Compelling Conflicts

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Compelling Conflicts Submitted by furashgf on Tue, 14/08/2012 – 14:11

A number of people on boards such as RPGNET acknowledge that while the HeroQuest II rules are very good, conflicts tend to be very flat/boring. Is this actually the case, or is there some way of using the mechanics that will make a chase, combat, etc. be as compelling in HeroQuest II as it is in other games (not the same, just as exciting).

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As a newbie…

Submitted by BlindGuyNW on Thu, 23/08/2012 – 13:08.

Hi All,

I wanted to chime in here as a relatively new gamemaster, and give my impressions. One of my players brought up a very similar issue last night, describing the game system as “flat,” and “uninspiring.” She then went on to say that the story itself was what mattered to her, but that she still felt the game system was somehow lacking.

This concerned me, mostly because she is someone intimately familiar with narrative gaming, whereas I am relatively new to the hobby in general. I did play some Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager, but it has been years. I’m glad that she’s still willing to continue to play with me, but also wondering if I am somehow using the system incorrectly, perhaps having fewer contests than ought to be called for? I have had sessions where the dice have only come out once or twice, if at all. I read the arguments here about multiple mechanics, and can understand where they come from, but I suppose I’m still troubled by this notion of the system. I suppose this will only be fixed with time and GM practice.

Thanks for listening to me on my little soapbox,

Zack.

Thanks for the responses

Submitted by BlindGuyNW on Sat, 25/08/2012 – 12:24.

Hi Al,

I just wanted to thank everyone for the great responses I’ve received here. I will work on determining what, exactly, my players find so flat about the game system. I’m inclined to suspect it’s a function of my narration style perhaps, combined with the “everything is the same, mechanically,” idea that HQ espouses. I will work on encouraging more player participation in the narration, beyond what their PCs are actually doing. Here’s hoping it works. 🙂

Yours,

Zack.

Philmagpie's picture

Uninspiring rules?

Submitted by Philmagpie on Fri, 24/08/2012 – 03:27.

Hi Zack,

Welcome to the fold of HQ2 GMs.  Sorry to hear that you are having trouble with the system, or rather that one of your Players is having issues.

It would be interesting to have a little more detail on quite what is causing her to label the rules uninspiring.

On the one hand, the rules are a tool designed to facilitate a story game.  The excitement of the game should come from the story, not from the implementation of the rules.  Flashy rules could obscure or detract from the story.  What would you want your Players to be saying after a game session;

“We played an awesome game with some amazing rules!”

“We played an awesome game with an amazing story!”

Moving on, how can “uninspiring” rules create an amazing story? By being simple, flexible and not restricinting the Players.  I have found that whatever the Players do, the rules do not change.  The story can vary wildly, the outcomes of a contest can differ greatly, but the mechanics of the contest remain the same.

GM: A band of Trolls charge towards you down the tunnel!

Player 1: Should I block the tunnel with my shield?  Or charge back with my spear? Or trip over the front Troll? Or cast a spell to bring down the tunnel roof?  Or create the illusion of a chasm in front of them? Or sing to them to calm their anger?  Summon a fire spirit to attack them back? Or hide in the shadows?  Or run back to the cavern?

For whatever choice the Player makes, the rules will be the same.  Different Abilities may be involved, but the mechanics of an opposed roll are the same?  Likewise, the story will change, influenced by the results of the roll, but the GM is only going to need the one mechanic to deal with all of these actions.

I have found these rules allow for some awesome story choices, but if the Players always just want to stab the Trolls with their swords, then the rules are not going to automatically create entertainment.  It is for the Players, encouraged by the GM, to innovate with the story.

Should this be the root of your problem, then perhaps you should have some NPCs show the Players the possiblities in the rules.  Unusual combat moves, clever magics or creative Ability pairings should all reveal the possibilities.

Happy gaming

Phil

Hi Zack.So, we have 1:M

Submitted by furashgf on Thu, 23/08/2012 – 19:30.

Hi Zack.

So, we have 1:M people who say that the system is flat. However, we also have 1:M people who say that once you “get it,” and put X amount of time into it, it isn’t flat. So… I’m not sure. I haven’t run it yet.

It would be great to have some kind of fan-produced kit of “How To Be a Great HeroQuest II” GM. If someone has one, please forward 🙂

Charles's picture

suggestion

Submitted by Charles on Thu, 23/08/2012 – 22:46.

