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[Orccon][HeroQuest] Completing the discussion

Started by Christopher Kubasik, February 22, 2009, 07:40:10 PM

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Christopher Kubasik

(edited in at Christopher's request: this thread has been split from Orccon][HeroQuest] In Glorantha, of all places! - RE)

So, a full year and two computer crashes, I'm finally finishing this post.

To recap:

A convention game.  The Players (who I don't know, and who don't know each other), each created characters with 100 word descriptions, per the HeroQuest rules.  We're focused on a Heortling village.

Alandres is the father of two sons in a Heortling tribe.  He is currently courting a woman of the tribe, Daleeta, who is pregnant with their child.  Daleeta is also secretly worshipping the Red Goddess.

Torkan is the younger son.  He's a rebel working to spark a rebellion against the ruling Lunars (who worship the Red Goddess).

Iskalli is the older brother, more level headed than Torkan.  He is a bard and is a devotee of Orlanth's aspect of Destor.

Chris is playing Alandres.  Alandres' Goal is "To get over mourning wife."  Alandres' Kicker is, "I found the woman I've been courting is pregnant.

Scott is playing Torkan.   Torkan's Goal is "To spark the rebellion against the Lunar Empire."  Torkan's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is pregnant."

David is playing Iskalli.  Iskalli's Goal is "To protect and preserve the ways and worship of Orlanth."  Iskalli's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is worshipping the Red Goddess."

When we last left off the fiction of the game (post #11 on the previous page), Alandres and Torkan had a confrontation.  Alandres – despite Torkan's desire to have Alandres break off the courtship – remains committed to Daleeta.  Meanwhile, Iskalli has confronted Daleeta and rather than turning her in, begs her not to draw his father into her worship of the Red Goddess.  Daleeta relents.

So, in the next scene, Alandres, impatient with his Torkan's insolence, spreads word that everyone should gather in the great lodge for an announcement. 

Both Iskalli and Torkan know what this means: He's announcing the marriage.  The brothers confer.  Iskalli doesn't reveal what he knows about Daleeta, fearing for her life.  When Torkan insists they have to stop his father from pursuing the marriage, Iskalli has to hold back. To speak further might risk revealing Daleeta's worship of the Red Goddess. 

They go to the lodge, assembling with the other villagers.

I pause.  I realize I've got a great Bang sitting in front of me.  I toss it to the Players.  I say, "Everyone is gathered. Everyone except one person: Daleeta."

Bangs are a tool from the game Sorcerer.  But because of how I set up the HeroQuest game, I feel comfortable using them in play.  We have rich characters with lots of passion and conflicts in a situation rich setting.  I've started them with Kickers.  I know if I use Bangs in this game it's going to work fine.

When I say Bangs are a tool from the game Sorcerer, I don't mean that GM have never tossed emotionally and ethically grabby material that demand action on the part of the Players' characters before.  I am saying that Sorcerer was unique in using Bangs as a regular procedure of game play on the part of the GM.  In other games, Bangs might or might not come up.  In Sorcerer, the GM used Bangs the same way other GMs use calls for Initiative rolls or Skill Checks – they are a regular part of the interaction between the GM and the Players.  They are a regular part of driving play.

There is a sometimes confusion about Bangs – how to use them, what makes them effective.  This is in part because Bangs are more of an art than a science.  But I want to address a few points.

First, a lot of people think that a Bang is some sort of emotionally and ethically grabby situation that the GM tosses at the Players.  And this is, in part true.  But the other half of the equation is the reaction from the Players via their characters.  (And I would say this is the more important part.)  The real magic of a Bang is that they offer the Player an open-ended opportunity to reveal who the Player's character.

Second, Bangs should not fly at the Player Characters randomly as if shot out of thin air in arbitrary fashion like moral dilemmas tossed at students by an aggressive Jesuit in an ethics class. Bangs always grow out of the fiction.  I have no idea why this is confusing to people, but I've seen lots of posts where people claim Bangs are created without any concern for the continuity of the fiction.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is nothing arbitrary about them.  They are as functional and cohesive as the grabby emotional and moral crises that slam characters in good movies for TV shows.  In fact, they are exactly like those.

Third, Bangs are not there to fuck the Players over or make the Players feel terrible or take away the fun they've been having.  I always – I mean always – try to make Bangs a gift to my Players.  During character creation, and then further during play, my Players have made it clear to me that there are certain things that interest them.  It might be an NPC.  It might be a theme.  It might be anything.  In the context of the game at hand, every player expressed interest in Daleeta.  When I toss a Bang onto the table before my Players, I want it to be like red meat tossed before folks hungry for red meat.  It should give the Players (all of them or one of them, depending on the context) more to play with about the person or thing or situation they've already expressed interest in.

