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Chained Simple Contests: how do you use them?


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We have finally finished the first adventure of Borderlands & Beyond. Hurrah!

The feedback between the two sessions, led me to explain again the HQ: Glorantha (HQ2G) rules and their intent. To my surprise, the players were more displeased than I anticipated by the way the Resolution Points are scored in Group Extended Contests. They don't like the fact that a new pair is built from the start when another character gang up on a NPC, and that an opponent is not somehow diminished when Resolution Points are scored against him. I thought these players would be more open than that to non standard mechanics. Habits are really hard to fight.

I told the players that we should at least test the system "as is" for a few sessions before trying to modify it. I hope to change their mind by focusing on the descriptions and showing the freedom given by the rules. I am anticipating the need for another solution though.

The Chained Contests option from Mythic Russia could well be a simple and elegant solution. But beyond the concept itself, Mythic Russia gives few details and no example.

If I had to replace the current HQG Extended Conflict with Chained Contests, I can see two ways to do it :

- A succession of Group Simple Contests until one side decides it is better to stop or run away (that seems to be how it should work in Mythic Russia);

- A succession of individual Simple Contests between "pairs" (with cumulating penalties) until there is no more participant or no more contestant willing to fight on one side.

Are you using the Chained Simple Contests in your HQ2G games? If yes, how do you apply them? Are there any traps I should be aware of if I replace Group Extended Contests with Chained Simple Contests?

I hope you are all doing well in these troubled times. Stay safe if you can and take care of yourself and your family.

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7 hours ago, Corvantir said:

Are there any traps I should be aware of if I replace Group Extended Contests with Chained Simple Contests?

I don't have Mythic Russia, so have not used them.

I've never had any issues with my players with the Group Extended Contests, though; however, I can see it discomfiting those used to something like RQ and cumulative Hit Points. 

The thing with the Group Extended Contest mechanism that you get is the impact of multi-attacker "bonuses".  With 2 or 3 attackers, the 2nd and 3rd attacker will see easier attacks, and the Resolution Points go up faster leading to the demise of the foe. If you shift away from that, then I think you have to think through how to overcome very difficult foes or large groups of foes. Succession of Group Simple Contests is likely to find very difficult foes remain that way.

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Thank you for your insights @jajagappa, the unmodified difficulty from a Simple Contest to another Simple Contest is something I didn't thought about.

As far as I am concerned, I would prefer to stand with the Group Extended Contests as they are in HQ2G. I hope to make the players understand that it is in the best interest of the story, and theirs. And the multiple opponents modifier is in my opinion enough as an advantage.

My main concern is the dreadful spiral of death though, for the characters as well as the NPCs. The first side to get a serious hit earns a big disadvantage that becomes difficult to manage and is susceptible to lead towards another big hit and thus more negative modifiers. With a lucky shot from the start, the whole scene loses a lot of interest. It encourages a single tactic, spending a lot of Hero Points in the first Simple Contest in order to earn a big advantage over the other side in the following contests.

I think that the Chained Contests are a better fit for a succession of action scenes rather than as a replacement of Group Extended Contest.

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10 hours ago, Corvantir said:

My main concern is the dreadful spiral of death though, for the characters as well as the NPCs.

As with any game, the GM has control over: 1) the level of difficulty of foes; and 2) whether you let the "spiral of death" run to conclusion (or have the foe tell the PC's to surrender).

I added intermediate levels of difficulty so that I could get a finer balance in contests while keeping in mind that some PC's will have an edge over foes, and others at a disadvantage. The players will quickly see where they have potential weakness or strengths after the first round and can adjust (different augment, have one player adopt defensive strategy to hold off several foes so others can gang up on a target, have someone provides assists to keep RP's down, etc.) - you can also telegraph some of this through narrative even before the contest (i.e. "these Lunars look particularly tough as they line up to fight").  I try to keep an eye on the number of foes too. 

Generally I've found the group extended contests to be very dramatic and memorable. 

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Thanks again for your reply @jajagapa.

I have already added an intermediary level of difficulty because I found that the gap was too great between the High and Very High difficulties. I have also played with the number of opponents, this is something I am aware of.

