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What is High Adventure Role Playing (HARP)?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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High Adventure Role Playing, more commonly known as HARP, is a tabletop role-playing system. HARP is distinguished by other popular games, such as d20, by its flexibility in character creation, and a fairly rules-light approach.

HARP is produced by Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE), a gaming company founded in the 1980s. Although ICE began by creating supplements for other popular games, it eventually released a game system of its own: the Rolemaster system. Rolemaster was somewhat popular, but ICE still remained a lesser-known company until it acquired the license to produce a role-playing game directly based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth. This game, Middle Earth Role Playing, was at one point second only to TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons in popularity.

Unfortunately, ICE ran into severe financial troubles in the late 1990s, as a result of distributor bankruptcies. Eventually, in 2000, ICE was forced to declare bankruptcy themselves, in the process losing the license to produce Middle Earth Role Playing. Near the end of 2001, ICE was purchased and revived. They immediately focused on rebuilding their existing system, the Rolemaster system, and in 2003 released a simpler version of that system: HARP.

HARP makes use of Professions — which are roughly equivalent to Classes in many role-playing games — to paint a broad picture of what a character can do, but within the Professions there is a great deal of room for personalization. Races are similar to those in many fantasy games, and include the traditional Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes, as well as a unique Orc-like race. The mechanics of the game are based on percentile rolls, with core attributes ranging from 1 to 105.

HARP has received much critical praise since its release, in no small part due to the amazing amount of customization that is possible. Additionally, the game is noted for its strong balance between high definition and ease-of-creation for characters, allowing new players to drop in to the game in less than an hour.

Many people who enjoy the Rolemaster system for its depth and scope, but find it overburdened with rules and charts, find HARP to be the ideal compromise. Games using the HARP system tend to be fluid and easy, and one boon that fans often praise is the ability to run interesting, engaging combat scenarios at a pace that makes them enjoyable and better suited to the action taking place. At its core, as the name suggests, HARP is about High Adventure, and the rules and mechanics seem genuinely to encourage this level of epic storytelling, rather than hindering it in the name of balance or detail.

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