Fourth, Bangs are NOT two pronged moral dilemmas in a no win situation.  The definition of a Bang requires that the choice at hand be open-ended.  Even if you slam a Player with two choices, the Player could have his character rip off his super-hero mask and say, "Fuck this hero noise, I'm going home."  The GM must have NO expectation of what the Players will do when confronted with a Bang.  He can never say, "Well, of course they'll decide to rescue the girl."  He can never say, "Well, of course the priest will break his vow and sleep with the goddess since the fate of the world is at stake."  He can never say, "Of course they'll either turn left or right," because, of course, the Players could just back up and leave.  (Avoiding having to make a decision is making a decision, of course.)  The extrapolation of this, of course, is that that a Bang can never be about choosing between one of two options since the options before the Players are utterly open.  Moreover, to try to jigger no-win situations is absurd since the Players might eagerly jump to one choice – often surprising everyone at the table.  (Some Bangs might be no win situations, but that's up to the Players to define.)

Fifth, the point of a Bang is to offer the Players a chance to reveal who their character is.  It might be a big choice.  It might be a small choice.  And it might be a choice of so little interest to the Players that they ignore it, not even recognizing it as a Bang (that can happen).  It isn't about a Big Moral Issue.  Bangs are about moral issues because that's going to be the most interesting thing for a Player to grab onto to reveal the character.  But don't be them backward.  Revealing character through choices about emotionally and ethically grabby material is the point, not performing an oral dissertation about a moral issue.

In general, I think of Bangs like this.  The GM walks up behind the PC with a wooden block in each hand and SLAMS them together about four inches behind his head.  The Bang might be violent or subtle or horrifying or emotionally riveting... but the key is this: Where does the PC jump?  The PC will jump at the sound of the noise, but where to?  That is the key.  That's why we have Bangs.  Because they make the PC jump somewhere, and we want to know where.  And then, once the PC has jumped to a specific place through specific choices, we cycle through more fiction based off of where he landed till we reach another place where a Bang would be appropriate and then we toss a Bang again.
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Christopher Kubasik


So.  We've got a father and two sons all in a tussle about a pregnant woman the father is planning on marrying, and one of the sons confronted her earlier about her secret worship of a conquering goddess, and the whole village has gathered to hear the announcement of the marriage, and the ONLY person who isn't there is the pregnant woman...

Everyone sees that this is a Bang, right?

A Bang isn't, "Do you save the Baby or do you save your Wife!!!!" over and over again.  A Bang is tossing an emotionally and ethically grabby moment of fiction to the Players that demands a decision or action on the part of the characters that is open ended in the action or choice.

We've got a guy who has been courting a woman – a woman who is carrying his child. A son who wants his father to STOP being involved with this woman.  Another son who confronted her about her secret faith and offered to keep it a secret.  All three of the PCs are invested in Daleeta in terms of story, and each of them needs to jump somewhere when it turns out that Daleeta has fled the village.

Which is exactly what has happened.  Alandres orders everyone to scour the village for Daleeta.  But she doesn't turn up.  The only thing missing is her bag – which Iskalli knows holds her small idol of the Goddess.

Iskalli fesses up what he knows to his father and brother – that Daleeta has been secretly worshipping the Red Goddess.  They all assume she's fled north toward the Lunar heartland.

Here's the thing: I, as the GM, have no idea what will happen next.  They might pursue her.  Or they might come to blows as Torkan struggles to keep his father from following her.  Or Iskalli, perhaps feeling guilty for confronting her, rushes off to help her escape. Or the father might rush off to hunt her down Torkan might head off on his own to find her and kill her before his father finds her.

So, here's what happens.  The family gathers up.

There's this scene where Alandres starts issuing commands, becoming once more the man of action he was before his wife's death.  Torkan really is digging this.  This is the way he wanted this father to be.  He gets behind his father.  Iskalli, the peacemaker, throws his weight in with his father and brother as they start to bond.

A family that was being torn reaching a fight because of a young, pregnant woman is now brought together because the woman has vanished.

Torkan uses the tracking abilities he has to blaze a trail of wind through the tall grass of the plains to follow Daleeta.  They set off to find her before she can find shelter in a Lunar stronghold. 

During the chase, the Chris establishes a bit of fiction for Alandres that stuns me.  I ask him if he wants to write down a Trait for his love of Daleeta to get some bonuses for tracking her down.  He says, "Alandres doesn't care about her.  He wants his child."

I'm all, "Wow. Cold!"  But it's a cool revelation of character.  So have him write down "Loves unborn child 17" and he's able to use this as an augmentation. 

They track her to a frontier fort of the Lunars.  They shout taunts and threats at the Lunars.  The Lunars shout back.  They catch a glimpse of Daleeta on the upper platform of the fort's wall.  Alandres demands they give her back, telling his history and telling the Lunars she's carrying the child. 

The Lunars refuse, and Iskalli taunts them with incidents where Lunars lost to the Heortling in the past.  (It's all getting very Homer right now.)  Somehow the father and two sons prick the pride of the Lunars through some clever use of Traits and dice rolls to get the Lunars to commit to a fight – one warrior against one warrior, with the winner getting to keep Daleeta.  (It's now VERY Homer.)

