Advance Scout

Guided by his dimensional compass, the Scout roams the infinite universes, ever treading from world to world and plane to plane, seeking the latest tidings of new RPG-related releases...

My trusty dimensional compass has brought me to the Golden Age, a time of myth and legend, of vicious monsters and petty deities, of diabolic warlords and fearless heroes. Oh, and Hercules and Xena, too. This week I'll be telling you about the new Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game from West End Games. The boxed set, which sells for $30, includes the 96-page "Hero's Guide" (a book for players), the 112-page "Secrets of the Ancient World" (a book for GMs), a four-fold Game Master Screen featuring several reference charts, three 16-page adventures (one of which is a solitaire adventure designed to teach the game system), and six special Hercules & Xena dice. The Hero's Guide is printed in full color, unlike the rest of the materials, and is also sold separately for those players who don't want the whole boxed set.

The Hero's Guide contains a lengthy section on character creation, which seems to be aimed at novice role players. The instructions are very easy to understand, and the character creation process is explained step by step, and is not very complicated. Characters have 24 dice, or 24D, to divide between the attributes Coordination, Endurance, Reflexes, Strength, Awareness, Charisma, Knowledge, and Mettle. A character's race determines the minimum and maximum number of dice the player may allot to any given attribute, but most starting attributes will fall between 2D and 5D. Next 10D worth of Skills are selected; Skills are based on the various attributes. A starting character will also have a unique possession (something of mainly sentimental value), and a special goal (such as slaying the monster that killed his/her parents, etc.). A character also has Body Points, based mainly on Endurance, which determine how much damage the character can take.

As I mentioned above, a set of six dice comes with the boxed set, specially designed for the Hercules & Xena game. Five of the dice are identical, and have chakrams on 4 sides and hydras on 2 sides (a chakram is that ring-shaped bladed weapon that Xena carries). The sixth die is the wild die, and it has chakrams on 3 sides, one hydra, one Eye of Hera, and one Thunderbolt of Zeus. Generally, the chakrams represent successes, so if my character is trying to perform a Strength-related feat, and my Strength attribute score is 4D, I will roll four of the dice (including the wild die) and see how many chakrams (successes) come up. The GM would then compare my total to the difficulty of the action to let me know if I succeeded or not. The Eye of Hera represents something terrible transpiring, and causes chakrams to be subtracted from the total, and the Thunderbolt of Zeus represents a spectacular success, and allows bonus chakrams to be added. Regular 6-sided dice can also be used, and that's good, because I suspect players would get tired of passing the one set of dice around the table all night long. Actually, including 6 dice seems kind of arbitrary to me, since there will doubtless be occasions when rolling more than 6 dice is called for. Ah well, I suppose West End will offer more dice, sold separately, if they don't already.

The Hero's Guide also includes a few character templates, blank character sheets, descriptions of the main characters from the TV shows, specifically Hercules, Xena, Iolaus, Gabrielle, Salmoneus, Autolycus, and Joxer, and a listing of the immortals that characters might encounter in their adventures. In addition, arms and equipment listings are provided for outfitting characters, but I found that this section could have used a little more detail. The general equipment listed includes: candle, grappling hook, hammer, iron spikes, marbles, quiver, rope, sack, torch, and water clock. That's it. If your character wants something else, I guess it's up to the GM to determine game stats for it.

The other book that comes in the boxed set, Secrets of the Ancient World, provides details for the GM on skill difficulties, general advice on "how to GM" and on running entertaining adventures, descriptions of monsters, locations and personalities found in the Ancient World, and a very small section (8 pages out of 112) on handling combat. Like the players' book, this book also seems aimed at the novice role-player, and many things are explained in detail that an experienced GM would already know. The game mechanics information provided by the GM book reinforces the simplicity of the system as described in the players' book: the dice rolling system for determining successes is very simple and tends to emphasize dramatic heroism over strict realism.

Overall, I guess I have mixed feelings about the Hercules & Xena boxed set. I think that there are probably some gamers out there who will enjoy it, specifically, those who enjoy the Hercules and Xena TV shows, and who don't have a lot of experience with other game systems. For those folks who do have more experience playing, for instance, AD&D, they would probably do just as well to create Herc and Xena as AD&D characters instead of moving over to this new game. I'd have to say I see this RPG as mainly a merchandising ploy to take advantage of the popularity of the TV shows. The game mechanics are simple and easy to understand, but those players who like thorough rules and detailed and complicated combat resolutions will be disappointed. But if you're looking for a fantasy game based on simplicity, humor, and fun, who knows, this could be for you. Battle On! Scout out.


Feel free to drop me some e-mail if you have comments, suggestions, or complaints. You can also let me know if you want to see a particular game covered here, or just say hi.

a.k.a. Scott T. Watkins

RPG Scout