Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Hârnic Sandbox: A Fortnightly Online Game

Illustration from a Speculum Virginum ("Mirror of Virgins"), c. 1200.
Source: Bibliotheca Augustana via Wikipedia Commons

What: A sandbox-style D&D game set in a loose adaptation of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn, a fantastical analog of medieval Britain. The system is Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay/Cook & Marsh). It's FLAILSNAILS-friendly! Ideal for PCs of levels 1–4 in old-school systems.
When: Wednesday 13 February and every second week thereafter, 7–9 pm PST
Where: Roll20
Who: All are welcome — no experience necessary.
Why: ...
How to get started: Roll up a new B/X character (or use the random character generator below to get one in milliseconds) and sign up on Roll20 at the link above. (FLAILSNAILers: just bring a PC you'd like to play, bearing in mind the "handicap" table for high-level characters in low-level games. You may, or may not, also want to take into account the extent to which your PC might stand out or blend in while adventuring among the humans, dwarfs, and elfs of Hârn.)

B/X Essentials, a rationalized compilation of B/X rules by Gavin Norman (including free text-only versions)
Labyrinth Lord, a B/X retroclone by Daniel Proctor (free no-art version)
Campaign-specific guide to character creation (includes information on deities and languages unique to the setting)
Basic D&D random character generator by Ramanan Sivaranjan
The FLAILSNAILS conventions at Jeff's Gameblog
Hârn map and primer from Columbia Games (free)
Principia Apocrypha, a primer for "old-school" gaming (also free)

The Original Twenty Questions

as proposed by Jeff Rients
  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?  There are ten major deities and hundreds of minor ones. The former run the typical thematic range from truth and virtue to chaos and death. Pick one!
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?  Any of Hârn's cities or towns will have most standard items; remote rural villages will only have a limited range of goods.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?  You could try any one of the eight walled towns but your best bet would be the Khuzdul (Dwarfish) capital, Azadmere. The Khuzdul know something about smithing.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?  Check with the Shek-Pvar, or Guild of Arcane Lore; their chantries are scattered throughout the land, mostly in the towns. Whoever they are, there's a decent chance they're from the kingdom of Melderyn in the southeast — its nickname is the "Wizards' Isle."
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?  It's always changing, of course, as the pool of candidates is constantly renewed due to frequent injuries and deaths. There are any number of famous knights gadding about, but there are also an unknown number of barbarian heroes that aren't really known outside their tribe. The Orbaalese petty kingdoms in the north produce a regular stream of Beowulf types.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?  Difficult to say. The Thardic Republic in the west is a plutocracy that efficiently channels wealth to its ruling families; a lot of its senators are pretty loaded. On the other hand, some of the leading merchants from the kingdom of Melderyn do pretty well for themselves with trade to the nearby continent. And the city of Tashal in Kaldor is the hub of trade for the entire island.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?  Ordinary folk rely on the Guild of Apothecaries and/or the Society of Physicians for help with ailments; special folks like yourselves may be able to get divine healing from a powerful cleric, assuming you are in good standing with one of the local churches. Maybe in return for a favour ...
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?  Apothecaries and physicians might be able to help with poisoning and some kinds of diseases. For supernatural problems, the Guild of Arcane Lore is your best recourse. Death is not necessarily final, but the powerful magics required to reverse this state are not easy to access. You will have to pay dearly — and with more than mere gold.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?  Yeah, the Shek-Pvar or Guild of Arcane Lore. Wizards keep their secrets close, however; usually you need to find someone you trust to trade spells with. 
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?  Look in one of the eight walled towns. Across the water to the east, the continent of Lythia has many marvellous cities teeming with all manner of talented professionals. Hârn is actually kind of backward compared to many of the Lythian civilizations.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?  Sell-swords abound, mostly in the eight walled towns. You can find Viking types up north in Orbaal. Rare and exotic mercenaries from Lythia can also be found here and there, especially in Melderyn.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?  In principle, wizards everywhere are regulated by the Guild of Arcane Lore, but in practice this mostly applies in the towns; in the countryside, hedge wizards/witches/shamans operate largely without oversight (but are at the mercy of the communities they serve). Universally, the use of magic to cause harm is a crime. Infractions are investigated by the guild but punishable by systems of royal justice, which typically deal harshly with the criminal use of magic. Everyone has heard of at least one tongueless or fingerless ex-wizard/cleric who will cast no more after a run-in with the law.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?  It's pseudo-medieval fantasyland Britain: taverns are everywhere, even if it's just a peasant hutch serving days-old ale.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?  Have you heard about the Ivashu? They're monstrosities created by the god Ilvir that pop up unpredictably. Some are captured for use in gladiatorial arenas in Rethem and Tharda, but others rampage across the countryside and wreak considerable damage. (Many, however, are simply harmless unless provoked.)
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?  The kingdom of Rethem is famous for its bloody political intrigues and its king is itching for a war of conquest with his neighbour, Kanday. News from Melderyn is that giants and gargûn (orcs) have sacked several towns.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?  The games are called the Pamesani and they're held twice each month in the western cities of Golotha, Coranan, and Shiran. They're organized by the clerics of Agrik, the fiery god of cruelty and destruction. (In decent places like Melderyn and Kaldor, the worship of Agrik is outlawed.)
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?  Yeah there are, mostly relating to cults of various kinds. There's also the Lia-Kavair, or Thieves' Guild, but they're not really that sinister: they're mostly into limited wealth redistribution — at least, that's how it appears to most people.
  18. What is there to eat around here?  Everything you could eat in medieval Britain, plus the potato.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?  The forgotten secrets of the Earthmasters, an ancient civilization whose wondrous ruins dot the land, are totally what you're looking for.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?  Head out from any town and, after a few days riding away from civilization, ask the local peasants what's eating them — figuratively and literally. Go from there.  

Disclaimers and disclosures

The setting is not canon Hârn, nor is the game intended to be especially Hârnesque in the sense of striving for medieval realism. This Hârn merely provides a fund of geographical and sociopolitical details that serve as the backdrop for good old D&D shenanigans. I roll on lots of tables, only some of which have anything to do with Hârn.

Finally: this game is all about player agency. Be whomever you want, do whatever you want. But it's also about a safe space for the exercise of your imagination. If it were a movie, I'd suggest a PG-13 rating in the MPAA classification — that is to say, in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ballpark. In our exchanges, I look forward to exemplary civility and respectfulness as you and your comrades plot how best to slay monsters and take their stuff. Or save the world. Or achieve spiritual enlightenment. Whatever turns your crank!


  1. Will you stream it somewhere? There is no way I could play but I would love to watch.

  2. Intriguing idea! It wasn't in the original plan, but if a group coalesces that expresses interest in streaming, I would be on board.

  3. I wouldn’t mind it being streamed as long as people’s personal privacy was respected. Like Character name, player first name. No confidential information is discussed or posted/revealed.