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Hot War» Forums » Reviews

Subject: or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love this Game rss

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Karl Larsson
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Creating the story in roleplaying games has traditionally been the purview of the game master, but in recent years several games have blurred the line between player character and game master. The Burning Wheel-system is perhaps best known, having just not a system for resolving actions, but also a system for how the story progresses and how the players can influence the story. Released in 2008 by Contested Grounds Studios, Hot War is not just a game following this new trend, but one of the best of the crop.

Hot War is set in 1963 London. World War III has started and ended, and we find ourselves a year after the disaster. The war was short and brutal, and all sides used chemical, nuclear and supernatural weapons. What really happened in the war isn't much discussed in the book, but rather left to the group to flesh-out during play. Instead the game is intensely personal. While details on how the war started is lacking, you can almost feel the suffering of the common people while reading the book.

Like many games of this type, all games starts with both character and game creation. While creating the game the players and game master decide the general mood of the game, what missions the characters will be pursuing and what NPCs will be included. The process is fairly simple, but if a group is not creative enough, many things can go wrong here. Especially interesting is the Experience Scene and the black and white photo part of game creation. The Experience scene is set during the first week of the war, and therefore is in the past when the game begins. Its purpose is to create some history for the character, and it will give the character traits that will influence him or her during the game. Each player also have to describe a black and white photo of something that will happen during the game. Creating such a set-up, for a future pay-off, will create a strong sense of anticipation. All in all, the game creation process will give the players a feeling of ownership over the campaign, as well as kick-starting the action.

An important element of the game is a character's agendas. Each character has both a hidden and personal agenda. An agenda can only be used a certain number of times before it will have to be resolved; agendas is usually what will make the storyline in a campaign move forward. A character's hidden agenda is usually tied to his or her faction. The government in post-war London has several factions, and while the characters work together in the organization Special Situations Group, they represent their hidden faction as well.

The system itself is very simple. It focuses on conflicts rather than actions, and there are no regular skills. Roleplaying will create the events that lead up to a conflict. A conflict will happen when there are major differences between the wishes and interests of different characters. At this point both sides make a roll, and the winner narrates the result. So a conflict can be an encounter with the enemy, but it will be up to the winner of the conflict roll to decide if the outcome of the encounter is a fire-fight, or something else.

Many similar games, like Burning Wheel, have fairly complicated rules that govern different aspects of the campaign. Mouse Guard has often been hailed as a sort of Burning Wheel-lite, and a good introduction to this type of collaborative games, but perhaps Hot War would be a better choice. You get a very mature game, with very little bookkeeping.

The book itself is at first glance a bit unimpressive. Single column text with fairly large letters, make this a very quick read. Not that there is anything I feel is missing. Its rich appendix even makes this one of the most complete core books I have ever seen. The book is filled with examples of play, showing how the game works. These examples are very helpful, and they also piqued my interest, making me want to play the game even more. There is also a lot of fake propaganda and information posters from post-war London in the book. This is a rather cheap substitute for art, but it works, and enforces the atmosphere in the game.

This is one of the best games published in recent years. There isn't much detailed information about the setting in the book, but the atmosphere in it is really astounding. The last quarter of the book include descriptions on what post-war London could be like, and it is apparent that the author both know the city and has done plenty of research. This feels like the best BBC-series you ever saw. It might not be material for a long campaign, but for short or medium campaigns, it is perfect. In the introduction the author, Malcolm Craig, writes that it was his intention to write both an interesting read, as well as a absorbing and enjoyable game. He has been successful.

Hot War can be ordered as a softcover from the Contested Ground Studios' website for 15£ or as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.com for 10$.
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Marshall Miller
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karlkrlarsson wrote:
The Burning Wheel-system is perhaps best known, having just not a system for resolving actions, but also a system for how the story progresses and how the players can influence the story.


I liked your review. However, I could be wrong here, I don't feel like Burning Wheel's mechanics allow players to impact the plot of the story as much as you imply. Players do have some mechanically rewarded guides for playing certain ways (e.g. beliefs) but the mechanics don't really hand narrative control over to the player. I think other games might make a better example (e.g. in Houses of the Blooded players may narrate their successes).
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It's impossible to find from the RPG entry, but there's also a Hot War magazine:

Hot War Transmission

The first issue is free and has an article on running a Quatermass campaign.
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Mease19 wrote:
I liked your review. However, I could be wrong here, I don't feel like Burning Wheel's mechanics allow players to impact the plot of the story as much as you imply. Players do have some mechanically rewarded guides for playing certain ways (e.g. beliefs) but the mechanics don't really hand narrative control over to the player. I think other games might make a better example (e.g. in Houses of the Blooded players may narrate their successes).


This is a bit thread-necro-y but I felt the same way as the OP on reading through Burning Wheel Gold for the first time. Both games instruct the GM and players to make tests only occasionally and to let one test 'ride'. Success in a test for a player lets that player dictate the results, relative to their stated intent, in much the same way as Cold City/Hot War lets the player achieve their stake.

That being said, and having not yet played Burning Wheel, I doubt very much that the two systems play in a similar fashion at all - Cold City/Hot War deliberately abstracts away rules, stripping them back to the barest of essentials, while Burning Wheel values 'crunch'.
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Karl Larsson
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As I said, the experience is similar, but with less bookkeeping.

But since writing this review, I gave played this a bit, and I have experienced that the action resolution was not as simple as I thought.
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