For nerds who were not around in the 90s, it can be hard to understand just how many people wanted a Highlander RPG experience. Not only were there fan rules for use with the World of Darkness, there were unofficial attempts with games like Immortal: The Invisible War and Legacy: War of Ages. It seems odd that it’s taken almost 40 years for there to be an official sourcebook given how fundamental the film was to modern urban fantasy. Evil Genius Games announced several “Cinematic Adventures” to support its Everyday Heroes RPG. When they sent along several for review, Highlander was the first one I chose to read. I always thought the idea was fun but flawed. How do you make an enjoyable RPG that’s based on a premise where the characters are destined to kill one another? Did the adventure take The Prize? Let’s play to find out.
Written by Sigfried Trent with an adventure designed by Ree Soesbee, the answer is a little bit of discussion and a little bit of handwaving. The author mentions that the game only covers the first film and that they bent a few rules to make the setting more gameable. There’s a grim irony that the first licensed RPG material for Highlander has been doing the same thing the fans have for years; ignore the events of the films after the first one. While that means no planet Zeist or Kane the Sorcerer, it also means no Watchers or any of the villains from the syndicated TV show that carried the banner. Highlander has never been exactly strict with its canon, but fans purchasing this looking for answers or details on how Immortals work won’t find them here.
Instead they’ll find an Immortal origin and a few subclasses focused on being a swordsman. The book continued Everyday Heroes tradition that not every fighter needs to be Strength or Dexterity focused. While Immortals are hard to kill, they aren’t completely invulnerable. They can spend hit dice when their hit points equal zero to recover a little bit but it's assumed at that point the hero is going to flee the scene and engage their opponent at a later date rather than keep fighting. Zero hit points allow another immortal to trigger a decapitation challenge and take the Quickening, which allows the character a chance to absorb spirit points that can be used to unlock new abilities.
The big new mechanic at the center of the adventure focuses on dueling. 5e tends to be a team sport, so these dueling rules do their best to make a one on one fight interesting. At the beginning of each combat round, the duellists choose one of their ability scores to use as their approach that round. Choosing strength might mean relying on powerful blows, while Charisma might reflect talking trash during the fight. Based on these choices, the characters compare another ability score. Whoever has a higher score gets an edge for the round which allows them to do things like force their opponent to roll their attack with disadvantage or upgrade their attack to a critical hit. I like the simplicity of it even if I don’t know many people would use it outside of the setting. It offers the feel of strategy, though the duellists could just as easily roll a d6 for each side. It keeps players from spamming their best ability score. It’s just the right weight for a subsystem that plugs into 5e combat.
The assumption seems to be that every PC will be an immortal and there is some discussion as to why they haven’t all killed each other yet. Some immortals choose not to play The Game or seek the prize. Some may be involved in relationships, either as mentor/student, lovers or even former rivals. I would have liked to seen more discussion on campaign setups like this, but such are the limitations with this format. It’s all in service of the adventure rather than a setting sourcebook, so any discussion of how to run a campaign of immortal characters mixed with their less powerful counterparts will have to be sussed out by Game Masters on their own terms.
The adventure feels like a proper Highlander story, set in the modern era with a flashback to a brush with history and Joan of Arc. I was hoping for more mechanical support of flashbacks given how common the idea has become in modern designs. There’s a feat that allows characters to show off a skill they learned in a flashback, but that’s really it. Still the adventure shows that the Highlander story structure doesn’t really need player-triggered flashbacks for the epic set pieces those flashbacks often contain. Just a Game Master who wants to explore some neat bit of history. I would probably ask each of my players what their favorite party of history was and make sure their character got a flashback during that era as part of our campaign.
Highlander offers an excellent dueling mechanic and a solid story to tell, even if I wanted more information about the setting and how to run it.
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