In general I won’t go into the setting and fluff and focus on the mechanics and general design, as this is what I am mostly interested in.
I would like to give the game a better review after first read, but so far can`t. There are many whole page illustrations that look really good, but in turn make other, not so great artwork, much more noticeable. Some artwork is reused within the PDF. The whole book suffers from a very simplistic layout that clearly has been done in a word processor. It is a boring, simple 2 column layout that does nothing to enhance the experience, not even some interesting Fonts or headers to break up the motony of text. Some images seem incorrectly aligned (Page 12, 23, the tables in the item chapter for example). All pages have a patterned, colored background that makes it hard to read. Some Images have a white Background that is very glaring in contrast to the colored background pages. Tables are simple borders with no fills, again making them hard to read. And for a PDF the lack of bookmarks is jarring. There are many other publishers that do their layout in word but Honour sadly looks amateurish. It is a shame really as a lot of the artwork looks great and must have been expensive. However the layout detracts massively from the overall quality. Layout is very important to me to help in relaying information in addition to simply look good. And this sadly does neither.
The system itself uses a D12, a dice I like that simply does not get enough playtime. So a + there. However a lot of the rules are not really well explained. For example a core tenet is the name giving “Honour” and the counterpart “Shame”. There are 6 types to track with “Honour wheels” on the character sheet, however it is not explained how to do so. In addition starting levels for example family and friends should be agreed with the GM before character creation. Then there is public honour for which is noted that “most people have a neutral level in this area for most of their lives”. Then how is this important to the game? I find it strange something that should be so important is handed so hand wavy. Mechanically speaking having Honour or Shame result in Perks and Penalties for dice rolls. How they work is not clear at that point in the rules as the explanation is vague and refers to a dH being rolled in various combinations and keeping best or worst result. However how exactly varying levels of honor affect rolls is not explained. But it becomes clear later on and when you look at the character sheet that shows what dice combination relates to which honour/shame level.
As attributes the game uses Aspects. There are three, Physical, Mental and Emotional, all with the sub categories Strength, Grace and Resilience. They are implemented well and I like the idea of this separation. They are rolled depending on a “Meta Reality Level” that is roughly describing the overall power level of the campaign and is noted by a rating between “Gritty Reality” and “Myths & Legends”. I like games that have a bit of a universal approach and gives me dials to tune the game to my needs. In addition to these Aspects Characters have Fortes and Flaws. If a character has any of those depends on if they rolled a Yin (11) or a Yang (12) during Aspect creation. The former produces flaws, the latter Fortes. However the character can also convert a Yin to a +1 for the aspect or a Yang to a +10 to an aspect. This makes for an interesting choice. You do not have to choose your flaw or forte right there, you can do so at any time during the game, but then they are fixed. Mechanically they only give a +1 or -1 to a roll affected by the Forte or Flaw. This is almost negligible.
The value of an Aspect determines Base Modifiers for rolls. They range from 2-20+ with modifiers starting at -4 and going up to +4 at 20. Theoretically there seems to be no limit to the level of an Aspect.
Then characters get a “pathway” that resembles a career path from games like Traveller. Characters spend “Terms”. Everyone starts at age 17 and each Term adds 3 years. Starting at 44 your Aspects begin to deteriorate slowly. Every Term allows a character to choose 3 Skills from his chosen Pathway, or career, and spend a total of 3 levels on them however the player likes. There is also a general list of skills to choose from. Every Term the player can choose a new career if they desire. For each term you get more Skillpoints to spend. The maximum is 9 per Term after the 4th term onward. The maximum Skillrank is 10. However there are also “end of term” rolls to determine how well you fared in your term and determine skill progress as well. I am not sure how the Term End Roll corresponds with the Term number skillpoints mentioned earlier. Are they additional or replace each other? No idea. There is also no real downside in choosing new Terms, so why anyone would start with a character younger than 43 with 8 Terms under their belt is not clear, at least mechanically. Many campaigns won’t run longer than a year in game anyway. Again you are supposed to weave a story around and agree on what is proper with the GM. I would have preferred stricter guidelines or at least some interesting decision point or drawback from choosing as many careers as possible. There are 16 legitimate and 9 criminal careers ranging from Academic to Triad Member. Each career shows a minimum aspect requirement, list of available skills and a rank with corresponding title depending on terms served in the career. There are tons of skills and I would have liked a table overview showing the available skills with related careers. There is a sample character with a sample sheet, but in the sheet some text seems to be cut off. Speaking of character sheet, the one included has a too low image quality and is quiet blurry.
Characters develop by gaining Qi points for good roleplaying or rolling higher than the difficulty set by the GM. They can be spent on gaining new skills or skill levels. Players can also spend Qi Points during play to reduce target numbers. 1QP reduces a target number by 1. Target numbers depend on the Difficulty level of a task and range from 2 for routine to 20+ for Superhuman. I am personally not a fan of spending basically experience points to influence die rolls, but you may not mind.
The Basic Task resolution is Roll 1d12 + Modifiers from Aspects, Skills, Flaws and Fortes vs. the target number. There are also consequences for rolling high or low depending on the difference between roll result and target number. This is meant to give some degrees of success or failure instead of simply fail or succeed. There are no “but” results though, if you fail you fail, it is just a question by how much. The exception is Yin and Yang results (11+12 respectively) on a task roll. On a Yin the task is a success but the character loses QP equivalent to the difficulty level, with a Yang he gains them. This is the mechanic I like the least so far as loosing QP for a simple die roll seems too harsh. There is also no mention if you could go negative in QP with enough Yin results.
Combat can be done in more than a physical altercation; you could also have Mental or Emotional Combat, the latter being sorcery. Every Aspect has its own pool of hit points as well.
However combat seems overly complicated and slow. Every character has 3 “Moments” each round. You spend movement on, well anything. Every round every participant chooses one of the 8 available combat actions from movements to attacks or defenses. You are supposed to write your selection down and then reveal them all at the same time. Depending on what each participant chooses you gain penalties or bonuses on future rolls. For example if I block and my attacker is attacks aggressive I have a future mod of +2. There is an example that explains it all that is OK, but could be a bit better, especially with more combat participants then a 1-1 fight. The example showing a 1-2 fight is too shallow and does not really show dice rolls and modifiers.
Damage is an additional roll that happens after a successful attack, but the target can resist. So to actually damage someone you must succeed in two separate rolls.
The game also features sorcery but I only gave it a quick look as there is a big table with various numbers detailing how to build your own sorcery. However in addition there are premade spells that are segregated by schools like Fung Shui or Calligraphy. I like more freeform magic, but this seemed too detailed for me, considering so much else is supposed to be handled hand wavy.
There is also a chapter detailing how to create your own items and also a comprehensive list of premade ones as well. Nothing extraordinary but exactly what you expect.
The next chapter deals with the mystical Inhuman races. Inspired by Asian mythology you find Demon (bad) and Charmed (good) ones in a wide variety. There are enough to have interesting friends and enemies for your characters.
The last few pages before the expansive index contain all the tables from previous chapters. Something I really appreciate, but again the layout harms the overall impression as many are too small to properly read.
TLDR: An overall OK offering with uneven design, some unique and interesting sounding mechanics and on average nice artwork. Sadly it is hindered by the subpar layout. I know it sounds harsh but they should have skipped a few images and instead invested in someone to do proper layout work. Usually content trumps looks, but here the layout stops the reader from enjoying and actually learning the system. This could be great and unique but sadly isn’t at this point. However at the 5$ point it may be worth it for the ideas and artwork to you. I hope the developer revisits the PDF and releases it in a more polished form in the future.