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Ufnal

What is the point of abilities and advancement in HQG?

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I'm one of those people who try to get HQ2/HQG and just can't, and will probably end up hacking it for their own benefit. But in the meantime I want to understand what the system is really meant to do before I try to change it. Sorry in advance if you've heard those questions before, and please do not take this as an attack on HQ2/HQG authors nor anybody who plays HQG without problems and has fun with it. 

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As far as I understand, in most RPG games character abilities are supposed to represent a character's "standing" within a fictional world - how good they are in certain things, how probable it is for them to win in particular situations, what sort of effects and actions they can hope to reasonably undertake.

This function of abilities is mostly undercut in HQG. When difficulty is a function of story needs first and credibility second, the ability ratings can't really be used to judge how likely a person is to succeed at a task, becaue their chances of success are based primarily on how interesting/useful/wanted by the GM a success or a failure are, or how the GM wants their players to feel. Even the credibility aspect isn't of much use here - how credible a course of action or an outcome is depends on the character's situation in the world, but this situation has almost nothing to do with their ability numbers. The game clearly states at one point that you can play a beginner heroes campaign and a (super)heroes campaign using the same starting values. What is more, ability advancement only seems to matter for the character's standing in the narrative world in the case of needing an appropriate Rune rating to become Initiate/Devotee/Shaman etc. Outside of that, there's no real reason or incentive to matching the changes of a character's personal power in the narrative to their ability changes - so that a PC Humakti hero who wins great Death powers from several heroquests and his companion, another PC and a simple Orlanthi freeman who spent most of the Otherworld adventures guarding the perimeter and didn't really have any increases in power in-world, can have their main Rune keywords at exactly the same level (provided that their players both sensibly kept putting their hero points into their main Rune) - which creates a huge disrepancy between the power within the narrative and the power within the mechanics. [I imagine a clever GM can circumvent that, for example by giving the Humakti the glorious fights against enemy leaders and the freeman the crucial yet less dangerous and glorious tasks such as rallying the footmen in the main fight - but this doesn't solve the problem for me].

So HQG Abilities aren't really able to show how good a character is in the world. So maybe they are just measurements of a character's narrative power, how well they can impose themselves onto the story and make it go their way by engaging it with a particular aspect of themselves? This makes more sense, but still has its problems. With the changing base value of difficulty - and the GM advice to adjust it to compensate for how much the players spend for abilities and how they augment - it seems like the system is designed to make a particular difficulty level always as challenging as it was in the beginning. I may be wrong about that, because I don't think the maths and intentions behind the process are described clearly enough, but what I took away from reading the chapter was that ideally a character that spends a regular amount of points on improvement will face roughly the same odds against a Very High difficulty, no matter whether it's Session 2 or Session 20. Which means that the "narrative power" of the character, their ability to conquer unlikely odds etc. stays the same despite the changing numbers.

This leaves me with a feeling that ability numbers in HQG exists only for the players to decide which parts of their character is what they want to describe all the time and which only seldom, and character advancement exists solely to give the players an illusion of achieving something that is expressed in numbers and not just in story terms, because... I don't know, the numbers feel good, even without actually representing things? I hate this feeling and I am left with a need to anchor  the numbers in *something*, which is what I'll be probably doing. But I'm no RPG expert, unlike the people working on this system (this is unironic, your work is really appreciated), so it's quite possible I'm missing something. Or it's possible that this was precisely the intent and it's just something I'm not into.

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These are some interesting and thought provoking observations! 

I see the nature of abilities, difficulties, and contests a little differently than you've described. Here's a caveat - I'm not going to support any of this with references to rules. This is just my approach to running HQ. Some of it is based on published rules, some of it is just me doing my own thing.

The difficulty of a contest can be based on narrative requirements, but it doesn't have to be. If you're not running a campaign that has defined dramatic marks that you must meet, some contest difficulties should be based on your interpretation of the situation rather than dramatic impact. This can add an element of unpredictability to the story that might lead it in new directions. 

Even if you are establishing difficulty based on narrative impact, you should still take into account the actual difficulty of the task (unless the contest is an automatic success - more on that in a moment). It might be cooler if your party slipped through enemy lines without being noticed, but that doesn't mean it should be easy. Set the DN where you think it should be. Let the players spend Hero Points if things go too far south or, if they don't want to do that, let the narrative go where it will. Sometimes things are actually cooler when they go off script. 

Automatic successes are a narrator's best friend, especially if you apply consequences despite success. If the story requires the players to slip through enemy lines without being caught, let them do that. Still have them make a contest as difficult as you think the task should actually be and apply consequences that the party feels despite their success. Maybe they're forced to kill a sentry and have to figure out what to do with the body to avoid detection. Maybe they succeed but leave a clear trail that means pursuit will be hot on their heels, or the succeed, but only by leaving all their mounts and most of their gear behind. Or a beloved sidekick or follower is captured/killed on the way out . . . 

