This hack works with Hero Wars, Heroquest 1 or 2. It’s designed to support Narrativist play, specifically. It’ll work for any setting pretty much.
Start by deciding a “scale” to work with. Is this campaign about the survival of a single village or town, or is it about an entire empire?
Don’t think of how big or narrow the adventure will be, think more about how the player characters will be identifying themselves – for example, “I’m a Seattle native”, “I’m a Washingtonian”, “I’m an American” are 3 scales of identity, which talk about different values.
Your game might shift up or down during play, but this sense of scale tells us about what lens we’re working with.
Talk as a group and pick 5 values this community upholds. You need to talk about this as a group, because the game changes drastically depending on which values they are – “Loyalty to family” is one thing, “Women should know their place” is another.
Having all or mostly positive values means the conflicts generally revolve around negotiating which values apply and how to apply them in specific situations. Having all or mostly negative values means the game will focus on internal power struggles and the issues of the protagonists as collaborators and perpetrators in the problems.
Even if you’re working from a common setting, talk about it as a group! It’s going to shape the whole game.
In addition to the normal traits each player character will need to write down 3 Values of their own – either:
a) 2 based on community values listed above and 1 different
b) 1 based on community values above and 2 different
PCs should have at least 2 close Relationships and at least 1 Flaw as well.
Players earn XP by:
1. Challenging or affirming a Value or Relationship.
When a player does either in a way that shows growth or significant conflict, the GM awards 3 XP. If it’s in a way that would “make or break it”, that is, is a turning point in terms of choices and actions, the GM awards 5 XP.
2. Engaging a Flaw in a way that significantly shapes the story
When a player acts on a Flaw in a way that significantly affects the plot or events, the GM awards 5 XP… only once per session. You get this only once, even if you have 30 Flaws and trainwreck your way through the game.
“Significant” means stuff like being drunk all the time isn’t worth this, but being drunk enough that you go beat up a government official and end up being labeled an outlaw- that would count.
At 20 XP, a player can choose one of the following (but can’t pick the same thing twice in a row):
1. Raise your highest Trait by 5 points
2. Raise any other 3 Traits by 5 points (that is, not your highest)
3. Raise your lowest trait by 15.
4. Add a new trait, equal to your lowest Trait plus 15
If you have more than 20, the extra points carry over. These advances happen in play on the spot. Values can and should change over time, so feel free to rename them as necessary. Other traits may change in description, check in with the GM – a character could easily grow from “Brash” to “Cautious from Experience”
What’s it do?
This sets up the PCs to both a) not be complete weirdo outcasts from the community and b) also not totally in line with the community. It sets up a lot of space for challenging existing community values and also the fun stuff that happens when you have cultures meeting, clashing, and mixing.
Players are encouraged to both pursue and challenge Values and Relationships, which completely highlights both the “The Hero Wars are about…” type conflicts as well as the sorts of cultural cross connections that these sorts of stories are about.
The GM is given an easy tool to define conflicts- simply target people’s Values and relationships. Problems can spring out of anyone using or misusing a Value, as well as outside sources which threaten them as well. These also come out of communities attempting to force PCs to conform.
Why hack it?
The resource system of “Hero Points now or permanent XP later” is never really a good design. The fact is, it takes at least 20 Hero Points spent in advancement to be equivalent to 1 Hero Point spent in a conflict. Given that players get Hero Points just for showing up, it doesn’t really encourage any kind of play as far as an advancement system goes.
Second, it nails down play into Narrativism with reward mechanics. Hero Wars strongly talks about the issue of conflicting values throughout the whole book, though the reward system is neither here nor there with it, and Hero Quest reduced that discussion and added lots of Simulationist play advice and examples. Hero Quest 2 would do the same thing, though focusing on simulating genre tropes of the Heroic journey rather than a specific setting.