Inspired by +Rob Conley I bought some Harn products that arrived yesterday. I'm still traditionalist enough that I vastly prefer hardcopy products to pdfs so I purchased them directly from Columbia Games through their online store. Following Rob's advice I picked up Harn World; and because I have been digging into domains and population density rules for ACKS, I also picked up the interesting looking Harn Manor.
I had some qualms when I ordered the products that they came unbound and 2-hole punched. I've tried this format in the past and durability of the pages has been an issue for me. When they books (can I call them books when they are unbound?) arrived I was surprised and pleased and the weight and finish of the paper stock used. I don't expect durability to be an issue with the production quality of the books. Columbia prices the Harn product line as a premium product and the attention to physical quality reflects that.
I spent several hours last night reading Harn Manor, and I expect to spent a few more tonight; I may be hooked. In my gaming circles, Harn garnered a certain amount of awed respect and derision. The level of detail, as described to us by the guy who owned it, left us simultaneously gob-smacked and pitying for gamers just trying too hard. About the same reaction we had to Advanced Squad Leader, the detail was admirable but we suspected it might not turn out to be that much fun. The reality of digging into Harn Manor left with me with about the same reaction; with one more layer, fascination.
I will never use the entire set of manor generation rules in any of my games, its just too much detail for what I want. But, reading all that juicy, juicy detail and mining it for ideas and as inspiration for a level of zoomed-in-focus sandbox building that goes beyond my usual "here's a village to start in approach" has energized me. If you have ever had the itch to detail every single NPC in a village, no matter how insignificant, then you should own this book.
My current ruleset of choice is ACKS, mostly because I love the level of worldbuilding detail Autarch created to support mid and high level game play. But +Alexander Macris made a deliberate design choice to zoom into the regional hex level (6 mile hex) and avoid any further detail. I would like to include play at the lowest level of landed nobility which means dealing with fees and manors. I had begun outlining an approach I wanted to take for adding this detail to my ACKS campaign but Harn Manor is going to help me get there faster.
Even when the detail goes to a level that feels a bit excessive to me, the presentation and writing is always clear and enjoyable to read. There are frequent hints on how to use the information in game. If there are inaccuracies in the information relative to their stated model of medieval England I am not scholar enough to spot them. Maybe more importantly for gaming purposes, the details are plausible and internally consistent and therefore eminently gameable even if they are not "realistic" in some points.
I highly recommend this book and I can tell it is going to be one of my top go to reference sources for worldbuilding.