Differences in ability levels should have a huge impact on play. Mechanically, mastery advantages can be gross ("Oh, you rolled a critical, well I bump that down to a fumble). So can benefits of victory. The narration of contest results should be directly impacted by ability ratings, too. A complete victory from a 9W3 Humakti rune lord should be spectacularly different than one from a 18W housecarl, and the inverse is true of complete failures.

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This is why I prefer HQ1's scale of masteries. I couldn't get my head around improvement in HQ2, what differentiates someone who is really good at something from someone who isn't, when the dramatic impact is the same.

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Part of how you adjust the dials for your desired play experience is deciding how much ability ratings concretely measure in-fiction capability vs measure abstract plot oomph. 

This goes hand in hand with the complementary choice of setting resistance based on how credible in-fiction it is for a given ability to solve a particular problem vs setting resistance based on narrative pacing.

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This is actually something of a truism for most of not all RPGs. What happens is that the characters adventure and improve, but then get tougher missions and opponents, so the character improve even more, go on even tougher missions and face even more tougher opponents, and the process keeps repeating. So in the en d character improvement leads to higher difficulties to compensate, which can make you wonder what the advantage there was to improvement. It's more oblivious in HQ2, where the difficulty is set to the length of the campaign and character advancement, and in level based games, where everything is designed realtive to the level of the PCs, but it exists in some form in most, if not all, RPGs, and for a good reason. Namely to keep the game challenging.

Now some skill based games, including most BRP derivatives can sidestep that somewhat thanks to the inherent risk with their game mechanics. In a game like RuneQuest of Call of Cthulhu, a good spear hit tot he chest almost always has the chance of killing a PC in one hit, so there is less need to escalate the opposition, and its' possible to use an absolute scale of competency instead of a relative one (like HQ1's scale of masteries as mentioned by soltakss). 

 

This is also why some RPGs, such as some of the FUDGE/FATE derivatives don't have character improvement as it is a net zero game, especially in a game system with opposed rolls and a bell curve. If both the PCs and their opponents get a +1 to their rolls, it cancels out, so why bother?

I think the real point of abilities and advancement in HQG is that some sort of improvement system is expected by players., and not having one would not be received well. It might be better to replace character improvement with a way for players to change abilities around and maybe award more Hero Points. 

 

Edited by Atgxtg
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Thank you for the answers! I do gravitate towards more simulationist approach in setting difficulty. Using succeeding at a cost instead of lowering the resistance for story reasons seems like a great compromise (not the Great Compromise, but close) and I think it's one of the clever parts of the rules. However I wouldn't fully agree with the comparison between HQ2 and level-based games - in the latter the scaling of difficulty and mechanical power is directly connected to the characters having new possibilities in fiction (higher level spells and special powers, ability to have retainers etc.) and facing new challenges (more fearsome monsters, more dangerous dungeons), so while the progression of mechanical power vs mechanical difficulty may seem to be stagnant, character advancement is kept exciting by all the new things that become possible. No such direct link in HQG.

 

One thing I was thinking about was setting fixed difficulties based on where the characters start and where you expect them to end up. If planning a Taming of the Dragon Pass campaign with the characters as promising youngsters just after initiation and the endgame being Tribe-making, you will probably set the fighting difficulty of an average fyrdmen somewhere near the mean value of the characters' best fighting abilities (so that they feel they start not much better than the average man), a weaponthane's fighting difficulty at around a mastery higher (so that they need to get some adventures under their belts before they can measure up to the professionals) and a Humakt Devotee that's supposed to be the "final boss" at around 2 masteries + change higher, so that he's unreachable at the start but becomes a challenging yet winnable fight in 20-30 sessions. If on the other hand you wanted a story about seasoned adventures answering Argrath's call, an average weaponthane's difficulty should be lower than the characters' best fighting abilities and the level of 2-3 masteries above them will probably be Kallyr-level heroes (or, if you want to end on an epic note, Harrek-level?)

 

I also wonder whether there's any point to trying to write up NPCs like PCs and playing out the conflicts in a traditional RPG style.

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54 minutes ago, Ufnal said:

I also wonder whether there's any point to trying to write up NPCs like PCs and playing out the conflicts in a traditional RPG style.

Just look at the HQG Coming Storm and 11 Lights books.  Lots of NPC's written up to play out conflict including Keyword, Faction, Look/Appearance, and Magic, not to mention an overall description of the character. 

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4 hours ago, Ufnal said:

 However I wouldn't fully agree with the comparison between HQ2 and level-based games - in the latter the scaling of difficulty and mechanical power is directly connected to the characters having new possibilities in fiction (higher level spells and special powers, ability to have retainers etc.) and facing new challenges (more fearsome monsters, more dangerous dungeons), so while the progression of mechanical power vs mechanical difficulty may seem to be stagnant, character advancement is kept exciting by all the new things that become possible. 

