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Understanding the HeroQuest Core Mechanic


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First, have you checked this topic: 


There is the Contest procedures aid.

Simple Contest

  1. Frame the contest. Define the goal. What would it mean if the character succeeds? What would it mean if he fails?
  2. Select the tactic/ability. Which ability is the character using? Is it reasonable to use that ability to the contest? Apply modifiers from previous story or augments.
  3. Game Master decides what is the resistance. Use any method from gut-feeling to Pass/Fail cycle.
  4. The player rolls a die. This die roll tells the level of the player's success. It is either Critical, Success, Failure or Fumble.
    • Rolling under or same as the ability target number is Success
    • Rolling over the ability target number is Failure
    • 1 is Critical, 20 is Fumble
  5. The GM rolls a die. This die roll tells the level of the resistance's success. It doesn't matter if the resistance is abstract or tangible. Think that the story resists the character.
  6. Apply bumps. If there is a difference in masteries (for example 5W vs 14 has one mastery difference) use the excess masteries to bump the success level up (Failure -> Success, Success -> Failure etc.). If the level is already in Critical, bump the opposing success level down.
  7. The difference between the success levels tells the outcome of the contest. One step difference (like Success vs Failure) results in Minor Victory or Defeat. See the Simple Contest Result Table. If the success levels are the same higher roll gets a Marginal Victory.
  8. Narrate the outcome. Tell or let the players tell what happened. How did they get (or missed) their goal? Check this topic out for inspiration what the different levels mean: 

I would post an example but urge you to check our PbP OOC thread. Check out the msg #14 for a simple contest about the stranger's identity.


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2 hours ago, Archivist said:

This is really helpful.

If you have a mastery (e.g., 1W), do you auto succeed (since any roll is always under 21), do you only succeed on a 1 (and therefore a critical) that you get a free bump for (from the mastery)/

It is not an auto-success.  Also bear in mind that if your opponent also has a Mastery, then the Masteries cancel and it is entirely based on the rolls.

With a 1W, you will have these states:

  • roll 1: a critical.  You can apply your Mastery to bump down your opponent's roll
  • roll 2-19:  value above 1 is a failure, but you can apply your Mastery to bump up your roll to a success
  • roll 20: a fumble, but you can apply your Mastery to bump up your roll to a failure

If you were at 3W, then a roll of 2-3 would be a success and you could apply your Mastery to bump up to a critical.

Of course, you still have to cross-reference vs. your opponent's roll.  If they are at the same level of success but have a higher roll, then they achieve a Marginal Victory.

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Have you read through the examples in the book? I've also done a spirit combat one here in the same style, although it's an extended one:


I could do you a simple example here is you want.


Search the Glorantha Resource Site: https://wellofdaliath.chaosium.com. Search the Glorantha mailing list archives: https://glorantha.steff.in/digests/

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On 22/11/2017 at 12:02 AM, David Scott said:

Have you read through the examples in the book? I've also done a spirit combat one here in the same style, although it's an extended one:


I could do you a simple example here is you want.

Yes, the examples are really helpful to better understand the rules and moreover to grasp the spirit behind them, which is even more important in my opinion.

Beware though, the Extended Contest example is not correct as far as the rules are concerned, you need to track each pairing separately.   ;)

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7 hours ago, SDLeary said:

Google is returning an error for that post.

I can see it ok, but I'm following Ian Cooper on G+. The problem seems to be that his post was shared privately.

Here it is:


So I want to talk about why Heroquest Glorantha has no stat blocks, and why that makes any Heroquest Glorantha book effectively system-less and equally valuable to 13th Age and Runequest Gloranthan gamers. (Or whatever your preferred medium for playing Glorantha).

No Stats
In supplements such as The Coming Storm (https://www.chaosium.com/the-coming-storm/) or The Eleven Lights (https://www.chaosium.com/the-eleven-lights-pdf/), the 'stat block' is little more than: name, occupation and cult. In Heroquest, the importance of that block is how it helps the GM personify the NPC at the table. What does this person do? What cult so they belong to? What archetype might we have for this NPC in the setting?

