Good Strong Hands
Designer: Craig Campbell
Artist: Serena Malyon
Publisher: NerdBurger Games
Year Published: 2021
No. of Players: 2+ (RPG)
Playing Time: NA
Main mechanic / Theme: RPG / Heroic Fantasy
Gather here children, for I will tell the story of how great heroes saved our world from the Void.
Find more info on Kickstarter where Good Strong Hands successfully funded!
Good Strong Hands (GSH) from NerdBerger Games is a narrative based role-playing game (RPG) where the players are heroes battling for the good people of the world. You can have a different tone for your campaign, scenario, adventure, or character, but the players and their characters are always fighting on the side of good.
I received a prototype/playtest copy of the rules for review purposes.
The land of Reverie is a heroic fantasy world where good battles evil. Time works in cycles and the cycle is coming around to when evil, the Void, is rising to threaten the land. It is up to the heroes to save the people and the world from being consumed.
The developers mention a number of movies and other resources for understanding the setting. After I read the material the movie it reminded me of the most was the movie The NeverEnding Story (IMDb link). GSH isn’t how an outsider is drawn into the story but how the world within the adventure is threatened. I can see this can be used as an easy plot setting for the structure of the game.
The true nature of Reverie is up to all the players. The first session of GSH is to establish particulars about the world, the Void, the races, and what type of game everyone want to play. This first session allows the players to set boundaries and to create any sub-genre settings they want for their fantasy campaign. It can easily be adapted into a light-hearted game with a lot of humor, or into something darker with a horror undertone. During the first session the players can determine the intensity of theirs by determining how long their Tracks are.
Heroes in GSH are the good guys. You don’t play evil. You don’t play a traitor. You are fighting against the Void with your companions. It is a physical and mental fight. If the character dies, or is mentally consumed by the Void, then that character is lost to the players. There is a great game session aspect to a lost character I will mention later.
The creation of the character is more about developing a personality than ability scores. Each character’s ability is a range from one to four. Even when advancing, the maximum score of an ability is four. This structure creates for a great use of a success mechanic used in the game.
A player chooses one of the available races, we had ten to choose from. Each race has associated skills and talents that go along with the race. Players also choose specific elements for their character. Abilities and skills are limited in advancement, which creates a consistent level of challenge to the adventures.
Characters advance when a counting Track is completed. When the Skill track is completed, the character advances in their talents. The completion of the Shadow track means the player has taken on a corruption. And there is the Spirit track the character uses to heal and fight against corruption.
Gameplay and mechanics
Character abilities are used to create a dice pool when facing a challenge. With additional bonuses, the maximum size of the dice pool is six. The game master (GM) determines what level of success is needed, how high of a roll on a die is needed. It is strictly a pass/fail situation where the success allows the player to take over the storytelling of the scene. A failure allows the GM to dictate events.
Additional successes have good and bad results. For additional success, the player gains a Boon. This can be additional hits, add to the story, learn additional information, or something else fitting to the story. They have gone beyond their ability. This is a prideful moment when a person does better than they expected, and the Void notices. The Void takes note of the character and reaches out marks them with a touch of Shadow. This is how the Shadow track advances.
If a character falls to the Void by physically being killed or being corrupted, the character is lost to the player. The character is either dead, or is now played by the GM. The rest of the player characters provide a proper sendoff for their fallen comrade. They tell of their great deeds and how they were a wonderful hero. When this is done, the remaining party members gain strength against the Shadow of the Void to venture forth.
The GM doesn’t roll any dice. They are fully in the realm of storytelling. Instead, they take the actions and dice rolls of the players to create the continuation of the story from the side of the monsters. This creates a story driven by and for the heroes. They take the greater successes and add to the story for the party along with taking the failures to increase the complications.
Theme, Artwork and Illustration, Graphic Design and Layout (optional)
I was working from a prototype and only got a light taste of the imagery to expect. From that and looking at some of the other art used in the Kickstarter promotion and on the NerdBurger website, it is clear Serena Malyon is maintaining the theme of the players are the heroes of the world. The art has an airy quality that is fitting the style of the setting.
Here is a game that from its inception at your table is about the heroes working together. There isn’t that hidden assassin in the group working towards an evil end. It is a wonderful setting for players to find ways to work together or finding the point of self-sacrifice for the greater good.
Having an RPG devoted to playing good heroes fighting against evil was a lot of fun. There are times just about everyone likes to play a character who embraces a little, or a lot, of the dark side. However, having a game where everyone is working to save the world without someone playing a traitor was nice. We knew everyone was working to the same overarching goal.
The mechanics work well for this setting and style. No matter if you want to do it in a family friendly scenario or more of an adult grimdark one. The ability to create a common world is a way to ensure every player is getting what they want from the game. The easy resolution of challenges allows for faster pace.
As characters slip further into the grasp of the advancing Void the party comes together more in helping each other. Because characters don’t advance to gain greater individual powers the strength comes in how the group tells their story.
About the Author
Daniel Yocom does geeky things at night because his day job won't let him. This dates back to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. He's written hundreds of articles about these topics for his own blog, other websites, and magazines after extensive research along with short stories. His research includes attending conventions, sharing on panels and presentations, and road-tripping with his wife. Join him at guildmastergaming.com.