But it is very much a 'eyes on your character sheet" form of improvement. The PC goes up a level and his attack bonus, hit points, and other abilties increase, but he now faces more monsters and/or monster with more hit dice. So it's only kept exciting if you don't look at the big picture. This typically becomes very apprent at higher levels when the PCs go back to some place that they have been at before. Suddenly the place is threatend by there tougher, higher level threats that luckily never noticed the PCs when they were low level, and all those low level threats seemed to have either vanished or now attack the PCs in huge warbands. 

 Back in my AD&D days we used to joke that serfs and hunstmen would have had to be 10th level just to be able to survive the random encounters from day to day existence. 

 

It is just more noticeable in HQ  because of the way HQ uses keywords to handle everything. So there is no real functional difference between  Magic and mundane. So all you really  notice is that your keywords and augments have gone up, and the numerical value. So you don't get the same feeling on learning new things and really improving, especially when die rolls are opposed and you see the opposing values going up too. 

 

4 hours ago, Ufnal said:

One thing I was thinking about was setting fixed difficulties based on where the characters start and where you expect them to end up. If planning a Taming of the Dragon Pass campaign with the characters as promising youngsters just after initiation and the endgame being Tribe-making, you will probably set the fighting difficulty of an average fyrdmen somewhere near the mean value of the characters' best fighting abilities (so that they feel they start not much better than the average man), a weaponthane's fighting difficulty at around a mastery higher (so that they need to get some adventures under their belts before they can measure up to the professionals) and a Humakt Devotee that's supposed to be the "final boss" at around 2 masteries + change higher, so that he's unreachable at the start but becomes a challenging yet winnable fight in 20-30 sessions. If on the other hand you wanted a story about seasoned adventures answering Argrath's call, an average weaponthane's difficulty should be lower than the characters' best fighting abilities and the level of 2-3 masteries above them will probably be Kallyr-level heroes (or, if you want to end on an epic note, Harrek-level?)

Yopu can do that, but I think you'd be better off not statting up the N PCs too far ahead in such a campaign. if the goal is to take out the "final boss" you mightnot want to lock down the final bosses' stats until you see how the campaign goes. 

One of hte things that I don't like about linking the opposition to the PCs advancements is that it encourages the players to focus on a narrow set of abilities, as improving side abilties means falling behind in the relative power ranking. 

4 hours ago, Ufnal said:

I also wonder whether there's any point to trying to write up NPCs like PCs and playing out the conflicts in a traditional RPG style.

Possibly. But  think the end result would be the same if you use HQ. In the end everybody gets reduced to rolling 1D20 against a key ability score with augments, and everything else just becomes "flavor text". But, conversely, it also comes down to how the GM presents stuff, essentially covering that all up. 

This really hold true for all RPGs, in the end it's dice and numbers, but the way it gets presented is what makes it exciting or not. Simplier game mechaics are easier to run and understand, but that also makes them easier to "see through". 

I think that considering the direction HQ has gone in, it might just make more sense to get rid of NPC stats and rolls entirely and just treat  it all as modifiers to the PCs rolls, somehow., but that would be a bit radical.

 

It kinda hold true 

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7 hours ago, Ufnal said:

I also wonder whether there's any point to trying to write up NPCs like PCs and playing out the conflicts in a traditional RPG style.

You could do that but you don't have to. HQ1 was more this way, actually. There are couple of things to take into account:

  1. Not every resistance is NPC. You still have to come up with resistance values for contests that don't involve NPCs.
  2. You probably end up still fudging the NPC stats depending on the case and the contest goal. If your PCs would be fighting the Humakti sword it would fight with its full ability. If the PCs are running away from him you would probably lower his ability for this task (or give him a penalty, rules-wise). So, the resistance depends on the framing of the contest.
  3. Multiple opponents are easier. Given you are not using Extended Contest you can just lump the three mooks the hero is beating behind one resistance and one roll. If you would stick to the NPC stats you would either roll three times (that worsens the possibilities) or calculate average effectively giving a single resistance.

You have more freedom (and less prep) doing it the HQ-way. Of course "statting" the NPCs beforehand makes it easier for you to roleplay them even if not using the actual stats.

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Do as little or as much NPC detail as you find useful and worth the effort.

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12 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

This is actually something of a truism for most of not all RPGs. What happens is that the characters adventure and improve, but then get tougher missions and opponents, so the character improve even more, go on even tougher missions and face even more tougher opponents, and the process keeps repeating. So in the en d character improvement leads to higher difficulties to compensate, which can make you wonder what the advantage there was to improvement.

