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Title: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on August 30, 2006, 07:01:09 PM
Jason, Remi, and I played Hero's Banner this week, and, man, did we have fun! This Actual Play post will go best with some actual talk about our play (http://rpgtalk.net/durham3/weblog/469.html). I'm not going into full detail about every scene or anything, but I do want to talk about where it was great and where it was less than great.

Here's our characters, by the way, for reference: Pavel Ryweic (http://durham3.pbwiki.com/PavelRywiec) and Andor Uranson (http://durham3.pbwiki.com/AndorUranson). I figure you can go look at another website for a minute.

Our game revolves around the bringing of the Church to the last outpost of paganism, the cold northern lands of Uran. Uran is totally fantasy Viking-land, and that's working well for us. Ryeic is the western land that is fighting with Uran and is a quaint mash-up of Poland and Britain.

Jason's character, Pavel, is torn between his duty to be small as the youngest son, his role model of a holy knight, and his love for his own step-sister. Remi's character, Andor, is torn between his duty as the son appointed to be king, his love of his crippled older brother who should be king, and his want to bring war and destruction on the weak Ryeic people.

The game was not easy to begin, and this is the only complaint I have with the text. It's a very good text and it explains both character creation and conflicts in a way that is totally clear and well-written. It does not tell you, as far as I can see, how to connect those - how to start a game and GM strongly. (Tim Koppang, I'd love to see discussion of this. There is some GM advice, but I think it could be improved.) However, with some early scenes of straight-up violence, I got on my feet as GM. I was immediately reminded of one of my very favorite games, Trollbabe, and GMed it using my skills from that game. The flow is nearly identical between the two.

The summary

I will try to summarize what happened, so that we may talk with context. Pavel found himself stymied in his attempts to be a strong holy warrior, and to resist his step-sister's pull, and after fighting the northern hordes of Thorbjorn, he went home and became the head of the guard at his benefactor's keep, where his lady love lives. Andor dashed his army into Ryeic, watched his lover die, watched his uncle and rival Thorbjorn take credit for Andor's battles, found out his brother was a traitor and had been converted by Pavel -

And I've got to use another paragraph for this. He then went to the bottom of the sea and defeated the god Aegir's giant snake and took his seven daughters as brides. This has later been revised to be in the realm of "maybe that was true, and maybe Andor hallucinated," but I think that's little bit lame. We established in our talk about setting that magic exists, but is super-rare and super-powerful. We wanted Arthurian-level magic. This fits, and happened from the first conflict between characters. Pavel and Andor met each other at sea, and we had two conflicts, resulting in Pavel stabbing Andor and leaving him to die on a sinking ship. The next scene was below the sea, and honestly, Jason and Remi led this scene, with Jason playing Aegir's wife and coaching me. It was totally awesome and way outside of what Hero's Banner seemed to be in the book. I'm not looking to have this criticized, but critically talked about would be fine.

A comment here: I think character-on-character conflict gets short shrift in Hero's Banner, between the mechanics being the least tight of any mechanics in the game, and the way breakdowns are handled. I'll talk more about breakdowns later, but this is important, as character-on-character conflicts are bound to happen.

Anyway, with that interlude, Andor went home, saved his brother, fought Thorbjorn to convince his father of his rightness (and fought him naked!) and then went back to sack Ryeic for a dowry for his seven brides.

This is where the two characters really came together. If you've looked at their character sheets, or followed along, you'll note that Andor's brother was converted to the Church by Pavel, and Pavel and Andor both hate Thorbjorn, and Pavel killed Andor once already. This tying of characters together is necessary in Hero's Banner. It allowed us to finish with a great scene - Thorbjorn, enraged, has amassed a berserker army. He has basically become Grendel - he was described as covered in black mud, seven feet tall and hairy, growling and leaping. Andor needs the keep Pavel guards as his dowry, and Pavel needs to keep it safe. Thorbjorn's army attacked and the two protagonists had to work together, and found themselves defeating Thorbjorn and back at odds over what happens to the keep's wealth.

What I learned

Ok, Trollbabe and Hero's Banner both have something that will frustrate the hell out of any GM. You can't "up the difficulty" of a task. When I have a berserker army at the gates and you want to beat it down, I can't make that any harder than normal. So what do you do?

You use different skills. In Hero's Banner, you do these things:

* Get the players to accept harsher repercussions.
* Convince the players to use complicated resolution.

The repercussions aren't some crazy stakes-setting. What I mean is that you have narrated in something powerful. Use it! We don't allow rape in games, but I can hint at it, and I did - I said "Thorbjorn's army is here, and they're sacking, and they will burn this joint to the ground, taking your loved ones as their brides and leaving nothing behind." The players sat up! I was within rights to say that, and they're within rights to say "I'm stopping this." The essence of why we want to make harsh things difficult in games is that feeling of "man, this protagonist is in trouble!" You can get that by making the bad guys just super-bad.

As for complicated resolution, it can be more difficult in Hero's Banner for two players to work together. I managed to threaten everyone enough that they were more than willing to both jump in. Convincing a player to use an influence that is not their highest is the other technique, and it's actually how this game flows. Imagine that a character has influences ranked in this order:

1. Hero
2. Conscience
3. Blood

The GM starts a scene that will focus on Blood. The player will probably have to use passion to win, since Blood is low, and can then change the order of influences. He's just had a scene that got him riled up about blood, so he raises it, and has:

1. Blood
2. Hero
3. Conscience

Then I, as GM, threaten Conscience, and we repeat. Doing this over and over makes you a great Hero's Banner GM.

Conclusion

I don't have a lot of questions: after the first 15 minutes, this sang. I am very interested in answering questions that readers may have. I can't wait for our next game!


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jye Nicolson on August 30, 2006, 07:44:29 PM


Then I, as GM, threaten Conscience, and we repeat. Doing this over and over makes you a great Hero's Banner GM.



Whoa, does it?  That wouldn't have been my guess - getting to the end game seems like part of the point, not hanging the game up in always-attack-the-weakest equilibrium.

Or is the actual deal there finding the situation where the Hero says "you know what?  I'm happy to fail this roll.  Screw my family, it isn't worth lowering my devotion to Courtly Love"?


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jye Nicolson on August 31, 2006, 12:08:51 AM

Whoa, does it?  That wouldn't have been my guess - getting to the end game seems like part of the point, not hanging the game up in always-attack-the-weakest equilibrium.


Don't mind me - I thought for some reason that increasing passion increased the trait you rolled against, and I was wrong!

