My Photo
Location: France

Thursday, August 23, 2012

HeroQuest 2 with mom

It has been a while. A long while. But I'm still out there! I just haven't played solo or used Mythic *that* much lately. I have been involved in quite a few RP sessions with a friend though (using Pathfinder mostly), and it might lead to new posts.

For now, I wanted to mention a new attempt at playing with parents, my mom in this case.

During my last vacation, I thought it'd be fun trying a game again, and since I don't see my mom often, it's also a way to "have done something together". I had the Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition with me, as well as HeroQuest 2. Superheroes definitely NOT being her cup of tea, HQ was the only plausible solution... and it's generic enough that I would be able to do mostly anything with it, right?

So I tried to find something that she could actually enjoy and approve. She does not like violence, nor much of fantastic stuff. The last time I managed to make her play through a pulpish adventure and I'll suppose that's the most she'd accept in that regard (and only if it barely has anything weird and not too much combat, gosh ^^;). After a while of discussing it, I suddenly came up with something: hikers!

The Hikers

Simple enough: we would both play as guides for a group of hikers. This definitely makes us PCs, with responsibility and, no doubt, a heap of trouble ahead :). And yes, we would play. That is, I also decided I wanted to play along rather than GM for one person. In retrospect, it might be better to fully GM a game once when one doesn't know the system, but eh ^^;... So this means we used Mythic to ask questions, and a on-the-fly made up system with tables to generate trouble.

As such, I also hoped she could contribute to the content by providing ideas for the tables. She did, but I realized at that point she had trouble just coming up with things. I insisted a bit and we did manage to fill out tables appropriately. I also decided it would be fun to create two hikers each, in the simplest way possible: an occupation/archetype and two personality traits. Here's what we ended up with.

The four tourists:
  • Judith, the pessimistic but helpful student
  • Marianne, the young ecology-oriented idealist
  • Ronald, the fat and disrespectful American tourist (ahh, clichés...)
  • Charles-Edouard, the whiny but physically fit bourgeois

They were actually randomly generated out of a list of archetypes and traits we had provided. And yes, the lists were meant to give up trouble-prone people, of course.

The guides

They were created using the on-the-fly method HQ2 provides. It seemed the best option to avoid bogging down things from the start. And I knew mom would have trouble creating a complete character beforehand. Actually, I would have too, since it's not my usual setting.

Of note for HQ connoisseurs, I mark Masteries as "+" instead of the weird W. That symbol is just something I never managed to grok. I actually dislike the whole "12W2" notation, but eh ^^;

Nicolas "Nico" Bourget

(played by me)

32yo, short brown hair, not well shaven, wearing sandals and sporting a generally relaxed outfit and attitude.

  • Hiking guide 13+3 = 16
  • Diplomacy 17+7 = 4+
  • Motivation: Regain confidence after "the Incident" 13+5 = 18
  • First Aid 13+2 = 15
  • Flaw: Weak against trouble 4+
  • English Language 13+3 = 16

I admit I don't remember if he got any of these along the way or if I just came up with them as we established the first scene (HQ2 on-the-fly mode requires only 2 traits and 1 flaw I believe). Also, English because we were playing French guides.

Motivation and Flaw explained: Nico was a regular guide until a recent incident where his group got lost and injured in the process of getting back home. This made him lose confidence in his abilities and he had to stop for months. Just now, he's about to go back into the fray with his first group since that Incident. He really wants... needs this to succeed. But as such, he's also afraid something will go wrong and bring the trauma back up.

Ninon "Ninette" Charette

(played by mom)

40yo, light brown hair, hiking shoes, shorts, hat, shirt. Definitely a more "pro" look than Nico.

  • Hiking guide 13+5 = 18
  • Survival 17+5 = 2+
  • Flaw: Bad direction sense 2+  (yeah, I know, isn't that great for a guide? XD)
  • NOT a pushover 13
  • Cheery 13+5 = 18

I'm pretty sure she had no specific backstory and I was not going to force it on mom, so...

The Game

Admittedly it's a bit blurry since this took place a few weeks ago, but I'll try to remember and not any HQ-related comments along the way.

We started with an intro scene which I deemed necessary to bring to life our characters and the hikers. This didn't use any of our tables. I remember we were not terribly inspired and I was already feeling that "blank page" feeling Mythic gives me at times.

