Robin Laws’ games are successful and popular because he builds his highly-focused designs based on his observations of actual play behaviours. And Heroquest does a great job of bringing the experience of episodic adventure stories (in film, comics, and narrative) to the table.
The problem is that I need a little more structure than that provide by the pass/fail rhythm, or Heroquest 2.0’s advice on pacing a session by using strategically employed resolution methods.
So I have come up with my own scene economy and Narrator-moves to run an episodic game of intrigue and rebellion in the canonical Glorantha setting of Pavis, a city hewn out of the body of a giant statue animated by a mighty enchanter.
I do not want to give into arbitrary decisions on resistance levels, the scale of threats to the PCs and their goals, the long-term fate of the setting, or the proximity of the rebellion, civil war, and apocalyptic Hero Wars. I do not want to engage in the (benign?) railroading that the current iteration of the rules tacitly endorse and which many players still come to expect from a story-heavy role playing game.
Also, I have to manage an ensemble cast of 8 PCs.
The previous session’s determination of Crises to be faced in the current session activates latent potentials from setting creation. Each of the clan’s resources (Magic, War, Peace, Harmony, Morale) is associated with two of the factions from the setting, one faction being friendly or allied with the clan, one from an enemy, rival, or other out group. Both factions need the resource and are prepared to engage the PCs to get access to it.
It is the narrator’s job to make the two factions’ claims to the contested resource matter to the players. The challenge is to make the enemy or out group’s claim on the resource compelling. The Narrator MUST think of compelling reasons why the PCs would choose to give precious resources to members of an out group and find ways to get their clan to go along.
The players are to push to aid the clan generated in setting creation: strengthen resources, transform accidental growth in resources into a permanent improvement, make up for losses, augment the clan’s magic, alter the clan’s values or rituals. Each session’s long Extended Contest will deliver changes to the PCs AND to the resource which has been the centre of the evening’s activity.
So the genre is high fantasy.
- Make Pavis seem real
- Make the Lunar occupation feel uncomfortable
- Give the players chances to be heroic
- Put their clan at risk, but give players the opportunity to intervene
- Allow players the chance to shape the setting through rituals, heroquesting, and shaping the clan’s relationship to other groups
- maintain the credibility of a world divided into the mundane, exceptional, heroic, superheroic, and the divine
Inputs into a Session
- current status of the clan’s resources (numbers determined at setting creation)
- current crises growing out of resource fluctuation (fictional positioning but relevant crises were determined by rolls at the end of previous session)
- Loresheets – elements of the setting that players paid for with Hero Points at the end of last session – are reviewed: the GM is to strive to include elements from the players’ chosen lore sheets in this session, failure to do so means giving 1 Hero Point to each player whose chosen Loresheet was overlooked. “Thank You” to Weapons of the Gods for tying together player interest in the setting, canonical matter, and in-game currency in their Lore Sheets concept.
1) Review previous session’s activities
2) GM specifies the kind of crisis being faced and the factions involved
3) Lore Sheet review – specifying which ones are active
4) Clockwise, each player highlights the Rune of Interest on neighbouring player’s sheet (a use of this rune means it gets advanced by 1 at the end of the session)
5) Narrator highlights 1 Ability of interest on each player’s sheet (a use of this ability means it gets advanced by 1 at the end of the session)
During the Game
- Players put a check next to any ability on which Hero Points are spent
- Players put a “+” beside those abilities used successfully
- Players put a “-“ beside those abilities used unsuccessfully
Player Scenes (16)
- 8 Solo scenes (1 per player)
Like Color Scenes from Burning Empires – we get a slice of the player’s current activities and mindset, unlike BE players get one roll, most likely some kind of augment to a future use of an ability.)
- 8 Group scenes (1 per player)
Each player has a chance to engage with one NPC with whom they have a specified relationship. Narrator may allow other PCs to be present with the understanding that other NPCs can thereby be present as well. Such scenes could be resolved with any of the simple conflict mechanisms in the rules-set.
- 5 NPC scenes
- 3 specific kinds of scene
(players may only have 1 of each)
a) Clan Scene: a scene where a player tries to engage the clan leadership
b) Team Scene: a scene where a player may set some inter-character planning. I have grown tired of repeated “so what are we going to do” in-character discussions.
c) Rune Scene: a scene where one of the 3 runes which ties the player to the magico-religious-cultural premises of the setting is at issue.
- The “hero” card: the player who grabs this may tie his or her individual successes to any of the clan’s resources. The downside is that his or her failures will hurt the clan as well.
- 2 Schemer Scenes (1 for In Group figure of note, 1 for Out Group figure of note). These are unlike the scenes in Burning Empires or the players’ solo scenes in that the FoN’s do not roll dice. This is solely for fictional positioning. A leader of the town watch fuming at a previous defeat by Jo-Jo the Sword Master has every right to confront Jo-Jo in a later scene backed up by his 25 constables. I cannot have the watchman’s fuming followed up by an entire Legion sweeping into the ghetto where the clan dwells.