Here is an example of an NPC stat block from The Coming Storm:

Orkarl Iron-Beard gst
Bloodline: None
Faction: The Conquering Storm
Age: 52
Keywords: Thane
Magic: Initiate of Humakt t
Look: Iron gray beard and hair, scarred face and arms, wiry muscled frame

(The runes don't come out without a Gloranthan font. gst are Air, Movement, and Death respectively).

In Heroquest there are no game mechanics associated with the elements of this NPC stat block. No, not even the elements like occupation or cult that correspond with game rules on a PC's character sheet. The GM may use the information here to guide how they describe the NPC or their actions, but we don't provide the information to constrain the GM, rather to inspire them. Indeed, the GM does not require this block, it's simply a convenience provided by us to help GMs by summarizing information in the biography; it's quick look up for play and we could omit it and not affect the correctness of the text.

The important part of the NPC is just, as for any game, their biography.
Orkarl was once called Bull-Rider because he led the charge against the Dinacoli, astride a great black bull, and before that Belly-Laugh and was chieftain of the Red Cow. At the Battle of Caroman, during the Lunar invasion of Sartar in 1602, he fought and died. Kesta’s Splendorbread brought him back to life, but he came back changed. He had the re-life sickness after that and turned from Orlanth to Humakt, renouncing the chieftaincy.
For many years, Orkarl lived in isolation, cut-off from the rest of the clan. Many said he could not bear the company of people he felt he had failed. Orkarl’s isolation only served to increase his legend among the clan, and many ambitious young men made a pilgrimage to his cabin to learn sword, spear, and shield from the master.
In his later years, Orkarl’s pain has softened and he now lives amidst people once again. Many would see him chieftain again, but he always makes it clear he does not aspire to lead.
Despite his iron-gray hair, his muscles are still firm, his skills still sharp. Clad in bronze scale and closed helm he still strikes an imposing figure even Kernalda Other-Ways would fear to challenge.
Orkarl’s biggest fear is dying in his bed.

This 'statlessness' means that most HQG have very little system text in them, because little of that text is devoted to stat blocks for NPCs, just to the biography you require for any game.

How is this possible?
In Heroquest we use one resolution mechanic to determine the outcome of a PC's actions, where there is uncertainty. (There are single-roll and sequence of rolls options for this resolution mechanism but they don't matter here.)

We agree what is at stake for the contest and the player looks for a suitable keyword or ability in their character sheet. Keywords are broad (thief, priest), and abilities are narrow (pick locks, pray feverntly). Both can be used equally to solve problems.

If the PC has an appropriate ability, and failure is not interesting we might just use an auto-success. If it's not credible that the ability could solve the problem we ask the player to change their statement about their action.

If we still have an uncertain conflict, then the GM determines the resistance. Resistance is described as a difficulty: Moderate, High etc. that gives the GM the target number they are rolling against.

The player and the GM roll a D20, the player under their ability rating, and the GM under the resistance; levels of success are determined and compared to give an outcome.

So for example the PC is trying to steal a magical wand from Duke Raus's house in New Pavis. The PC has Burglar at 17 and the GM has determined that the resistance is Moderate for a resistance of 13. The PC rolls a 15 and gets a success and the GM rolls a 14, which is a failure. The GM compares the outcomes and declares the outcome is a minor victory. The PC steals the Duke's wand.

The outcome describes what happens to the PC, not the NPC or abstract force (such as a mountain or storm at sea). In the above example the opposition comes from the Duke's faithful manservant, the Duke's sleeping daughter in whose room the wand is a held, and locks and traps. All of these provide the resistance, not one.

The GM narrates the fiction of what happens and in doing so determines the fate of any NPCs based on the 'stakes set for the contest'.

