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

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Christopher Kubasik:
Hi all,

I was fishing about and came across Brand's thread on using HQ for Earthdawn.  http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13498&sid=2535fc83531afff45cd95b708df1ea18

Several quotes jumped out at me:

Mike: "Since using HQ, I've been, as you say, playing the world [of Shadow World]. Which is what I wanted to begin with."

Brand: "HeroQuest doesn't just allow you to play the Earthdawn game, it allows you to play the Earthdawn world. The game is all about adepts having adventures in kaers and fighting evil empires, the world, however, is about much more than that."

Ron wrote: "Or to put it a different way: Planescape + HeroQuest = awesome Planescape. What's interesting is that setting it up simply erased all the aspects of D&D, such that the Planescape that emerged was a new animal - which happened to be the one we wanted all along."

Now, as a guy who helped create all that Earthdawn background, I got this chill reading Brand getting all excited about about playing the world.  Because that's the part that interested me the most.  I tried to help build a thematically rich place.  The fact that I was working with FASA, who loved building backgrounds waiting for player's imaginations to run rampant with color and theme, meant I could have as much fun as I wanted.

At the same time I know that whenever I was playing the game I got all tangled up in Greg Gordon's wifty -- but ultimately not my cup of tea -- rules about spell matrices and circles and whatnot.

Now that I've been at the Forge a while I can see that my desire to "play the world" I helped build had a lot more to do with a desire to play the thematic material inherent in it than anything else.  The rules were the part I had to get through to kind of get to the stuff I wanted to actually be touching.  So that part I've got down.

What I *don't* have down is the magical quality HQ seems to have for people whereby stripping out the original rules of a setting and using HQ seems to release -- genie-in-a-lamp-like -- the color, setting, themes and ideas that drew everybody to want to play the original game in the first place.  It's not just threads here.  There's a dozen or more testemonials over at RPG.net as well.

Now someone (probably Mike, if anybody) might have covered this already.  And if the link's available, just post 'em.  But if not, I'd love to see what people have to say about this.

I think there's something significant going on here.  People buy new settings to touch and nuzzle against the thematic, emotional, or imaginative elements contained within them.

But it seems as if certain rule designs (or rule design paradigms) have actually blocked people from getting to the the very things they wanted most -- the settings and all the cool stuff attendent to each setting.  (If people are saying, "Now I'm finally playing the world because I'm using HQ," this seems a fair conclusion.)

So my questions are:

What the heck was going on with the way we used to think about rules that blocked getting to the setting?

What the heck does HQ got going for it that's rubbing the lamp of all these richly imaginative settings and letting the genie out of the bottle?



PS This might belong in RPG Theory.  I leave it to the moderator to deal wth.

Hi Chris,

I think what we're seeing is folks finally getting the chance to shed a lot of old habits and assumptions with system.  When you look at HQ, it's an excellent system for Nar OR Sim play, both of which can have a ball with setting and theme.

The beauty of the system in Heroquest is that it leaves the definition of conflict up to the group playing it.

Read that again.  Whether we're talking Planescape, Shadow World, or Earthdawn, the fact is that many systems predefine what conflict and play is about.  You may be wanting to shift the paradigm of the inhabitants in Planescape, but D&D's conflict engine is all Hitpoints and spells.  HQ allows you to pick what exactly is interesting to your group and what factors are important enough to take into account.

For some groups, that means niggling over weapon reach, metal forging techniques, individual handgrips and stances in combat, etc.  For other groups, its all about emotional confrontations, calling people out and emotional revelations.  HQ is a plug and play system.  Pick what matters, and that is your conflict.  That's the genie.


Good points.

Something I´d add, although it´s really only relevant on Sim-HQ:

HQ allows Culture, Belief and similar concepts to matter, even if the campaigns/games central conflict isn´t really about Culture or Belief. Compare HQ Homeland or Religion keywords with most other games out there:

Most games either ignore culture alltogether or only take it for some minor "powerz", like D&Ds "All elves are competent with Elven Exotic Weapons as Martial Weapons" and similar stuff. This is, in a way, understandable, as it is harder to display cultural (or racial, or religious...) differences with a set of generic rules. Often, this is the skill systems "fault", as it has a set of skill that apply to all and everyone in the game and thus have a hard time accounting for individual differences, like, dunno, a Fremens specific cultural background, for example. Of course, this can be done, for example by a "Specialisation"-system, but these often are used more for things that "are really usefull" for the character. (Especially in point-buy systems.)

