Review: Hell 4 Leather

Hell 4 Leather is an RPG of bloody revenge on Devil’s Night by Joe Prince and published by Box Ninja. To quote the website:

An RPG of Bloody Revenge on Devil’s Night…
You were the meanest most badass SOB around. Everything was tight – you rode with the Devil’s Dozen – toughest chapter going. No fucker messed with you.

Except…

Your ‘buddies’ screwed you. Life is cheap. What’s a little murder between pals? But… You cut a deal with the Devil. You got one night – Devil’s night – to exact vengeance. You’re gunna show those bastards what a REAL Angel of Hell can do. When the rooster crows, your chance for revenge is over – you’ve gotta go Hell For Leather!

That blurb sets out the entire premise of the game, which plays out over a series of scenes as one character returns from the dead to try and enact retribution on those that wronged them. Hell 4 Leather is a GMless, and settingless story game, with play and character archetypes guided by tarot cards that work to build towards a climatic finale. I first played it a number of years ago and it was my first encounter with GMless story games. It’s one of those little known systems that I wish more people knew about. If I ever put together an emergency ‘Games on Demand’ pack this will be one of my go to’s.

Mechanically the game is extremely simple – each scene is outlined by one player, guided by the flavour of a pre-defined tarot card. After that everything plays out organically, up until the point at which the Rider enters and attempts to kill one character. Another simple mechanic decides whether they succeed. It’s to the point and doesn’t intrude on the roleplay.

So why should you play Hell 4 Leather? First up it’s a great game for filling a gap between sessions. The premise of the game means it is meant to be run as a single one-shot. You can play it in as little as an hour (though that does require short, succint scenes) or over a more leisurely pace of 2-3 hours.

The second reason? This is a great way to set up the opener for a campaign in another system. Deadlands, Shadowrun, Dresden Files or even D&D. The settingless nature makes it ideal for flipping between different worlds, outlining a grisly series of murders that serve as the opener to the main campaign. With a little work you can even transport it to games that don’t support the supernatural.

Finally this is a game that is oozing with character. From the use of tarot cards, to the choice of scene framing and the simple yet all encompassing premise Hell 4 Leather is a game that embraces its inspiration and doesn’t set a foot wrong.

You can purchase Hell 4 Leather from drivethruRPG.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

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#RPGaDay2019 26th August: ‘Idea’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 26: Idea

Project Cassandra started life as a hack of Lady Blackbird but the idea for it actually came from The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It’s a Cold War, third person tactical shooter and prequel to the typical XCOM games. It’s highly stylised and over the course of the game you gain access to a range of advanced technology that include things such as levitation, cloaking and even mind control. Playing the game it struck me that many of the abilities could easily be explained as psychic talents. It was a simple leap to go from that to secret government projects to develop psychics given they actually existed! MK-Ultra and the Stargate Project may have never yielded any results but what if they had?

The idea to focus on saving the life of the President was also inspired by Lady Blackbird. While you can play in the expanded setting of that game the published rules have a clearly defined and singular goal – escape the clutches of the Imperial forces and deliver the titular character to her secret lover. I wanted the same for Project Cassandra – a clear, single purpose adventure that could be run as a one-shot or mini-campaign. While the game could be expanded out into any number of ‘psychic operatives complete secret missions’ I felt that would spoil the central conceit. It’s worked well in playtesting and I’ve yet to feel the need to push out into a full blown campaign format.

#RPGaDay2019 10th August: ‘Focus’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 10: Focus

My focus for the rest of the year is releasing material. I’ve got a backlog that I need to get through before I can begin to focus on newer ideas. The Slice of Life Adventure Starters are top of the list. I’ve enjoyed producing them but I had wanted to have them all done well before now, as opposed to still having two of the five left to produce. Talentless Hacks, inspired by the bonus episode will follow the same approach as those that I have released before, a relatively traditional mission structure with clear antagonist. Clean-up Crew is a different kettle of fish though as I’d like to release a playset for Fiasco. I’ve started putting it together but am finding it a surprisingly difficult task. On the surface it should be simple, a playset is merely a series of lists but ensuring that they all work, are thematically useful and help build the type of story fiasco strives for is a challenge.

#RPGaDay2019 8th August: ‘Obscure’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 8: Obscure

With the explosion of self-publishing, story games and indie RPGs it’s difficult to define what an obscure RPG is these days. In the technical sense the majority are as, unsurprisingly, all too many fall by the wayside. I don’t get to play as many small, less well known games these days (I don’t get to play all that many well known games either!) but if I were wanting to get back into that side of gaming I’d probably do so via The Gauntlet, who embrace small games through both their Codex magazine and their highly organised online games calendar. I briefly subscribed to Codex via the Patreon and would recommend it to anybody wanting to explore games that really push the boundaries of the hobby (I stopped only because it was clear that the games weren’t what I was looking for right now). Head over to gauntlet-rpg.com to find the blog, community forums and more details or to www.patreon.com/gauntlet to subscribe.

State of the Conspiracy: Character update

While I was unable to get a full update of Project Cassandra finished in time for the RPG Live UK event I was able to make significant progress. The character sheets have been updated to reflect the rules changes and I’ve identified all the edits required in the main text. Next up is getting them down on paper and adjusting the layout to suit.

Changing the text should also allow for a few additions. First up is a mechanic to allow for premonitions to be replenished, something raised during that disastrous DragonMeet playtest. Secondly additional advice for challenges and threats, again in response to the playtest feedback.

I’m hopeful that this set of edits will resolve the issues raised, especially with regards failure. I don’t know if I’ll make it to DragonMeet this year but I’m setting it as a tentative deadline regardless.

RPGaDay 20th and 21st August

Double post before I fall even more behind and because two days is the most dramatically appropriate number of posts to catch-up on.

20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

For me it’s a mix of eBay and drivethruRPG depending on whether I want to own physical books or not. I’ve drifted over to the not camp for games I’m just interested in if only because of the space saving or because it’s splat book 21 of a given system and really I only need it to reference a single page.

In terms of the single best out of print purchase I’ve had it was from an Oxfam bookshop. Somebody had obviously been clearing out their shelves and had donated a massive pile of WEG Star Wars d6 books. I ended up buying almost all of them, spent close to £100 on them which is probably the single biggest book purchase I’ve ever made.

21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?

A difficult question but I think that I’m going to go with Hell 4 Leather. The rules fit on a double sided fold out (around A3 size) but manage to be both evocative and detailed enough to outline the entire story arc. The game is designed for single story play but because of the way scenes are described it has tremendous replay value.

The game isn’t known nearly as well as it deserves but I highly recommend picking it up: Hell 4 Leather on DriveThruRPG

RPGaDay August 17th

17th) Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

bf_thumb600Probably some of the really niche indie games such as Best Friends by Gregor Hutton, Cold City from Contested Ground Studios or Piledrivers and Powerbombs by Prince of Darkness Games. There was a vibrant Scottish small press community during the time I lived in Glasgow so I was able to pick up a lot of games I’d otherwise never have encountered.

I like reading RPGs as much as playing them so I do tend to pick up a lot of small things here and there without necessarily expecting to ever run / play them. The downside is, as always, time. I’ve got a lot of great games that I’d love to play and even more ok games that I’d just like to give a spin. There’s always something new and with the tendency for most players to prefer campaigns it can be difficult to find people to give them a try, especially given the onus on the GM having to teach the systems.