Reading New Horizon Starter Guide by Michal Lysek and Ian Stewart

I met Michal Lysek in the dealers’ room at GothCon XXXV where he was promoting his new RPG by handing out the New Horizon Starter Guide. We chatted a bit about the game and I promised him a mention here as thanks for the book. I read it on the train home, and have been thinking a lot about the game since. It is time to make that presentation.

Note that the New Horizon Starter Guide is not intended to be a full game. It is only a presentation/preview of the full New Horizon game. There is support material on the New Horizon web page that must be downloaded if you want to head into actual play using the Starter Guide rather than the full game.

New Horizon Starter Guide

New Horizon Starter Guide

The book
The New Horizon Starter Guide is a 68 page 9×6 Lulu booklet. The full game is in color, and from what I can tell the page layout and style has been reused in the Starter Guide, but in b/w to keep costs down. The text is very small, in double columns, and has white illuminations on a gray background. No doubt this was the hardest to read book I have ever laid my hands on, it is even worse than the notorious Gemini RPG.

There are a few illustrations, showing panoramas of the setting and people posing with weapons.

The setting
The year is 2495 AD and mankind has spread to the stars and settled on an alien world New Horizon. Through some extreme evolution and manipulation humanity has also diverged into several different races. Olympians are ‘ordinary’ humans, but with longer life spans. Prometheans are humans with cyber tech and Medeans are humans who have had their genome affected by the alien world causing some sort of mutants. There are also three different kinds of androids as playable races. And everyone live in a constant struggle against both each other and the environment. I would describe the feel of the setting as Korean online computer RPG, not that I have ever played any such games, but still… Old west, high tech, low tech and Final Fantasy aesthetics in a wild mix, almost everyone is young and beautiful. The PCs have weapons, armor and a will to go out and kill stuff.

The rules
New Horizon uses the generic Vo|t system which is free, I don’t know if it’s only free as in beer or free as in source code too.

Character generation is done with a point buy system, points are spent on the attributes, backgrounds and traits. While tables are needed to generate the characters, none should be needed during actual play.

Basic task resolution is done by rolling two d20s against an attribute, hoping for at least one of them to show a value below the attribute which indicates a success. Thanks to using two dice various tricks and twists can be used to infer more details about the outcome of the action.

The form
The Starter Guide does not include much instruction on how to run the game, but it is a traditional game with players who play their characters and a GM who runs adventures, provides opposition and descriptions of the game world. The GM is supposed to handle all the rules and mechanics in the background, Vo|t is designed to run silently, with the Storyteller handling all the numbers and rolls.

Here I usually hand out some grades for Setting, Rules and Form. But since I have only read an incomplete preview of the system I will skip this step. The grades would have been low, probably unfairly so.

Will I play it?
No. I will not run New Horizon, nor will I seek out a group to play in. If any of the creators were to personally run a game at a con I might be interested though, if only to see how it actually is supposed to fit together.

I see two big obstacles for enjoying the game.

The first is the setting. When I read it I get the same feeling I had when I first encountered anime. They were breaking conventions and somehow knowing that there were people out there who thought it was awesome, and that if I’d only penetrate the material I could also enjoy what at first only looked like a very odd mix of genres. In the end I started liking anime, perhaps New Horizon would grow on me if I gave it a chance.

The second is the rules. I am sure Vo|t is an excellent system, but I wonder if it was a wise choice for New Horizon. If what I saw in the Starter Guide is correct, that the GM should handle all the rules and mechanics, Vo|t seems a bit unwieldy. As a GM I would prefer an even simpler system if I were to handle all the dice rolling and mechanics for my players. But if the focus of the is combat, should the players be robbed of running their own characters? (I imagine it would play out like Doom over telephone, where the GM sits at the computer, plays the game and gives verbal descriptions, and the player says what he wants his character to do.)

There are a few references to the ‘D20 system’ in the book, I wonder if they mean the d20 system we saw in the previous incarnation of D&D and Star Wars. Because if someone only had described the New Horizon setting to me, I would have thought that system would have been a nice match. Combat focus, character classes, the implied adventurer paradigm etc, everything would fit nicely for New Horizon. It would be interesting to peek behind the curtains and see why Michal and Ian chose the Vo|t system. – The official New Horizon page. – The Vo|t system page.


  1. Michal said,

    January 7, 2012 at 09:13

    Thank you for your honest words. We will release a new Starter Guide soon for New Horizon, and this time we’ll make it better and focus on showing how to play the game…

  2. Stephen said,

    January 7, 2012 at 20:34

    First off, I like to see people actually talking about the product. The review may not be as rosy as we would like, but it is honest. I’m going to try and address a few of your points here and see if I can lessen your apprehension a bit.

    The Book:
    The layout and text have been some of our biggest complaints so far. This stemmed from the books being designed for a legal size format like many traditional RPG books. When we got around to printing though, we found that Lulu only supported the 6X9, this led to the format and text being condensed drastically. The issue has been resolved for later books and the size of the text isn’t quite as much of a strain on the eyes.

    You got most of it there. Obviously your description is just a quick rundown of what can be immediately picked up. There are older characters, but their presence is often lacking in the artwork, with a few exceptions.

    As for Volt and the mechanics. When I run games I still let players roll for themselves. The Volt suggestion is to let the GM roll, but it is really more of a matter of preference.

    As a big fan of the D20 system myself, I know where you are coming from. Volt seemed odd to me at first since it is different from any other system I have ever played. I’m starting to see little quirks and flavors to the mechanics that I like. Is it better or worse than D20, or Fate or any other system? That is really going to be up to the players.

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