I think the problem here is with games with linear progression, which is something WotC-era D&D editions and HeroQuest have in common. In games like BRP and the RoleMaster family (and in fact most rpg systems), increasing skills become more and more difficult as skill level grows.

I also think the idea that only skill tests that have a significant chance of failing are interesting is flawed. The difficulty classes and skills increasing at the same rate is a consequence of that idea.

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3 hours ago, Mugen said:

I think the problem here is with games with linear progression, which is something WotC-era D&D editions and HeroQuest have in common. In games like BRP and the RoleMaster family (and in fact most rpg systems), increasing skills become more and more difficult as skill level grows.

No the problem still exists regardless of the ease/speed of progression. Once a PK hits 10th level or Sword 120% or whatever that is where they are and what the GM/adventures has to deal with. If a Gm starts a campaign with experienced characters the problem is instantly there. If you start a camapign qith high level characters the problem exists even though there has been no progression or advancement.

The problem comes from  having to rate difficulties and  opponent's abilities relative to the PCs. That's a dead giveaway that the PCs actual ability doesn't matter. It's not about rate of advancement but how top provide challenge and risk. 

 

Games with levels and increasing hit points really require this, as in such systems PCs have little chance of winning if in over their head. Fights usually aren't decided by one lucky hit, but by a series of rolls.So while there might be a mathematical chance of a 1HD monster beating a 10th level fighter the actual odds of it happening are so remote as to enter the realm of lottery tickets. Sure Original D&D didn't tie opponent abilities to the PCs but it also had a ridiculously high mortality rate that would prevent any sort of real campaign development. One of the reason why it still worked was because of the  novelty. It's like how a lot of the older computer and arcade games could keep people interested despite very simple play and poor graphics. The overland encounter tables in particular were notorious for that. Generate a new party of first level characters, leave town, run into a dragon or purple worm, get killed repeat. There was a reason why the game evolved into X HD monsters being found on X level and so forth.

With a skill based, fixed hit point system, such as used in RuneQuest, there is always a chance that someone could get lucky and drop the big baddie with one hit. That also means that there is always a risk of it happening to a PC, so weak opponents always remain a threat. The classic example is Rurik Runespear and the trollkin. In a game like D&D the odds of a mook trollkin taking out a Rune Lord in combat are negligible. Even a max damage critical hit from such an opponent isn't going to seriously impair a high level fighter.  So a level and hit point game maintains risk by rating foes abilities relative to the PCs, and by hit point attrition, with the PCs facing multiple foes over time who can whittle their abilities down.

Now there are drawbacks to the skill based approach too. Namely that because there is always a chance that someone could get lucky and drop an opponent with a single hit, there is always a chance of fight becoming anticlimactic when a PC manages to one-shot was was supposed to be a "boss" opponent. Worse still, because there is always a chance that someone could get lucky and drop a PC, there will eventually be unwanted character fatalities, and that can often disrupt a campaign, or ruin a dramatic, cinematic style of campaign. While you want the risk of one of the guys mowing down James Bond with a AK-47 as he dashes across the compound, you don't really want it to actually happen. But you need the threat of that to keep the game exciting. 

HQ is somewhat similar to level based games in this regard in that challenges need to be rated relative to the PCs abilities to remain a challenge, e specially in extended contests. It's a little difference with simple contests, as there is a luck element, provided the abilities scores aren't too far apart. 

 

 

3 hours ago, Mugen said:

I also think the idea that only skill tests that have a significant chance of failing are interesting is flawed. The difficulty classes and skills increasing at the same rate is a consequence of that idea.

Well there are some problems with your theory:

  1. The first sort of depends on what you consider to be a "significant" chance. For instance using the Rurik vs. the Trollkin situation, I consider the chance of the trollkin winning to be "significant enough" in a game like RuneQuest to keep the contest exciting, but not significant enough in a game like D&D, where the fight is just tedious, unless it is followed up by or part of another encounter. For instance if a PC has a couple of masteries on  his opponent and some hero points to bump his rolls the contest isn't going to feel exciting, just tedious. If the PC does loose in such an encounter he will feel more like he was cheated by the dice rather than out though, out skilled or outmaneuvered.
  2. The second problem is one of probabilities, and how it relates to game play. For instance, in most games there is always some chance of failure,  but that chance is usually based more of how the die rolled work rather than a realistic probability of failure. For instance take driving. In games like BRP Call of Cthulhu there is a 5% chance of failure for any roll. Now if the GM makes a character roll to successfully drive to work everyday, then 5% of the time the PC will fail, and probably get fired for missing too much work (or be told to go buy a new car). Extend this to something like piloting an aircraft were failed takeoffs and landings could have more severe consequences and it becomes unplayable. That's why you aren't suppose to make routine rolls in BRP. The jam/mifire chance in  BRP is so high compared to the real world that no firearm in BRP would be approved by a modern army. They are just too unreliable. 
  3. The third problem is one of story and theme. In the end we really don't want the PC to loose. Or at least not to loose permanently -setbacks are fine. But we need a chance of failure, or at least the appearance of a chance, to keep the game exciting. So rolling insignificant chances of failure aren't exciting either because they come off as a cheat or a fluke (i.e. the 5 year old kid who kills a veteran warrior with by rolling a critical hit in RuneQuest), rather than a loss, or because the odds of their happening are so remote as to be tedious (the 1HD goblin that takes down the 10th level fights through an insane series of hits and misses). Yes, both are statistically possible, but neither is actually desirable. We want the risk, but not the actual outcome.

