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An hybrid system for extended contests


Corvantir

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Warning: this post has been written with HeroQuest: Glorantha (HQG) in mind but can be used almost as is with QuestWorlds.

 

I am over fourty or so sessions with HQG and there is something wrong with the extended contests system. It is not the system’s fault of course but rather my inability to use the scored contests rules properly and/or to manage them while playing.

 

First problem: The goal/prize and the tactics constrain the action, the frame thus defined becomes some kind of shackles when the contests are resolved. I have seen a lot of extended contests becoming a bland exercise in dice throwing one exchange after the other until 5RP are scored.

 

Second problem: The Resolution Points system (more precisely the fact that an opponent is only thrown out of the contest when a single contestant scores 5 RP against him whatever the number of RP scored by the other contestants) makes the contests longer. Starting at zero again when a new pair is created during a contest extends the length of the scene without adding something entertaining, in my opinion of course. Moreover, a lot of players are very disturbed by the fact that they have to score a whole lot of 5RP when several RP have already been scored by other contestants against the same opponent.

 

Eager to find a solution, I tested the Advantage Points system from HeroQuest 1. The « transfer » mechanism proved it could be abused with Hero Points (in my games, Hero Points are disconnected from experience). While the AP gave the players a better idea of their status and of the status of their opponents while fighting, the players didn’t like the « metagame » introduced by the bidding system.

 

After a new session through which a scored contest proved once again to be frustrating I imagined a solution combining what I think is the best of both worlds : Advantage Points with set amounts of AP losses according to victory levels.

 

Advantage Points are renamed Stress Points (SP)

The Advantage Points starting pool is called Stress Resistance (SR)

 

The general process is the following :

1 – The players determine an overall goal and their tactics.

2 - The score of the capacity used at the start of the contest (after an Augment) gives the Stress Resistance of the contestant.

3 – The contestants act in the order of their starting score

4 – When a contestant earns a victory against his opponent, the loser reduces his Stress Resistance by the following amount:

 

MARGINAL VICTORY: 5 SP

MINOR VICTORY : 10 SP

MAJOR VICTORY : 15 SP

COMPLETE VICTORY : 25 SP

 

4 – Once the single pool of SR of a contestant is reduced to 0 or less, the contestant is ousted of the contest.

5 – The consequence inflicted to the loser is determined by the following table:

 

SR balance (Consequence) (Victory level)

0 to -3 (Hurt) (Marginal)

-4 to -6 (Impaired) (Minor)

-7 to -10 (Injured) (Major)

-11 or less (Dying) (Complete)

 

There are more details based on the Wagered Contests rules of QuestWorlds and the rules of HQ1.

 

I think that the players will have an easier time with something looking more familiar, something akin to Hit Points. With a better grip of the system I guess they will be better at playing with it. Which is also true for me. I will test this new system this autumn when I start again the Borderlands & Beyond campaign interrupted by the various lockdowns.

Edited by Corvantir
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The great thing about resolution points is that the contest will be over in maximum of nine rounds. And that's the worst case. In my experience it is usually something like max. five rounds. If you only use extended contest once or twice during the session, for the contests that the players are really invested in, having couple of extra rolls should not be a problem.

When narrating a round in extended contest you have lots of input: the final prize, used tactics in the round, round outcome, the new RP situation, other contests. The new RP situation is extremely valuable. Is the opponent one Marginal Victory away from the win? Would that yield a Marginal or Major outcome for the whole extended contest? All of these aspects should result in different narration. Take your time in the extended contest narrating the rounds. It might be your sessions most important contest, after all.

Now, about your stress point (I like the name) mechanic. Wouldn't static reduction values make the contest longer the bigger the starting values are? For example (don't know if anyone still plays with values this big) 5W2 vs. 3W2 would drag for ages. Of course, masteries could cancel, but then the match will end in one marginal outcome.

The other thing to take into account is the added advantage. In a case of 14 vs. 15W the 14 value already has a disadvantage on the rolls. Having 20 stress points less just adds to that. This same point can be made for the wagered sequence in QW rules, though.

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7 hours ago, jrutila said:

The great thing about resolution points is that the contest will be over in maximum of nine rounds. And that's the worst case. In my experience it is usually something like max. five rounds. If you only use extended contest once or twice during the session, for the contests that the players are really invested in, having couple of extra rolls should not be a problem.

When narrating a round in extended contest you have lots of input: the final prize, used tactics in the round, round outcome, the new RP situation, other contests. The new RP situation is extremely valuable. Is the opponent one Marginal Victory away from the win? Would that yield a Marginal or Major outcome for the whole extended contest? All of these aspects should result in different narration. Take your time in the extended contest narrating the rounds. It might be your sessions most important contest, after all.

