I’ll be back to my usual stuff soon, but I have been meaning to post this for a while. It is actually written for a RPG review site, but for the moment, here is my review of the HeroQuest2 roleplaying game mentioned in my previous post.
OK, it’s been a very long time coming, but I wanted to write a full playtest review of Heroquest 2, or as I refer to it from here in HQ2. I have played on and off with the system now for well over a year, I finally feel that I can offer a balanced opinion on its strengths and weaknesses.
About the Reviewer
It’s probably helpful to know a little about my background, to let you see my prejudices. I first came to Runequest and Glorantha in the late 1970’s or early 80’s, and have always been a huge fan of the Basic Roleplaying System, but was from the start bewildered by the incredible depth of the Glorantha world setting. Having some serious Glorantha geeks around me always left me a little put off — simply because I did not know the difference between Yellow, Brown and Green Aldryami for example, and would have (until quite recently) struggled to locate Fronela or the city of Nochet on a map. The amazing strength of Glorantha as a world setting is this depth, and the incredibly esoteric discussions of deep background on the Glorantha email lists – but it is also a major problem to someone like me who likes to know a setting, and explore it, but who as a GM always felt put off by my lack of knowledge. Then, many of the publications that set Gloranthan canon were out of print,or hard to obtain. Finally Runequest in all its versions has a ponderously slow (to my mind) combat system, and so I was never a Glorantha/RQ fan boy.
Then I discovered Heroquest. The received wisdom in my district among gamers was that Hero Wars, its predecessor, was a buggy, difficult and awkward system, with many failings.
I have never actually played it, but I am a huge fan of the trade paperback books that were produced for that edition — but on reading the Hero Wars rules, a new game system set in Glorantha, my brain shut down. (I did exactly the same when first exposed to Ars Magica mind you, and did not come back to it for a decade. I eventually got it, and now am an established author for the 5th edition Ars Magica line with many credits, and a HUGE fan. Never let a negative first impression put you off!) Anyway I really did not get Hero Wars, so when Heroquest first edition was released it took me a very long time to pick it up, but when I did I was blown away, in a good sense. You can read my review here.
I actually eventually discovered in play many problems with the system, or what I perceived as problems. For that reason I have left posting this full playtest review a long time — because I wanted to see if extensive exposure to the HQ2 system would prove similarly disappointing. As I only review games I really enjoy, you can probably guess it did not, but there is a years worth of gaming experience and three short campaigns reflected in this review. I’m still learning though, and ask questions on simple things on the HQ2 yahoogroup quite often, so I’m no expert.
My rpg theory background would place me fully in the Simulationist camp, with a bit of narrativism and gamism chucked in for those who care about such things. I have experimented with many indie rpgs, and enjoyed them, but ultimately am at heart an old style grognard. I have played the game with 12 people, and would say that 10 of them fit that description, one had not gamed before and one is unashamedly narrativist. All enjoyed the experience, and one wrote the following for me as a comment when I told him I was writing a review (I cited it in my previous review if it seems familiar) —
“Love the system. Really flexible on character generation and storytelling. Gave me the ability to try something really challenging and leftfield which was certainly immersive, escapist, liberating and highly enjoyable. I’ll stop now before this ends up is “Pseud’s Corner” in Private Eye.”
Enough about me – I just hope this allows you to make a more considered judgment of my review…
What kind of games can you run with it?
Pretty much any you can imagine, in ANY setting. This is the second edition of Heroquest, which in turn was based on an earlier game Hero Wars.Both those games were set specifically in one fantasy setting – Greg Stafford’s evocative world, Glorantha. This new edition of the rules does contain a small section on playing Heroquest 2.0 in Glorantha, which covers basics of magic etc, but these rules are truly multi-genre – and without much real immediate obvious need for setting packs. You can run any story you can imagine with them – because they abstract the technology and vehicles etc in terms of their role in your story, NOT a simulationist attempt to define how they would work in reality. If you want starship construction rules, stats for a hundred different guns, and a detailed approach to armour and movement and maneuver rules, this is NOT the game for you. Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying might be a better bet, or GURPS? Heroquest 1.0 might also work better for you.
