I started to feel that I didn’t know roleplaying games well enough so I came up with the plan to read a roleplaying game corebook for every year they have been published. Selection criteria is whatever I find interesting.
Hood is a Finnish roleplaying game by Jukka Sorsa, designed for beginners young and old. As an introductory game, it’s friendly and accessible: The game booklet is 54 pages, the visual presentation of information has been done with an eye to understanding and ease of use and the theme of Robin Hood is known to most.
One of my pet peeves in reading roleplaying games is how rarely the character sheet is used as a visual aid to explain character creation, a process that often involves filling the character sheet. Here the sheet is used in an exemplary fashion, the text and the visual presentation intertwining so that you instantly grasp what you’re supposed to be doing.
The player characters are a merry band of outlaws, at odds with the law of the land yet fundamentally noble at heart. The system is simple, with a clever dice pool mechanism that rewards increased skill with more combat options instead of punishing low skill with constant failure. The lower your skill level, the more of your action dice you need to allocate to your main task (such as a combat roll). More dice means more chance of success so low-skilled characters can still succeed but high-skilled characters can also add in extra actions such as swinging from chandeliers.
The point of it is obviously to avoid the “I try to hit him and… miss” type of gameplay.
Another interesting detail in the game’s presentation is its use of examples of play. They run through the book as dialogue set in speech balloons and demonstrate how the systems work. They also teach play culture through banter that demonstrates attitudes that help to get the right experience. (For example, don’t play to maximize game mechanical success but instead aim for fun swashbuckling action.)
It’s surprising to think how little beginner’s games like this feature in roleplaying game discourse. Big games like D&D require a significant investment of money, time and effort to get into, often through the sheer heft of the system. In contrast, you can pick up Hood, grasp the core concepts and get going in a few hours.