In the end this comes down to dealing with two problems that work counter to each other. The first is that we want the PCs to succeed for story purposes, the second is that we want there to be a risk of failure for sense of accomplishment purposes. And every RPG does a bit of a juggle act to try and reconcile both of those goals. HQ2 does this by rating opposing abilities relative to the PCs, this always ensure the element of risk, but that makes advancement something of an illusion. HQ1 used an "Absolute" scale of rating opponents, which made advancement more significant, but at the risk of some contests reducing risk to the point where they were not interesting anymore. It's a tough balancing act. Both approaches have their merits and their drawbacks. Every GM has run games that were ruined or derailed by fluke die rolls, and games where a constest was so one-sided that actually resolving it was tedious.

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4 hours ago, Mugen said:

I think the problem here is with games with linear progression, which is something WotC-era D&D editions and HeroQuest have in common.

There is a difference in result distributions between those systems, in that while +1 is always a 5% difference in success chance when rolling a d20, the opposed rolls in HQ make the impact of a +1 to ability rating vary depending on the opposing resistance rating. See below the increased chance of obtaining a Marginal Victory or better result as ability rating increases from 13-14 and 18-19 with respect to resistances of 14 and 20:

      13 -> 14     18 ->19
vs R14     +4.25%     +3.5%
vs R20     +3%     +4.25%

(odds calc spreadsheet here)

 

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4 hours ago, Mugen said:

I also think the idea that only skill tests that have a significant chance of failing are interesting is flawed. The difficulty classes and skills increasing at the same rate is a consequence of that idea.

 

21 minutes ago, Atgxtg said:

Worse still, because there is always a chance that someone could get lucky and drop a PC, there will eventually be unwanted character fatalities, and that can often disrupt a campaign, or ruin a dramatic, cinematic style of campaign. While you want the risk of one of the guys mowing down James Bond with a AK-47 as he dashes across the compound, you don't really want it to actually happen. But you need the threat of that to keep the game exciting. 

Deciding how gritty/deadly vs cinematic/forgiving contests are going to be is another important inflection point in how you tune your game experience. In cinematic play, the GM can decide from the get go that Bond is definitely going to survive the challenge, with the level of Victory or Defeat on the contest representing a range of results from being captured after passing out from blood-loss on a Complete Defeat,  to not only evading their fire but also baiting them to shoot some nearby combustibles to thus prevent them from pursuing him on a Complete Victory. Precious seconds, wounds, resource consumption, fate of allies, etc. can all dramatically hang in the balance of that contest, even if Bond is making it past the guards on 399/400 rolls. 

In the other direction, you might frame a battle or other serious peril such that the PCs are only completely unharmed on a Major Victory+, with Major Defeat including things like loosing a limb, being blinded, an NPC ally dying, etc. (If that ally was an Ability, it should transform into a new Ability somehow relevant to the loss of the ally, a new squire, a lust for revenge, getting promoted to succeed the fallen officer, being given the ally's magic sword, etc.)

The key is to make it clear to the players what the stakes are.

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4 hours ago, JonL said:

There is a difference in result distributions between those systems, in that while +1 is always a 5% difference in success chance when rolling a d20, the opposed rolls in HQ make the impact of a +1 to ability rating vary depending on the opposing resistance rating.

Yup. Essentially if the +1 in enough to get you a bump. But the overall effect of rating difficulties relative to the PCs abilities is designed so that a given oppoent can maintain the same threat regardless of the PCs advancement. 

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3 hours ago, JonL said:

The key is to make it clear to the players what the stakes are.

Yes and to ensure that the stakes matter to hem. D*D went for "life and death" of the PCs because that was an easy sell. Players would naturally be vested in that outcome. But not every contest has to be life and death, they just have to be about something the players feel vested about so that the result matters. 

Also every RPG does the relative ability thing and rigs the results to some extent, in order to both give the adventures a sense of heroic accomplishment and in order to maintain the campaign. If GMs rand thing truly "fair and unbiased" then most heroes would dies in a blaze of glory after they tempt fate one time to many. It's just more noticeably in some games than other. HQ2 single game mechanic for everything and the way it sets difficulties makes this very transparent to players. D*&D Challenge Rating essential does the same thing, only WotC convinced people into thinking that matching the PCs CR somehow ensures a "fair" fight, when, in fact, it ensures the opposite.