However, my gaming style is simulationist, and I actually have run HQ2 in a very simulationist manner: the crunch is not as important, but I can still narrate in a way that reflects a simulation of a physical universe. I have run a heist based game, which I intended to be cinematic, but actually was by the end of it more like a modern gangster movie, gritty and realistic. It worked just fine: one thing I have learned from playing is that the GM decides if any game is say Space Opera like Star Wars, or hard SF like Asimov’s novels – simulation is a function of narration and what tests you call for, not necessarily down to rules system or what game developers often term “crunch”
Heroquest 2.0 is unashamedly a game about stories and characters, where the genre defines the way the game runs — and the styles that can be supported range from satire to cinematic to gritty realism or even tragic operetta. The GM and the players set the tone, as is the case in any rpg, which whatever the authors intentions can be played from Beer n Pretzels style through to skirmish wargame style. I have played Ars Magica games that run the full spectrum, and I have run Heroquest games that range from my heist-movie series gritty realism through to the more cinematic Bonnie and Clyde game and the deeply immersive Colymar campaign set in Glorantha.
As you may have gathered, not having to play HQ2 in Glorantha was a big bonus to me, though all that changed when Moon Designs “reset the canon” and made Glorantha way more accessible with Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes and The Sartar Companion. My reviews of those will follow, but I am finally an unashamed Gloranthan fan-boy owing to the accessibility and beauty of those books.
Let me give an example from my heist movie game “Gone on the Fourth of July”. There are three methods given in the rules – a list method, where you choose ten abilities (and possibly a couple of Keywords, described below), a narrative method where you write 100 words about your character and then derive abilities from that, and a “fill it in as you go method”. Keywords start at 17, other abilities at 13, and then you divide 20 points among them, with no more than 10 points going on any one ability.
We used the 100 word method. As one player turned up late I was tempted to use method 3 for him, and I asked another if he would like to try the List method as he usually finds that easier, but in the end all the players elected to use the 100 word method 1. Given the game’s cinematic roots I said clichéd stereotypes were just fine for the heist characters, if they wanted to play them. We put on the tracks Self Preservation Society, I Fought the Law (Clash version) and Scooby Snacks and we were off…
Lloyd played Jake Malone. His hundred words read
“Jake Malone has been involved with crime since he was a teenager. Stealing cars and armed robbery is his game. He stole his first car at 14 but has gone on to become an excellent wheelman. He lives a playboy lifestyle, fast cars and charming even faster women. He enjoys all the benefits of a criminal lifestyle. Jake is a cockney wide-boy through and through, growing up on the mean streets of the East End, ducking and diving with the best of them. Jake hates the pigs and any form of authority. He would rather die than go to jail. “
I decided to help him interpret these in to a character sheet, and we came up with a decent fun character. His keyword was Wheelman, which we decided we would assign 5 sub-skills, and the italicized bits were his two flaws. Here is Lloyd’s character as it was after the first session, with a few hero points expended on increasing abilities…
East End Criminal Contacts 13
Acquire Hot Goods 13
Playboy Lifestyle 13
Gone in 60 Seconds 18
‘andle A Shooter 13
Owns Hottest Sh*t on the Road 13
Charm the Knickers Off A Nun 18
Contacts: Sound of Bow Bells 13
A Little Bit Woo, A Little Bit Wah 13
The Knowledge 13
Gift of the Gab 13
Sharp Dressed Man 13
They’ll Never Take Me Alive 3W
Rebel Without a Cause 18
The W symbol by the Keyword and the Flaw should be a mastery rune, and adds 20 to the ability. So Jake really has the ability Wheelman 23, in normal terms, but a mastery level has a specific game role, explained under contests below. Note the abilities, all invented by the player, are written in (bad) cockney argot, to reflect the mood of the game. We all understood whgat was intended by them, but having something ambiguous like Erenessa’s (below) Copper Bar of Truth is just fine: it was defined what it did when she first used it in a story.