Agreed.  Almost all finish within ~5 rounds.  And they are always dramatic - the central pivot point in a scenario and the conclusion.  They are events that are remembered.

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the replies.

Extended contests in my campaign are few, almost all of the contests are resolved through Simple contests.

The extended contests I have managed thus far took more than half an hour, and even more, at least two of them were too long for everybody.

Two of the three groups I tested HQG with didn't want to know the precise number of RP scored against the contestants, including themselves. The system would have to fade behind the screen. But without a mean to "visualize" the situation (the RP scored), I guess that misunderstandings are more frequent. It puts a lot of weight on the GM's shoulders, everybody must understand the situation through the GM only. As the human brain is good at analysing simple graphical representations, seeing the RP balances while listening at the GM allows the player to quickly grasp the real extent of the situation.

I think that this system really works if the players can see the RP tracks. Once the RP are inscribed on something that everybody can see, the GM can describe the situation without talking about numbers.

Unfortunately, I don't have a whiteboard and my current campaign is online. So let's forget about this solution.

IMO, the hybrid system gives the player an instant grasp of his situation by simply looking at the Stress Resistance balance of his character. From the player's side, there is only one score to manage. As far as I am concerned, I have some trouble to manage the various RP tracks of HQG's extended contests and it becomes harder and harder with each new pair of contestants. A single score of Stress Resistance per contestant greatly simplifies the managing process which is very important to me.

The Stress Points losses were computed so that a total victory knocks out a contestant under 6W. Between 19 and 5W the hybrid system produces the same results as a single pool of RPs. This is normal as SP losses are just a multiple by 5 of the RP losses.I agree that higher scores will extend the length of the contest, but a single pool of Stress Resistance hastens the contest. The mock combats I have made while solo testing the hybrid system resolved the contest in about 15 to 20 mn whereas the extended contest they were based on took more than 1 hour, perhaps 1 hour and a half. I suppose it will be longer at the table but that it should not rise beyond half an hour.

My future tests will show if the hybrid system and its options work. It will take some time to learn how it behaves in front of higher scores though.

 

Edited by Corvantir
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  • 3 months later...

A late report !

We ended our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign in july and tested the hybrid system through the climactic session. It proved to be far easier to manage from my perspective and the players found it better and more "natural" than the RP and AP systems. The terms Stress Points flowed rather naturally into the conversation, better than Resolution Points and Advantage Points. Maybe because we instinctly know what stress is and because we strongly react to stress in general.

For me, the feel of the extended contest was clearly a cross between HQ1 and HQ2. No apparent flaw for the moment.

The players found shortcuts that allowed them to avoid the physical opposition though to the exception of a single extended contest. Moreover, the first contest was planned to be relatively easy in order to get the hold on the system. The session still felt heroic and risky but allowed only a basic experimentation.

I would say that this hybrid system works for us but that it needs to be confirmed in the long run.

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On 8/3/2021 at 5:16 PM, Corvantir said:

 

4 – When a contestant earns a victory against his opponent, the loser reduces his Stress Resistance by the following amount:

 

MARGINAL VICTORY: 5 SP

MINOR VICTORY : 10 SP

MAJOR VICTORY : 15 SP

COMPLETE VICTORY : 25 SP

A consequence of this rule is that contest resolution time is tied to each contestant's ability, which you may consider as a feature of your system and something you want.

However, I remember reading somewhere that a consequence of the bidding system was that characters with low abilities had a tendency to bid high, as their best chance to win was to reduce the number of exchanges. Stronger characters, on the other hand, will benefit more from low bids. A solution with fixed losses like yours is not subject to such problem.

But I'd try to introduce "risk" in the system nonetheless, using some kind of "stances" system, quite like in Pendragon or MouseGuard. Either as a modification on the SP/AP loss (for instance, use multiple of 6 instead of 5 for losses if the character was aggressive, or 4 if he was defensive), or through a bonus/malus system on abilities, based on a rock/paper/scissor/(well?)/(lizard/Spock ?) system.

 

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On 11/12/2021 at 11:26 AM, Mugen said:

But I'd try to introduce "risk" in the system nonetheless, using some kind of "stances" system, quite like in Pendragon or MouseGuard. Either as a modification on the SP/AP loss (for instance, use multiple of 6 instead of 5 for losses if the character was aggressive, or 4 if he was defensive), or through a bonus/malus system on abilities, based on a rock/paper/scissor/(well?)/(lizard/Spock ?) system.

 

The following options are available to the players, they are taken from HQ2:

Defensive Responses -> Suffer -5 SP if defeated; Inflict -10 SP if victorious

Risky Gambits -> Victory earns +5SP; Suffer +10 SP if defeated

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