After two years of writing and a successful indiegogo campaign, Honour is the first role playing game from Nine Dragons RPG, a publishing company based in Hong Kong.
Pangu and the Worlds Between
Honour is set on the world a Pangu, a place under the influence of powerful Feng Shui magics. The being known as Giant first created reality before making three races: the charmed ones, the demons and humanity. Given true free will, humanity turned the tide in the war between the other races and drove the demons into the spaces between dimensions. Present day Pangu is a dystopian near future parallel for our own Earth. The forces of capitalism, corruption and China have resulted in the fall of democracy in favour of corporate control. The charmed ones, the demons, and magic have returned with the discovery of portals and spells that lead to the spaces between dimensions. Travel between dimensions is possible, if difficult.
This is a broad sandbox for the players to tell stories of characters living extraordinary lives. Unfortunately, the core book only gives you the sandbox, it doesn’t give you the bucket and spade. Without stretched metaphor, the book has plenty of setting but little story. Details of the world are given at a national or geographic level without mention of wants, needs, desires or sources of conflict. The book would benefit greatly from some factions or some sample plot hooks to help frame a story that makes best use of the unique aspects of the setting.
Unique aspects it does have. The honour of the title refers to the honour of the characters. Their actions are judged by society against several, possibly competing codes of honour. The game tracks this, making note of how family, friendly and hostile interactions will change depending on a character’s perceived honour. Unlike a more traditional alignment system which binds a character to a set of personality traits, honour is about how your actions are perceived and the social consequences of this. Another highlight for me is the description of the spaces in between worlds. They aren’t places in the tactile sense, but instead realms of thought and feeling. In the spaces in between the only applicable attributes and skills are one those tied to emotion. This makes what could otherwise be a rather tedious transitory area a source of very distinct encounters. In the spaces between a character’s emotional state and characteristics change and inform what they and others experience. A great place for exploring a character’s emotional facets.
The core mechanic of Honour is to roll a d12 and add attributes, skills and equipment. This can be either against a static difficulty or the roll of another character. Fitting in with chinese culture theme, 11 and 12 on the dice have different effects, becoming yin and yang. Roll either and the character has succeeded but with yin they lose qi points and with yang they gain them.
Qi points are possibly used for too many mechanics in the game. They function as experience points for character growth, mana for learning and casting some spells and as hero points for boosting results in difficult times. Although a character earns qi at quite a fast rate, it feels like magic users and characters pushing their luck will fall behind characters who hoard qi for advancement. A character that uses qi for success will become increasingly dependant upon its supply as they spend it to keep up with more advanced characters.
Combat is Honour is deadly and fast, primarily as weapon damage is very high compared to character health. Rather than use an intuitive system, in Honour the combatants select an action in private and then declare at once. The various actions follow a rock, paper, scissors mechanic of adding modifiers depending on the actions of the target. All the attacks are then resolved before the effects of health loss or status change. So an attack that kills a target won’t prevent their attack this round but they do fall dead at the end of the round.
Once the players have got used to this style of combat resolution, I can imagine it becoming a faster mechanic. There’s no period at the start of combat where immersion is broken by the bookkeeping of determining initiative rolls and order. Once combat begins, the endless rethinking of actions and plans after each result is reduced to one period of group deliberation per combat round. The interaction between actions adds an additional layer of tactical complexity, though the designers have erred on the side of caution with the modifiers, electing to make them small so as to not dominate combat, only influence it.
The book is filled with amazing original artwork. There are many full page black and white illustrations for key points in the text and for the chapter headings. Each of the fantasy races and important non-player characters also has full page artwork to go with the prose and tables. The geography sections are well supported by the sketch style maps. There is stock artwork in the book, serving as filler art and illustrations in the equipment tables. It varies in quality and tends to be noticeable different from the aesthetic of the rest of the book.
The book has a contents page and full index. All the tables and key rules are reproduced in a quick reference guide at the end of the book. Overall though, the book could do with more polish. On a few occasions there’s large gaps around tables and when there are several tables on a page the book can’t make its mind up on the number of columns or where the text goes next. The table themselves have no artistic merit, merely being words in thick black borders. This was a missed opportunity to add additional style and design to the book. The provided character sheet is functional but noticeable lacks the artistic style present in commissioned artwork. It’s not to my personal taste and doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the book.
For the first RPG product of a new company, Honour is a reputable achievement. Some parts of the setting are going to familiar to fans of Shadowrun and Feng Shui, but the particular combination aspects feels unique and fresh to be worth exploring. The mechanics show a commitment to good pacing – being simple when the narrative and drama needs them to be, more complicated for when the characters have the time to sit and study.
If you’re unsure, the PDF is a bargain available for 5 USD at the Nine Dragons RPG website.
Disclosure: the author of this post has provided advice to Nine Dragons RPG on the layout of the book.