After each contest, ask the players to suggest what would be the most cool way to describe the result; or the best way that fits the story; or the one that offers the most opportunities for future fun. At the end of the session, discuss which was the best suggestion and what was the next best. Give 2 hp for the best and 1 for the next best, to incentivise engagement and improvisation.

Of course, you, the GM/narrator, should be part of this and, if your suggestion is the best, then none of the players get the 2 hp. And ultimately, it does remain your responsibility to make the decision, break the deadlock or just describe what happened if nothing good comes from the players.

And, if there is no cool way to describe the results, then ask yourself what was that contest for? If the contest matters to you or your players, then there must be a great way to describe the results. If there isn’t, then was the contest just because someone felt it was time to roll some dice?

If, after some effort, you or your players still don’t feel it is working for the group, there are other systems that have more “crunch”, such as RuneQuest (also sold from this site 🙂 ). After all, the point is to have fun and if you are not having fun, then you shouldn’t do it.

Either that, or recordings of experience GMs

Submitted by BlindGuyNW on Thu, 23/08/2012 – 20:01.

I’d love such tips myself, or some kind of podcast perhaps where experienced HQ2 GMs let us evesdrop on how they run the game. Granted, the whole approach of the system seems to be for “tools, not rules,” but still… maybe some kind of “HQ for simulationists,” conversion guide? Half-joking here. 😉

roko_joko's picture

If you google heroquest

Submitted by roko_joko on Fri, 24/08/2012 – 19:49.

If you google heroquest “actual play” podcast you’ll see that a couple of those have been online in the past.  I’m not sure if anything is available right now, but you might find something.

In any case I’d like to second this, as a suggestion to Moon Design to publish more of them.  It would promote the game and help people understand it.

Thank you all for the helpful

Submitted by furashgf on Wed, 15/08/2012 – 14:47.

Thank you all for the helpful advice. Here’s what I still don’t get.

In most traditional or even semi-traditional games (like Fate), there’s some kind of back-and-forth with increasing anxiety: e.g.,

– pulling from a jenga tower;

– round-by-round combat in D&D, Savage Worlds, Fate Variants, etc.

– social combat in Savage Worlds, Fate Variants, etc.

– cool chase mechanics;

– 4E skill challenges

All of the above have the common feature that they take more than a minute or two, and the entire conflict should be exciting (if done right), with tactical decisions made at each point. They could just as well be narrative decisions (what cool, clever action would work).

My impression is that most conflicts are just a die roll or two. No matter how well you narrate that, it’s kind of flat. I think this impression is incorrect. How does it actually work in HQ2.

Charles's picture

difference between storytelling and simulation

Submitted by Charles on Thu, 16/08/2012 – 21:28.

I suggest that you look at the conceptual differences between gamesystems that emphasise storytelling vs. those that emphasise simulation. Of course, many (most?) combine the two approaches in varying degrees.

First off: both types are valid; both types are good; and they tend to appeal to different sets of people.

In a simulation game system, there are detailed rules for what happens: you cast this specific spell, you follow a set of rules and you get some specific results. For example, you cast Disruption at a troll. Roll against your Disruption skill; check troll’s possible resistances (with their specific rules). If the Disruption works, then roll d20 to find the location hit, roll 1D3 to find how much damage (I am making this all up based on 30+ year old memories of playing RuneQuest).

In a storytelling system, the narrator (gm) and players are working together to co-create a shared story. They don’t want lots and lots of rules to get in their way, they know they can create stories. But they also know that having a small set of randomisation rules helps increase the drama that they expericence. What they need to know in a contest is who wins, and then they will tell the story of how it happened.

For some people, the flatness of the storytelling approach just does not work, it has no bite for their imagination to hook into so they can enjoy the story. When they are following specific rules, it helps them suspend their reality-checks and get into the story that they are casting spells that cause observable damage.

For other people, the detailed rules of a simulation system means that they spend too much of their time looking up tables and rolling dice when the would prefer to just get on with the story.

Herve's picture

It does take more than one round…

Submitted by Herve on Thu, 16/08/2012 – 13:09.

… to run a group extended contest, in which every player has his say. In our experience, the average contests lasts 3 to 4 exchanges, with the ever-burning record set at nine exchanges, when a possessed PC trashed all the others (with the help of a series of critical rolls) and we all enjoyed it, especially him.

In a group, when EVERY PC has 3-4 exchanges, some inflict the 5 RP in 2 exchanges (I saw it done in one exchange once only), others pitifully fumble around until some other guy comes to help. So don’t worry, a detailed contest will feel very, very lively, and you’ll see the players twitch and spasm while awaiting their turn.

