What is it About the HQ Rules and Bringing Out Setting?

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Mike Holmes:
I think everybody is right here, and I'm going to try to put these altogether to give the picture of why it works so well in a gestalt fashion.

1. Chris is right that the conflict nature of the system is a key. HQ doesn't tell you with the resolution system what the conflicts are. But what Chris leaves out, is that it does inform you as to what the conflicts are, and that is by the character enumeration. So, as he says, the players come up with the definition of conflict, but they also inform what those conflicts will be by their selection of characters. If nobody takes a character with combat abilites, then there's going to be little combat.

2. Brand is right, because he lays out just precisely how it is that HQ does what Chris says it does. It doesn't inform you to do anything other than what the players put on the character sheets, because of it's "all effects are equal" design. So you have players free to select character concepts that are all equally effective, thus allowing theme to be the primary thing in determining choice. But what themes?

3. Minx is right, because it's precisely that the players enumerate their characters in terms of culture and beliefs. This is the link between the character and the setting. So we have players allowed to select the conflict, without resolution system bias, and that conflict being stated in terms of the characters in their place in the setting.

4. Russell is correct, because in selecting the homeland, species, and occupation templates, you end up with abilities that are theme laden in terms of how they relate to the setting. That is, you define the character in terms of the setting. Are there Ogres who are Shamans? If so, then you've said something interesting about the setting. Or, the reverse, if you know there are ogre shamans, and write this up, suddenly the character is attached to the setting in a very mechanical way. So you have players allowed to select the format of the conflict, without resolution system bias, the conflict being stated in terms of the character's place in the setting, as objectively stated out in the keywords selected.

But here's what everyone's missing - what abilities tie the character to the setting?

5. My response is that everything does, but nothing so well as the relationships present in each keyword. I mean, you'll still have those "powerz" that Minx mentions - elves will still be talented in using the weapons of their homelands. So what makes HQ different than D&D in this respect? Well, you know where you get that weapon skill from in HQ. For an elf, it might be "Relationship to Tribe" or whatever. Not only does this single state incentivize you to make sure that the conflicts in play are about the character's relationship with his tribe, or family or whatever, but that all of their abilities are a reflection of the culture that they come from. Use Elven Bow is not the same as Use Woodman Bow. Not just in that the weapon is potentially somewhat different - they'll only have improv mods with respect to each other, and be otherwise completely equal. No, the difference is that the elves think that their way is better.

This is the key. Everyone thinks that their way is better (even if their "way" is to be egalitarian or cosmopolitan, they can at least point to their egalitarianism - Lunars). This is what is key to most of these worlds. What makes the relationship between Gimli and Legolas interesting? It's the rivalry between the races. Men and Elves? "I was there that day three thousand years ago when the strength of men failed us."

All fantasy stories are, to some extent, about the conflict of cultures. Even in stories like Conan, where he's not really all that attached to any particular culture (although is Cimmerian chauvanism does show at times), the stories are all about the strange lands he's passing through, and which is at war with which, or how the local custom is going to get him boiled in oil...

If you feel that the setting has themes that need to be played, then HQ can bring them out automatically. Being an Ork in Earthdawn is no longer about the superior killing ability of being an Ork, but it's about all that "Ork" stuff about their peculiuar form of honor and such. Yes, how well he can kill will be important, but only such as he can prove that the Ork way of life is the right way. If he's questing after some magic whatsis, it's so that he can bring it back to his tribe, and make it stronger - note that the rule in HQ says that the character's Hero Band automatically takes half or more of any such stuff brought back. This is not just an explanation of where stuff that doesn't have HP spent on them go, but a statement of the character's committment to his group, and belief system.

Characters in HQ always have a purpose, and it's always in terms of the setting - their culture and beliefs. So all play can be, if one wants it to be, about the setting themes. This is so strongly supported, that I think it's only strong traditions of play that make it so that not every player who participates in HQ play has this experience.

In other systems, you can have all of these things. My only character in Planescape was a Hobgoblin Warrior/Priest. There were NPCs that I made up that explained where he got his abilities from, a family he'd left behind, everything you could have in HQ, in terms of background. I made up a ton of material explaining what Lawful Evil meant in terms of their culture, and why it made sense for him to be Lawful Neutral. I made up an entire religion, with festivals, and even discluded some of the "priest" canon spell list based on this stuff. I mean, I really went out of my way to bring this character to life in terms of him being a part of this very rich setting where Hobgoblins could theoretically be pals with all of the other PCs.

What did I get? Go there and get the whatsis for your employer. The "link" to the setting was the generic hook that all RPGs use, money. Money is an interesting thing, because it's an exchange material for the usefullness that a culture issuing the money feels you have to the culture in theory. But it's an impersonal link. One can't really buy loyalty with gold, one can only buy work. Sans anything on the character sheet saying that my character's family was important mechanically, or his village, or his belief in his god, none of the play was ever about this. And not for me failing to try, either. I was just ignored, or, worse, considered to be obstructing play somehow.

Played with HQ, no doubt all of that background would have been enumerated in the character, and every action he took would have resonated with themes of the setting. The other players would have understood why it was that I reacted with fear and loathing when elves were near (instead of calling my play tactically unsound). Why my character sometimes manhandled other PCs, instead of thinking that I was trying to instigate PvP conflict. Perhaps the scenarios would have said something about his beliefs, instead of being completely tangential to them.

Gamism aside (that is, it's not just the mode being different), what's on the character sheet informs players of what it is that they're supposed to explore. And making them all positive modifiers for conflict incentivizes playing to these abilities. Since they are based in setting, players explore setting. I mean, the difference between a wizard in Rolemaster, and a wizard in HQ is that the wizard in HQ has a relationship with the order that gave him his spells, and has to consider that if he wants to keep the very important mechanical support he has from them.