And you are even more right when it comes to telegraphing the difficulty. Better descriptions once again. Thanks for the tip.  👍

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi, I don't have the Russian Book. If I understand it correctly, and run a series of Simple Contest. At the end of each roll, the outcome gives a wound level to the defeated.

Do you keep stacking these wound levels?

And do you give the victor the Benefits of Victory?

How do you treat injuries at the end, if a person has a heap of -3 wounds (assuming the above is correct)? Or do you lump them together as more serious.

Or any other advice on how the numbers work with this sort of mechanic.

Or a personal level, I never understood when you have a fluid difficulty level, and weak to experienced PCs over time, that the damage penalties are a set amount. A high difficulty threat is hardly going to feel a Hurt vs a weaker opponent. Really hard to work out how to narrate that. It feels like it should be a % of total difficulty or something.

I did start hot on this system after converting my Symbaroum game away from its poor rules system, but I have slowly turned cold to it, as I try to piece it together.

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2 minutes ago, Aprewett said:

I did start hot on this system after converting my Symbaroum game away from its poor rules system, but I have slowly turned cold to it, as I try to piece it together.

HeroQuest works best if you don't sweat the rules.

 

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Hey, I did think to look in my copy of Hero’s Book - Heroquest. Page 23 does list percentage penalties, that could work. Now I just need to find some info that another poster sent me concerning default resistance values. I don't seem to have that info on my gaming tablet. It was something like - average person had 16, guardsman was ...

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Aprewett said:

Hi, I don't have the Russian Book. If I understand it correctly, and run a series of Simple Contest. At the end of each roll, the outcome gives a wound level to the defeated.

Do you keep stacking these wound levels?

And do you give the victor the Benefits of Victory?

How do you treat injuries at the end, if a person has a heap of -3 wounds (assuming the above is correct)? Or do you lump them together as more serious.

Or any other advice on how the numbers work with this sort of mechanic.

Or a personal level, I never understood when you have a fluid difficulty level, and weak to experienced PCs over time, that the damage penalties are a set amount. A high difficulty threat is hardly going to feel a Hurt vs a weaker opponent. Really hard to work out how to narrate that. It feels like it should be a % of total difficulty or something.

I did start hot on this system after converting my Symbaroum game away from its poor rules system, but I have slowly turned cold to it, as I try to piece it together.

The rules in Mythic Russia are rather loose. There is nothing else beyond the concept which you have adequately described: a succession of simple contests with immediate consequences.

I would only allow one wound level of a kind. For example, if your character receives a second "hurt" consequence, it becomes an "injured" consequence, and so on. Remember that your NPCs don't have to fight to the death. You can replace the HQ2 consequences of defeat by those in HQ1, they are expressed as percentages.

I would not allow a benefit of victory after each roll, I would give it at the end of the fight, as in an extended contest. The simple contests can be compared to the exchanges of an extended contest.

As far as I am concerned, I am fine with the HeroQuest 2 rules. I am just toying with alternate conflict rules because some players are somehow very disturbed by the abstract nature of HQ2 and the lack of wounds and advantages until the end of the contest. Another group of players I am currently playing with online just accepts the rules as they are and goes with them.

I agree with soltakss though, you should not sweat nor the rules nor the details. For example, I have came to the conclusion that most extended conflicts involving combat don't really need a strict frame (I mean a clear "prize" or "goal"). I encourage my players to give me an overall goal, as it helps to describe the flow of the contest, and I let the contest evolve in an organic way. In my opinion, a clear "prize" or "goal" is only needed when the contest is about something other than "killing" or "surviving". For example, it makes no sense to my eyes to strictly enforce a goal like "repelling the ennemies and get the golden statue of Meroe" when the characters can actually do it by simply attacking the ennemy and take some unrelated actions to get the statue before the end of the conflict. But such a goal is a great help in describing the behavior of the opponents and the events resulting from the various exchanges.

