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Character arcs in HQ (and using Flaws)


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I have been reading and thinking about character arcs lately. HQ quite nicely supports the story arc with resistance fluctuation and rising and climactic contests. I think that the players, at least some players, would like to play the story of their character with ups and downs. But how to play a character arc inside the story arc (let's call it a session now). Reading different blog posts about this you could say that the character arc stems from a change of the character. The hero overcomes his inner obstacle to save the day or finds something new inside them. I started thinking how this could work in HQ.

Of course, you can build the PC's story during one session so that in the end there is a nice change in the PC. The hero could've given up something valuable to achieve the final contest. "Losing" the session could also lead to a meaningful character arc, with a possible down note.

So I started to think about how to play this change of a PC in HQ. And then I thought about Flaws. Flaws has always been something to add color to the PC. The GM is urged to bring them up to actively resist the PC or giving a negative bonus to a contest. But overall they are second-class citizens and stay fresh only for a small amount of time. There has been the house rule of getting an extra Hero Point for playing your PC's flaws. That was a good idea but the flaws could be used for something more: character arcs. After all, they might be the easiest things to change regularly in the PC. And building up the Flaw and then overcoming it has character arc written all over it.

So, hear my initial ideas how to use the Flaws for character arcs. The flaws are either in two states: growing or pushed down. When the flaw is first introduced it starts to grow. It starts with low value (either base resistance or PC's lowest ability value). When the flaw is growing it should mainly be used to augment contests. Yes, the flaw is positive. After every use, the flaw gets higher (second lowest ability and so on). This represents how the flaw is taking over of the PC bit by bit. Think of flaw "Greedy". The PC can use it to get victories in contests giving himself to the greediness. After the flaw is used like this five times (it is somewhere in the highest ability rating) it will act as a Flaw in rules: in a negative way. Now, every time the PC is negatively affected by their flaw (be it active opposition or penalty), it is reduced. This is the story of the character overcoming his inner demons that have grown too big. After four times the final overcome should be during or before the session final contest, closing the arc of the flaw. After the PC overcomes the Flaw last time it is removed and thus the PC has changed again. Next time if there is no Flaws (or under three) the player should get a new one that starts to grow again.

Concentrating to single or multiple flaws this way would spark more storytelling from players and GM to the contests. I was thinking how this idea would work in certain types of flaws. Greediness and drunkness are easy to think of (growing and pushed down) but how about something like "Hated by lunars". That is kind of an "external" flaw and not probably suitable as is.

So, what are your suggestions about character arcs in HQ and this Flaw-based idea of dealing with them?


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I never used it in HQ, because I never really ran a campaign as such except as an adjunct for the more powerful members of my RQ game (and thus already had established personas).  What I would do wasn't so much part of the system as the structure of the game.  At natural breakpoints, like at the end of a campaign, I'd schedule a short night where I'd spend 20 minutes or half an hour with each player discussing privately where they wanted to go with the character from there, what changes they foresaw, etc., and then we'd briefly go over their downtime activities.  I'd use the information garnered in my plotting for future games, some immediate and some less so.  Of course, there were no such things as flaws when I instituted the practice, but it helped keep the players in touch with the characters and made them think about the future and where they'd like to fit into it, and it also aided me in GM'ing.  I drew entire campaigns from some of their ideas.

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Neat ideas. I've had similar ideas regarding the use of Flaws and Extended Contests for long-term character-driven things. Here's an excerpt from my Flaw-variant-dump post in the House rules thread:

On 3/15/2018 at 9:34 AM, JonL said:

Dynamic Flaws

Building on the above, lingering Benefits of Victory or Consequences of Defeat from Flaw challenges could be applied to the Flaws themselves. This could either be done in a direct fashion, such that Victory in a Flaw challenge makes it easier to overcome the next time while Defeat makes the next flaw challenge harder - or - in an inverse fashion, such that overcoming your Flaw today means that it will be a bigger challenge the next time. The latter approach somewhat parallels the Pass/Fail cycle dynamic. Which approach one chooses would impact the tone of the game through the nature of the Characters' personal struggles. 

Extended Flaws 

A long term struggle with addiction, a vendetta, outlawry, poverty, societal acceptence, curses, and so on can be modeled as an extremely Extended Contest with one's Flaw.  Keep track or Result Points from any Flaw challenge, and whenever the Player or the Flaw hit 5RP, assess the degree of Victory or Defeat based on the spread. Depending upon that result the nature of the Flaw and its severity (rating, penalty, however you're doing it) will change. A vendetta might escalate to a blood feud or calm to a respectful rivalry. An addict might become more regularly functional or fall off the wagon. A Complete Victory might resolve the Flaw entirely, while a Complete Defeat might add a Mastery to the Flaw's severity or add a new Flaw.

We riffed on similar ideas in the Genre Pack Use Cases.

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