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[Hero's Banner] Gameday 2006

Started by Tim C Koppang, October 24, 2006, 01:57:17 AM

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Tim C Koppang

I was recently in Mt Prospect, Illinois for the En World Gameday 2006 -- which I must say was all kinds of fun. During the morning session, I ran an episode of Hero's Banner that was equal parts epically horrific and touching. The session went for five hours; so while I'd love to regale you with every last tidbit, I think I'll instead pick out the moments that from my perspective as the GM were most memorable. If any of the players (I'm looking at you Dave, Josh, William, and Richard) want to embellish, feel free.

To start, I handed out four half-pre-genned characters. In the end, Dave chose to play Marion Yinosh, prince of the fallen kingdom of Yinosh. Josh picked up Princess Anca Ryeic, warrior champion of the Kingdom of Ryeic. William had Razvan Lockreen, a proud and somewhat cruel Uranian nobleman. Finally, Richard was playing Fane Touriac, a diplomat of the Kingdom of Ryeic (who I must say ended up as quite the power-player lady's man).

I had generated two out of three influences for each character the night before the game, and I gave the players the opportunity to fill in the remaining influence before we started. This took up a bit of time (perhaps a half an hour), but I think the investment it gave the players was worth it. After all, Hero's Banner is supposed to be a game about making personal choices. Allowing the players the chance to customize their character even a bit was helpful in the long run.

While I've lost some of my notes, and let the players keep their character sheets, I can at least give you an abridged breakdown of what each character was grappling with in terms of influences. Marion's Conscience influence had to do with the ideal of peace and attempting to form an alliance between his exiled people and a Baron from the outreaches. His Blood influence was for revenge; specifically to take back the capital city of Kropin that the Uranians had conquered not five years earlier. His Hero influence involved Marion's sister. He wanted to see his sister married off properly to another king.

Princess Anca had a Conscience influence dealing with the search for simplicity. Her Conscience goal was to give up the sword forever. Against Conscience, Anca's Blood influence was the ideal of martial discipline and the goal to become the general of Ryeic's army through mastery of martial technique. Her Hero influence has for now evaded my memory. I do remember that the ideal had to do with courage, as she looked up to another military leader that she herself had killed in battle.

Razvan was after a diplomatic cessation to hostilities under his Conscience influence, the power to enslave invading Ryeician border rebels under his Blood influence, and the honorable return of a portion of his country's land to the conquered Yinoshians.

Finally, Fane -- who I sort of pictured as a pretty-boy -- was after a political alliance through marriage to the Uranian princess under Conscience, an arranged marriage to the demure daughter of Ryeician Duke Ion under his Blood influence, and the ideal of pacifism under Hero.

As in most Hero's Banner games, the start of a new episode can be a bit of an information dump for both the GM and players. I find that the best way to start is to simply throw a bang at the first player to look anxious. There are so many balls in the air (after all I was staring at 12 different influences for 4 different players, plus a political web of situation), it's best not to get overwhelmed. Love relationships are always a fun bet. So I looked at Richard and framed his character Fane into an awkward scene involving the Uranian princess during a banquet. While Fane was obstensibly visting the Uranian king to negotiate a peace treaty between his kingdom and Fane's, romance was blooming. Ruxana, the princess, began to send glances in Fane's direction, much to the King's dismay. After Fane boldly suggested marriage right off the bat, I called for a conflict check. It cost Richard a series of passion checks, but he ended up the victor. Winning a conflict check, he was able to convince the King that Fane was a worthy suitor to his daughter -- or at least to think about it. Ruxana, being used to getting exactly what she wanted, continued to push for a romantic meeting sooner than later. However, Fane showed his skill as a diplomat and convinced her that patience was the best course of action.

Meanwhile, Josh's character Anca was busy leading her father's army into Uranian territory with surprising precision.  Although Josh had to take passion check after passion check, he managed to narrate Anca into a rather powerful position as sort of a martial enforcer along the Ryeic/Uran border. My favorite scene, however, came earlier in the episode when Anca realized that all of her military might was gaining her a bit too much loyalty amongst the men -- so much that the men were looking to her for leadership instead of her father the king. In an effort to reestablish balance, Anca decided to give a speech shifting all credit for a recent raid to her father. Josh was still playing a bit shy at this point, but managed to get the general point across quite well. The dice did not go in his favor, however, despite a re-roll. The "oh shit" look on Josh's face was priceless as I explained to him how he would have the pleasure of narrating his own character's failure. And of course he did this perfectly with all of the stutters and hesitation of a public speaker who knows the crowd is with her, but not actually listening to what she's saying.