- 2 Intrigue Scenes (1 for the In Group figure of note, 1 for the Out Group figure of note). The Narrator frames the FoNs conspiring with each other, or with further different groups to gain further fictional positioning. PCs may ask or be asked to be present.
- Extended Conflict: the GM calls for the session’s Extended Conflict when the full extent of the PCs fictional positioning has become clear. He may bring it about before he has completed all of his 4 other scenes. He may ask to bring it before the PCs have completed all of theirs, but may not do so without consent. Results of this Extended Conflict help (or harm) the clan’s resource.
- Crisis review: how was the crisis met in or through any of the conflicts or player scenes? GM and players contribute to a montage revealing the fictional effects of the scenes. This fiction should be taken into account in the next session.
- Also, address the consequences associated with the “hero” card.
- Give 3 Hero Points
- For any players whose chosen Lore Sheets were not addressed in the session, give a further Hero Point to the owning players
- Total up checks, “+” and “-“ marks. The ability which earned the most of each type is advanced by 1. (These stack with each other and with bonuses for being a Rune or Ability of interest)
- Players may chose to advance an Ability by 1 for every Hero Point they choose to spend, or a Keyword by 1 for every 2 Hero Points they spend
- players may purchase 1 new lore sheet each at a cost of 1 HP
- players decide which Lore Sheets will be active next session, including any just purchased
- advance the default difficulty by 1 (this is a faster increase than the rulebook suggests)
- hand shakes all around
All resistances will be set using the pass-fail mechanic.
Session duration: 2.5 to 3 hours (comparable to Burning Empires)
- The aim is to create self-contained sessions.
- An individual episode should serve the functions of bringing setting and characters into dynamic interaction.
(Maybe some weekend or afternoon we could do a double session)
(Heroquests will be run with a scene structure dictated by the myth)
- Check the clan’s abilities and specify areas of crisis in the future
- Review previous session’s activities
- Lore Sheet Review (which are active)
- GM highlights Ability of interest on players’ sheets
- Clockwise, each player highlights rune of interest on neighbouring player’s rune of interest
- GM does crisis check to see which challenges will come to clan’s resources, specifies factions and personages involved
- Players choose the clan resource to which their activities will contribute this session
- players put a “*” beside any abilities on which they expend 1 or more Hero Points
- players put a “+” beside those abilities that are used successfully
- players put a “-” beside those abilities that are used unsuccessfully
- Solo Scenes: Each player has 1 solo scene where we see them at work, pursuing individual agendas, during which 1 roll may be made (for a simple conflict, prep for future action, some ritual)
- NPC Scenes: each player has 1 scene where they may call for a scene with one of the NPCs with whom they have a relationship or one of the representatives of the factions involved
- Team Scene: players have 1 scene where they are ALL present and may discuss plans, work together on some activity, etc.
- Clan Leader Scene: players have 1 scene where they may confer with clan leadership. Narrator has final say on who is available
- Schemer Scenes: Narrator will frame 2 solo scenes where NPCs relevant to the current clan crisis prepare for future activities (fictional positioning only, the Pass/Fail rhythm determines opposition)
- Intrigue Scene: Narrator has 1 scene where he shows collaboration or conflict between NPCs.
- Extended Conflict: the Narrator can call for/frame/expand on any of the types of scenes listed if he feels that the prize involved in a conflict affords the opportunity to address the resource the players have selected at the start. The Narrator’s duty is to frame the extended conflict in such a way that EVERY player has a chance to assist in the achievement of the prize that could assist the selected resource
- Crisis Review: how were the crises met in or through any of the conflicts or player scenes? GM and players contribute to a montage revealing the fictional effects of the scenes played through. This fiction should be taken into account in the next session (and will be, through the pre-game session review)
- Resource Review: if a prize was clearly framed in an extended contest, one which affects the clan resources directly, give a flash of how that effect plays out. If it appears as if the resource in question was addressed in fictional terms only, the player/players get one more simple contest in which to make some effort to affect the resource
- Give the 3 Hero Points
- For any active lore sheets that the Narrator did not address, hand over 1 HP to the owning players
- total up +, -, and *: find which ability earned the most of each type and advance by 1
- if a Rune of Interest was used even once, increase it by 1 (stacks with other advancements)
- if an Ability of Interest was used even once, increase it by 1 (stacks with other advancements)
- pay for ability advancements with HP
- purchase Lore Sheets with HP
- players decide which ONE their Lore Sheets will be active next session, including any new ones
- advance Resistance Level and Augment Level by 1 (a faster advance than rules suggest)
- hand shakes and backslaps all around