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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Out-Of-Print Review: Hercules and Xena The Roleplaying Game

So, thanks to Netflix I've been rewatching most of the Hercules and Xena series. It's a shame it took me so long, I had forgotten just how great the series were. The perfect combination of melodrama, anachronism, questionable special effects, and complete goofiness. So needless to say, when I realized that there was an RPG I had to own it. Although the book has been out of print for quite a while I quickly found a cheap boxed set on ebay:

The only thing it's missing is the set of 6 custom d6's featuring chakram and hydras rather than numbers. It's too bad, but 6 dice wouldn't be nearly enough to meet the needs of a play group so it's no great loss.

It was delivered yesterday and so I've sat down and read through it and figured I'd share some of my thoughts with y'all. It's a boxed set that comes with the Hero's Guide (character creation), Secrets of the Ancient World (The core rules, monsters, etc), a GM's screen and a set of three adventures.

The Hero's Guide

So...just reviewing this as I thumb through it. Mildly impressed with the production values. Almost all the art are clips from the show, so I guess they took the budget they saved and tried to make the book fairly pretty. It doesn't look fancy compared to WoTC's work with books for 3rd and 4th edition, but for a late 90's book by a small publisher it's not bad (other than some contrast issues making some text hard to read).

By the way, I should mention that this is my first exposure to the D6 system, so I'm just looking at the system as it appears in the book. I hear lots of good things about D6, so maybe this will make me a convert.

First we start with character creation. There's about 7 pages of "Hero Types" (about 9 of which are close synonyms of "fighter") for your character. I've looked closely and as far as I can tell these don't have any actual impact on your character. They're more or less just a selection of suggested skills or specialties. Seems like a lot of space to dedicate to something that doesn't really have much effect.

Next we have Races (humans, centaurs, satyrs and nymphs). honestly, I don't see much appeal to the races...nymphs are closely tied to their element and weaken away from it, centaurs would run into a ton of issues as adventurers, leaving satyrs as the only really feasible race and their only notable feature is increased awareness.

Each hero also has a Goal and a Unique Possession. These have no real mechanical effect (other than a free piece of gear), but it's a good idea for starting with some roleplaying hooks.

Next we come to the meat of the system. Attributes and skills. The attribute/skill system is pretty straightforward: you create a dice pool by combining your attribute + skill. rolls of 1 or 2 (or hydras) are failures and 3+ (chakrams) are successes.  There's plenty of skills, some seem a bit...overly specific (I'm looking at you juggling). Given that it's a game base on Xena I'm glad to see the Battle Cry skill.

After that there's gear, some sample characters, special moves, etc. The back of the book features a big list of future products that never happened.

Final Thoughts: Overall it seems pretty good, but I'm noticing two things. First is that there are touches of realism that are distinctly unwelcome such as the chakram having a chance of damaging people who use it or the torch + booze flamethrower trick has a similar risk of hurting the user. And in the second half of the book you've got the stats for Herc, Xena and their companions all of whom have much better stats than your starting character...all except one...


The Secrets of the Ancient World

So, this is the GM's book and it's got the bulk of the rules. After browsing through it here's a quick list of my first impressions:

I like the core system. It's a good "rules medium" with enough crunch for satisfaction but simple enough that you don't get bogged down and can just roll the dice. The combat system isn't perfect...I don't like any system that requires you to declare defensive actions ahead of time, but aside from that it's pretty good. It has the best ranged difficulty chart ever:

There's some stuff that's interesting, but way too vague to be useful. The Hero's Challenge is mentioned several times but never elaborated upon. Likewise the gods are represented as far too omnipotent considering the series involves regular duels with them.

Final Review

So, after reading things I think it's a cool system, with a fun attitude but not exactly what I'm looking for when it comes to doing justice for the Hercules and Xena universe. Starting characters are not even at the "sidekick" level for the shows and there are no easy rules for starting characters at higher power levels other than simply dumping loads of character points into their laps. Likewise there's no rules for playing demigods (just a small handful of special powers), battling gods (or godlike beings), which is disappointing considering the source material.

But the core system is fun and worthwhile, it would make a good low-fantasy or sword-and-sorcery style game...but if I want to run an actual Hercules and Xena game I'd probably use Truth and Justice.


  1. As I recall, the system used in this is a simplified version of the classic D6 system used in Star Wars. Well, I say "simplified" but it seems to have a different resolution mechanic.

    1. Same mechanic, just counting success vs failure rather than adding pips. Math was apparently too hard for Star Wars players.

  2. Now I just want to watch the shows again. The same thing happened after reading 'If Chins Could Kill'...