Now an odd bit about this character. Firstly, it has a lot more than ten abilities. That is because of the way we derived the abilities from the 100 words, and because Lloyd the player decided to spend Hero Points, the experience points of the system, to buy a couple more in keeping with his character after the first session. Secondly, the ability Wheelman (basically “getaway driver”) is a Keyword. In HQ1 Keywords came with a list of breakout abilities, something like —
Drive like a Bat out of Hell (break out ability)
Plan the Perfect Score (break out ability)
Getaway Driver (break out ability)
Two Wheels Through Alley (break out ability)
Chop Shop & Respray (break out ability)
All of which could run off the Keyword, but which could be improved individually too. That is still true in HQ2, but there is no defined list of break out abilities for any Keyword. I was surprised, but this worked really well in play, and it is entirely possible, and normal, to create a character with such breakout abilities. Here is one from my run of the Colymar campaign, to show what a Gloranthan character looks like in HQ2 terms, after 7 sessions…
Erenessa, Initiate of Issaries (Communication)
Earth Rune 17
Truth Rune 17
Communication Rune 1W
Issaries Trader +1
Member of Orlmarthing Clan 20
*Herd Carnivorous Plants (clan secret: spell) +1
Lawgiver (Occupation) 1W
*Legal Precedents +1
*History of Sartar+1
Hit it with my Bludgeon 1W
Hear Gossip and Remember It 18
Swoon Dramatically in to Handsome Fellows Arms (talent) 16
Know the Cowardly Ways of Ducks 13
Impressive Silver Arm Ring 13
Geography of Sartar 13
Betrothed to Ingar of the Hiording 15
Trusted by Termertain 14
The Copper Bar of Truth (magic item) 13
Haggling spell 13
Troll friend 15
Evaluate Lead Goods 13
Matrimonial ambitions 13
Can not tell a lie 1W
Note the abilities marked *, which are all breakouts chosen by her player based on the Lawgiver Keyword. When it is raised, which costs twice as many points as to raise any other ability, they are all raised — but they can also be raised individually. For a full description of how all this works in Glorantha, see my review of Sartar Kingdom of Heroes.
Character generation is a lot of fun, and i have seen some wonderful characters created. I cite these two simply because I happened to have them to hand! The ability to create any ability, be it an item, magical power, skill in normal rpg terms, relationship or personality trait and handle them all with the same system (and augment each other with them) is really fun and rewards player creativity.
One of the oddest things to an old gamer like me about HQ2 and its predecessors has always been that the GM rolls a resistance to every single ability check. This really jars at first, and when I first ran it (well the first two campaigns I ran) I did what I normally do, and just told the players what dice to roll, and what the results were, and they were curious about why I was rolling each time as well. I thought understanding the mechanics was not important – though I always explained when a Hero point could be spent to their benefit. It worked OK, but felt odd.
Now actually in my third game we started like that, but soon the players wanted to know what a Mastery level meant, and what my die rolls were for. I explained the whole mechanics properly, taking time to show them, as I roll the dice openly they started to get involved in understanding the mechanics that led to their marginal victory or whatever. And you know what? They loved it!
I had avoided explaining the system because I like players to concentrate on the story, but understanding the rules was enabling, letting them feel they were in a game not just a narrative made up by me as I went along. HQ2 seems rules light when you first read it, but like many good games the rules have a lot of hidden complexity, and I now appreciate the players want to understand them. It’s really easy to teach HQ2, and for a couple of sessions you might not even need to, but for people who have played a lot of systems understanding the “crunch” adds to their enjoyment.
For those interested in the mechanics: the game uses a D20, and you try to roll low, with 1 a critical, 20 a fumble. You try to roll under the relevant ability, which is modified by lingering bonuses and penalties (see below) and augments, where you roll a second skill that may be relevant to try and get a bonus.
Let’s give an example… Jake (played by Lloyd) above has been rumbled as he tries to listen in to a rival gang’s discussion in a dodgy boozer. As a couple of thugs run after him, he leaves and jumps in his car, taking off at breakneck speed through the street of London. The thugs follow on motorbikes.
