Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review: Heroine RPG by Josh Jordan

Hello again! Perhaps I do stand a chance at getting the blog updated semi-regularly now. This time around, I'm reviewing +Josh T Jordan's game Heroine. (PDF is found here.) It's an RPG that gives players roles in the story of a young girl who enters a strange Other World (think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice in Wonderland) and is challenged with saving it by growing as a person.

(As full disclosure, I received an electronic copy of Heroine for review purposes.)

Overview of the Book Itself
The book is put together in a very straightforward way; I was reading the PDF on a tablet, and the bookmarks (oh, yes, the PDF is bookmarked, joyous joy!) easily helped me get to the most important sections in the book. You have a chapter for each role in the game (the Heroine, the Narrator, and the Companions), explaining how they fit in, and the chapters are reasonably self-contained, so that you can read them first to get an idea of how your chosen role works. After a single read, I was easily able to understand how the game fit together and worked.

The visual design of the book is fantastic; not only are the pages themselves evocative, but the photographs between the chapters are wonderful! They're shots which tell a fairy tale story, with just the right amount of embellishment and attention to detail to appear fantastical. I could probably gush on about how the costuming and "look" is fantastic for the genre, but that's not really what this review is about. Basically, the book visually rocks. Let's get on to the game itself!

How the Rules Gel
It seems weird to call Heroine a "rules-lite" game. While it technically doesn't have a lot of rules, they fit together really concisely to create a specific flow of story. I think the better turn of phrase might be "rules-tight game". The rules invoke a very strong frame of gameplay, even though they're not as specifically worded as more traditional games. They break the flow of gameplay down into specific "moves" (not unlike how the Apocalypse World family of games works) which describe certain things happening during the game. Over the course of this, the Heroine and her Companions are asked to make choices in the world, until the gameplay builds to a Challenge.

I really like this. One thing that RPGs are only starting to develop is a sense of fictional structure. They've had a structure, to be sure, but it was a structure focused around building up to bigger and bigger challenges for the heroes to face, not focused around tracking the dramatic beats and progressions of characters in a story. I love seeing story structure brought into game format, because I know how games have their own structure--so it's really cool to watch the two of them come together. Here, the Narrator continuously presents the Heroine with hard choices, sometimes isolates her from her Companions, and gives her (eventually) a place where she can rise or fall. That's cool. (And the Drama Point economy is a cool way to keep the supporting cast dynamic.)

Does it Deliver?
I haven't played it yet, but from my read, Heroine is a delightful game. The inspirational theme is phenomenal (in fact, I'd love to play a Doctor Who takeoff where a young girl discovers a magical police box that lets her shoot all across alien galaxies, picking up odd Companions along the way) and the mechanics spin the story in a dramatic but not intense fashion. They're also flexible enough to let you focus on the most important aspects of the game: what the Heroine means to the world, what the Companions mean to the Heroine, and how the story changes her.

This gets a solid recommendation from me. Stay tuned for when I eventually review Girls Elsewhere, the supplement to Heroine!