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HeroQuest 2: First Look

July 2, 2009

So I finally got my copy of HQ2 via PDF. I haven’t had a chance to really do much more than some quick skimming, but here’s some thoughts.

ETA: Now that I’ve read it…

HQ2 is the most recent iteration of the Hero Wars ruleset, more clearly written, and better designed in many ways. The rules are fairly elegant compared to the last two editions, and modular, much like Burning Wheel (except non-crunchy).

The rules provided can be drifted either towards Sim to Illusionist play, or to Narrativism, depending how much you decide to follow the advice through most of the book (Nar leaning) or follow a few bits of advice and rules in a few parts of the book (Sim or Illusionist leaning).

You should get this game if you have some experience with rpgs AND you know what your preferred play style is. It is easy to push the game in the direction you want it to go, either way, BUT it does little in actually teaching you how to get there(for that, I would recommend other games).

It does give you a lot of useful advice about specific techniques to add color, flourish, pacing on top of it.

What’s Good

The biggest change out the gate is that the rules are not tied to the Glorantha setting, which, gives people a chance to see how flexible and powerful the core design is.

There’s some really great advice about how to run conflicts, which, I think map perfectly to D&D 4E Skill Challenges.

There’s some fun mechanics about community resources, which I think will appeal to people who were intrigued by stuff like Burning Empires, Houses of the Blooded, or Reign, but found the larger resource games too crunchy to deal with. Hero Wars had touched on this, but this has some pretty good mechanics for encouraging proactive heroes to save the day.

HQ2 makes a lot of small fixes to things from previous editions- fiddly stuff with modifiers, augments, etc., which are both easier to understand and implement in a lot of ways.

There’s a lot of examples, from a lot of possible settings, showing off all the different ways you can use the system.

What’s not good

The biggest standout to me is the advice about fudging rolls, and to a degree, a bit about how to set difficulties. While I like that there is acknowledgement of difficulty not being set to any illusion of “realism”, and arbitrarily set, it’s the idea of ramping it up and down, including fudging, to pump up or down the tension of the group – AKA classic Illusionism.

The second problem I see is the legacy from it’s first incarnation as Hero Wars- the way in which players are encouraged to hyper-focus their characters on a few traits and abilities and not bother with the rest after a time.

Partly this is because both core rolls and augments depend on the base number of a skill, partly because Hero Points are too precious to spread out a lot, and partly because the game relies primarily on GM’s handing out narrow/broad modifiers to try to encourage more diverse advancement.

(a number of things could have made this different, but simply enough either making lower rated traits cheaper/easier to raise up and/or divorcing advancement from Hero Points).

Finally, HQ2 suffers from the same problem a lot of genreless games have- it’s somewhat dry and uninspiring. Which is damn sad, because the rules look pretty solid and fun. Though Glorantha setting books will bring the usual crowd, what will help them is if they get a solid setting with a different market appeal- perhaps something like how Savage Worlds has been exploring with different setting ideas.

Small Things

The Extended test rules have been modified- they’re slightly less fiddly than before, though I’d have to play to say if there’s that much of a difference in experience.

As mentioned above, HQ2 doesn’t firmly sit in either the Narrativist or Sim camp, despite all the “story advice”- I’m sure this was not a real concern for either Robin Laws or a lot of the Gloranthan fanbase, but I imagine it will continue to produce rough edges for groups where some folks want to shape the story while GMs fudge the dice rolls to force outcomes.

There’s a fair amount of artwork, but overall it’s not terribly inspiring or anything. The layout and graphic design is… really basic. It works, it’s just nothing spectacular.

Logistics

To be real, there’s concerns outside of the game itself to consider. The hardcopy is $30, which is about normal for an rpg these days.

The PDF is $20, which, is somewhat on the high end, and, sadly, the PDF distribution service they’re using is really, really bad. Like, “Look up stuff online to get help to figure out how to download the thing you paid for” bad. It’s even more boggling when you realize the file itself is just around 6 MB- easily attached in emails these days. It sounds like they fixed the issue at this point, still pretty bad hit to take on release day.

Overall?

The traditional roleplayer will find some really useful stuff in this game, and, I imagine in play, will discover some new ways in which games can be structured (much like the previous editions).

The indie roleplayer who is familiar with all kinds of weird games and is comfortable with scene framing, narration trading, and stakes setting? Probably won’t find anything new here – just a simple serviceable system and some illusionist chains at places.

The Gloranthan fan will find rules much like Hero Wars and Hero Quest 1, with much better clarity and examples, and a stronger bent away from emulating “realism”.

Suggestions for running this?

Come up with a strong setting. This could be a mod from another game, or a movie or book series you’ve always wanted to do. Show how the -awesomeness- of the setting is created and supported through your rules and use -that- to teach the rules and get buy-in from your players.

Show off how easy it is to make characters- show players how easy it is to make the character they’ve always wanted, without having to do massive point juggling or navigating power trees.

Show off how traits like, “Protects out of guilt”, “Secretly in love with the Prince” and “Commitment Phobia” can be as useful than “Swordfighting” or “Throws Fireballs”.

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