New Horizon begins with a short Introduction that is pretty much what you see on its sales page. It throws teasers out of what’s to come and makes you curious to know more. There is perhaps a bit too much effort spent here trying to sell the work as an improved version of a previous work rather than letting it stand on its own. This continues with the Story section, which includes the line of “For starters, it focuses in overcoming its predecessors [sic] flaws, aiming even higher to make it truly unique.”
The next few sections—Concept and How to Play—are concise and appear to be written for the benefit of those with little or no previous exposure to roleplaying games. It touches briefly on table etiquette and dice along with advice like taking a 15-minute break to stretch each hour. It also introduces a few key terms, such as Adventure Teller (AT, what other games commonly call a gamemaster) and Custom Actor (CA, what other games commonly call a player character). Lastly, there are a few paragraphs on freedom of choice that describe players taking unexpected “forks” in the campaign, and something here seemed off to me when I first read over it (more on this when I get to the Campaign Section). Despite being brief, this section assures the reader that the following sections will explain everything in greater detail.
Next comes Custom Actor Creation. It starts by describing customization, mostly in the form of non-mechanical descriptors, and of the importance of creating a family tree for your character(s). The first step is to pick your character’s race. There are five races, and each gets two pages of coverage. The first page for each race is a piece of artwork. The art here ranges from mediocre (valkin, an angel-like race, and elf) to good (human, orc, and dwarf). The second page of each has one column of description with a bit of game stats (mainly an elemental weakness) and another whole column on “health & diet.” I was surprised that 50% of the text for each race was on how much & how often they needed to eat, and I found the described results for inadequate food intake very odd (e.g., elves catch the common cold from not eating properly). The rules had told me that all races (and both genders) start with the same scores in all stats, so I was not surprised that there were no such modifiers here.
After selecting race, a homeland must be selected for each CA. Six homelands are each given one-page descriptions. The effect of homeland on the CA is entirely non-mechanical, but the next section—Bloodline—is going to change that. Each character gains Strength from his father and Wisdom from his mother. I’m not sure why only those two stats are linked to Bloodline, nor why Strength comes only from the male side and Wisdom only from the female side, but that’s how it is here. You can make a family tree and carry on such traits (both good and bad) through generations. This is hinted to be necessary for when a character dies or becomes too old to adventure, so I expect that the campaign section will have an extended duration.
The next step for each CA is to select a class (an adventuring role) and an occupation (a mundane occupation). These each adjust stats, so a Warrior/Farmer (class/occupation) has greater Strength and Endurance. Occupation also determines a CA’s income. Both classes and occupations are tiered by level, and either or both can be abandoned at higher levels and replaced with new options. This means that a Level 1 Warrior/Farmer might become a Level 2 Templar/Stonemason and then a Level 3 Paladin/Councilman. The classes have some restrictions here, and a CA can only switch classes in the same category. I can follow this logic, but the fact that occupations have no such limits is very weird, as is the fact that occupations are tiered by level at all—apparently everyone has to start out as a Farmer, Fisher, or Bartender (the only Level 1 occupations).
Next come the special abilities. These are the cool abilities or spells that make the character special. This also starts to talk about Action Points (AP), but I didn’t fully understand this until I got through the combat section and the monster section. In short, while everyone can do basic actions all the time, the special stuff takes 2-4 AP, and that AP recharges slowly (1 AP/turn) so a CA can’t just spam the best attacks every turn. A total of twelve abilities—mixing spells and skills—of levels 1-3 included here. There is also a list of which guilds teach which ability, along with monetary costs for learning them.
Equipment comes next, and equipment is largely a set of modifiers to your CA’s stats. This works fine with the combat mechanic (which still hasn’t been explained at this point), but there is some real weirdness here. Every item has a level, and it’s not clear if you can buy/use gear of a level higher than your CA’s level. If not, then starting characters cannot use a Dagger—which is oddly better than a Sword—or a Kite Shield. Level of items determines how much they cost, and it is notable that items can be upgraded for additional cost. What I did not see was how much starting money a CA has, but the sample character seems to have spent 200K$, so that maybe the correct amount.