Scene 1

From there, we had planned to have three random scenes before the epilogue and we went and generated the first one: Stream, Fall(ing), Fog. The group had come upon a clearing with a stream gently flowing among the trees. What a quiet little place! Oh but some fog had come up as we went.
I generated who would be "falling" since it was to become the main trouble for the scene. It fell (ha!) to Charles-Edouard to trip on a rock as he crossed the stream. Slip, splash, oh dear. C-E is NOT happy. This is NOT a good hike. We are NOT good guides! Why bring us here? Wasn't there a safer way? Couldn't you warn me about the dangers of this stream?!

That's when we switched to HQ2 for the first time. HQ works by establishing the scene (done), reaching a conflict (done) and defining goals for each party. Charles-Edouard, our antagonist, is out to discredit the guides to shift the shame off himself. Nicolas wants to keep the fuss to a minimum as not to spoil the mood. We then define the difficulty of this obstacle in a very abstract and narrative fashion: based on previous events and the current "feel" of the story. Since we've just started, we're on neutral ground and pick the average difficulty which is 14.

Now how this works is that Charles-Edouard, the obstacle, rolls against 14. It is as if he suddenly gained a "Being an Annoying Jerk" ability at that rating, for the purpose of the scene. You could also say The Plot itself gained an "Obstacle" ability at that rating. Again, it's very abstract: the system doesn't care to explain what "14" truly entails, nor whether an opponent is truly skilled or whatever... it's really just "plot power". Moreover, the roll isn't made against Nicolas for now. It's d20 VS 14 (rolling low is better).

On the other side, Nicolas will be rolling d20 VS his most appropriate ability. I picked Diplomacy. It's at 4+, meaning he's rolling against 4, and will bump the result up later thanks to his Mastery (+). If the opposition rating had had a Mastery, they would have cancelled each other out.

I don't have the exact rolls but Nico failed the overall conflict. This could, for example, mean he rolled 10, over his 4, making his attempt a success (failure, bumped to success by Mastery) and that The Plot rolled 5, making it a success too. If you compare both results, success VS success has the lowest roll win. The Plot has 5, so it gets the upper hand and earns a Marginal Victory.

This also means it's a Marginal Defeat for Nico, and it means he gets some lingering penalty. I decided that C-E's rant, while supposedly uncalled for, manages to raise a few good points about the hike so far and cracks the group's confidence overall. Trust in Nico as a guide is weakened and he takes a -3 penalty to any future roll where trust is important.

Scene 2

After more walking and a slightly heavy mood, we find ourselves stepping careful along a mountain path, next to a dangerous drop. We randomly got "Storm" as color for the scene but forgot to use it, oops. As for our trouble this time, it's "Lost Object", meaning one of the tourists loses something. We randomly generate who, and... it's Charles-Edouard again, joy!

This time, he managed to have his cellphone fall out of his chest pocket as he was tying up his shoes. And since luck is on our side, it's fallen off the path, down to a flat chunk of rock jutting out from the cliff side below. Once again he gets all pissy and wants to blame us for this. We get into a very similar conflict as before except this time Ninon is getting fed up with his attitude and joins Nico in trying to shut him up. I believe we managed to get a Marginal Victory out of this, finally making a point. As in other systems, I like to treat "near successes" as "yes, but..." situations. For this, I imagined the whiner did not succeed in blaming us for his own carelessness, but managed to have us help him get the cellphone back. We were very insistent that he got down there. We would be holding him with ropes.

I thought this would make another nice opportunity for trouble and turned it into a challenge. This time, C-E is not our opponent anymore (he wants this to succeed), and so it's The Plot against us, clearly this time :). The Plot wants something bad to happen / us not to get the cellphone back.

Thankfully, this resulted in a Marginal Victory for us, but since it was a group challenge (Nico & Ninon), we could each get different results. Ninon failed her own roll badly and ended up with a lingering penalty of -3. It was decided that she hurt her arm as she was pulling C-E back up. This would impact any physical actions using that arm.

Scene 3

Since we had forgotten about the storm, we decided to have it in this scene, saying it had been building up across the previous scene. This time, we find ourselves in a pine forest, following a trail. But... the path is blocked! And... someone's phobia comes into play!

How we interpreted this is that the storm had gotten quite bad and lightning hit a tree which fell across the path. Also, our (randomly rolled) American friend happens to be scared shitless by storms. Woop!