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On 11/3/2019 at 1:31 AM, Ufnal said:

So maybe they are just measurements of a character's narrative power, how well they can impose themselves onto the story

To me that's essentially it, yes. The numbers measure how a player will go about influencing the story, what kind of narrative mechanics and themes they will lean into in order to make the adventure go forward. A player with a Humakti character might use violence and fanaticism, while a player with an Esrolian noble might use ambition and politics... in a game like, say, RQ, this is simulated, while in HQ it's measured in terms of dramatic tension. After that, as someone else already mentioned, the character advancement is indeed all relative, in both types of systems, since the GM will either put the players up against higher-level enemies, or against higher narrative odds.

In both cases you're going to hit a nail with a hammer, but in one case you're measuring the hit in terms of the hammer's weight/your strength/your dexterity, while in the other you're fighting for your desire to see a story where the nail has been hit, while the GM may or may not want that nail to be hit. I would actually love to hear people's thoughts and experiences about how much GM railroading happens with narrative systems like HQ, since the difficulty for doing something basically ends up on a fine line between "what makes an interesting story" and "whatever the GM wants to happen". Interestingly enough, I find that players are almost living a heroquest in the real world as a result -- they're up against a myth (story) that the GM has in their mind, and they're going through the motions as best they can without failing, but sometimes they can change the myth enough to turn it into something else... mmmh.

Edited by lordabdul
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18 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

No the problem still exists regardless of the ease/speed of progression. Once a PK hits 10th level or Sword 120% or whatever that is where they are and what the GM/adventures has to deal with. If a Gm starts a campaign with experienced characters the problem is instantly there. If you start a camapign qith high level characters the problem exists even Though there has been no progression or advancement.

Of course. My point is that you don't have to put obstacles in your scenario that will drop characters' success chances below 95% to keep the story interesting, which is what is implied by systems that match difficulty with skill (or strongly suggest to do so).

Edited by Mugen

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5 hours ago, Mugen said:

Of course. My point is that you don't have to put obstacles in your scenario that will drop characters' success chances below 95% to keep the story interesting, which is what is implied by systems that match difficulty with skill (or strongly suggest to do so).

I don't think your right about that though. If you ran a campaign where the PCs success chances are above 95%. I don't think it would keep the players interest for very long. The element of risk and the ability to overcome the odds are part of what makes RPGs satisfying. A campaign where players would succeed over 95% of the time, probably wouldn't keep the players interest.

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Advancement & escalating resistance are one of the big warts on HQ2/G as written.

Laws's "Why advance Characters at all?" side-bar in HQ2CR is a totally legit approach if you're leaning more towards "Ratings are relative measures of abstract problem solving power" and away from "Ratings ratings reflect in-fiction capabilities and effectiveness."  In that context, I'd let players shuffle points around between ratings over time to reflect what aspects of their character they wish to emphasize in play, (Many Fate-based games take a similar approach.) 

In HQ1, the static resistance TN benchmarks made for a more traditional RPG power scale against which to compare your heroes, and the broader range of ratings gave more room for fiddling with bonuses & penalties for various things. Some still prefer it for that very reason, but that approach also carries more cognative load, prep effort, etc. like any other medium-crunch game.

HQG splits the difference though, as rating-thresholds in your runes & grimoires gatekeep tiers of magical status, so the tension is somewhat baked in.

In QuestWorlds, Ian is discarding the resistance-rising-by-session-count idea in favor if the resistance-rising-at-the-end-of-each-season/arc idea he sketched out here. Games built on its generic foundation may of course implement a different approach that suits their specific focus.

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7 hours ago, JonL said:

In HQ1, the static resistance TN benchmarks made for a more traditional RPG power scale against which to compare your heroes, and the broader range of ratings gave more room for fiddling with bonuses & penalties for various things. Some still prefer it for that very reason, but that approach also carries more cognative load, prep effort, etc. like any other medium-crunch game.

The irony though is that HQ1. like virtually all RPGs also escalates the difficulty and opposition with the advancement of the PCs. So character improvement doesn't really work out as people think. Namely that improving a character increases their odd of success and ability to win a battle. It just means that they can deal with tougher challenges, and they will. 

7 hours ago, JonL said:

In QuestWorlds, Ian is discarding the resistance-rising-by-session-count idea in favor if the resistance-rising-at-the-end-of-each-season/arc idea he sketched out here. Games built on its generic foundation may of course implement a different approach that suits their specific focus.