There are also expendable items that fill limited “slots” in a CA’s inventory. Each CA has three slots, and each slot can hold up to three copies of the same item. This means that a CA can carry 3 x Health Tonics, 3 x Elixirs of Endurance, and 3 x Panacea Droughts (9 items), but could not carry 1 x Health Tonic, 1 x Elixir of Endurance, 1 x Panacea Drought, and 1 x Antidote Brew (4 items) for no defined reason. Lastly are a few additional pieces of gear that seem to just function as Have=Pass/Lack=Fail narrative traits.
At this point, the CA is almost done. A page on noble titles and hit points gets you set to go. The very brief rules on fleeing from combat are tucked onto the same page as hit points. They are very easy to use, but also very easy to miss (more on this later).
Finally, comes the combat section. It’s very simple. There are three actions (basic, skill, and spell). Everyone uses the same basic, and it’s what you’ll use while waiting for your AP to charge up so you can get off a skill or spell attack. There is no tactical movement and no keeping track of positioning or range. It seems like a turn-based Final Fantasy fight to me. There are a few added rules for selecting hit locations, dodging, and counterattacking that are labeled as “advanced rules” and take up a single additional page. This section finishes up with a page of rules on breaking objects (quite possibly including the one your CA is using in the attempt to break something else).
Now comes the setting. It starts with some world data and a world map. There’s no scale on the map, but you are told the radius of this spherical world, so I suppose you could determine the circumference and place it on the equator to determine a scale. Still, why not just put a scale on the map? Page 51 gives a list of geographical features & regions, but these are one-sentence descriptions like “North Beach (A-7): This hard to reach northern beach, is known to have the best crustaceans.” It certainly doesn’t bog the setting down with too much detail, but some ATs are likely to want more.
There is a page on four diseases, including “Hepatitis V” which is apparently spread by vampires. Nothing much to say here.
The Bestiary covers pages 53-83. The spread of creatures seems fine, but I have two issues. The art is overall of low quality and inconsistent in tone. Some is moody black & while other pieces are cartoonish with bright colors and heavy lines. My complaint on the art may be subjective, but objectively speaking, there is no excuse for the organization of this chapter. Creatures are ordered by Level, but within each level they appear to be randomly sorted. For example, the Level 2 monsters appear in this order: goblin shaman, skeleton warrior, rottweiler, ghoul, harpy, direwolf, bandit, and saurian.
With the world and monsters detailed, now it’s time for the campaign. This is supposed to be the biggest selling point of this roleplaying game. So, how does it work? Well…
It’s a scripted playthrough much like a choose your own adventure book that is read aloud by the AT to the players. There are several spots where the text breaks and there will be a bullet point with something in brackets like “*[Spontaneous Event] [Brawl Opportunity]” that tells the AT and players when to start rolling dice. Unlike a choose your own adventure book, there are no menus telling you where to pick the text back up depending on what you choose to do; the intention seems to be that you just keep moving down the page. Even if it were to tell you to go to a different section, doing so is going to be tough because Chapter 1 goes for 30 pages and each different location has a sequential timestamp—which implies to me that going out of order is really not expected.
The character creation and system are simple and easy to understand (once they are located in the text). New Horizon can serve as a basic RPG, but the real meat of the game (about 50% of the 180 pages) is in the campaign, and players that have exposure to mainstream RPGs will likely find it restrictive and limiting. However, New Horizon might be useful as a gateway to introduce beginning players to RPGs.
The organization of the pdf is poor. Rules are tucked in under headings that do not advertise them. This is compounded by the pdf not having an index and not being text searchable. If a reader does not already know where to find something in the book, it is going to be a chore to find it.
The authorial voice used in the text felt patronizing rather than a “casual conversational” tone, but some of this might come down to personal taste.
Lastly, New Horizon really needs the touch of an experienced editor. The many examples of poor grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure throughout the pdf made for a difficult read.
I was provided with a free copy of the New Horizon pdf for the purposes of writing this review.
[2 of 5 Stars!]