Firstly we have to decide what is at stake in the contest. The Thugs want to catch him and ‘ave a word, and eventually he is going to get stuck in traffic. Jake is trying to get away. This is easy: the contest has two opposed outcomes – either the thugs catch him or they don’t. I decide the difficulty will be standard, which for this session is 15, so the thugs have an ability of 15. I will treat both as a pair for this simple contest. Now we need to establish the number Lloyd is rolling against to see if Jake escapes – he has 3W, so 23, but he wants to augment this with his “Owns Hottest Sh*t on the Road 13″ ability. So first we roll a quick contest, against a base resistance for an augment this session of 14. I roll 14, a success, as narrator. Lloyd rolls 19, a failure — having a fast car won’t help this time, as he gets no benefit from the augment. I describe how heavy traffic means he just can’t use that speed. We now roll to see if he can outrun the bikers – they have an ability of 15, he 3W.
Now the weird bit. Ignore the mastery for now – the W. Lloyd needs to roll under 3, I need to roll under 17. I roll a 12, a success; Lloyd rolls an 8, a fail. Now the Mastery cuts in – Lloyds result is bumped from a Fail to a Success, and so both parties succeed. Lloyd rolled lower, and so he gets a marginal victory — in this case he gets away, but the pursuers got a good look at him and his car. I would let Lloyd narrate what a marginal victory means. My explanation is not very clear, but soon you don’t need to refer to the tables in the book and it all becomes very easy to use.
In this instance,Jake also might get a Lingering Bonus of +3 to an ability in a similar situation, which lasts till he fails using that ability. I think I’d give him +3 to outrun bikes, or drive in traffic, either of which would run off his Wheelman keyword. These are not abilities — just bonuses that are temporary, and reflect his success in this kind of thing. Wounds are similar, but penalties to the ability that is wounded. If Jake gets slashed across the face in a scrap, his “Charm the Knickers Off A Nun 18″ might take a lingering penalty till he can get stitched up, made up or perhaps have plastic surgery. If his car gets smashed up, his “Owns Hottest Sh*t on the Road 13″ suffers a penalty — in a complete defeat it might “die” as his car is a write off, and we just scrub it off his character sheet.
Now imagine we were going to run this as an extended contest, the most important part of the session. How it works is a succession of simple contests, but each one gives points to the side that wins – a marginal victory 1, a minor victory 2, a major victory 3 and a complete success (fumble versus critical ) 5. First to 5 wins; there are rules for assistance from other player characters, each round needs a new exciting augment; his ability The Knowledge refers to the test London cab drivers have to take to show they know their way round the city, so that would be entirely appropriate for instance, or in desperation he could wave his gun at the bikers, using “handle a shooter” to try and intimidate them.
There is one other aspect of the system that needs a little attention though. Like most games, if a skill is not directly applicable, or is a “stretch” as the rules term it, then you can attempt it at a penalty. Jake has “East End Criminal Contacts 13″, but he needs to make contact with a gang member who is part of a mob South of the River Thames. He asks if he knows anyone down there — I decide this is a minor stretch, and maybe give him a -3 penalty. If however he wants to know a West End white collar criminal with a knowledge of bank fraud, well that is a real stretch – he will have a penalty of -6. If he wants to know a crook from Cardiff, I might just rule the ability is useless — it’s too far from his home turf. However, imagine a situation where Jake is trying to acquire some stolen jewellery to give to his annoyed girlfriend. This can clearly run off his “Acquire Hot Goods 13″ ability, and he can augment with several other abilities, not least the criminal contacts one.
However Lynzi, Sam’s character is a professional jewel thief. She has “Fence Stolen Jewels W5″. This ability is much more specific and relevant than Jake’s. Now as it happens Lynzi is out of town, casing the train route they plan to rob — but even though, as another player character has a more appropriate ability, Lloyd has a -6 to Jake’s ability.
