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[Heroquest] Help me get it

Geburah

Brickotherapist
Validated User
2. On engaging with the world
I'm specifically talking about a feedback loop between what's been established in the fiction of the game and what the dice and scores at the table indicate.

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Now Heroquest does have a form of this effect in the way that benefits of victory from one contest are applicable as bonuses to later relevant contests. But.
  • But #1: By my reading of the text, Heroquest doesn't encourage chaining contests together in quite the way that many of these other games do. If you want to seize the high ground or put the sun behind you or take any other small, advantageous action, that should typically be inside the scope of the contest, rather than a precursor contest of its own. (Again, by my reading of the texts -- this may not be how you play in which case I'm eager to hear about it). Is there some mechanism that I am missing for assigning bonuses and penalties based on circumstance and tactical play? Again, the text doesn't seem to address it.
  • But #2: I find it very confusing that extended contests seem to just use the initially established value in every round and not to shift from round to round as the participants adjust to each other. It means if I go into a contest where I am the underdog I am massively more likely to lose (due to compounded probabilities) and there is no real tactical move I can make that will alter the situation.
I agree with this point and this was one of my major frustrations in regards to the online games I played, especially as HQ:G shifts the marginal success to the HIGHEST successful role, as opposed to the lowest, meaning that unless the opponent with a higher skill fails, you will almost always suffer a marginal defeat...

In regards to modifiers, there's a statement in HQG (p.102) that "Modifiers should only be used to alter a hero’s target number to reflect unusual circumstances he helped to create, or has some control over. [...] If an unusual situation applies to an obstacle, change the difficulty number. (As you’ll see in the section on assigning difficulty levels on page 113, the best practice is to decide how difficult a task ought to be dramatically, choose a difficulty, and then, if necessary, invent modifying circumstances to account for any unusual or changed degree of difficulty). As modifiers complicate bookkeeping, it’s always preferable to fold them into a difficulty whenever you can." But no guidance on the size of said modifiers. The implication is that ideally you should use augments for this: if you want to be able to make use of the high ground, attempt an augment with your "Master Tactician" or "Guerrilla tactics" breakouts. Want to crash a tree (Giant Redwood 5W2) into an opponent? Use an unrelated action to use your "Fell it with a Blow 3W" magical feat (from the Avatar of Paul Bunyan keyword), attack its 14 resistance and then use the 5W2 to attack the opponent.

A fun way to do things might be to sketch battle zones like in Fate and give them abilities: "Giant Redwood 5W", "Dark & Dingy 17", "On fire 5W, increases by +2 per exchange, spreads to nearby tiles when it reaches a new mastery level" which the contestants can then use, fight against or take unrelated actions to push or propel opponents into. But this is not directly supported or encouraged in the system.

So I agree that as written HQG's conflict resolution system left me feeling confused, dissatified and it needs some GM flexibility and support to become more interesting. I think more guidance on framing, less lengthy and more interesting examples (I tuned out of the big battle example), and a clearer panel of actions and aims like Fate Core's (Attack, Defend, Overcome, Create an advantage) core actions. I'd need to look into it again to give a more cogent critique and suggestions though.
 
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soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Validated User
It seems to me that if I've got Weapon Thane 17 [bladesharp +2, swordsman +1, widow's blade +1] and I can spend 1 Hero Point for advancement then I always want to put that point into Weapon Thane: It costs the same amount and by definition it is more versatile than any of the breakout abilities underneath it.
Sure, that could be the case. But what if you have 2 Hero Points to spend? You could increase Weapon Thane and a Breakout.

Also, depending on how the GM plays HeroQuest, you might be able to use a Breakout across other skills. So, I could use Bladesharp +2 by casting it on another PC's weapon, giving them a +2, so increasing it to +3 or whatever can be used to help other PCs.

Furthermore, if I've got Weapon Thane 2W1, Storm Bull 19 and Red Cow Clan W1 on my character sheet then I should always put all my advancement points into Weapon Thane because I am so much more likely to succeed when I use it. The dirty secret of most "broad trait" systems is that there is a very broadly defined penumbra and even with a stretch penalty/specificity bonus thrown in if I just concentrate on one ability then over the long run of campaign play my ability (and ultimately my agency) will outstrip that of players who attempt to generalize.
Sure, increasing Weapon Thane at the expense of everything else is fine. However, that only increases your fighting ability. If you want to play politics in the Red Cow Clan then increasing Red Cow Clan might be better, similarly, hunting broos in the marsh would benefit from an increased Storm Bull. It all depends on what you want to do.