I think it is still flawed in that it will encourage PCs to pull all their eggs into one basket in order to keep their primary abilities on par with (or ahead of) the increased resistance. This is pretty much what used to happen in D&D 3E, where a player could spend his skill points as he wished, but he was usually better off maxing out a handful of skills rather than spreading out the points. 

I think either an absolute scale for rating challenges or a completely relative one would work better. That way the players either have an idea of what they need to be good (absolute scale) or an idea of how tough a given challenge/opponent is supposed to be relative to their abilities (so that master Swordsman is always a Mastery higher than the best PC warrior). And sort of continual progression runs the risk of catching the PCsin an aerea they cannot cover effectively, and never will. For instance if, say, the PCs need to play and instrument at a set difficulty to succeed at a challenge and nobody can do so, well,. by the time someone picks up the ability, the difficulty will increase, so the PC will never be able to gain ground against the difficulty. 

At least with a fixed or relative skill the PC can catch up as the opposing ability is either fixed, or can be adjusted by the GM if desired. 

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3 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

I think it is still flawed in that it will encourage PCs to pull all their eggs into one basket in order to keep their primary abilities on par with (or ahead of) the increased resistance. This is pretty much what used to happen in D&D 3E, where a player could spend his skill points as he wished, but he was usually better off maxing out a handful of skills rather than spreading out the points. 

And that's why I blame linear progression of skills and difficulty that matches skill.

If difficulty doesn't scale with skill, putting all points into a few skills will become a waste of resources +1 to a skill only adds 5% chance of success when your chance of success is under 100%.

Non-linear progression, like in RM, let you put points into the same skills for ever, but with diminishing returns.

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5 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

The irony though is that HQ1. like virtually all RPGs also escalates the difficulty and opposition with the advancement of the PCs. So character improvement doesn't really work out as people think. Namely that improving a character increases their odd of success and ability to win a battle. It just means that they can deal with tougher challenges, and they will. 

At least where it comes to heroquesting with the fixed difficulties to overcome certain barriers between realms the HQ1 concept did keep the promise of character advancement, and HQ2 doesn't (but then, adjusting that difficulty or those penalties lies in the hands of the narrator).

 

5 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

I think it is still flawed in that it will encourage PCs to pull all their eggs into one basket in order to keep their primary abilities on par with (or ahead of) the increased resistance. This is pretty much what used to happen in D&D 3E, where a player could spend his skill points as he wished, but he was usually better off maxing out a handful of skills rather than spreading out the points. 

That depends strongly on the GMing style of the narrator. In my games, there would be a fairly even distribution of general adventuring abilities like riding, climbing, and in naval campaigns swimming and sailing (or more specialiized variants thereof). For the simple reason that those who failed in those skills regularly would have a way harder time to survive.

Lore abilities, cultural integration abilities... it almost struck me as ludicrous that people were supposed to remain ignorant throughout their interactions with the locals, like modern day cruise tourists rather than like people who house with the natives and probably get into way more direct interaction.

Then there are social networking abilities and contacts. If those remain unchanged, you don't need a setting.

HQ manages to give fairly broad abilities to cover such things - "traveled", "wide-read", "communicative" covers a lot of these issues. But my stories tend to have situations where such abilities are tested.

5 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

I think either an absolute scale for rating challenges or a completely relative one would work better. That way the players either have an idea of what they need to be good (absolute scale) or an idea of how tough a given challenge/opponent is supposed to be relative to their abilities (so that master Swordsman is always a Mastery higher than the best PC warrior). And sort of continual progression runs the risk of catching the PCsin an aerea they cannot cover effectively, and never will.

"You will never catch up" is not the kind of story your players will want to play. That master swordsman may be overcome in his speciality by learning that secret discipline that neutralizes his advantage or by that new heroforming ability, or something like that. This is the salt and bread of player character agency.

5 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

For instance if, say, the PCs need to play and instrument at a set difficulty to succeed at a challenge and nobody can do so, well,. by the time someone picks up the ability, the difficulty will increase, so the PC will never be able to gain ground against the difficulty. 

At a certain power level (relative to the setting, not skill-wise) the logical response is to add a musician to your followers.

 

5 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

At least with a fixed or relative skill the PC can catch up as the opposing ability is either fixed, or can be adjusted by the GM if desired. 

There should be an advancement of the players over certain types of resistance. First time bribing the spaceport officials may be trial and error, umpteenth time will not even warrant a challenge unless the narration changes the setting.

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4 hours ago, Joerg said:

That depends strongly on the GMing style of the narrator. In my games, there would be a fairly even distribution of general adventuring abilities like riding, climbing, and in naval campaigns swimming and sailing (or more specialiized variants thereof). For the simple reason that those who failed in those skills regularly would have a way harder time to survive.