Carry on.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on August 31, 2006, 02:49:11 AM
Jye,

You can see how, using the rules, this does work now, right? It's guaranteed to increase passion, which brings you closer and closer to the true decision point.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on August 31, 2006, 04:12:38 AM
Actual example - I'd been steadily putting points in my relationship with Elysande, my guy's step-sister, to the detriment of Blood and Hero, for the whole game.  I was saying, in effect, "This is what I care about right now."  So Clinton frames a conflict in which all those points are useless and I have to go with Blood or Hero, which are pitiably low, and I fail and must invoke passion.  After the dust settles I re-allocate, and all of a sudden Conscience goes from 41 to 06.  I've had a terrible row with Elysande, winning a conflict but losing her respect, and there are super big fish to fry elsewhere, like beating off the barbarians.  It works very well. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on August 31, 2006, 04:19:13 AM
I'd like to talk more about the zany under the sea hanging out with Ægir and Niðoggi and the Billow Maidens stuff a bit.  As a player, it upped the narrative stakes for me, because I recognized at once that if my character was to matter in play, he'd have to meet Remi's guy on that level.  Based on my motivations, that meant hunting down the sea god Ægir and killing him at some point, to pave the way for the True Church.  Although this seemed to close off more subtle possibilities, it opened more dramatic ones.  My only concern is that in a generational saga, where does one go from there?  Will the game work if subsequent generational conflicts get progressively smaller?  That'll be interesting.   


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 31, 2006, 04:28:14 AM
Hi there,

I agree with the point Clinton's making, that when the GM goes after conflicts which address the current lower numbers, and if the player still cares about that stuff even a little, Passion will probably be increased more. That only makes sense and brings the "fury" into "the fury of free will" that underlies the game.

Jason, I'm a little confused about one thing, but want to check to see if I'm understanding your choices, based on the brief information so far. At the end of that conflict, you could still have kept Conscience/Elysande higher, right? The 06 could have been "sent" to either of the other two, and whatever higher value was available could have been assigned to Conscience.

So ultimately, although yes, you were dealing with an overall increase in Passion and therefore had to increase the span between your highest and lowest score, that doesn't mean Conscience had to be driven to 06 - that was your decision. At least, that's my understanding of the rules. Am I correctly paraphrasing what happened in your game?

Regarding the sea god thing, I think it makes sense to have the legendary, epic, fantastical stuff fade into the past, so that later conflicts in later generations are about mundane things, but look back and say, "boy, there were real heroes in those days."

Best, Ron

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on August 31, 2006, 04:34:23 AM
I'd like to talk more about that as well, Jason. Seeing as I'm tying this game to Trollbabe, which I feel is a direct ancestor of it, we could examine how Trollbabe handles this stuff. In it, there are "stakes" for each adventure (I know, I know) and the width of those stakes starts small, and can be raised every adventure by any player wanting to do so. We started with huge stakes - the fate of a kingdom - and then immediately jumped up to include gods, without talking about it. I think we're going to work it out, but here are my notes:

- That caught me off-guard more than anyone. The scene was not framed by me, and I would not have framed it as such. I would have had his character wash up on land somewhere and launch into a conflict of isolation. I think it was a good scene, but it felt distinctly different from the rest of the game.

- The implication that you have to go deal with Aegir too is not a certainty, I think. There's a lot of philosophical questions in there about whether you even could, but why should you at all? Your power is in faith and converting others to your faith. Why would you even believe in such a thing as Aegir? Plus, this takes the stakes way, way beyond where we started. Right now, it has a bit of a Greek mythic feel, with Andor's brides being gods' children (but not gods themselves). Slaying gods goes to another level, and, I think, removes a lot of humanity from the game.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on August 31, 2006, 04:46:29 AM
Ron, the change in numbers was absolutely my choice, but the way scenes were framed and resolved made it very compelling to adjust away from "love for Elysande" toward the other two.  Which means as a player I'm constantly playing catch-up as the GM hammers my weak spots, which is awesome. 

Clinton, I'm seeing it more as a between-us-as-players issue - Remi's established the "game" of the game, if you will, which is to go big.  I imagined a shipwreck/struggle against nature scene myself, which is why I left him broken and dying on a sinking boat.  Remi took it another direction and I feel the need to accept that choice and build on it (sorry for all the imrpvo-osity). I imagined a host of feiry angels smiting that dude's undersea kingdom with me at the van, a mortal blow for the old ways.  Then things begin to ramp down in zany and up in subtle over time.  But honestly, whatever we all agree to is fine. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jye Nicolson on August 31, 2006, 01:33:49 PM
Jye,

You can see how, using the rules, this does work now, right? It's guaranteed to increase passion, which brings you closer and closer to the true decision point.

Yeah, absolutely - I even remember Tim saying exactly that as he was demoing it, and I was reading the damn book yesterday, so I'm not sure where my brain was when I typed that.

I really like the way you can do whatever you like with the numbers after you've made a passion check, so long as highest - lowest = passion.  It's not often you see something that can be used to express regret or triumph that elegantly.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 31, 2006, 02:04:26 PM
Hi there,

Jason, you wrote,

Quote
the change in numbers was absolutely my choice, but the way scenes were framed and resolved made it very compelling to adjust away from "love for Elysande" toward the other two.

That is precisely my experience with this game, and I'd like to underscore it for people who aren't familiar with it. If the system were merely, "make decisions, watch scores change accordingly, sooner or later only one remains," it would be a boring exercise. Instead, it is uniquely powerful and absorbing.

Why? Because you choose which score takes on each of the three new values, after a Passion roll. Wow! It is a game about total responsibility for what paths your character does not take. Everyone remembers the hero, or at least his legend, in terms of what he accomplished (or in the case of one of my characters, his horrid misdeeds). But what this game shows is what had to be put aside, and what is not remembered.

I don't have a name for this sort of mechanic, in which quantitative and deterministic values change due to very rigid rules, but which nonetheless fully reflect player judgment in use, in some way.

Good example: the scores Needy and Stubborn (and the later scores Greedy, Cunning, and Murderous) in my game It Was a Mutual Decision. A character who uses, for example, Stubborn, may either be depicted/played as actually stubborn, or as fighting against being stubborn. Which is why the characters tend to become more sympathetic, not less, as the score-names change during play. Without that, the characters would be uninteresting and ultimately objects of contempt.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 09:00:20 AM
Whoa. I wish I would have seen this earlier. I just got back from vacation -- and back to a computer sans time limit -- and it looks as if the discussion has already rolled along fairly well. I'll just add a few comments.

First, your characters sound awesome. They're obviously tortured and the gameplay seemed to follow. Wonderfully tragic. That said, I'm curious to see just how the magical elements play out in your game. Clinton, you mentioned that the "under the sea" segment seemed out of place with the rest of the game. To be honest, the first time you wrote about all of the gods and water I did a double take: once because I was so startled, and twice because it just sounds so cool. I know in the book I definitely tried to make magic something that happens to characters and not something that characters themselves have much control over. I'm not quite sure how you're playing the magic in your game, but I know that I've played in games where the heroes were certainly larger than life exaggerations of themselves. As long as the magic has something to do with the heroes' influences, and the elements all come together to focus on the choices each hero is making, I don't think you'll run into trouble.