When it comes to converting another game system to HeroQuest 2, I usually use the skills, talents, advantages, defaults and other attributes of the game system to convert as an inspiration for HQ2 traits. A magic system can usually be converted easily by using one of the HeroQuest: Glorantha magic systems. In my opinion, the key is to emulate, to get the spirit of the game system to convert and to find out how it can be emulated with HeroQuest 2. And when it doesn't fit in HeroQuest 2, what do you lose by ditching it and replacing it with something that fits the HeroQuest 2 rules ? Do you really lose something after all ? It is in my opinion more important to adapt the spirit rather than the letter. And most of the time, the players won't see the difference as they don't know the original game system.

Edited by Corvantir
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Posted (edited)

I don't really know if it can help but I will share my experience with HeroQuest 2.

I have runned games for almost four decades and I can tell you that though the HeroQuest 2 rules are easy to learn, they are difficult to master. At least for me. My experience with RPGs is so marked by "traditional" games using things like initiative, hit points, armor points, power points, manoeuvers and such things that I have a hard time at getting rid of the play style and tactics they imply. Even the players are lost because they are used to think through the tactical lenses those systems put on their eyes. It is thus not that easy to get rid of the habits engraved in our RPG practice. If HeroQuest 2 frees you from many of the mechanical burdens engrained in other games, HQ2 relies more heavily on judgement calls and descriptions. Whereas things like initiative, attack, parry and damage rolls, hit points and other mechanics railroad your descriptions, you are more on your own in HeroQuest 2.

I have something like 15 HeroQuest 2 adventures behind me and I am still learning through trials and errors. I am yet to exploit the full potential of HeroQuest 2 but I am learning. I am still missing opportunities and realizing after some contests that it would have been more interesting to manage a scene differently. Why? Mainly because I am still thinking in a "traditional" way.

After each session, I do a self debriefing, looking at the session and writing down what has gone right and what has gone wrong and what I could have done better and how. This is how my practice gets better and more consistent. The next session, I also talk with the players in order to share my experience, to tell them what I will manage differently (if needed) and to check whether or not we are on the same ground, and adjust if needed. Though many GMs on the net advise you to ask the players about their experience of the game, about what they have liked and disliked, I don't do that anymore. I have found that that does not help at all. My own practice tells me it is better to share my experience with the players and to listen when they react. Shutting up and listening is in my opinion more important than asking questions that plumb my morale. Most people are better at telling you what they have not liked rather than at telling you what they have liked. It is even worse when you ask them why.

In other words and to sum up, though consistency is very important, you are in a learning error process made of trials and errors and your practice of the game is evolving through play. In my opinion again, most players are ready to get through it and there is nothing a few explanations can't settle down. Moreover, there are a lot of chances your players are also in a learning process. They have to get rid of their own habits inherited from the other games they have played. You should remember (and I also tell it to myself) that you and your players are here to have fun and that there is no real reason why it should go wrong. They are coming back after all, so it means they have fun.

Consistency will surface from practice.

I hope I have not been too sententious or peremptory. It was not my intent. This is just a personal and thus necessary flawed experience. And I don't consider myself as a particularly good GM.   ;)

Edited by Corvantir
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I've only GMed HQ2 twice... but never got it to work properly. Specifically I had much trouble trying to assign a proper difficulty to the challenge. There was a disconnection between the description I made, the difficulty level RAW and how easy it became to the PCs. I don't know if I needed to cut the challenges into smaller challenges and thus increase rolls (and tension), or just go along with the results. I did this last thing but I felt I couldn't transmit the danger to my players. I think a rules revision could include a detailed desrcription not only of the rules but of the whole process and the decisions the GM make.

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My first games were challenging. I also felt it was hard to rate the difficulty, especially when some characters had high "combat" traits and others had low "combat" traits.

I have solved the problem by adding an intermediate difficulty level (Base +12) as I felt the gap between the original High (Base +6) and Very High (Base +M) difficulties was too important. Then, while playing, I usually adapt the challenge to each character through the number of opponents they must face at a moment or another during the fight.

I am only struggling with the combat scenes though as there are more moving parts and a dynamic I am not used to.

I am learning, I am learning.

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