It looks to me like the opposite. If the difficulties are going up at set intervals, across the board, then any skill which the players can raise at the same rate (or faster) will fall behind. I think the end result will be like with D&D 3E where a hight level character might have an ability, but not high enough to actually be able to use it reliably. Generally speaking the players can't improve every keyword on their sheet the same way the GM can up all the difficulties. So either the player will tred water with some abilities and let the rest fall to the wayside, or outpace the generic increase in some skills. Either way the character will either fall behind the increase or get ahead of it. Neither is desirable. Conversely if the PCs progress equally with the difficulty, then there is no point in the increases at all. 

 

 

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

Lore abilities, cultural integration abilities... it almost struck me as ludicrous that people were supposed to remain ignorant throughout their interactions with the locals, like modern day cruise tourists rather than like people who house with the natives and probably get into way more direct interaction.

That is the problem with getting a fixed number of improvements. Because they are limited, the players don't want to "waste" them on "minor" abilities, especially when their primary abilities suffer. RQ doesn't have this problem because of the skill check system and the ability to improve multiple skills at the same time. D&D doesn't have the problem as badly since most improvement is tied to level. But games where a player gets a limited number of things to improve will always suffer from "tunnel vision" and asymmetrical advancement - unless you force some sort of artificial skill pyramid, ala FATE or somehow force a more broad based skill improvement like with Sangiune's Usagi Yojomob RPG, where the characters have to spread out improvement over 4 things at a time.  

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

Then there are social networking abilities and contacts. If those remain unchanged, you don't need a setting.

Exactly.

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

HQ manages to give fairly broad abilities to cover such things - "traveled", "wide-read", "communicative" covers a lot of these issues. But my stories tend to have situations where such abilities are tested.

As your stories should. 

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

"You will never catch up" is not the kind of story your players will want to play. That master swordsman may be overcome in his speciality by learning that secret discipline that neutralizes his advantage or by that new heroforming ability, or something like that. This is the salt and bread of player character agency.

Yes, but the fixed difficulty progression works against all of the above. Players only have a limited number of things they can improve at any given time, and diversifying their skill set comes at the expense of mastery in their main abilities. The points used to raise, say, Dragon Pass Lore, comes at the expense of Spear & Shield. That's okay, unless all the difficulties are going to be universally increased at regular intervals.

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

At a certain power level (relative to the setting, not skill-wise) the logical response is to add a musician to your followers.

Except that after a certain point the musician follower won't offset the increasing difficulty. And since the difficulty is increasing at a steady rate for all skills, the PCs can never catch up, or if they can, it comes at the expense of letting their primary abilities slip. 

4 hours ago, Joerg said:

There should be an advancement of the players over certain types of resistance. First time bribing the spaceport officials may be trial and error, umpteenth time will not even warrant a challenge unless the narration changes the setting.

Yes, I agree. Not every challenge should become increasingly difficult. Something like fixing breakfast in the morning or hiking up a trail should stay the same throughout the course of the campaign. But that is now how the game system works. It just sort of assumes that since the PCs have become more skilled, and more heroic, everything they attempt will become more challenging and difficult.

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6 hours ago, Mugen said:

And that's why I blame linear progression of skills and difficulty that matches skill.

But that isn't were the problem lies. The problem lies in a fixed number of increases. That forces the players to concentrate their improvement on a set number of abilities to ensure success. Even if it is only a 1% increase, as opposed to a 10% increase in a secondary ability, the 1% increase is better, since it is in something that is used all the time. 

For a real world example, let's say you are an airline pilot. Now you have Piloting at 97%. You can raise it to 98% or learn how to play handball at 30%. Now going from, say 5% to 30% in Handball is a larger increase, but for you piloting is much more useful, so you will raise that instead.

 

6 hours ago, Mugen said:

If difficulty doesn't scale with skill, putting all points into a few skills will become a waste of resources +1 to a skill only adds 5% chance of success when your chance of success is under 100%.

Sorry, RM proves the opposite. Difficulty levels for taks were fixed, and didn't scale with the characters. Aragon would face the same difficulty when climbing up the side of a cliff ans a First Level RM/MERP Ranger. He'd be a better climber and is far more likely to succeed, but his faces the same difficulty. 

6 hours ago, Mugen said:

Non-linear progression, like in RM, let you put points into the same skills for ever, but with diminishing returns.

Yes, but like in RM it is still worth doing. Look at high level RM characters. Depite the fact that the characters only get 2$ or 1$ or a half % per skill pick after a certina point, they still do it, because having Broadsword a 157OB is still better than having Broadword 157OB, Mace 25OB, Lace 30OB, etc.

 

That is what disproves your argument. Now there are times when linear improvement can be bad, look at most forms of D&D where after a certain level  rolling to hit can become a formality. But the problem with HQ2+ is that of limited resources vs. an blanket difficulty increases. Whatever ability player doesn't increase will fall behind.

 

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