7 Jul 2009

Reflections on my HeroQuest Journey

The HeroQuest Core Rules (HQ2) were officially released on 1 July, early reviews are hitting the net, and I find myself reflecting on a decade of playing with this game in its various forms. This is partly due to realising it was ten years ago when I first encountered a playtest version of HeroWars (HW).

My Roleplaying is radically different now, due in no small part to this game. I would love to be able to say that as soon as I took up that first proto-character sheet, instantly the scales fell from my eyes. But instead it was a long painful process that took years of background reading and trying out other games. And, in my weekly game, as a group we are not quite at the end of the road.

Is there anything inherently difficult about HeroQuest? I note that this question has already been asked and answered in the fan community with a huge NO, with only a few dissenting voices, but my truthful answer is, I don’t know. I can only look back at my experiences and cannot read the document with truly fresh eyes.

The new book, the draft version of which I have had for around ten months, takes huge strides towards being a game that achieves its now more clearly stated aims:

“Although there’s no right or wrong way to play the game, a certain story based logic does underlie the entire system.”

And much of the advice and rules streamlining is steering play specifically towards this aim. For example, we have a clear move away from stats for monsters or equipment, instead guidance is given as to how to describe such things depending on genre, and examples include textual descriptions like the flying speed of a griffin with no attempt to represent the creature in game mechanical terms.

If you read carefully between the lines in HW and HQ1 you can just glean a way of playing the game that relies purely on the Narrator selecting an appropriate resistance, instead of having pre-prepared stats. This is not to say that those games were meant to be played this way, indeed there are examples and advice directly contrary to this, but many of us noticed the potential and our games adapted accordingly.

Playing this way, with resistances left up to the Narrator, is a liberating and interesting idea, that on the flipside has many pitfalls and potential problems. Because earlier versions of the game did not espouse this method, the guidance and advice was lacking. Instead we had to find our own way through along the path less travelled and seek advice from those who had been this way before. For me this advice was mainly centred on the Forge HQ Forums before it was ceremonially removed from that place for dabbling with third party publishing!

Of course, taking the road less travelled is inherently more difficult, the majority of the community was walking down another path. A path that more clearly followed the examples in HQ1. For me the first point of diversion was when the HW line included Anaxil’s Roster. Suddenly we had a book that attempted to construct the creatures, monsters and inhuman races into PC like game mechanics. Somewhere along the way I took a few steps in another direction. I started to have doubts about what attribute stats like strength and size actually meant in this game, and by the time HQ1 was published, complete with a Creatures section ported from Anaxil’s Roster, I realised that I was off of the map.

It was around this time I had stumbled into the Forge forums and my early views on this issue can still be seen, still frustrated by how my version of the game seemed to be different to everyone around me, and how the new rules were making things worse! It was up to my group to find our way along this divergent path, and we slowly and surely did, with many of the wider HQ community also finding their own ways off of the main path espoused by the published rules.

The new rule book has thrown the rules onto a new path, and now a whole other group of players are bound to be startled. That new path heads towards those less travelled paths that so many of us had started to explore, and it is easier for us to step right back on the main path again and see where it takes us. But for those who had followed the examples and played by the established book, this new direction is going to seem weird or just plain wrong.

The new rules do a very good job of explaining the principles of the game, and how it is supposed to work. It has some minor elements that in my opinion will still create cognitive dissonance in groups using this game as a route map into uncharted territory. In other words, the game still has pitfalls all of its own, and I expect to occasionally fall into some, but at least it is leading in a direction that I want to go now.

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