So tonight I was able to get my regular group together here at Chez Grag.
Sometime between character level-up and starting the game session, we gave The Heroes of Hesiod a try. My five-year-old son got his first taste of something approximating the old delta ampersand delta, and rolling a d20 in battle.
The party faced off against their foes, a fearsome bulette, a reptilian creature of some sort, the least threatening beholder I've ever seen, and a swarm of pixies.
The system of battle is pretty simple. Roll a d20 (or 3d6) plus your character's attack bonus, deal one point of damage. Each character had some special ability which was simple to use and understand (except spectral shackles), and on a critical hit you get to drop a glorious d6 of damage. The monsters had little candies for hit points, which I presented to each player when they dealt damage. The game took about twice the half-hour suggested by the front cover as we all got used to the system, but it never felt like a drag at any point.
While the character types and abilities had a very 4e feel to them, thankfully the designer shied away from concepts such as encounter powers. Aside from the youngest player, who didn't pay attention to his little pile of hit points, the players felt a great amount of concern as they were whittled down by the monsters. It wasn't until the final two monsters were on the board that a character was knocked out, and they were quite surprised by being healed soon after. I suspect a group of 5-7 year-olds might not have thought about it until someone was knocked down.
Playing this with adults, it is hard to avoid the creepiness in some of the descriptive language in the opening story. I don't know whether the writers intended this or not, but there was a lot of snickering around the table at my delivery of lines like "No one your age knows what exactly goes on at the cabin, and no adults are telling."
Would I use this system for further adventures? Probably not in it's unmodified form. The special abilities are rather more complicated than I would like, and what is written on the character sheet feels very limiting. I would probably give monsters a few more hit points, and have d6 damage on all hits, and double that on crits.
If I were going to run Hesiod again, I would print the character and monster sheets on cardstock for easier handling. Also, the light paper battle map needs to be anchored better. Maybe cut out a piece of cardboard and glue it down nicely before the game.
Should you run Hesiod? It's not bad, 4/5 for what it is trying to be, a light and fun introduction to D&D concepts, aimed at a younger audience. It falls flat as the basis of a campaign, but had no such ambitions in that regard.