And this makes all the difference in the world.


Hi Christopher,
I think your question has two answers. One has been danced around already but not really hammered down. I didn't see it explicitly mentioned but that doesn't mean it wasn't (flame-retardant disclaimer starts here). It just means I didn't see it reading through the other posts and can potentially be either going blind or losing my cognitive skills from too much computer usage. (My mother always warned me that would happen...)

Anyway, I didn't see it in explicit terms, so here's number one...

HeroQuest quantifies everything, even things that other games have deemed unquantifiable. It's not so much that HQ emphasizes culture. There are a bunch of games that do that in their settings. HeroQuest gives culture a value, a real number value that's wired into the system. IMO, that's not unlike Riddle of Steel or even Pendragon. Only HeroQuest, as others have mentioned, allows for cultural values to shift more readily from culture to culture depending upon what a player expects out of play and what is important to him or her.

That said, part two is a related bit that I think is important too.

HeroQuest enforces culture. By providing cultural norms, roles and traits a quantifiable value, culture is enforced in the rules of HeroQuest. In D&D we can *say* Elves are stuck-up. We can *say* that most Elves live to be 500 years old.

In HeroQuest they get values for those traits, which, IMO, makes all the difference.

Sure, I'm not breaking any new ground here and pretty much just pointing out the bare foundations of what most everyone has already said. But I think those two things are the heart of the matter.


P.S. Russell I have an HQd20 chart that may help you in your conversion. I based it off of some of Mike's suggestions (adjusting the conversion ratios accordingly) and it transfers over d20 abilities, skills and DCs to HeroQuest ratings with a bit more accuracy than the quickie add 15 or 17 to every DC that Lael had worked out for the Midnight-HQ conversion. You could definitely run things fast and loose off the chart, only needing to detail a handful of important adversaries instead of every single one. If you're interested, drop me a PM. I'd be happy to send you a copy.

P.S.S. Cross-post. Mike mentions point one in his post with "enumeration" etc. Sorry, Mike. I came in right behind you. :)

Mike Holmes:
No prob, Scott.

And we very much agree, statistical enumeration makes "all the difference."


Most RPGs specify their settings twice: once as prose that tells the players how the world is supposed to work conceptually; and once again as a set of mechanisms that model the world and make it work in play.

This has several downsides:You can convey a lot in a few paragraphs of prose. It takes a more space to convey the same in rules form.

It takes a lot more effort and time to come up with rules for everything in the world you are describing.

It takes more effort for the reader to absorb all these rules. Something a group either has to do quite a bit of ahead of play, or play has to keep getting suspended.[/list:u]Since development time, effort and space are limited these prebuild rules only ever model part of the world. Loads of things get left out the model. No matter how interesting these ideas are they will be sidelined as players are forced to concentrate on the rules during play. Worse - some third party has decided which bits the players are allowed to care about and which bits are fluff.

Prebuilt rules have a second failing: they cant be as correct as the description of the world. The prose description can't have quirks that can be exploited at the expense of believability. Rules often do and railroad players into exploiting them in order not to get outgunned.

Play that uses a shared understanding of a setting, as opposed using a shared set of rules modelling the setting, has a further benefit. Players minds are focused on the setting and the elements of the story - because those are also the actual resources they are using in play. They are not thinking about some abstract numbers which distracts them from whats actually happening.

Pre-build rules have definate upsides too; but these are IHO mostly important to gamist play which is why HQ is getting raved about for sim and especially nar play.

Robin Law's act of genius was to cut out all the need for world modelling  by allowing players to work directly from the prose description of the world without any need to have rules. If we read in the background that a Jack'O'Bear is stronger than most heros and has a gaze that magically freezes people then we have everything we need to use one in play. If we read elsewhere that chaos priests can get magic that makes chaos creatures serve them then again we are ready to use it. In otherwords: everything that is written about the background is useable and will be used to the degree that the reader finds it a cool concept.

This is complemented by the rules free way of organising information about the setting and the people in it.  Organisations, cultures, religions, races, etc are all described as prose so that the players all have a common understanding and then condensed into a set of meaningful words and no numbers. This is important to anyone doing a conversion because its setting up these keywords that summarises the different aspects of the world for the players. But whats key is that no extra rules are needed - its really just an efficient summary of the prose description of the setting.

Aside: Consider how the rules have evolved from HW through HQ. Note the various special rules introduced to model 'important' aspects of Glorantha: berserking, weapon damage rankings ('edges'), misapplied worship, etc. IMO they tend to be confusing and/or unneeded; and a whole load got dumped in the latest version. This was because of the misconception that if its important in the world then it should be modelled explicitly in the rules. Hopefully the remaining ones like concentrated magic will get dumped in the next version whenever that might be. It could even be argued that having special rules for animism is a mistake: they are just people with access to followers and allies who happen to be spirits. If the players understand how spirits act and relate to an animist that might well be enough.

Christopher Kubasik:
Thanks guys.

You know, I developed a habit a while ago of flipping past all the description, the color and the rules and just checking out the character sheet at the back of an RPG.  I realized that by looking at that sheet I'd be able to figure out what one actually did in the game.

I realize now that while HeroQuest has a character sheet, it's essentially a cipher in regard to what the game will be about to a large degree until a player fills it in.  In this regard it's much like Over the Edge, The Pool and several recent games that are waiting for the players to say, "This is what I care about, this is what I want this evening to be about."

HQ then takes those chosen issues and runs them through a clean machine that strips away (if played this way) a lot of Sim concerns and lets the issues float straight up to the top.




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