Personally, I think the game scales well all the way from the smallest of internal struggles all the way to the fate of kingdom. You are all taking it a bit further to issues involving gods, but as Ron already mentioned, in generational play, the memory of what once was can quickly fade into legend and the exaltation of those that came before. Even if future games are about much smaller stakes, because the game is in the end only about very personal struggles, the scale of what's going on around the character can fluctuate. But again, I'm curious to see how your group handles these things in future sessions.

Second, you mentioned your troubles with breakdowns, but never divulged the details. If your problems are specifically with the way breakdowns interface with player vs player conflicts, I think I know where you're going. Otherwise, I'm not sure. Please do share.

Finally, as to constantly challenging a character's weaker influences, yes, that's the way I run things in a typical game. From a designer's point of view, it was something that I struggled with because I always knew that to really force players to increase their character's passion scores, the GM would have to frame scenes involving the character's weak influences. Especially if the player had just pumped a bunch of points into a particular influence, would I as GM be cheating him out of a well-earned success though? Well, eventually I came to grips with this and just said to hell with it. The game's about tough choices after all and what's tougher than always feeling like you've made the wrong choice? In practice I still give a player a few scenes with his strong influence just to keep his spirits up: I don't want the entire game to be grim. Also, even though the GM has the power to frame scenes, I've also had players (even in my short GenCon demos) narrate their way into using a different influence than the one I first intended. So it all works out really once everyone wraps their head around the way the system works.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 05, 2006, 09:26:35 AM
We played our second session last night and it was slightly less rocking for a few reasons.  Hopefully Clinton will add some blow-by-blow descriptions.

About the breakdowns - they are way too common.  Last night, my first two conflicts resolved via breakdowns, which really diluted their impact. And they were the only ones all night in which I succeeded, which sucked some of the fun out of it for me.  Clinton and Remi played really hard and forced me to use my lame influences (14%, that sort of thing).  They took away the things I cared about and made them worse than worthless, which was strictly AWESOME, but I also felt the desire to control my own destiny, and the only tool I had was to take extra passion to shape the course of my own failure.  I'm not sure if this is an indictment of the game as much as it is a lament for Remi's hot dice. 

We both reached 100% and there was a lot of weird negotiating to determine our end states, since we had a ton of mutual dependencies.  The choices I made really had to mesh well with Remi's, and I topped out first, so I was in limbo for a while. 

We, as a group, had some struggles over the introduction of huge magic, and I think we agree that we'll tone it down for future generations.  Honestly, it didn't have a huge effect in play, but it did have a huge effect in our heads.  Religion in general is a bigger issue for us, and this game is all about religion.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 09:58:52 AM
Jason,

On breakdowns happening too often: I'm not sure. I've had sessions with me GMing for two players where exactly one breakdown occurred during the entire time from character creation until death. Other times, however, a breakdown occurred every third passion check or so. I realize that too many breakdowns sort of counteracts the effect breakdowns are supposed to have -- are you playing a hero or a temperamental kid -- but I also like breakdowns. I suppose my check against this is to make it clear that not every breakdown has to be a crying fit or a rage of violence. Some breakdowns may be a more internalized struggle, both subtle and soft.

On the other hand, I can't tell if you're also reacting to the seemingly miserable string of failures you seemed to face. Breakdowns allow you to overcome failure as sort of a last ditch effort, but I agree that those successes may seem empty. And if you've rolled a failure on everything else, including passion-fed re-rolls, I can understand your frustration. All I can really offer up is that fact that math is ultimately on your side: you probably won't roll failures forever. But also, if you're really becoming frustrated, it may be a signal that you're looking for an easier conflict involving a higher rated influence. You won't necessarily get all of the control you're after because chances are the GM will get to narrate your success, but at least you'll be able to maneuver your character's destiny a bit more directly than through the limits of consistent failure.

That said, you can of course always control your charact's de

I also thought I'd talk about failure more generally. One of the reasons I wanted to let players change their influence ratings however they wanted after a passion check was because I felt that sometimes failure can have just as much effect on a person's decisions in life as success. From what I've gleaned, you guys have all seemed to pick up on this concept quite well. One possible side effect, though, is the character who has to make all of his decisions based on failure. But because success and failure are very malleable in Hero's Banner, my suggestion would be to make failure into something heroic. By manipulating the stakes of a conflict appropriately, you might orchestrate a failure that highlights what your character stands for as much as a success might. I realize this is rather indirect -- perhaps even impossible to plan with accuracy -- but in the end failure must be common for the game to work.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 10:01:19 AM
Whoops, my reply got cut off mid-post.

To finish the third paragraph:

That said, you can of course always control your charact's destiny, failure or not, after a passion check by manipulating influence ratings. This is really on purpose. While you may not always get to control the events around your character, you can always control the way those events affect your character in every way the matters to him.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 05, 2006, 11:44:32 AM
Jason and Tim:

I'm glad this discussion's happening! I'm not going to go blow by blow into last night's game, but I'll talk about specific things in it. I would say "slightly less rocking" is an understatement; I found it not so fun.

The biggest and hairiest problem, and one I want Tim's input on is this: how do you resolve two characters achieving their destinies (getting an influence to 100) and their destinies are in conflict with each other? In our example, Remi wanted his character to carry on the lineage of Uran, becoming the king and having a child. Jason wanted his character to convert the Uranian hordes. These two don't match up, although we made them do so. Jason achieved his destiny first, but only because I chose as GM to have a scene with him first. It could have been the other way just as easily.

Character conflict in general is a little crazy in this game, and I wonder if you did not intend for PCs to be in constant conflict with each other. I feel like the game would run smoother without that conflict, but that's my group, and so I don't know what to do.

The second problem does involve the whole gods and magic thing, and that has little to do with the game, and much more to do with our group. You have a good setting for the type of game Hero's Banner is supposed to do, and that setting got heavily drifted. I blame myself: as a milquetoast of a GM, I let the game fly off into mythic vistas.

As for the breakdowns: we may need to look at them differently, but they do happen all the time. If I'm doing the math right, you have a 1 out of 10 chance of a breakdown in every passion check. That's a 30% chance if you do three passion checks. (Is that right? I believe that's additive, but correct me if I'm wrong.)

We did extrapolate one rule that I'd like a ruling on: if you roll and succeed, can you re-roll to steal narration from the GM? That's how we played it, but I'm not sure if that's correct. It doesn't seem to be a big problem, except it gives me even less to do.