For example, a PCs declares that they are breaking into the merchant's house to steal his strongbox. At stake is escaping with the treasure. If the PC uses his sword fighting and the outcome is a victory the GM may describe the PC cutting down the Duke's manservant and intimidating the Duke's daughter into surrendering the wand. If the PC was using his Burglar keyword and the outcome is a victory the GM may describe him climbing through an open first-story window into the Duke's daughter's bedroom to steal the wand, whilst the Duke's daughter sleeps soundly in her room.

However, if the PC using Sword Fighting lost they didn't get the wand, as those were the stakes. But they are a 'hero not a zero' so we might narrate them as killing the Duke faithful manservant but not before he cried out, giving the Dukes' daughter time to barricade herself in the room, forcing the PC to flee before the watch arrived to investigate her cries. If the PC was using his Burglar then the GM might describe him climbing through the window, but being surprised by the Duke's daughter coming at him with a knife, being stabbed and falling out of the window before fleeing. In the latter case, interpreting the result as physical injury might be appropriate.

But in neither case did we need stats for the NPC, only the PC.

We don't want to use the result to 'figure out the damage' to the Duke's manservant or the Duke's daughter, we want to figure out if the PC grabbed the wand. So 'damage' or other consequences for the NPC is open to the GM to narrate, in keeping with the level of victory the PC achieved.

(By the way, it's worth framing contests to make failure interesting and generate more stories, so having the stakes being 'steal the wand' if the wand is vital to the next parts of the adventure is not useful and 'escaping with the wand' would be better stakes because failure would indicate hot pursuit.)

In addition, the nature of the HQG mechanics means we need little game text to describe conflict, just a fictional positioning such as 'Farandar will challenge anyone who doubts his honour to a duel'. As all abilities are mechanically similar what matters is any color used to describe the PC's opponents, their magic etc.

This means that, to most intents and purposes HQG line products are system-less and good value for players of Runequest or 13th Age (or even your own homebrew system for use with Glorantha). Of course, you may need to 'stat up' NPCs n your system, but we have feedback that most GMs simply do this 'on demand' as many NPCs never enter a conflict where their stats are needed. When you need to stat up an NPC the minimal stat blocks for Heroquest


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14 hours ago, Corvantir said:

Thank you for your last post Steve, this is very helpful. Game mastering HeroQuest 2 can be very daunting and multiple explanations and takes by different authors help a lot to better grasp this wonderful system and its finer points.   :)

@Ian Cooper's explanations are always extremely helpful (as are @jajagappa's too), and Ian has a great way of explaining the strengths of the HQ mechanics. There's a nice interview with him in the imminent Hearts in Glorantha 6, look out for that.


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As a GM, if I find things are a bit murky after a player tells me something, I'll ask "What is it you're trying to achieve, and how are you using one of your abilities to achieve that goal?" That helps the Player and myself zero in on the difference between "I'm going to sneak up and stab the guard." and "My goal is to keep the guard from him raising the alarm. I'm going to try to sneak up and stab him before he notices me."  In the former case, it looks as though the stabbing is the important part, but in the latter case it's clear that the stabbing is a means to an end, and that the overall victory or defeat is more hinging on taking the guard out silently. 

In this context, Marginal Defeat for the PC might well mean that he successfully slew the guard, but that the guard did not go down quietly. Conversely, a Marginal Victory might constitute a successful silent-kill but there's a fair amount of blood and signs of a struggle in the dirt.  The party can get in cleanly for now, but the next time someone comes by here they'll recognize what happened. The goal is achieved, but the benefit is momentary rather than enduring. 

Edited by JonL
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On 05/01/2018 at 10:57 AM, Steve said:

@Ian Cooper's explanations are always extremely helpful (as are @jajagappa's too), and Ian has a great way of explaining the strengths of the HQ mechanics. There's a nice interview with him in the imminent Hearts in Glorantha 6, look out for that.


I agree with you Ian's explanations are insightful.

I will have a look at Hearts of Glorantha 6.

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