Heroquest allows, through keywords and player-created abilities, to display a characters cultural, religious, racial, whatever,... background without making the system needlessly complicated or making the character less "usefull". It doesn´t punish the players for having characters that focus on their heritage.

Does that make sense?


When describing the HQ system to the players in my Song of Ice and Fire RPG, I said something along the lines of “What you have to understand is that the HQ system doesn’t give you ideas, it supports the ideas you already have. In most RPGs you think of a vague action you want to take, look at your sheet for crunchy factors to enable it, and by doing that focus the general intent into a specific action. You may then add description/stunts on top of that, but in the end you get a lot of your direction, crunch, and support from looking to the system first. In HQ you have to have your idea first, and then use the system to give it dramatic play support. You won’t have a list of maneuvers to scroll down, or a bunch of charms to choose from – so if you look to the system to tell you what to do, you’ll find it becoming a been counter system where APs go back and forth without meaning or direction. But when you have clear ideas about what you want to do, when you go in with a goal and a desire to do something, then the system will support you in taking the actions you want to without the interference that’s trained you not to do that in other systems.”

HQ has the ability to support doing what you think is important, rather than being an overly large set of assumed conditions about what you should want to do and what the focus of the rules support needs to be.

Let’s put my bumbling Earthdawn conversion aside for a second, and look at Neel’s Mage conversion in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13823

This is an excellent, sterling, beautiful example of HQ conversion bringing out things about the Mage universe that the normal game fumbles. Neel, through his understanding of the setting and the concepts of paradigm and consensus has built a very simple conversion that allows the fundamental ideas of magic as presented in Mage to really shine. It’s a setting in which you can suddenly actually have mechanical support for changing consensus, in which paradigm is the thing that lets you do magic, and in which the crunch is broken down in order to let players more fully define what magic will actually do.

Even my objection to the sample keyword was just another example of deciding what was important. Neel apparently liked the very traditional Vajrayāna image of Akashic monks, where I like to do a more urban-fusion magic of the mosaic style setup for my traditions. In defining which abilities and assumptions we would give to the keyword we decide exactly what we want our game to be.

Now, to a degree this is nothing new – because it’s almost like building your own game based on someone else’s setting. Whenever you convert a game you do so because you aren’t getting what you want out of the game with the current engine, and when you make the decisions to switch over you (hopefully) do so in a way that brings out the things that you like. Its just that HQ, because of it’s extremely open drama-rather-than-effect system makes such conversions easy.  

Well, not easy. They become easy once you’ve decided exactly what it is you want out of your game, which can be a hard enough thing on its own. By focusing on issues and situation from the ground up, and making the level of focus they get depend on what you want, HQ really lets you ask "What matters to this setting, and how do I make it happen in game?"

Russell Hoyle:
In regard to HeroQuest's ability to bring more life and vibrancy to a setting, I feel I should also highlight an effect Mike Holmes has described before.

In preparing Keywords for a specific setting, one is in fact applying a filter that removes much of the game crunch whilst highlighting the colour.

I have found this very thing when I have been converting parts of a setting/adventure (d20 Worlds Largest Dungeon) to my beloved HeroQuest. The generic Ogre with a club just becomes so much more interesting when you apply the HeroQuest filter...

Instead of worrying about armour class hit points and damage, the abilities I included in my conversion of said ogre included a lot of things from my own imagination about Bragdor... things I don't think would have been a consideration if I relied only on the d20 stat block:

Bragdor the Ogre

Large 8M            
Tough 1M
Great Club Brawling 19M       
[Great Club +7]         
[Hide Armour +3]
Throw Javelin 19
[Large Javelins +4]
Dark Vision 19         
Strong 11M
Clumsy 18            
Stupid 2M
Naive 14            
Ugly 19
Alert 19            
Sharp Hearing 2M
Hit Harder Charm 18

I am sure Mike Holmes could expand on his experiences...



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