Tim, you have a game that is very hard to GM. It is a very good game, but the GM's role is tough and can be frustrating. The GM has unlimited power, except when the players say no, in which case he has no real power. There were lots of places where I wanted the story to go elsewhere and I wanted to apply pressure to change it, and I have no mechanical pressure. This puts the GM directly in the entertainer role instead of the engaged player role, and it's not a very empowered entertainer role, but more of a "dance, monkey" role.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 05, 2006, 11:53:11 AM
As a quick, unrelated in some ways follow-up: I would suggest to others to use a 20-sided die in this game. It may seem like it doesn't make a difference, but the math is too disruptive to play and this would ease it. We aren't using these rules, but the rules would be:

* Your influences start at 7, 7, and 6.
* Your influences must always equal 20, and your highest and lowest much equal your passion, which starts at 1 and goes to 20.
* When you re-roll, add 1 passion for each 2 points, instead of one passion check for each 10 points that you up the influence temporarily by.
* You still roll a die for your passion checks, but you only roll it to find out if there's a breakdown. If you roll equal to or less than the passion you increased (so, normally, 1-3 on a d20), you breakdown.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 05, 2006, 12:05:16 PM
That said, you can of course always control your charact's destiny, failure or not, after a passion check by manipulating influence ratings. This is really on purpose. While you may not always get to control the events around your character, you can always control the way those events affect your character in every way the matters to him.

OK, actual example.  I had some fairly minor conflict (which I failed) and was faced with the choice of a passion check, which didn't make much sense since I was teetering at the brink anyway.  My very next conflict was make-or-break important, but I hadn't made that check (which might have sent me out of the game) and couldn't change my passions around, and my character subsequently got clotheslined again.  I could have forced a success by insisting on narrating in his 98%, which seemed cheap and uninspired since Clinton and Remi had quite correctly been working hard to make the conflict about something else. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 12:36:41 PM
Clinton,

You've cited a few problems that definitely need addressing. I can see how they left you wanting; so let me address them one at a time.

First, the easy one. If a player initially rolls a success, then he is stuck with that result. He cannot invoke his passion. He cannot usurp narration rights from the GM. Only through failure can passion come into play. That's why I said that failure is necessary for the game to work. On the other hand, I've found that many players initially want to work the game the way you suggest: they want to be able to take a passion check whenever they feel like it, whether for narration rights or otherwise. But that's just not correct. The idea is to (1) afford the GM some power in situations that are otherwise very player-driven and (2) establish failure as a driving force in the game -- even if those failures are fleeting via the passion re-roll mechanics.

On the frequency of breakdowns, your numbers seem correct. That does seem like a lot I suppose, but keeping in mind what I've already said about narrating breakdowns, also remember that breakdowns are impossible on initial successes and that if you're making less than three passion checks towards the end of an episode, breakdowns are less likely. If you're looking for a mechanical fix, then I might suggest disallowing breakdowns on the first of a series of passion checks. For example, if you're rolling three passion checks, only allow a breakdown to occur on the second or third passion check. Treat the first as a normal roll.

On your high magic setting, I need more detail. What went so terribly wrong here? How did you handle magic and how did you handle it in relationship to the PCs' influences? It sounds like you all had some personal issues getting in the way, but I'm not sure.

On PC conflict, suffice it to say that in all of my groups inter-party conflict was less than common -- hence, the brief treatment in the rules. Still, I wonder what problems you encountered. The PC vs PC rules are really just an extention of the normal task resolution rules that seem to work quite well against NPCs. In my experience, I don't think I had nearly the problems you seem to hint at. I suspect it has something to do with narration rights, but I'll wait for your prompting.

Then we get to narration rights during the endgame. I may need to take another look at Remi's and Jason's characters, but from your description is doesn't seem as if those goals are really in conflict. Carrying on a lineage in the literal sense doesn't mean that the kingdom won't fall or that the Uranian hordes won't be converted. There's lots of room for play there. On the other hand, situations can certainly arise wherein two entirely contradictory goals are obtained. For example, if one goal was to prevent an Uranian lineage and the other was to continue it, only by fudging one of the players' goals in spirit could you make it all work out. Instead, I'd offer up two suggestions.

First, there is of course a reason I suggest making characters together. If two players set up goals that they know contradict each other's, then at least they'll carry with them an awareness of the consequences of their choice throughout the game. The two players will also know that in all likelihood one of those goals will absolutely fail, standard mechanics be damned.

Second, if it absolutely comes down to a contradiction, I'd probably give the power to the GM. Assuming one character achieves a 100 point passion score before the other, it becomes a matter of first come, first serve. The second character will then be forced, when his passion tops 100, to either choose another non-contradictory goal to achieve, or else to come up with a way to narrate around the contradiction should he choose that path. I realize this undercuts the standard mechanics of free choice given to the players, but then again it's passion and death that finally affects what choice a character makes regardless if that death is his own or another's.

In your final point, you touched on the role of the GM in any given Hero's Banner game. Again, I think the rules are very strict on when the GM has narration power and when the players do. These rules are unmodifiable.

Also, the GM has absolute power to frame scenes as he sees fit. The players may suggest scenes and influences to invoke, but only the GM has final authority as to scene-framing. Typically, I've found the scene-framing power to be the most influential. If I as a GM want to exert pressure, I usually do it through the scene-framing power because I know that it's a power that the players cannot take away from me.

The GM also has substantial power to define stakes in a conflict via the pre-roll discussion.

And finally, I think there's something that even I overlooked when I first started GMing Hero's Banner -- and that's the player connections. While the player creates a connection, and that connection cannot be done away with until the player basically says so, it's the GM who get to play these connections knowing that the player has already agreed to treat this connection as special. Combine player connections with behind-the-scenes political maneuvering amongst the NPCs, link it all together with aggressive scene-framing, and I really have to disagree with you about the GM being a mere entertainer.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 05, 2006, 12:44:02 PM
Then we get to narration rights during the endgame. I may need to take another look at Remi's and Jason's characters, but from your description is doesn't seem as if those goals are really in conflict. Carrying on a lineage in the literal sense doesn't mean that the kingdom won't fall or that the Uranian hordes won't be converted. There's lots of room for play there. On the other hand, situations can certainly arise wherein two entirely contradictory goals are obtained. For example, if one goal was to prevent an Uranian lineage and the other was to continue it, only by fudging one of the players' goals in spirit could you make it all work out.

Tim,

I should address your whole post in detail, but here's the deal: I just looked at the characters again, and you're right. The goal achieved was only "have a son," basically. But there's more than that: what if the player isn't satisfied? What if they get to this point, and the statement is, deconstructed, "I need this thing to have fun." Since we're all there to have fun, and it's a logical extension of the stated goal, it'd be awfully uncool of me to say, "Nope. The rules say you're stuck with the fact you've impregnated someone, but your country falls to the Church." In fact, I suggested that in the game, and was contradicted by the idea that that's not really carrying on the line, if Uran falls.

