First, a little sum up of where I, the writer, am at for context. Since Christmas and my discovery of Spirit of the Century, I have been having a break from indie RPGs. To an extent this was due to me working through my own RPG preferences based on my mixed impressions of RPGs I was encountering. Over the last year, I have played a lot of indie RPGs and some I came away feeling jazzed about (Agon, Spirit of the Century) and some with more mixed feelings (PTA, Burning Empires) which I didn't necessarily understand. Eventually, I found myself naturally moving away from RPGs that share certain responsibilities between players, particularly story creation elements, and toward those that have a stronger PC focus which allows the PCs to directly impact in the story (such as through SotC’s Aspects).
Anyway, Beast Hunters is the first indie RPG I have bought in a while is Beast Hunters and it really did hit the sweet spot.
Beast Hunters has been termed as a third generation indie RPG in a German review and I agree with that usage. A lot of the ideas in BH have been seen elsewhere, particularly in Agon and Dogs in the Vineyard. This is not a bad thing by any means. It made the game easy to read and understand making it one of ther least intimidating indie RPGs I have come across.
Instead, of a raft of brand new ideas, BH uses some tried and tested ideas in a very good way that I really enjoyed. The main ways are:
1. It is designed for two players (the GM and 1 player), though it can handle more.
There are very few RPGs that work well for 2 players and I have been looking for one for many years. Breaking the Ice is an excellent RPG that specifically targeted this niche market but I was quite disappointed with it. The reason was that BtI helped reinforce an image that 2 player RPGs were not like other RPGs. Though this is true to an extent the use of a "couple" suggested that the form of RPG was more limited that it actually was. Also, I found the subject matter in BtI to be very hard to deal with, with just 2 players. It stripped away all the RPG stuff I new and would find comfortable.
Beast Hunters is much more my cup of tea. It handles 2 players well and yet it still looks and plays like a normal RPG. I notice that the writing team is a husband and wife team and it seems very much like an RPG they wrote to use by themselves. Rock on.
2. Though Beast Hunters is an indie RPG in nearly everyway, it has some very nice traditional RPG elements that I would personally like to see indie RPGs using more of. BH has a setting that is detailed enough to be inspiring without being overbearing. The setting is nicely reinforced by nice layout and moody art. There was no need to sit down and create stuff yourslef, but there was lots of room if that is what you wanted to do.
The mechanics also had a transparency that I feel more related to traditional RPGs than indie RPGs. For example, they aren’t built with deep philosophical subtleties like Dogs in the Vineyard. Instead, the rule system is straightforward and fun. The mechanics reinforce the action and are very easy to grok. Overall, the level of abstraction in the game is less than Dogs in the Vineyard and Heroquest (which both use a similar trait system). The effect of this is that I found that the game felt less like a mechanical manipulation and more like a support for action whilst evolving the challenges in a fun way.
3. As an expansion of the fact that the ruleset is transparent, I found that the BH system could easily be adapted to other settings. This is something that is rare in other indie RPGs from my experience. As such, Beast Hunters is an excellent framework for any 2 player RPG with little or no work IMO. You simply change the creation questions and remove the tattoos.
Myself and my wife are thinking of using the system for a two player Blue Rose RPG in the near future. We simply changed the four beginning questions to family, race, enemies and Sovereign’ Finest training. The rest works as written.
Beast Hunters is an excellent RPG which I would highly recommend as an easier way into games like Dogs in the Vineyard and Agon or to anyone wanting a 2 player RPG.