At that point we had two separate challenges going: Nico was gonna try to reason with the tourist while Ninon was going to try and find an alternate path for us to keep going. Also, I don't remember when exactly, but I tried to use First Aid to reduce Ninon's hurt arm penalty. I failed thoroughly and added to her penalty. SWEET...

So, reasoning the tourist does not go well, even using English to reassure him in his native language: he's so scared he does not listen to me (lalalala!) and even reflex-punches me in the face as I try to hold his shoulder. Nico ends up shaken, with a -6 penalty. Things are just going down the pooper too much for him now and he's losing hope fast.

What about Ninon? Not doing much better! She searches around but rain and lack of light make it very difficult. She ends up giving up and coming back to the group, also starting to lose it (-3 penalty).

At that point, things are looking pretty grim. Will our guides find a way out? Narratively, HQ2 was doing its job: we started with average difficulty and got failures and successes. Suddenly though, we kept getting bad stuff happening (possibly also because of penalties). HQ2 variable difficulty system meant that at this point, things were going to get easier so we could possibly get out of it, coming out of hell in time for the climax.

And that's what happened: Ninon tried her hand at cheering up the American and it did work out! Then one of us (can't remember) also managed to find a path we had missed up till now and we were able to lead the group out of the forest.


Admittedly I don't quite remember what we had for the epilogue. It was getting late and I wanted to stop things at that point I think, so we might have made it very short: we reached the rendez-vous point and left our tourists. Things could have gone better, but we had soldiered through.

The System

So, HeroQuest 2 uh? Well, it was... special. I had been eyeing the game for a long while because it looked really original and not bogged down in specific contextual rules àla d20. Also loved what I saw of character creation: absolute freedom. I like absolute freedom. I was a bit scared of the abstract level, though.

Now that's I've gone through, I can say it's not bad, but I don't know if it's good either. It definitely has flaws. It feels like a very good idea only somewhat well executed. Of course, part of it might come from me not knowing the system, doing mistakes and so on. Since it's such an "alien" among RPGs, I'm pretty sure I missed stuff or misused concepts.

One big thing I realized as I wrote this is that I don't remember using the penalties that much, even though we had plenty of them. I don't know if lingering penalties are to be used everytime one fails a challenge, or only if "it makes sense". In this game, I had them every time. This does mean our characters were technically bogged down by them. And yet, I have this memory of ignoring most of them because our chances of success were already pretty low. It felt like we were losing more than winning a lot of time. I actually made the "up/down" chart they have in the rules and we went down quite a bit towards the end (scene 3 mostly).

On the other hand, I appreciate how the system gives you an abstract result (marginal victory, complete defeat, etc...) and lets you interpret the how of it. Penalties are also free form: you decide its representation based on what you failed at and what makes sense... and then you apply them to tasks where it would make sense that they impede your progress. Since you pick things that make sense, it remains logical. And it's also very adaptable to various settings and tones. What makes sense in an epic space opera might not in a gritty noir investigation.

I did not use the Extended Contest rules here, partly because I wanted things to go quick (it had to be a one-shot) and because the example they give in the book is....... underwhelming. It takes a LOT of time, and yet looks boring as hell. I've read similar opinions on the web, so it seems something might be wrong with these. It's sad too, because it looks like it has potential.

I believe Augments were used a few times (you make a sub-challenge to help your main ability with another ability). It's an interesting mechanic, but I barely touched it so I don't have strong feelings about it.

Overall conclusion then? I don't know if the system is really for me. Parts of it is. The philosophy itself might grow on me, but it's difficulty to get into (I love narrative systems, and yet I keep having simulationist reflexes -- mostly I want things to make sense). While narrative, it still has quite a few rules to keep in mind and, a pet peeve of mine, lots of tables. Thankfully a few of these can be memorized easily.

I think the biggest issue with HQ2 is that it relies on the GM to know precisely what's best for the game at any time and which sub-systems to use to make the most out of it (simple challenge? group challenge? extended contest?). If the GM makes the wrong choice, I have the feeling it can be catastrophic. It's a system that would deserve a LOT of examples. Long actual play examples with mechanics and choices explained. Though I'm scared the extended contest example is just that... I really hope they failed at it and the system can actually do much better than that.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home