So maybe it's not Hero's Banner: it could be that I'm a crap GM and can't deal with this situation.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 12:50:33 PM
OK, actual example.  I had some fairly minor conflict (which I failed) and was faced with the choice of a passion check, which didn't make much sense since I was teetering at the brink anyway.  My very next conflict was make-or-break important, but I hadn't made that check (which might have sent me out of the game) and couldn't change my passions around, and my character subsequently got clotheslined again.  I could have forced a success by insisting on narrating in his 98%, which seemed cheap and uninspired since Clinton and Remi had quite correctly been working hard to make the conflict about something else. 

If I understand your example correctly, then I'd have to say that despite the apparent cloths-lining, it was always you the player who could have stepped in and made a series of passion checks to get the 30-point bonus and the re-roll. That is of course the crux of the game: "What are your really willing to stick your neck out for?" There's no guarantee that you would have succeeded, but regardless, when it came time to narrate and manipulate influences, you would then have the power to at least make your character's influence ratings reflect his feelings about the situation. That last bit of power is the important one in my mind because that's really what your character's destiny is all about no matter what the dice say. If all you were after was a success in the short-term, however, then the only way to go about that with certainty is to request a scene involving your strongest influence.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 01:00:56 PM
But there's more than that: what if the player isn't satisfied? What if they get to this point, and the statement is, deconstructed, "I need this thing to have fun." Since we're all there to have fun, and it's a logical extension of the stated goal, it'd be awfully uncool of me to say, "Nope. The rules say you're stuck with the fact you've impregnated someone, but your country falls to the Church." In fact, I suggested that in the game, and was contradicted by the idea that that's not really carrying on the line, if Uran falls.

So maybe it's not Hero's Banner: it could be that I'm a crap GM and can't deal with this situation.

Ok, you're not a crap GM. If your players are saying to you, "Make it so or this whole game won't be any fun," then you're up against a wall.

More on point, my initial reaction is to say that, "Yep, Hero's Banner is just that harsh. So sorry, but tough toenails for you." After all, these choices that the players are faced with have consequences. Success at achieving a goal does not guarantee that the goal will happen all roses and happy endings. They don't call it grim fantasy for nothing. I mean your character is going to die -- most often with substantial regrets. Those regrets have to be about something.

Now, I don't suggest, as I've said, totally undercutting the spirit of a player's goal. That indeed would be no fun. Ultimately, Hero's Banner is harsh, but also necessarily collaborative. If players take on goals that could in the end contradict one another, then I suppose they also take on the responsibility of working together to make sure it all works out to each others satisfaction -- or else just deal with the harsh results and chalk it up to a "Life is unforgiving even for heroes" type of experience.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 05, 2006, 01:09:32 PM
Thanks for your replies, Tim.  And no, Clinton, you are not a crap GM, I promise.  But hey - so I should have made a passion check on a minor conflict ("Do we properly set up an ambush?") which would have allowed me to juggle my influences, at the risk of topping out of the game one scene prior to the big showdown.  Had I been written out one scene early, that would not have been fun.  I chose the other option, at least participating in the climactic scene, even though my crushing failure was pre-ordained.  Neither option was really satisfying, and it felt very deterministic as the disparity between influences grew extreme.  Maybe I'm bellyaching about playing the game we agreed to play.  It'll be interesting to refresh and start again next week with a subtler conflict and maybe some explicit attempts to not immediately go for each other's throats. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 01:14:13 PM
As a quick, unrelated in some ways follow-up: I would suggest to others to use a 20-sided die in this game. It may seem like it doesn't make a difference, but the math is too disruptive to play and this would ease it. [snip...]

Yikes. I can't help but think this has something to do with your thing for d20s, Clinton. (Anyone read Donjon?)

Ok, kidding aside, I actually played around with using different dice and rating totals in the early stages of development. In the end, I liked the flexibility and elegance of a percentile system. In my mind, it just seems to mean more when you have a percentage system. Plus, you don't have to worry about weird ratios of increase and decrease, with the added benefit of a nice steady upwards progression of scores that seems to last for just the right amount of actual play time.

That said, I do appreciate your suggestion about making breakdowns dependent on a progressive scale of passion increase for the current series of checks.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 05, 2006, 01:19:35 PM
But hey - so I should have made a passion check on a minor conflict ("Do we properly set up an ambush?") which would have allowed me to juggle my influences, at the risk of topping out of the game one scene prior to the big showdown.  Had I been written out one scene early, that would not have been fun.

I don't want to belabor this any more, Jason, as I can see your frustration coming through and I certainly don't want to add to it. Quickly though, how close to 100 passion points were you? In other words, could you have taken a re-roll at only a plus 10 and only one passion check without going over? You may not have succeeded, but at least you would have received narration rights and the opportunity to change your influence ratings around. Just a thought. You don't have to reply if you don't want to. Cheers, Jason, and I hope all goes well in your next session.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 05, 2006, 02:09:53 PM
It's OK, Tim.  I'm interested in Remi's thoughts.  We're making it sound worse than it was.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Remi Treuer on September 06, 2006, 11:42:35 PM
Hey, apologies for the long wait on this response. I didn't really know what I could add, but after some of reflection I realized a couple things:
1. I got gun-shy about really trying to add to the story after the whole God Lives Underwater thing. I think we straightened this out after the game, and I'm much clearer on what the expectations for the game are now, and excited about the possibilities of where this can lead.
2. I really should have been willing to give some ground on my final influence choice. I used Jason's lady love, Elysandre, pretty shabbily throughout the entire evening, and it wouldn't have been a stretch to switch to my 'Go to Rhyveic and usurp the noble house' influence at the very end. Especially considering my last action was a lusty embrace with Elysandre. I had just dug in my heels and lost all flexibility on the point, which I think led to a rather limp ending for both our characters, as neither of us was really willing to negotiate.
3. It occurs to me that I need to loosen my grip on the narrative framing for my character, just to give Clinton more chances to let the story breath at a pace where he can bring the awesome. Clinton, you're a damn good GM, and I completely trust you to run an excellent game. I think Jason and I just have to accept that you and you alone have the ability to frame the scenes instead of jumping in with 'I WANT TO DO THIS NOW.' I have a tendency to force this sort of thing, it's not always a healthy behavior, especially in a game like this where the GM has no mechanical recourse, and I will try to be more conscious of this in the future.
4. Jason, I can't speak to your losing streak and its relation to you staying in the game. I think it had more to do with social dynamic frustration and bad dice rolls than any inherent flaw in the system. We'll keep it more low-key and emo this week and see how it goes, now that we know how the system works.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 07, 2006, 03:44:55 AM
Yeah, I really wanted a positive relationship with Elysande and you guys were relentless about ruining her!  Again, strictly awesome, but I wanted to get back at you and didn't see any good hooks with your guy to do so.  Failure of imagination, I imagine.  I'm really looking forward to more cooperative play, and I'll be glad to remand scene framing authority to Clinton. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 07, 2006, 04:59:37 AM
Remi,

Thanks for your comments! They were informative, and I wanted to wait for them before continuing.

