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Hero Wars prep for play

Started by Ian Cooper, May 15, 2002, 02:12:34 PM

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Ian Cooper

If this is the right forum here are some notes on my adoption of some of the techniques of scenario design discussed on the forge in prep for play. I'll update you with actual results. If its in the wrong section - please move it.

My Previous Style: My previous style in our Hero Wars games was to write fairly linear adventures. I tended to use a three-act, one-goal, rising action structure, occasionally flirting with two-goal plots and nine acts. Prep work for play concentrated on the set piece scene. Events and plot not character was the key and those events were goal centred. Most scenes were set at a crisis or revelation scenes using branching and player choice to create the illusion that the players were not railroaded. Scenes always drove the story.

The perceived advantages of this style were economy – prep work is not wasted or unused scenes and an avoidance of 'what do we do know?' – players can simply ride the train. Bad experiences of 'lost players' in my own or others attempts at setting based play dissuaded me from that approach.

However we are also ware that this means that I author most of a session, not the players yet some of the finest moments in play come from unscripted situations when the layers exert control of the story.

So clutching Sorcerer and its supplements and a copy of Lajos Egri I have decided to take the plunge into story now, relationship maps, and bangs.

The idea was drawn from one of the player's character background. Mark's character is from the Far Point (see John Hughes site at for the view of this region I am using) and had written into his history that both he and his brother had taken opposite sides during the civil war (the Righteous Wind rebellion). Now kin conflicts are not just nasty but they are taboo for the Orlanthi, disrupting the sacred order, so Mark's character had 'divorced' his kin by joining the cult of Humakt. This relationship had not really come into play before, the current campaign is centred on Wintertop, but the opportunity to travel that way presented itself in game, and it seemed an ideal conflict to try out a new methodology with. This gave me much of the back-story.

Premise: I took me a while to find the premise, but reading Egri really helped. I realised that I had a situation 'Kinstrife' that I wanted to say something about: 'Kinstrife leads to destruction.'  OK I confess, my first thoughts were –so I have a premise – so what, but I came to appreciate it later.

Relationships: A major difference in prep here.  Usually I create characters to fill roles in the various scenes of the plot, with recurring characters providing continuity in the campaign. I admit that starting prep with the setting and characters felt awkward.  I was struggling against previous habits. The back-story provided a need for a character based setting, so I could see the potential value, which helped on the first time out. Ron suggests that noir detective fiction provides a source for the Relationship Map. I used The Dogs of Winter by Ken Nunn, which is not in Ron's preferred list. I have to admit that either because of that, or because I already had too clear an idea of what I intended I found it hard to use the Relationship Map I generated. It did however offer many new insights. For example Orlanthi are patriarchal and exogamous, they marry outside the clan. As I converted the Relationship Map it became clear to me that the women's birth clan, and its allegiances could have a huge effect on the relationships being played out.  It may be that I need to go to one of Ron's bibliography of detective novels but for Hero Wars games and particularly for Orlanthi games, I am tempted to try using Icelandic sagas as the source for relationship maps.

Story Now: The crises in the situation played out in the scenario came from the arrival of the players. Mark's characters return to his former home is a crisis in itself, opening the wounds of the civil war.

Events: Now I understood the value of premise. I needed to decide how the characters I had created would react to the crisis – this could have been directionless guessing, but armed with the premise I was bale to see in which direction to push the players with events.  I have tried to prep the events more thinly than usual. I don't want to create too great an emotional investment in the appearance or non-appearance of a scene or the direction that it took.

Impression: It was a struggle at first, mainly I believe due to the need to unlearn old reactions but the results are good so far: new insights into character relationship and the events wrote themselves in a different form to those I might otherwise have picked had I been authoring them in scenes. I still need a lot of practice with this method, but I like the results enough to continue prepping this way.

Anyway play is Thursday night so I'll let you know how it goes at the weekend

joshua neff


Have you seen the two threads in the Hero Wars forum in which Ron & some others are working up a Hero Wars narrative? It's really good reading for those of us (like me) who are interested in Hero Wars but not lifelong Glorantha-philes & are a bit wary of starting up running Hero Wars.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Ron Edwards

Hi Ian,

Good luck with the session. The only advice I'd give at this time is to accept the possibility of a fairly short session. A lot of people who try what you're trying are thrown by the very different time/effort/event relationship during actual play. Therefore, during the session, the GM is confronted by (a) a lot happening, some of it climactic, all of it interesting and demanding further thought and prep; and (b) not as much real time passing, and not as much effort expended, which he automatically thinks means that the group has to keep going. The usual response is to keep playing, which means things become scattered over the next hour.

See, without a key set-piece to work toward (and which the players are automatically tagged to "win" due to GM illusionism), the GM has to use a different "stop" signal. What stop signal will it be? I suggest recognizing that the content of (a) is a better stop signal than the personal fatigue of (b).


Ian Cooper

I have seen Ron's running thread on starting a Hero Wars game. I'm watching with interest to see how it develops.

I have briefed the players that we are adopting a different approach this session, partly because I want them to be aware I am ready to react to their authorship. I expect we will find it sticky the first time around, becuase we are used to it being more of a train ride - get on and the train proceeds to its destination, regardless of your input.

I'll watch for the point to finish, hopefully I will recognize it, though that may grow easier with experience - but, yes, when we have tried a setting based approach before a problem has been the percieved pressure on the GM to keep going rather than call a halt, regroup, and re-prep.  So that is a danger. I'll mention this to the players too.

Forewarned is forearmed, I'll make it one of the points to let the forge know how I think I did on.

Ron Edwards

Hi Ian,

Actually, I strongly advise that you don't do any more pre-game discussion. You've convinced them to do X, and any more "now be ready to do it this way, because we're doing X," is going to be counter-productive.

Imagine it to be a lot like sex. Once you get past "Yes, let's," the chance is high that further negotiatory or preparatory discussion will backfire.

So don't talk about "when to end" the session beforehand. Don't talk about how you're going to GM any more. Their only concern at the moment is whether this is going to Truly Suck or not, and any negotiation about the details will imply, to most people, that it will.

As for their acceptance of shared authorship, I suggest (if your players are anything like the people I've played with) that they simply don't believe you. Even if they believe you a little, their habits of play will kick in immediately. So don't even bother; just you make sure you're using their cues during play.


Ian Cooper

Point taken - I'll just 'screw my courage to the sticking place' and avoid overanalyzing.

Thanks for the advice.