And if for some reason (Rune of Luck ?) it goes too smoothly, well, there’s always the possibility of you adding extra difficulties… “Wait, we though there were only ten of them and another ten are charging from the bushes! With us tired and wounded!

Go for it.

 

Philmagpie's picture

Extended Contests

Submitted by Philmagpie on Wed, 15/08/2012 – 16:51.

Hi furashgf,

I would generally run the situations you describe as Extended Contests, where there are going to be multiple rounds as each side accumulates Resolution Points (RP).  This is the closest that HQ2 comes to the long, drawn out combats of D&D, etc.

In my experience, most actions tend to only lodge just 1RP or 2RP against the loser, ensuring that there will be multiple rounds of combat, chase, etc.  These Extended Contests are the HQ equivalent of the back-and-forth exchanges that you seek.

I have found that the rules create enough tension to engage the Players without resulting in the long slogs that can happen with some rules systems.  Again, it does take a period of adjustment, and some of my Players still struggle with the more abstract nature of RP.

However, HQ2 is all about driving forward the story.  If you want a detailed, tactical simulation of combat, then you will need to look elsewhere. HQ2 is a long way from the wargaming roots of the hobby.

Yet, if your Players can accept fast-flowing contests that drive the narrative forward, then you will have a lot of fun with HQ2.  

Happy Gaming

Phil

Philmagpie's picture

Story adds excitement

Submitted by Philmagpie on Wed, 15/08/2012 – 03:46.

Hi furashgf,

I have been running HQ2 for about 60 Sessions now, and I have not found the contests to be boring at all.  I think that there are three issues here;

1 Mechanics

Reading through the rules may not give the Reader the same experience as actually PLAYING with the rules.  On paper, HQ2 may seem flat, but then this is equally true to ALL RPGs.  Indeed, designers would want to write clear, crisp descriptions of their rules, as this part of a RPG book is something of a textbook on how to run the game.  Generally, textbooks make for rather dry reading, but their intent is to convey information not to entertain.

In my experience, the excitement and interest comes from the gameplay.

2 Rules in play

YGMV, but I have found the HQ2 rules to allow for a lot of Player creativity, and thus engagement.  There can often be a tricky transition period as Players adjust to the more narrative style of HQ2, but once they have done so, the excitment can build.  I have found the rules to be flexible, simple and an excellent vehicle for creativity.

For example, suppose one Player wants to run along the wall Matrix-style, and then attack the Troll.  I would then ask what Movement Ability they want to use to run along the wall, and require this to be the Augment for the action.  Furthermore, the Player would need to Pass their Augment to succeed in the movement.  Assuming their success at the movement, they could then attack the Troll using the Augment bonus from the movement.

Finally, the fact that only one rules mechanism is used in HQ really speeds up the pace of the game as we are not switching mentally, or thumbing through rules tomes, from the combat rules, to the magic rules, to the movement rules and then the damage rules.

3 Narrative stength

For me, probably the greatest benefit HQ2 rules is that they fade into the background and allow us all to focus on the story.  It is the same mechanic if a Player wants to slash the Troll, sneer at the Troll, intimidate the Troll, Befuddle the Troll or grapple the Troll.  Of course, the STORY will change as a result, but the rules handles it all in the same way.

We are not looking at the mechanics to provide the excitement, we are looking at the rules to seamlessly facilitate an exciting narrative.  Players really can try anything, and this freedom is liberating.  The GM has the one simple rules tool to deal with anything that the Players want to do.  Players can entertain everyone by trying increasingly flashy stunts; swinging on chandeliers, throwing Trollkin, smashing up furniture, all the tropes of swashbuckling pirates or Hong Kong martial arts are easily handled.

So, while the rules might read dryly, their strength is in the gameplay and the imagination of your Players.

Happy Gaming

Phil

I think the key here is to

Submitted by Markmohrfield on Tue, 14/08/2012 – 16:19.

I think the key here is to remember that the conflict resolution system isn’t meant to tell you what is happening, just whether or not the PC has been successful. Just use your imagination to make up what happens within those parameters. To my mind, that’s one of the game’s real strengths.

Okay, the PC’s have given

Submitted by furashgf on Tue, 14/08/2012 – 18:37.

Okay, the PC’s have given their plans, you’ve determined difficulty, you’re clear on the goals, and you now know who’se won. I’m having trouble imagining how you do make describing the outcome super interesting, or as exciting as a combat with some crazy maneuvers, etc. I’m sure you can, since many people are happy with HQII, I just don’t know how.

Can you give me a simple example?