Torkan steps up as the family's champion.  Alandres, who you'll recall had trait of Ashamed of Son 13 toward Alandres paints his body with runes of combat – now losing that shame as his son steps up for him.  Iskalli starts singing a song about the one-on-one fight about to take place and elevates it as a representation about the entire Lunar vs. Heortling struggle.

We get the fight.  Torkan vs. a big Lunar bruiser.  Alandres and Iskalli augmenting with traits in cool ways.  In that "world is magic" way of Glorantha, images of previous wars float up around the two combatants as they pound away at each other...

We get a cool extended contest.  And then Torkan wins, pounding the Lunar champion to the ground.

The Lunars keep their word, giving up Daleeta.  The Heortling father and sons lead her, wrists bound, back to their village, and we wrap the game.

To review, here's how the Players kicked off their characters when we started play:

Chris is playing Alandres.  Alandres' Goal is "To get over mourning wife."  Alandres' Kicker is, "I found the woman I've been courting is pregnant.

Scott is playing Torkan.   Torkan's Goal is "To spark the rebellion against the Lunar Empire."  Torkan's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is pregnant."

David is playing Iskalli.  Iskalli's Goal is "To protect and preserve the ways and worship of Orlanth."  Iskalli's Kicker is, "I find out Daleeta is worshipping the Red Goddess."

Notice that we hit all the Goals and Kickers by the time we wrapped.  Alandres has gotten over mourning his wife.  He may be one cold, scary mutherfucker, but in his search to get his unborn child back he manned up.  Torkan has battled a Lunar champion and defeated him in a conflict that will be sung around the Heortling lands – the recapture of a worshipper of the Red Goddess so a father could raise his son "the right way."  And Iskalli, singing songs of Orlanthi triumph, aided his brother's victory and is now singing songs of a new victory in their occupied lands.

But note this too: This would be a kick-ass session to start a whole HeroQuest campaign that could run for months and months. 

Let's say that Torkan HAS sparked a rebellion against the Lunars.  This incident – the reclaiming of Daleeta IS the defining moment that starts the rise of Heortling uprising against the Lunar Empire.  Why not?  Are not the Players' characters the heroes of the epic?  In my book they are.  In this telling of the history of Dragon Pass, this is how the rebellion begins.

But also this: Poor Daleeta!  Where will she fit in amid the rising rebellion?  She seems as unhappy to me as any angry queen from a Greek tragedy.  As things stand now, things will not end well.  Will she try to kill Alandres.  Herself?  Her own child?

Speaking of the child... who will he be in this coming rebellion?  I see him as a focal point for both the Lunars and the Heortlings, who would use him more a symbol than an actual boy.  But someone might be more concerned about him as a child – his mother.  Maybe Iskalli.  Perhaps there would be a plan to whisk him away from the conflict?  Perhaps the gods themselves will take an interest in him?  (Answer: yes.)

Or maybe, just maybe, Alandres and Daleeta might over time find a way of finding love?  Who knows?  I really would like that to be the case, but we'd only find out through play. 

Certainly there'd be enough material here to build out an epic as the family and the war grow and we find out what part the Players' Characters play in the history of Dragon Pass.  Depending on how it played, we might jump a generation and have their sons and daughters become the new PCs if some of these characters die.  Or we might just follow them into old age as the epic of Dragon Pass is written.

So, this is my summary of the convention game.  I hope it shows how the terrific setting and situation from Glorantha is matched with the HeroQuest rules to set up engaging play.  The write up is also an illustration of how I used procedures from Sorcerer and mapped them onto the game's play to compelling effect.

The Players didn't knew each other, nor did I know any of them.  And yet, because they were given the tools of "story stuff" they went to town on-the-fly creating compelling characters.  Although this was a one shot at a convention, it's clear there could be months and months of play grown from this one session.  As the GM I had no adventure or story in mind, but depended on the setting and situations of Glorantha and trusted the instincts of my players, feeding them story material they had already declared they were passionate about. 

Significantly, the Players built conflict between the characters, but there was no conflict between the Players themselves.  In fact, in the course of the narrative the characters only moved toward each other, unifying as a family and leaving their rifts behind in the face of their hatred of the Lunars.

The game had a unity and structure not because of a structure imposed on the Players ("You will all work together" or "This is your mission") but because we collectively built core seeds for ideas (the Heortling/Lunar conflict; Daleeta; a family feud over an impending marriage) and grew the adventure out of these seeds.

It was a blast to play this game.  But the tools and procedures I used are the same I use for most games I GM these days, always to the same effective and fun effect.

"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield

Xose Lucero

QuoteOkay, you know how sometimes we often remember how someone said, 'Okay, I'm going to go upstairs,'...
Thank you so much for this paragraph. Well, thanks for the others too but this is the one that enlightened me so hard that it stung.

charles ferguson

chris, thank you for finishing this. It's a gift.