Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HeroQuest comments

I looked at HeroQuest while looking for a RuneQuest replacement. It's the other Glorantha RPG. It's almost a good replacement. There are few special rules. Keywords, derived from a character's description, are tied to numbers from 1 to 20. Rolling below this number (on a d20) determines success. That is basically it.

The maths, however, like most RPGs, is a fail.
HeroQuest abilities are scored on a range of 1–20, but are scalable. When you raise a rating of 20 by one point, it increases not to 21, but to 1W. The W signifies a game abstraction called a mastery. You have now reached a new order of excellence in that ability. (HeroQuest 2nd edition, pg 19)
To fix this deeply broken idea, the game-master is expected to keep pace (of course):
Supporting characters, with whom you have relationships, improve over time. Values for their ratings are comparative to yours. As you improve, so will they. Narrators needn't track the improvement over time, but simply update their ratings whenever they reappear in the storyline. (pg 61)
And to justify it, the author declares:
Why Advance Characters At All?

Few of the adventure genres we draw inspiration from actually feature significant character improvement through the course of a series. Mysteries, pulps, military adventures, westerns, and space operas tend to feature characters who are highly competent from the outset. Occasionally a secondary character, most often a male ingénue, starts out as a greenhorn and proves himself in the course of the story. (Just as often, a once-competent secondary character redeems himself and returns to his legendary past level of competence.) Other, grimmer genres, like horror, satirical SF, and arguably post-apocalyptic survivalism, keep their protagonists relatively weak throughout.

Fantasy is a prominent exception: it is not uncommon to follow a character from humble beginnings to epic achievement.

Rate of improvement is basically, then, a genre element. Narrators who want a rapid growth curve should decrease the costs of ability improvement. Those who want slower growth should increase them.

That said, roleplayers really enjoy increasing their PC’s abilities on a regular basis. Regular ability boosts helps to keep them invested in their characters, and thinking of their futures. This is one area where HeroQuest bows more to the demands of the roleplaying form than to precedents set by the source material.

In series fiction, relationships are another common exception; highly competent heroes often make friends or contacts they meet again in a sequel. Narrators can encourage this with directed improvements. (pg 58)
This justification is muddled. Within fantasy, "it is not uncommon to follow a character from humble beginnings to epic achievement." Epic achievement maybe, but that isn't the same as numerical advancement. Not at all. There is little "advancement" in the classic of all fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings. The characters develop, undeniably, but do they advance in any way reminiscent of RPGs? Gandalf does, perhaps, when he becomes Gandalf the White. Nevertheless, the changes aren't similar to the way one advances in RPGs. The other characters, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli, Strider and the hobbits just don't advance, yet they all achieve great things. Frodo, if anything, regresses. The weight of the ring bares down on him. He barely survives and is certainly no stronger for it.

The conclusion is "This is one area where HeroQuest bows more to the demands of the roleplaying form than to precedents set by the source material." Screw that! All we need do is teach roleplayers basic arithmetic and then move on to great achievements, huge rewards, challenging and fun stories. We just don't need grade 3 sums to do that.

And the rest of the HeroQuest? I don't know, I didn't read too much more. I was too enraged and wanted to ride my hobby-horse. However, I think I should return because there are lots of ideas about how to play an RPG, something that is deeply lacking in RPGs these days.

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