DIY RPG Design Done Right With Hubris
  • DIY RPG Design Done Right With Hubris



    Hubris is a project that I have had an eye on since Mike Evans started talking about it over at his blog, and running online games that I unfortunately could not attend. What came out of all of this is a big, fat module / supplement / adventure book for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG that bristles with energy and playability.
    Evans' publishing imprint's name puts right there on the tin his approach to gaming and game design: DIY RPG Productions. Inspired by the ideas of Zak Smith's Vornheim, the idea for Hubris wasn't to present the world as Evans uses it in his games but instead to create a toolbox that allows groups to create their own Hubris rather than just recreate their own. In many ways, Hubris is Vornheim 2.0, taking the concepts of Smith's book and making them into something that belongs to Evans.

    This idea isn't anything new in game design. Greg Stafford always said in talking about games set in his Glorantha that YGWV (or Your Glorantha Will Vary). The idea wasn't that you would just go along for the ride in a world where an author or designer filled in all of the blanks for you, but instead that you would push the boundaries of the world through play, filling in the blanks spaces on the maps with the details that made the world your own. In this way, there are a multiverse of Gloranthas out there, each just out of the reach of the others but all growing from the same root.
    So, in using this book your Hubris will also vary.

    This is an approach that I like as a GM. It minimizes the impact of "canon" on the game that you are trying to play, and it also means that the actions of the players are what will be important in play, rather than those characters who went through these paces months or years previously during the author's play tests.
    There are two basic things that I will talk about in this review: what does Evans do in this, and how useful is what he does (and not just to Dungeon Crawl Classics groups) in the book.

    Hubris has a number of interesting new classes: The Alchemist is like Jekyll and Hyde from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, a mad science type who experiments on themselves to unlock their inner Chaos, the Blood Witch is a fearsome (and frightening) magic-using type who uses their blood for power, a scary variant of the Druid, a feathered and winged Avarian race, potent Half Demons and the Murder Machine, a literal killing machine made from the hybrid of sorcery, technology and Alchemy like a murderhobo version of Rom The Spaceknight. There are a couple of others too, but these were highlights.

    With each class we get some glimpses into the world of Hubris. For example, we know that there is a Black Queen who creates machinery of death in magical laboratories. The actual information on the world is kept to a minimum: a few paragraphs describing a location, followed by a random table or two that allows the GM to personalize the location to their game. These tables can give you anything from specific details about the location to rumors about the area to encounter tables for it. All of this goes a long way to create useable content, without taking up a lot of space. You aren't going to find any fiction in Hubris, which is definitely a plus for me.

    Hubris is a weird fantasy setting, and that tone is quickly set in the book. This world has entire cities that are built upon stilts (living in a flood-prone coastal area, I can empathize with this), crystalline forests that crackle with pent up electrical energy and cities governed by the whims of mad gods. I know that this isn't for everyone, but as someone who isn't a huge fan of fantasy I need for a setting to be vivid and weird to catch my attention and make me want to run it. Hubris catches my attention in spades.

    As we all know, I like monsters. Evans grabbed my attention in the monster chapter right off the bat with table to tell us how something/someone was contaminated by a demonic possession, followed by another table to tell us what was festering on their dead body. At this point I knew that I was in a book for me. The monsters themselves are unique and interesting. The sections on the Fae and Fallen Angels are great. Each has a series of random table that allow you to take the basic writeup and turn it into something weird and unique. For people used to old school games, the Fallen Angels are Hubris answer to the old Type I-V demons of older editions of D&D. The art that accompanies them looks as if it were pulled from one of the Realm of Chaos books for Warhammer, which is my idea of a compliment.

    This setting seems very enveloped in the influence of the early Warhammer aesthetic, that combination of visceral fantasy, over the top horror and sometimes subtle satire that was once uniquely British. As someone who is a fan of the British stream of fantasy RPG design, one of the draws for Hubris with me is that it has that similar sort of look and feel to it. The art over all is one of the high points of the book, but I am a fan of the school of horror/weird fantasy art that is dirty around the edges, and with thicker inking to it.

    There are also 11 new gods for Hubris and a chapter outlining new magic and Patrons for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game. One of my weird quirks with random tables is that I don't mind them during the preparation parts of a game, whether personalizing monsters or rolling random quirks for locations, but I am not as much of a fan of them in ways that come up in play, however all of the random tables used for DCC spellcasting leave me cold as a GM. I'm just not a fan of everything stopping so that the wizard's character can roll a couple of table when they cast a spell. The size of the Dungeon Crawl Classics audience demonstrates that I am in a minority on that topic, which I am fine with.

    I think that Hubris succeeds in its goal of using the tools introduced in Vornheim as the basis for a fully realized setting that can develop through play. Much of the book could easily be set using your favorite fantasy game of choice, while some things like spells and Patron abilities can take a bit of work to convert into other old school fantasy games, the underlying logic is close enough that it isn't impossible. Now, the book does have minor flaws to it. There are editing errors and typos throughout the book, but nothing extreme enough to make understanding the text difficult. This is a flaw common to small studios in role-playing game publishing. There are also some bits of white space that came about from trying to lay out a book that was so heavy on tables (which can always be a pain to lay out). However, none of these are overly glaring problems, and don't interrupt the flow of the book.

    There is something to be found for GMs in Hubris, regardless of what system you use, and I think that this is a book that we will see sitting on the shelves of GMs (virtually or physically) for years to come. The book has a unique energy and demonstrates just what crowd-sourcing platforms like Kickstarter can be used to produce when dealing with imaginative creators. Without Kickstarter, Hubris would likely have just remained as a series of blog posts, but I am that we were able to get much more than that.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Electryc's Avatar
      Electryc -
      Great article, I would have just clicked the X button at the top right corner without commenting. However your reference to Rom the Spaceknight deserves an extra +1. One of my comic mainstays back in the day.
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