well done, NPC combat sheets and a page of blank 'Standies', or paper figurines you can set up for map use. It does have an index.

Finally... this game is meant to be used with special HDL cards. I did not buy the pack available, as I hate having to keep track of such excessivly fiddly sundries.  From what I could tell, the cards are more optional than not. You get 'roleplaying' background cards and 'action cards' much like the old Masterbook cards (Torg, Shatterzone, etc) including 'missed me' cards, presumably  to offset the lethality of the combat when average people interact with guns.  Since the GM also gets cards this is less useful than it might otherwise seem. Ditto with the Xp mechanic (spending Xp to avoid bad stuff, cause good stuff) as the GM gets just as much XP to spend as the players do, and doesn't need to save it for improvement.

In closeing: while the game philosophy at play here is almost completely the polar opposite of my own mind, that only makes it more interesting to me. For a tiny, brand new company, Tremorworks is putting out professional, cheap stuff with some very nifty ideas. It's got it's rough spots that could use polishing, but far less than I expected to see when I picked it up.

Tomorrow I'll cover the setting book I got at the same time.  
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