Charles's picture

Describing contests

Submitted by Charles on Tue, 14/08/2012 – 22:04.

Prior to the roll, the GM and player agree what the purpose(s) of the contest is, the player describes the tactics used and what ability will be rolled, and the GM will state the consequences and set the resistance. All of these should be, to some extent, negotiable. What the roll does is resolve the winner of the contest or the exchange within a contest. The GM is then responsible to describe what happened.

But responsible does not mean it is all done by the GM!

The players, including those not involved, may be inspired with a more dramatic and/or appropriate description of what happened.

The style of HeroQuest is shared storytelling, with the GM setting the scene and managing the contests, and with the story co-told by all present.

roko_joko's picture

I like the idea of player

Submitted by roko_joko on Fri, 24/08/2012 – 20:43.

I like the idea of player involvement to make the storytelling interesting.  HQ puts a lot on the Narrator.  I like the idea of getting everyone’s interests involved, and getting everyone’s creativity involved.

I think there are some games that do it explicitly.  For example in Trollbabe, the rules say that the player narrates what happens when the Trollbabe loses a contest.  The GM only narrates it when the Trollbabe wins.

One thing like that that HQ has is the use of “ambiguous-reference” abilities, and unspent character points, for players to pull abilities, relationships, NPCs, or whatever, out of a hat. A more subtle thing it has (if I’m correctly remembering that this is in the published rules somewhere) is a suggestion about how the Narrator should accept responsibility for making the external situations relevant to whatever abilities the players have chosen for their characters.

I’d be interested to see more stuff like that for HQ.  Formal rules, or detailed suggestions, for player involvement in the narrative.

Herve's picture

Narrating conflicts outcomes

Submitted by Herve on Wed, 15/08/2012 – 12:27.

I’ve been mastering maybe 50 HQ games in the last ten years (HQ 1 and 2) and it did take me two or three years to become fully comfortable with the ultra-light, flexible rules. So don’t worry if you “grope in the dark” for a few games. In fact, I encourage you and your players to experiment a lot, try crazy stunts, improvise.

As for narrating the outcome, the LEVEL OF VICTORY / DEFEAT is the key. If it’s only marginal, just brush along. The more pronounced it is, the more momentous the event – make sure all the PCs get that. You can quite easily improvise physical wounds, besmirched honor, financial ruin, whatever, for the loser and a badass reputation or a big bag of gold for the winner (lingering benefit).

Again, don’t be afraid to try as many ideas as you can at first, and get comfortable with the rules.

Using lingering penalites, benefits, flaws

Submitted by Erik Weissengruber on Thu, 16/08/2012 – 12:54.

Make the consequences of past actions come back in conflicts.  That way a conflict ties together previous events and makes each conflict very particular.  You aren’t just doing a generic fight when your “crippled leg” penalty is coming into it along with your “+6 to fighting necromancers” lingering benefit.  If you lose the conflict, that little lingering bump up disappears.  And you remind players to take in-game action to repair past wounds or penalties.

RoM's picture

Take your time

Submitted by RoM on Fri, 24/08/2012 – 08:21.

Take your time describing the scene. Even though the dice rolls may be done in a minute that only tells you the outcome, not what happened. Think of any combat scene in your favourite action film. You can tell the outcome in one sentence. But to actually describe the scene the director took 5 or 10 minutes. The same goes for your roleplaying. You can easily describe a contest over several minutes without boring your players, use all the blood and gore necessary 🙂 You can do that alone or in co-operation with your players. Let them explain what they are doing, based on the level of success.

But remember that the level of success does not say anything about the quality of the actions. A marginal victory between heroes can still be very exciting. In my series we had a duel between a player and Killer Branduan (a renown warrior in Glorantha) that ended in a marginal victory. Both had several masteries. The fight lasted for hours. And I started to describe the duel with “Imagine a fight between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee…” Together with the player I choreographed the combat and explained how a perfect punch was parried by an even better block.

 

RoM's picture

On difficulties

Submitted by RoM on Fri, 24/08/2012 – 08:30.

HQ2 does not have fixed difficulties. That can be a challenge for the narrator to determine how strong an opponent is. On the other hand it gives you a great opportunity. If the players have cool ideas how to fight the mountain trolls in their fortress you can lower the difficulty any time. If they have an idea that would technically never work in your setting but it makes the whole group cry out in laughter, make it happen.

You can even do that in an extended contest. If the first exchange goes against the players, ask them to find a better way. In game terms they could still used the same abilities. But they should be creative about it.

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