Clinton, you're a damn good GM, and I completely trust you to run an excellent game.

Oh, I know. I'm not super-prone to hubris, but I have a great track record here, on file in this very forum. I said "maybe I'm a crap GM" as a rhetorical device, an absurd thing to say, so that I might disarm Tim's defensiveness.

Tim, you have a great game, but you need to not defend it so fiercely. Constructive criticism is good, and you know I love the game - I have personally sold many, many copies. I have a pointed question: how many groups without you as GM was this play-tested with?

Here's why it is a difficult game to GM (and it is a difficult game to GM): narrative power is based on chance of success. The game is structured almost exactly like Trollbabe, except in this feature. I'm going to explain Trollbabe's narrative structure to compare: the player rolls dice for success. If she succeeds, the GM narrates; if she fails, the player narrates. The player can choose to re-roll using some resources. Again, the chance of success is the same, and the narrative power is the same.

In Hero's Banner, the player rolls for success. Whether or not she succeeds or fails, the GM narrates. However, they can increase their chance of success and re-roll, and then gain narrative power also regardless of success or failure. The lack of control over the narrative by the GM in this case is the problem, coupled to the idea that failure will be highly likely in the first roll, and success will be probably more than likely in the second, almost assuring that the GM rarely has narrative power. In Trollbabe, the scope of success is determined by the GM. In Hero's Banner, it is only rarely determined by the GM, resulting in a game that is, in many ways, a story told by the whims of the players.

The clarification about being able to re-roll to "steal narration" will help with this, but I'm not sure it will completely eliminate it. The text should speak to the "stealing narration" problem, though: the fact that it doesn't say you can do it is not excuse for not explicitly stopping it. If it's a common misreading, which it seems like it is, then there should be text that speaks to it.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 07, 2006, 12:48:50 PM
Hey guys. Didn't mean to be so combative. It's just so easy to hit overdrive when it comes to talking about my own game. Especially because it's the first thing I've released commercially. To be sure, though, I'm taking everything you're saying as constructive criticism and I thank you for it all. Hero's Banner isn't perfect. It certainly has limitations worth exploring.

Clinton, to answer your question, I play-tested the game with, hmmm... something less than ten groups. But even then there was a lot of crossover between the players from one group to another. Also, so much of my play-testing concentrated on modifying or even removing rules that didn't even make it into the final draft, that I don't think I had enough testing with the rules as they stand now as a whole. I think my biggest regret when it came to play-testing, though, was that I had almost no feedback from groups where I wasn't the GM. That was a big mistake. So I'm not really surprised that you're running into some friction with the game in the places where perhaps our GM styles/preferences differ.

The narration power is a perfect example. I'm actually glad you brought it up. I'm the sort of GM that is happy to let the players narrate the outcome of a conflict because I know that as GM I'm going to take a huge chunk of narrative leeway when it comes to playing NPCs and setting up scenes. I don't think I really formalized or emphasized this enough in the text.

As far as the power split goes, you're right in citing Trollbabe. The game was a tremendous influence. And not too long ago, I actually favored a system of narrative division in Hero's Banner that gave the GM rights when the player failed and the player rights when he succeeded. What I didn't like about that system, though, was the very binary feel it had. I want both the GM and the player to have an opportunity to narrate both successes and failures. I don't want either to feel pigeonholed. Hence, the current division. I realize that this takes away opportunity from the GM, but I haven't thought of any alternative that accomplishes what I want.

Sidenote: I just finished listening to your podcast, and I think that Remi's comment (I think it was Remi) about Hero's Banner being designed for a more collaborative group of PCs is probably right on the money. I most often GM groups with PCs in opposite kingdoms, and then add in crosses and common NPCs. Still, the issue of incompatible goals amongst the PCs is bothering me. I'd love to come up with a more elegant solution for the situation.

Anyway, you guys rock and I'm just glad you're having some sort of fun with the game. It means a lot to me, your posts and discussions.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 07, 2006, 12:54:02 PM
Anyway, you guys rock and I'm just glad you're having some sort of fun with the game. It means a lot to me, your posts and discussions.

Cool, I'm glad we're on the same page. We're totally enjoying the game - don't forget we had a giant sea-battle with ships crashing into each other, and it ran perfectly. It was awesome.

You know, not to derail too much, but I've been going through similar things with TSOY: people having issues I didn't expect. I'm planning on releasing a serious of helper articles on my website, and I'm not being embarrassed by the text. It is what it is (that is, a pretty good game) and helper articles are just value-adds. Maybe when you get some more actual play, if you have further GM advice, you can collect it in some fashion. I don't know.

Next Monday, I'm making Remi and Jason collaborate at least half the time. We will report!


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 07, 2006, 01:09:56 PM
I'm planning on releasing a serious of helper articles on my website, and I'm not being embarrassed by the text. It is what it is (that is, a pretty good game) and helper articles are just value-adds. Maybe when you get some more actual play, if you have further GM advice, you can collect it in some fashion. I don't know.

I think that's a great idea. You know, writing a roleplaying text is really an odd thing. There are so many different styles of games, play techniques, and social expectations that it's almost fun to watch what sort of things come out of actual play sessions not my own. Slightly frustrating and embarrassing, but fun.

I look forward to hearing from the Durham 3 again (You guys really need a slogan like, "Go Team Venture!").


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 07, 2006, 01:22:56 PM
Our slogan should be "Get your bulls up!", accompanied by an enthusastic two-hand gesture, because that's what all the gangstas in Durham are doing these days. 

I'm looking forward to playing again!


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 13, 2006, 09:31:46 AM
We had our third session last Monday and it went better, I think, than our previous two.  Here's what I learned:

1.  The doubles thing, although technically pretty common, was a freak for us.  Session three saw a single breakdown in 2.5 hours of play, which was way, way more satisfying.

2.  Remi and I made our characters with strong connections and reasons not to overtly oppose each other.  Instead of going for each other's throats, we did our own things and even cooperated a little.  This worked much better for us.

3.  We curbed our scene framing tendencies and let Clinton do the heavy lifting there, and that also worked well.  I will say that I felt a little disengaged from Remi's scenes and really wanted to jump in as a thug, a courtier, a sideman at various times. 

4.  The stakes of our three aspects were a little lower in some ways and definitely less aggressive.  Mine were peace (hero), self knowledge (blood), and freedom (conscience).  Tasty and mutually exclusive but not, you know "forcibly convert the northerners to the true faith."


