Tuesday, November 3, 2009

hero wars/heroquest thoughts and stuff

So I've been eying my newly-acquired copy of Hero Wars, and thinking about a concept used in the game's Extended Contests (big, important conflicts use these, as opposed to a simple, single die roll): the concept of Action Points (now called Hero Points in the new edition).

So. Action Points.

Basically, these represent your overall mojo, combining ability, equipment, emotional investment in the conflict, positioning, tactics, allies(!), etc., all thrown together in a single numerical value. It's, overall, how well you're doing.
Here's the kicker: you don't lose until you are completely out of Action Points. And by "don't lose", I mean you basically don't suffer any just-you-personal consequences until this point is reached. Heck, you can even bet a few points to possibly gain a bunch back, and then you're still in it!
That bit about not losing? It means that, in a combat Extended Contest, you don't get wounded in any meaningful way (beyond a cut or a bruise) until you run out of APs. This is that kind of thing I was trying to achieve in Mask of the Emperor, the idea that you have to corner your opponent (verbally, physically, whatev) before landing a blow on them, as befits actual fighting between actual fighters.
[ready, go, tangent!] Even if you skewer a guy on your sword pretty quickly, there are probably a few shield-blocks, parries, dodges, and feints that happen first. If not, then the scenario would probably consist of your (apparently masterful) swordsman facing multiple foes, and stuff. The point is that I think it makes total sense to have some back and forth in a conflict before anything decisive happens.
So - you run out of APs, and THEN you get your hand severed, or the baroness throws her drink in your face, or whatever. As this Forge forum thread reminds us, you can get down to 1 AP and still pull off a win, and then keep your hand or your dignity intact.
I think that's pretty damn cool. One thing it doesn't do (potentially) is account for Pyrrhic victories, a la Otherkind. We shall see if that's the case, and if it matters, the effect that that has on things, etc.
I can see the logic behind it, though - both the Intact Skin approach (one guy wins and one guy loses, cut and dried) and the Mel Gibson approach (a la any movie he's ever been in where there is violence, and his character gets an ass-whupping even if he wins the day) have their merits. The former pushes for a vision of combat as either deadly OR merely "to the blood" - different rolls and results will of course dictate how that goes, and I betcha the Extended Contest result table has some kind of "you both suck" result. Alternately, in social conflict, the former approach would suggest a sort of "you end up looking awesome, handing someone's ass to them as well as looking good to passersby". This approach seems to suggest that once things start tipping in your favor, they keep going that way, OR you get a very clean reversal - again, you don't get chopped up until you totally, definitely lose, although you might take some light flesh wounds and your followers might all die (I'm thinking Braveheart, where Mel takes a couple arrows to the chest at Falkirk but then gets back up and rides after King Edward. 'cause, you know, whatever).

The latter approach suggests that combat is a bloody affair, and arguments make everyone involved look bad - in the case of violence, there's that old saw that people wear armor because you can't swordfight without getting chopped up once in a while. In the case of social conflict, it's possible that browbeating, haranguing, or otherwise nailing someone's verbal ass to the wall has lots of fallout and makes you look like a tool. This approach is one of "you have to give it to get it" - if you want something, you're going to have to crawl through crap to ensure that it's yours.

Oddly enough, both of these approaches expect and demand a lot of risk-taking: these aren't conservative strategies by any stretch. The former, in particular, could be very see-saw-y: win big or lose big! The latter, at least, lets you get mangled up a bit and maybe decide that you concede, after all, having reached your depth.
Things to think about and research, at any rate.
Oh, one last thought: the Otherkind mechanic exists to draw in more conflict like a fisherman's net, grabbing problems and pulling them towards the PCs. The Hero Whatever mechanics may or may not really do that, and seem a good deal more trad win/lose in that respect. They let you handle a conflict that arises, rather than find one for you. Maybe. We'll see.

My intention is to finish up Questing Beast soon (I'm done meandering...) and then get folks in the group to check out Hero Wars. Hotnessss! Character creation flowcharts await!

[Edit] Quick, last-last thought: Extended Contests and Otherkind do something similarly - in the Braveheart scene I mentioned, the EC is arguably resolving the entire battle! Let's go with that. The Scots get flanked by English reserves, the film personalizes this reversal through Willaim Wallace (his facial expressions, his arrow wounds), and then the battle's outcome is personified through William alone - he gets on his horse (while the Scots try to rally alongside their newfound Irish allies) and rides after King Edward, only to have the (surprise!) turncoat Robert the Bruce joust him right off his fucking horse. He lies there in the dirt; the contest is over.

ECs handle this by saying "hey, look at it go back and forth, with the English steadily widening the AP gap". Each reversal is exciting, and roleplayed to the hilt because we care, and when it's over, the Bruce helps William into the arms of an Irish rescuer; that's all post-EC developments. It's all important, yeah, but it's probably "off the map", i.e. it's devised by fiat, by on the spot creativity, without interacting with dice mechanics.

Otherkind dice handle things in general as jumping-off points for more and more conflict; it seems like conflicts are less officially "happening" and "not happening", given that, quite clearly, each roll of the dice can lead into more and more problems and complications. It's like the EC system says "ok, we're in conflict now", while O says "okay, roll. Okay, five more things go wrong. Okay.... roll again. Repeat."

The real difference might be that O sort of checks in with the players more often and says "ok, hey, here's some consequences. At least in terms of handling time (huge difference, no doubt), O gives us resolution pretty quickly. If what you're looking for is a lot of back and forth, then EC might be the way to go. If you're looking for really punchy, pithy moments that cause the plot to pivot, then O might do it.

O seems more suited for gunshots, sudden bursts of action that die down quickly, that sort of thing, the kinds of decisions one makes rashly and quickly regrets, whereas Hero Wars is pushing a sort of more nuanced, you've-got-time-to-think back and forth thing, like a fencing match.

Not that one or the other can run situations or scenarios that the other couldn't; I'll report back when I discover what's better at what!

[EDIT EDIT] Apparently in both Simple and Extended Contests, if both sides roll badly enough (technically, you roll against a Target # and THEN compare to your opponent), both sides can screw the pooch. So to speak.


  1. Hey, this is Joe from Nerdly; I followed a couple links over from Story Games and ended up here.

    Again, everything you're thinking about Hero Wars/Quest is exactly what makes me so jazzed about trying it someday-- I love the explicitly cinematic character of AP flow during contests. I think this kind of thing is what hit points were originally meant to represent, but the conceptual waters inevitably get muddied when specific amounts get equated to specific wounds or the only way to regain them is through bed rest or other explicit healing methods.

    Anyway, HQ2 does in fact have a few interesting toggles for especially high-drama Extended Contests to allow for pyrrhic victories... but on the other hand it completely junks AP bidding for a far less exciting but easier-to-track system where the first side to succeed five times wins. I really don't like the look of it myself, but there are a lot of other, really interesting bits in the book, and it's trivial to just keep AP bidding instead. I recommend having a look at it, but I wish it didn't seem so dry; I don't think I'd be as attached to the game if that'd been my first brush with it.

    To this day I'm amazed at how much HW/HQ influence I see in the indie-game scene, but no one ever seems to talk about the game, or admit having read it! Mouse Guard's conflict system is an especially direct descendant. I guess Robin Laws was just a decade ahead of his time.

  2. I have to agree - it's interesting that you don't hear a whole lot (it would seem) about the really awesome concepts tucked away in HW. Ron Edwards gave it a review that acknowledged how daring and groundbreaking it was for the time, and I daresay it still has a lot to offer to designers who are out there now.
    I'll have to see, when I actually play it ^_^