This is a really neat metagaming aspect. Firstly, it makes every character have an incentive to have specific, appropriate skills — not just “Sword 18″ but “Swing from Chandelier and Flash My Rapier 18″. One of my issues with Runequest when it first came out, rather a long time ago, was that while cults and previous experience made characters different, they were far less defined than in D&D with its classes: Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief, etc. With this system every character has a strong motive to be designed as unique, with its own defined role and not stealing glory from the others. The Humakti is the deadly swordslinger walking down the street to a duel at high noon: the Storm Bull is a frothing berserker, launching himself against the horde of chaos creatures. They have a similar function as combat characters, but their players make sure they are differentiated, and have very different abilities. I really like this feature, and it has worked well in play.
If you read the above carefully you will notice that I said the base difficulty was for that session. Yes, every two sessions the base difficulty goes up, and a High difficulty task is always base +6, Very High base +9, Nearly Impossible base +W2. Likewise the base resistance to augments also goes up. Why? Well in my experience after a long HQ1 campaign, characters became VERY powerful. In HQ2 this is downplayed by this mechanic – odd, but works. You improve your character at the end of a session by spending some of the Hero Points the GM awards you to buy new abilities, or improve existing ones. However Hero Points can also be used to boost a contest result. In one of my games the players approached their clan asking for support, but had recently got the clan in to trouble with their tribal king, by an insulting limerick offered as a gift poem. While the clan do not like King Blackmoor, this could have nasty repercussions. Then the players rolled a fumble, I rolled a critical. A complete defeat. Not only were they not going to get any support, they were in real danger of being exiled given what they had done. Luckily Erenessa had a few spare Hero Points, and she spent one to boost her success from Fumble to Fail, and one more to boost it from Fail to Success. It was still a minor defeat, but it prevented the clan taking serious action against them: they all suffered -6 to their relationship with the clan as a minor penalty until the King was appeased, and they received absolutely no help and some new onerous duties. :( Without the expenditure of Hero Points it would have been much worse though.
After this experience the players were careful to keep a few Hero Points back, and not improve their characters every session. By session 7 most of them had a best ability, often a Keyword (more expensive to raise) at around 7W – the base resistance was by now 17 for a normal difficulty task. Erenessa above is unusual because her player spent most of his points boosting results. If you want to be good at something though, spend Hero Points to improve it. There is one rule which prevents characters having loads of low value ignored abilities – whenever you get one to 1W, 5 abilities at least 5 lower are increased by 3 points, in what is called a catch up. Players love this, and it appeals to their gamist tendencies!
So what’s changed from HQ1?
Everything and nothing. If you don’t know Heroquest 1.0, skip this bit! The game is still identifiably Heroquest, and everything I loved about the original is there.
Yet also it’s completely different – a change in approach comparable in the difference between D&D 3rd edition and D&D 4th edition, but in the opposite direction – from bean counting and tactical play, towards narrative storytelling.
Yet there are still a LOT of rules, they are still number heavy, but much simplified over HQ1.0, and augments which were a problem for me in Heroquest 1.0 have been totally reworked, and are now mainly about doing something new and interesting, not “add the +3 for sword skill, the +2 for Humakti, the +1 for hate Lunars, the +3 from my deathly glare and the +2 for my bunions of death, that’s +11 every turn”. One major change is augmenting is now usually with one ability, and you roll for it (or in some campaigns the GM can use the optional static augment – but then it’s now a 5th of your skill.) The need to think up something new to do each time you augment to justify it really makes the game go way faster – before it was often a tedious exercise in scanning character sheets to wring the last possible augment (a bonus to an ability based on another ability) off your character sheet, now it’s a much faster, cleaner system.
Extended contests and the consequences thereof have changed radically. Basically there are two types of Extended Contest — ones that take place during the main part of the story, which are less likely to mangle your character, and the final climax, where death or injury are far more likely. The HQ1 gambling for points bid is gone – replaced with a neat “first to 5 victory points mechanic. I was sceptical about this and planned to use HQ1 until I tried it, but actually collecting bottle tops or coins in an extended contest, and the way assists (where another character intervenes on your behalf) works really well in play. The examples given in the book, especially the long one of an Extended Group Contest are off putting, but actually using the system showed just how well it all worked in practice, and players have to narrate their actions and be creative, replacing the tedious “roll for attack, roll for parry, roll damage, subtract armour etc” of so many games.