Next we have Willam's character Razvan. William explained to me pretty early in the session that he enjoyed playing diplomatic characters. What he wanted to establish was a sort of UN for the fantasy world. I explained to him with a smile, and he quite got my point, that the real difficulty would come when his character was pushed in two other directions at the same time. Actual play established that he understood perfectly what the game was all about. William spent most of the session desperately trying to form alliances and peace between the three warring factions. Despite these rather successful efforts, though, the other player-charaters kept getting in the way. And I have to tell you about his final scene. Talk about a heroic death...

In the end, Razvan embraced the cruelty within himself even though he ended up standing for diplomacy (almost by accident as William narrated it). As Razvan finally realized that diplomacy was failing, he decided to push towards utter domination through military force. As Yinoshian and Ryeician forces amassed outside of the Uranian capitol, Razvan drove his own troops into the outreaches on a campaign of devastation and ugliness. After practically obliterating King Yinosh's people, Razvan squared off with the king he once so admired (King Yinosh was Razvan's Hero). Crying out to the heavens how Yinosh had betrayed the honor he once stood for, the two nobles began to battle each other. Razvan violently admonished the king for letting revenge transform him into a hypocrite.

But Willliam failed his final check. Yinosh lived and Razvan died, stabbed through the chest. It wasn't over though. In Razvan's epilouge, William narrated how his death was able to finally bring about the peace he was after. Inspired by his words, the people who witnessed the final battle were inspired to stand up against Yinosh and suffer no longer the violence of war.

Dave's character Marion was no stranger to the political weave were all creating. As a prince of the Kingdom of Yinosh, he was at first attempting to arrange an alliance with the Baron of Carna Woods. The Baron ruled over a small portion of the northern outreaches. While his kingdom contained nowhere near the value found on the kingdoms of the Cross, Marion was after peace and a place for his people outside of constant war. Ultimately he both failed and succeeded as the Uranians fell to his father's invasion, but Yinosh's was devastated by Razvan's rampage. The endgame saw only Marion retreat to the Baron's lands in shame and defeat.

Beforehand, though, Marion paused from his larger political scheming only briefly in an effort to save his sister from a less than honorable marriage. I enjoyed this exchange quite a bit if only because it seemed like such an honorable and small-scale event to begin with. It did not turn out so pleasant, however. Marion learned that his sister had fallen in love with a Yinosh peasant and planned to marry him. After all, she reasoned, her people were exiles -- what good were arbitrary class distinctions to them now? Marion would have none of it. He secretly brought a bag of somewhat worthless silver to the young suitor, and after a conflict check managed to convince the boy to run away. His sister would never know. Razvan put an end to that hope, though, when he rampaged the outreaches. Marion's sister was later found huddled over the dead body of her lover. In the boy's hand was a bag of silver, and on the bag was the seal of Marion. As Dave narrated this later conflict, I could clearly picture the pain and anger his the sister's face.

In the end, though, it was only Fane who emerged satisfied. By the time the capitol of Uran fell, Fane had just managed to secure King Uran's blessing to marry Princess Ruxana. As the king died, Fane rose to power via a royal marriage. The Uranian territory was divided between the Uranians and Yinoshians (what was left of them I suppose) with Fane rejecting his Ryeician blood.

I have left out so much, but it was a powerful and satisfying experience to say the least. I had a blast trying to wrangle all of the different story threads. While the players had a few direct encounters, including scenes in which we found them both working with and against each other, for the most part it was all handled via crosses and influence from afar.

Also, as GM, I always enjoy bringing up influences that a player has almost just forgotten about. To do this at just the right moment can sometimes create the most powerful scenes of an entire episode (as was the case with Dave's character Marion and his love-struck sister). I think that's where the real power and role of the GM lies: in taking his scene-framing power all the way to eleven. Knowing when to let the players take the lead and follow-up on a previous scene, and knowing when to take the reins and frame a scene pointing in an entirely different direction is challenging but also rewarding when it works.

