March 8, 2021

RPG Review: Throwing Horns

Throwing Horns by Vipernine games is a heavy metal music inspired game set in hell. You play as a band of literal demons trying to complete a tour of diabolical venues. Sorry if that intro was a little abrupt, but I couldn’t think of any other way to drop that info on you.

It’s a rules-light system that uses a d6 based ‘roll and keep’ method for resolving actions. There are only three different stats for each character: fury, execution, and command. In place of a traditional HP pool, each player can absorb up to six demonic marks on their soul, and you earn them by rolling poorly. Unlike many other TTRPGs, Throwing Horns has set numerical objectives to progress through the game. The goal is to get through six shows. To escape a venue and move on to the next town, you must acquire a set number of guitar picks. You earn picks through role playing or rolling well enough on your instrument checks. In my playthrough, we were able to get through a full tour in under three hours.

In my younger days, I was in a fair number of bands. When I look back on that time, I have great memories of being on stage, but there’s a lot more to being a gigging musician than just performing. When I’m swapping stories with friends, I find that we often end up talking more about the weird backstage areas of venues, sleazy promoters, or gear schlepping mishaps.Throwing Horns captures these moments almost perfectly.

This is where the majority of our play was centered. One of our most fun encounters involved haggling with an infernal concession stand worker on whether a member of the band could get food with a drink ticket. Other high points were when a gaggle of damned souls attempted to run away with some of the band’s amps and when they just avoided having a swarm of locusts descend on them after a set.

Like nearly every game, it’s not without its faults. Because completing a venue relies on accruing enough picks rather than accomplishing some other goal, your players can run up the score pretty early by roleplaying as they arrive and before they begin their opening number. The guide lays out three phases for each stop. You have your opener (picking the title of the song is extremely entertaining), followed by an encounter, with moving on to the next show coming last. Everyone rolls their best stat during the first song, and you’re intended to be able to rock hard enough to get through on that performance alone. If they’re allowed to do anything before hitting the stage, there’s a fair chance they’ll accrue enough to breeze through. Eventually, I had to just skip the players directly to their first song, which was disappointing because the players wanted to explore all these hellish locations, so I felt like I had to choose between having an encounter and letting them enjoy the setting.

Another issue I have is esthetic. Reminiscent of the 1981 film Heavy Metal, the manual is chock-full of busty, scantily-clad devil women. It struck me as something that would seem passé even 10 years ago. There’s nothing too terribly graphic, but I found it pretty sophomoric nonetheless. This doesn’t manifest in any way mechanically, but you should be aware of it if that runs afoul of the sensibilities of any of your players.

Overall though, I’d say the positives outweigh the negatives, and this game was a blast to play. It’s probably not something you could sustain a year-long campaign with, but this is a perfect change of pace game or last minute option if a player cancels on you late. Teaching the rules and character creation could easily be done inside of 20 minutes, so you can be up and running extremely quickly. For the DM (who’s called The Promoter in Throwing Horns), you can pick your venues and potential encounters from a random table. Even so-so improvisation skills, you could make a session work pretty well on the fly. The premise is also so delightfully over the top that it’s almost worth it just for the sake of saying you played it.

It’s a great deal on DriveThru RPG at the tongue-in-cheek price of $6.66 currently. If you’d like to snag a copy of it you can do so here. We also recorded our session for the podcast, which will be available tomorrow. If you need more convincing I think you’ll be able to hear how much fun we had with it.

If you’re a metal fan, a current/former gigging musician, or are looking to try a new high-concept game, you should give throwing horns a try.

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