There are a couple of possible responses to this critique. One is to state that "good roleplayers" should be more interested in modeling their characters as well rounded individuals. Frankly, I think that's poppycock. I think one of the key concepts of Narrativist play is that it harnesses the reward system (which is ultimately a system of accumulating/increasing agency) directly to motivating story-oriented play. Telling players that they have to choose lower agency as players in order for play not to collapse is dissatisfying to me. Note that this is not the same as saying that characters can't have terrible flaws or make sub-optimal choices. As a player I don't lose any agency when I exercise a flaw I chose or make bad choices for my character's behavior, because I (the player) am making those choices. But when there is a social contract which encourages me to make a sub-optimal character for reasons of taste then that becomes disappointing.
Sure, you could be the best, kickass Weapon Thane in the clan and that gives you player agency and makes you really good. However, it doesn't help you deal with other situations very well.

You are confusing Agency with something else, I think, although I am struggling to follow your argument here.

I knew someone who took Shotgun 200% in a Call of Cthulhu game. He was really good at Shotgun but rubbish at everything else. When asked why, he said "I'm probably not going to last more than one or two sessions anyway, so why not be good at something?" He had a blast playing the PC. So, it is possible to have a PC that is really good at one thing and ignores everything else.

Having a well-rounded PC means that you have a chance at interacting in multiple situations. Being a really good Weapon Thane doesn't help you in Uleria's Chamber of Pleasure, or reading a scroll, or knowing that an NPC is from a friendly/enemy clan. Thise things might not be important to you, which is fair enough, but they are important to a lot of players.

A second possible solution is to attempt to police this by putting restrictions in place and I can see that Heroquest: Glorantha has put some of those in but I think they are weak sauce. Specifically, you may only advance Keywords by +1 each session. But what that's really telling you is that you should advance at least your best Keyword +1 every session, otherwise you are falling behind. Moreover, the fact that you actually gain a bonus "catch-up" boost to other abilities whenever your highest ability crosses certain thresholds is essentially further tacit encouragement from the system to maximize one ability to the exclusion of all others.
I hate restrictions and do not use them in my games. The only restriction I have is that you can only increase one thing once. Sure, you can double-dip by increasing a Skill and a Breakout, but that is still increasing only one thing once.

The reason I'm so hard on this is that it migrates all play into the social contract: It's overwhelmingly beneficial to players to maximize a single score on their sheet to the exclusion of all else and then to claim that they can use that score to solve all problems. The reason it becomes social contract is that responsibility falls on the GM to police the boundaries of each ability in the game and constantly assign bonuses and penalties based on specificity of application. Player skill at negotiation of boundaries then dominates play.
I have never understood the Social Contract idea, except that it's a case of "We normally play this way".

As stated before, having one high skill does not mean that you are any good at anything else. You are useful in one kind of situation and barely competent in others. If that's what suits you as a player, then fine.

Finally, I'll point out that I have only played Runequest once and haven't internalized the genre implied by its ruleset. That means that I and my potential players don't have a shared language to tell us what an Lankhor Mhy Sage or a Storm Bull Berserker might or might not be able to do and that can lead to a lot of interpretation clash in terms of what is and is not covered by any given keyword or ability. I really don't want to have to internalize Runequest in order to make Heroquest play functional and even if I did then I would have the same problem as soon as I switch to other genres.
You don't need to know anything about RuneQuest to play HeroQuest and vice versa.

It is useful to know about Glorantha if you are playing either system. Your point about Storm Bull and Lhankor Mhy is a point about knowing about Glorantha, not RuneQuest. It's like playing in Middle Earth and saying "I don't know the difference between an elf and an orc so that might cause difficulties in the keywords".

For me, the GM should provide templates of cults and what they are like, to make it easier for you. RuneQuest does come in useful here, as it provides a template in terms of spells and skills, but isn't necessary.

So, as a GM, I'd provide a TL;DR for each cult, something like:
  • Storm Bull - Berserking chaos-haters, outside of society, hates chaos, very violent, Typical Breakouts: Face Chaos, Berserker, Sense Chaos
  • Lhankor Mhy - Sage, Lawgiver, Advisor, seeks knowledge, Typical Breakouts: Lores, Analyse Magic, Alchemy
  • Chalana Arroy - Pacifist healers, hates undead, cannot use weapons, Typical Breakouts: First Aid, Healing, Herbalist, Preserve Herbs, Heal Wound, Heal Body, Resurrection
Also, I wouldn't have just one skill for every PC. have a number of skills, to encourage players to concentrate on different things, perhaps a Profession, Background and Cult skill. So, you could have Weapon Thane, Red Cow Clan, Storm Bull or Lawspeaker, Colymar Clan, Lhankor Mhy.
 
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