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 15, 2006, 04:57:13 AM
Jason,

Glad to hear things went smoother for you. I was wondering, though, how did the magic you guys created last session play out in this one? I mean, did the changes you guys made help at all with the problems you were having with the altered setting you were also using?

It sounds like you dialed back the stakes of each of your influences, at least compared with the previous set of characters. I'm betting that with the changes you made in point number two of yours that you could amp up the influences even further if the fancy strikes you because you won't run into the same conflicts. Not that a set of characters with more peaceable goals aren't welcome of course.

Also, how did the generational mechanics work for you guys? How closely related were your new characters? In my experience, it makes a big difference if you choose to play characters of the same time period as the previous generation -- as opposed to playing a set one generation removed. Not good or bad, but just a different sort of feel to the game.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 15, 2006, 01:39:41 PM
Holy crap Jason. I just finished listening to your Durham 3 podcast and I gotta say, the breakdown you casually mentioned above as being more rewarding not only rocked hard, but could be one of the best breakdowns I've heard about. What a perfectly self-involved hardcore teenager moment. Instead of describing this straight away, I recommend everyone go listen to the podcast (http://rpgtalk.net/durham3/files/6/69/durham3_20060915.mp3). They open with a frank and rewarding discussion about religion in games, break to play Hero's Banner, and then Remi comes in around minute 20 (earlier if you want the entire report) with a bombshell of an actual play report. All I'll say is that he sure as hell captured the essence of immaturity, power, and passion all at once.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Nev the Deranged on September 15, 2006, 02:30:26 PM
Aside: In a beautiful example of reciprocation, I started listening to (and became hooked on) the Durham 3 podcasts because I wanted to learn about Hero's Banner, and listening to the podcasts are what tipped the scales for me on purchasing the game.

 So now I have a cool game, AND a cool podcast series to listen to. And you guys all have new fans. Everybody wins!   ^_^


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Remi Treuer on September 16, 2006, 01:38:19 AM
Glad to hear things went smoother for you. I was wondering, though, how did the magic you guys created last session play out in this one? I mean, did the changes you guys made help at all with the problems you were having with the altered setting you were also using?

Also, how did the generational mechanics work for you guys? How closely related were your new characters? In my experience, it makes a big difference if you choose to play characters of the same time period as the previous generation -- as opposed to playing a set one generation removed. Not good or bad, but just a different sort of feel to the game.

Hi, Tim.
1. We steered entirely away from the magic we had established. The Billow Maidens were there, the mothers of both our characters, but were simply seven wives of a deceased/disappeared king. There was some reference to their participation in an earlier battle and their magical feats there, but nothing overtly magical. We did have armies of whipped slaves, which gave Jason an ahistorical chuckle, but nothing that completely broke the bond of humanity.

2. We were the direct descendants of Andor Uranson. However, we were each named after our mothers. So instead of being Uranson we were 'Femalename'son. It was good, and there was some meaty play coming out of the sexism that we worked into Uran. My character's Hero was his father, Andor Uranson, whom he saw as a sort of Don Juan of the Uran people, the ultimate lover, wooing and bedding and satisfying 7 women. His goals were 'Find His True Love, Live With Her 4ever', 'Destroy the Get of Throbjorn' (our Big Bad Grendel from the first game), and 'Save My Best Friend From A Bad Life'.

I'm not sure that amping up the Influences would work for our particular group. Even though we had smaller, non-conflicting Influences, when our characters ended up in the room together, we started sniping at each other a bit. I think Jason and I naturally fall into that rhythm, and so we need big stories growing out of little seeds in a game like Hero's Banner.

Also, the girl my character ended up sleeping with was NOT my True Love, but was, rather, my Best Friend, which made it even more awesome and awful.

There was a bit of disengagement for me, as well. Especially in the early scenes which were intensely personal to each character (I had a conflict about putting spices in soup, for example), but as they go broader, more connections emerged and I found myself getting drawn in. I think finding a middle ground between entirely personal (soup) and entirely external (God War) is the secret for us to run Hero's Banner at full heat for the entire session.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Remi Treuer on September 16, 2006, 01:59:57 AM
3.  We curbed our scene framing tendencies and let Clinton do the heavy lifting there, and that also worked well.  I will say that I felt a little disengaged from Remi's scenes and really wanted to jump in as a thug, a courtier, a sideman at various times. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Remi Treuer on September 16, 2006, 02:00:45 AM
Dang, I meant to quote Jason's before making my comment on disengagement. I was commenting on this:
3.  We curbed our scene framing tendencies and let Clinton do the heavy lifting there, and that also worked well.  I will say that I felt a little disengaged from Remi's scenes and really wanted to jump in as a thug, a courtier, a sideman at various times. 

Also, Nev, glad to have you aboard!


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 19, 2006, 04:00:35 AM
OK, we wrapped it up last night and it went pretty well.  I think Clinton and Remi had a better time than I did.

1.  Play speeds up as everybody learns the ebb and flow of the game.  Our second generation took just over half the time of our first. 

2.  The character arcs were very satisfying, and we can all see a way forward, if we were going to play some more.  Our second generation guys were more interesting adn fun than our first, and make better heroes. 

3.  We had the same end-game problem of one guy topping out, but not being able to 100% complete his narrative because it had dependencies built into the other player's story.  This is a minor point.

4.  I have some sort of cognitive block that makes the end-game less than fun.  It feels deterministic to me, but Remi was rocking out in the same circumstances.  I kept thinking, "OK, I either automatically win or automatically lose, and there's social pressure on me to automatically lose because it's time to wrap this up."

5.  I made obvious choices from the middle of the game pointing toward a single aspect - my conscience. By the time we reached end-game, the other two aspects were not only not viable, they had been rendered incompatible or obsolete.  I couldn't swap my scores around, because a 98 in "unify the kingdom without bloodshed", in the middle of a bloody battle, wasn't very satisfying.  I'm not sure if this was my fault for picking bad goals or what.

6.  Remi was playing harder and making stronger choices than I was.  I honestly don't think Hero's Banner is a game for me, because I struggled just following where he would lead.  None of the characters I introduced had an impact in the story, nor did any of my connections.  In the end the only characters that were important were either ones he'd introduced, or ones Clinton introduced as adversaries for Remi.  I felt pretty lame and uninspired. 


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 19, 2006, 12:17:54 PM
Jason,

I appreciate your honesty. If anything, I appreciate your comments because they allowed me to better hash out some of the frustrations I've had with Hero's Banner depending on the game and the particular players and characters. I don't mean to direct the following at you specifically, by the way. I mean it more generally even if it does apply to your group.

