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Author Topic: Oh, the Horror... (An Invitation to HeroQuest Brainstorming)  (Read 3432 times)
Scripty
Member

Posts: 286


« on: October 27, 2003, 12:59:40 PM »

Hello, all.

First, let me qualify this by saying that it is more of a brainstorming exercise than an actual question or criticism of the HeroQuest system.

HeroQuest is a very fast-paced game which also seems to lean towards cinematic and dramatic play. It's my opinion that the system itself is either so transparent that relationships and narration are pushed to the forefront or so abstract that it forces the group to focus on the drama of the situation rather than the mechanics. I'm not sure which is the case or even if it is an either/or situation between the two. But I digress...

The key is that, in HeroQuest, relationships come forward in a way that I haven't come across in other RPGs. This can lead to very emotive play (as I have seen in my last game) and very dramatic play. However, my gut reaction is that HeroQuest works best on the high-end of player protagonism at a mythic, action-hero level of play.

Now, the brainstorm or challenge I put forth is to turn my gut reaction on its head and look at how HeroQuest might be used to best effect in the Horror genre. I'm not promoting HeroQuest as a panacea for all genres (woohoo! Paranoia-HeroQuest!), but rather I'm looking at this system which promotes drama and relationships and thinking, "Man, it seems like it *should* work, but why do I think it wouldn't?"

Personally, my favorite horror games are Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies. I have seen others on this board do conversions for Buffy, a modern dark fantasy with horrific elements. But how would you approach horror with the HeroQuest system?

First, could it work? Would you have players come in with uber-weak characters? Would you introduce a new mechanic like Call of Cthulhu's Sanity stat or Unknown Armies' Madness Meter? Or would you use the HeroQuest system itself to promote a similar effect in play and, if so, how? Further, which genre of horror would you run with HeroQuest? Gothic horror? Slasher? Better yet, which genres have you run? Or have you run "spooky" games in Glorantha with Hero Wars/HeroQuest?

Personally, I haven't seen this topic addressed yet on this forum and I like putting new systems through their "paces" so to speak, in order to stretch them to their limits if for no other reason than to know the limits are there. We know HeroQuest can do the mythic, but how about the CRYPTic?

So, please join me in this brainstorming exercise as we explore the boundaries of Robin and Greg's game.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2003, 03:11:15 PM »

Think about running a session of Hero Quest for Halloween that had a lot of horror elements. Would it work? Sure it would. In fact, I agree with you that it would be great. But why?

Well, we've been over this a lot before in other fora here, but what's scary? Well, first we have to have the players associating with the characters emotionally. Not neccessarily in the "channeling" way, but in any way. The way in which you feel for the characters in a movie is fine. But how does that happen?

Well, you make them human. That means giving them flaws, emotions of their own, and stuff to be emotional about. And the "what to be emotional about" comes down to relationships in a lot of cases. Even when it's the character's job on the line, that only matters in the context of what his family will think, right?

So, that's why HQ will work. By making us create real-seeming characters with real depth, we associate with them one way or another.

But then what? How do we play the actual session? Well, we put the characters into scary situations. That doesn't mean fighting a troll. Why isn't that scary? Because it's what the character is probably used to doing. Well, if your character is like mine, with no combat skilz, then he's going to get really stressed by the troll. But for warriors, trolls are out. What you have to do is create situations where there's great potential for loss, and the character seems to have inadequate tools for solving the situation.

That's the key right there. The player has to have the ability to make any decision, but have all the decisions seem bad. That induces the stress response. In another thread, someone talked about something like having the option to either have the character shoot someone that they care about, or to be shot themselves. Or like the scene in the road warrior where the guy has the option to cut off his own hand or be burned to death in an explosion.

The problem with "no-win" situations is that you're forcing the character into a place where he's going to be damaged in some way. Note how in my Road Warrior example, this is an "NPC" that the main character Max entraps. So coming up with situations that the characters can squeak out of but not suffer is difficult. In fact, that sort of thing tends to devolve into suspense instead of horror. You almost have to harm the characters in order to get the horror.

But the key is to do this by attacking the things the character values. Most obviously, his relationships. The RW example is even more scary for the PC being the one doing it. The only way to get that sort of play is by asking the player for it by doing something equally horrific to him earlier in the plot. Like Max's family being killed. Twice the horror, once from the bad event, and then more from the character acting horrifically.

That's the other key. Present the characters with extreme situations. Kill a lover, and that Relationship Ability is now going to be best used for revenge. Get the players to scare each other.

Now, again, this is tricky. If you kill off these characters without the PC having a chance to intervene, this is often seen as "wrecking" a character, because they may no longer resemble the character that the player started with. But done judiciously, it works well.

This is why extended horror is not a great idea, IMO. Only so many ways to threaten a particular individual. After a while they become "hardened" to it (ala Unknown Armies). So horror is best done on a smaller scale. One-shots, or just a pivotal event in a normal RPG campaign.

Happy Halloween,
Mike
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simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 678


« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2003, 07:51:58 AM »

One of the problems you are likely to face is that while HeroQuest handles relationships very well, much horror fiction including H.P. Lovecraft is actualy about alienation.

Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2003, 08:28:27 AM »

Right, Simon, but what's alienation? Is it exposure to the alien? Emphatically not. In fact, stories about the world coming in contact with aliens are inevitably about banding together against them. Alienation is estrangement from existing relationships.

HQ can do this very well. Simply set up situations in which the character can gain something that he wants in an alien way; some way that makes the character alien. Give him the "Summon Shub-Niggurath" spell, but only if he takes "Distant Visage". Such that his relationships will suffer from the side effects (and later when he uses the spell, from the primary effects).

Call this the "Sorcerer" effect. "How weird are you willing to be to get what you want?" Require PCs to have abilities like "Insatiably Curious 15w" and the like to represent their needs. Then play becomes about what the character ends up choosing, the supernatural, or their relationships.

Alienation. It's about the battle between the desirable Alien, and Culture and Relationships. Easy to play up in HQ.

Hell, I'd say that my Shadow World game was pretty horrifically about this sort of thing. The last game we played ended up with a girl of 17 years of age deciding to abandon her family (one of her largest stats), for a position in a bloody cult that she murdered for several times. Going from estranged to completely alienated. Very cool. It's remarkable how a little mechanical incentive in the form of a few magical baubles can lead a PC astray...

Mike
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