As a final thought, I also wanted to let you all know about a variation to the breakdown rules the group tried out. Based on suggestions in Clinton, Remi, and Jason's previous actual play thread -- along with input from a game I ran for Paul Czege, his wife Danielle, and friend Tom -- I decided that the breakdown rules could use a bit more delineation. I also wanted to address the problem Clinton's group was having with too many breakdowns too early in the game. Thus, the following, which I now suggest everyone give whirl if you have a chance. They worked quite well I think, even if I tweaked them a bit more afterwards.

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# Alternate Rules for Hero's Banner Breakdowns #

These rules are meant to both add more detail to your breakdowns, but also to tone down the severity of a breakdown earlier in an episode.

If you roll doubles on a passion check and your character's total passion is less than or equal to 25, then your character has no breakdown. You are limited by the success or failure rolled during the underlying conflict check, and you continue to roll any remaining passion checks. Instead of a breakdown, you simply add one of the numbers rolled to your passion and continue as normal. So if you rolled double 4s on the second of three passion checks, you'd add 4 to your passion score and then roll the remaining passion check in the series.

If you roll doubles on a passion check and your character's total passion is greater than 25 but less than or equal to 50, then your character has a minor breakdown. A minor breakdown means that your character breaks some social norm in a small way that hints at the discontent within. Mechanically, a minor breakdown is handled just as if you hadn't rolled a breakdown at all. You roll your complete set of passion checks (although you can only suffer one breakdown per conflict check). You are limited by the success or failure determined in the underlying conflict check.

As part of a minor breakdown, the GM must also interject a single complication into your narration. With this complication, the GM may dictate a single action taken by your character, another PC, or important NPC. Or he may decide to narrate a detail concerning the setting, or a group of less important NPCs. Whatever the complication, it should be a detail that helps to establish the fact that your character doesn't have control over the world around him.

If you roll doubles on a passion check and your character's total passion is greater than 50 but less than or equal to 75, then your character has a serious breakdown. A serious breakdown means that your character has temporarily lost control. He has stepped over the line of normal behavior without regard for who he hurts or what people think of him. At this point, a breakdown becomes a release-valve for passion. When you roll a serious breakdown, you do not roll any remaining passion checks in your series. Moreover, you are no longer limited by the success or failure that you rolled during the conflict check. You can turn a success into a failure, or a failure into a success. As part of a serious breakdown, the GM also has the option, but isn't required to, insert a complication into your narration.

Finally, if you roll doubles on a passion check and your character's total passion is greater than 75 but less than 100, your character has a complete breakdown. Now, the rules for breakdowns are as detailed in the book. Your character has a total meltdown. He loses control as his passion completely consumes him. He allows all of the pressures he is facing to overtake him. Hysteria, depression, violence, and similar words all describe what could happen during a complete breakdown. You, and you alone, narrate what happens during a complete breakdown. Passion is cutoff the moment you roll doubles. And of course you get to determine the success or failure suffered by your character.

Tim C Koppang

Nice discussion of my suggested Alternate Breakdown Rules over at Story Games. Perhaps my initial suggestions were a bit heavy-handed after all.


Thanks for the write up Tim!  I just picked up Hero's Banner and hope to do a game or two soon, but I'm wrapping my head around moving from character creation to actual play and how to start out a game with your first scenes and stuff.  This helps out.


Quote from: Tim C Koppang on October 24, 2006, 10:24:49 PM
Nice discussion of my suggested Alternate Breakdown Rules over at Story Games. Perhaps my initial suggestions were a bit heavy-handed after all.

I wanted to point out that this link is broken and giving PHP errors (not sure if you have any control over that or not).

Tim C Koppang

Unfortunately, it seems to be an issue with Story Games. As far as I can tell you have to be signed in to view the particular thread. Not sure why that is though. If you're just starting out, however, I'd suggest just going with the basic rules anyway.

As for moving from character creation to play, my standard practice is simply to take some time and go over everybody's set of influences. From there, the trick is to use just one of those influences per player to come up with an initial situation for each character. It's sometimes easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information on everyone's character sheets, but if you just narrow it down to one influences to start, then things go much more smoothly.

The nice thing about Hero's Banner characters is that there's always a lot of meat to work with. It's just a matter of keeping it all in perspective. Eventually the game will get rolling and you'll be able to transition from one scene to the next just like in any other game. Just keep an eye out for opportunities to switch your emphasis from one influence to another and keep everything in nice digestible chunks so that you and your players can always keep the action focused on the character's personal struggle.

Otherwise, thanks for buying my game. Let me know if there's anything else you need help with. I'd love to hear about your actual play experiences.