One of the toughest aspects of Hero's Banner from the point of view of the player, I think, is coming up with three influences that you both care about and that have the longevity to make it all the way to the end of the episode. I think it's easy to come up with one influence that you care about, a bit harder to come up with two, and downright tough to make up a third. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that if you don't actually care about all three influences, then you will play your character like he doesn't care about all three. And without that conflict, there really isn't anything interesting going on: your character just goes around getting into forced conflicts until the inevitable happens and he makes what is really an obvious choice.

On top of this all is the fact that you have to come up with your character's three influences right off the bat during character creation. So even if you find out that one of your influences isn't so hot during the actual game, you're kinda stuck with it. At least an episode is rather short, but I suppose that's unsatisfying nonetheless.

The influence categories are supposed to help alleviate some of the difficulties in coming up with meaningful and interesting influences, but in reality I think they only go so far. As I see it now, there's really three schools of thought when it comes to creating influences.

First, you can create three influence that all work in concert with each other. For example, your Hero influence could be something like "save my people from the invading barbarians" and your Blood influence could then be something like "keep the family reputation for ruthlessness in battle." You can see how both influences are concerned with different goals, but both involve conflicts involving the same sort of things: battle, war, leadership, your kingdom, etc. Under this method, you could make a third, conscience influence along the same lines.

The second method is to create influences that truly pull your character in opposite directions. Using the above example, say that instead of making Blood about the family reputation, you make it something like "join a convent and live a life of peace." You could even go entirely opposite with something like "become a spy for the invading army and help to overthrow my king." The point is that the influences are fighting against each other by nature.

Third, and finally, you can make three influences that have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Oftentimes, I've seen players combine method one or two with method three. They make two influences that are related, and a third that exists outside of the first two. And when it comes to method two, it's easy to think in pairs, but thinking up a third means you either play the rock, paper, scissors ploy or else think up a tangential influence to fill the gap.

All this to say that I have a theory. Quite simply, it's easier to both play and GM a character whose player actually cares about each of his three influences. This also means that the GM has to legitimately challenge each of your character's influences. As a player, you also have to be willing and in the mood to play a character who's all about rapid changes of heart. Again, this is hard at times.

Finally, with reference to the three methods of influence creation above, the combination of influences your character has can make a big difference in your enjoyment of the game. I'm not sure what works best, but I suspect that choosing one method of creation and sticking with it for all three influences would be easiest to play. At the very least, being aware of how your influences could possible interact with each other is a good thing. If two are pulling you in one direction, and the third is totally unrelated, then it could be difficult to find the motivation to pursue that third with any conviction: the odds are stacked against you really.

Whew. That was long. I have some thoughts on the endgame, but I'll let those sit for a while. Anyway, like I said Jason, I appreciate the feedback. Even though Hero's Banner may not be your cup of tea, your criticisms are well-put.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 19, 2006, 01:21:27 PM
Tim, for reference, I chose the "opposites" method.  Mine were peace, freedom, or self-knowledge.  My self-knowledge goal was generally met early on, although we all agreed that there was a layer of subtext we could have explored.  Peace went out the window almost immediately and I never had a scene related to it - powerful, violent conflicts ocurred that made it moot.  So I pushed freedom.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 19, 2006, 01:36:27 PM
Thanks, that helps.

Out of curiosity, though, what do you mean when you say that your self-knowledge goal was "met"? I assume you don't mean that the goal was completed? Because that's not supposed to be possible at all until you pump 100 points into it. So were you personally just not interested in it from a dramatic point of view?


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on September 19, 2006, 02:14:21 PM
Tim,

Jason's self-knowledge goal was "met" in that his goal was to find out who his father was, and he did. The goal had a bit more nuance that we could have explored - he was supposed to find his name, and he never accepted his father - but it was found. Jason narrated who his father was when he won a conflict about halfway through the game.

I bet you're about to say that's invalid play, and you will not get backup from me on that. An artificial "you can't have this until I say so" mechanic is obtrusive to play. It might work better with centralized narration ability, but not with distributed narration ability.

I disagree with Jason, however, that "unite the country without bloodshed" was cut off. His character personally spilt no blood until the very end (or did you ever? actually, I think you didn't) and earlier scenes with violence went uncontested.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Tim C Koppang on September 19, 2006, 07:39:48 PM
Jason's self-knowledge goal was "met" in that his goal was to find out who his father was, and he did. The goal had a bit more nuance that we could have explored - he was supposed to find his name, and he never accepted his father - but it was found. Jason narrated who his father was when he won a conflict about halfway through the game.

I bet you're about to say that's invalid play, and you will not get backup from me on that. An artificial "you can't have this until I say so" mechanic is obtrusive to play. It might work better with centralized narration ability, but not with distributed narration ability.

I don't think I'll go so far as to call your play invalid, but you should at least recognize that you've definitely changed the rules of the game. I'm really not sure what you mean by "obtrusive". I think I'm pretty frank in the text about not being able to achieve your character's goal until he actually chooses the particular influence it's under (by putting all 100 points into it). This isn't something that the GM is lording over the players. Rather it's a basic agreement that everyone playing makes when they sit down to a game of Hero's Banner. As a group and individually, you're supposed to figure out how the character is prevented from achieving his goal -- that is until he reaches 100 passion points.

I don't think it matters whether or not the narration mechanics are completely centralized or distributed either. Just as a player or the GM is always restricted in his narration by any agreements made in the pre-roll discussion, so too is he restricted by the express limitations placed on him by the system (success/failure and whether or not he is able to reach one of his goals for example).

The only reason I make such a big deal of this is because the entire game is set up around a mounting tension between your character's influences. By taking one or two influences out of the game prematurely you both remove some of that tension and reduce the number of opportunities for interesting conflict.


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Jason Morningstar on September 20, 2006, 03:46:12 AM
We all understood that finding out who my father was didn't have to be a huge impediment to finding out who my father was.  We all saw places that could have gone and the mid-game reveal wasn't a show-stopper - we discussed it, actually, and were OK with it. 

As far as the peace goal, the only way I could see that making sense is if I had scene framing power and was a dick.  "OK, thirty years later..."


Title: Re: [Hero's Banner] War for the Soul of Uran
Post by: Bret Gillan on September 21, 2006, 06:49:07 AM
It seems like one thing that needs to be discussed and negotiated is interesting influences that don't completely wipe out the game by preventing their occurrence before endgame.

This reminds me of the Capes "not yet" rule. In Capes, when you create a Conflict, any sort of narration that happens before that Conflict is resolved is met with a "not yet." Creating an influence in Hero's Banner seems analogous to creating a Conflict in Capes. When you create it you are saying, "This can't happen until endgame," and accepting all that goes along with that, but since this isn't a competitive game like Capes it requires discussion of influences and their consequences on the narrative pre-endgame so that everyone knows what they're getting into.