In my opinion in an rpg combat you have three choices – let it be a die rolling contest, allow huge numbers of weapon and tactical choices to make for interesting combat, or to do what this game does and make storytelling the combat (and effective tactical choices therein) an essential element, making combat more than just an exercise in die rolling. D&D 4th ed increased participation via one a day, one a combat etc feats – the HQ2 rules have a similar effect in game play, with players trying t inventively find ways to augment, but now having to come up with something fresh every round, and often defaulting to “I just hit it!” if they are doing well. The requirement to come up with a fresh and exciting augment each round is just too much effort for a player who wants to win and get on with the next story: probably a sign I should not have used an extended contest.
On Extended Contests — almost everything in my sessions has been handled by simple contests, with one or in a few cases two extended contests per session when they really matter. They certainly have not all been combats — many have been debates, seductions, climbing a cliff, or even in one occasion making a new batch of extra-potent moonshine.
So long as it is critical to the narrative, interesting, and complex enough that you want to dwell on that bit of a story, you use an extended contest — if it is really really simple, you use a simple contest. When Frodo trekked across the marshes for days, in one of my least favourite sequences of Lord of the Rings, that would be a simple contest (if any). Trying to eject from an out of control jet fighter – that’s probably an extended contest, even though it lasts less than a second of actual time.
If you wanted you could of course still use Heroquest 1.0’s mechanic easily enough. There is loads of good advice on running contests, examples throughout, and modifiers now give a +3, +6, or +9. There are no fiddly +1 or -2 type modifiers, every modifier if worth putting in is boldly drawn. And the old weapons and armour pluses are gone too – characters are assumed to just have them as part of their abilities, and creating your own abilities is as before a big part of the game, but in non-Gloranthan settings even bigger than before. There are rules for creating communities, including for designing clan history style background questionnaires to let players have input through their choices in to designing the communities past ( like the one in Barbarian Adventures )- but now you can create your own for any setting. The community chapter also includes resource management rules, with variable scales, and where player character actions are important over and above random rolls.
The Pass/Fail Cycle
Every so often I read an idea that makes me rethink the way I think about roleplaying games. This was one of those occasions. In most rpg’s the characters face certain resistances, defined by the setting. Dragons are terrible, mighty foes, Klingon ships are dangerous adversaries, goblins are spiteful but puny, the Nazi’s vicious but dumb, the system you are trying to hack homicidally loaded with dangerous software to prevent an easy success. These numbers are dictated by the rules, the referees world vision, or even how experienced the characters are – “don’t go in to the third level of the dungeon unless you are third level!” None of this applies here.
Here, the difficulty of an encounter varies by its place in the story, and how well the characters are doing. If they are constantly failing, the challenges get easier and easier till they succeed. If they keep succeeding, they builder up in difficulty throughout the session, and either way always culminate in a dangerous a nail-biting climax!
That’s right, the difficulty of the challenges vary with how the characters are doing. A typical story will include both many successes and a few failures, which the characters will have to find ways round. When I first read this I was truly appalled – it seemed like the referee was just making the game up as they went along, and there was no way to be clever and “win” through good tactics – all story, but less game.
And then I saw – the Narrator (referee) can retrospectively create challenges based upon the next difficulty level, and is encouraged to change the difficulties to maintain genre and game world conventions – it does not matter how many times the characters failed climbing up the Lonely Mountain, if they poke Smaug on the nose with a stick they are in BIG trouble, and probably toast. Yet the Pass/Fail cycle really does seem to offer an exciting way to pace your narratives – letting the players succeed in defeating a minor obstacle before encountering Smaug may restore fun when the whole story seems to be falling apart through little more than bad dice rolls.
And if you hate it, well you can run Heroquest the “standard” rpg way, assigning all difficulties long in advance.
Now my playtest experience: I was really enthused an excited by this, and I printed off a Pass/Fail cycle sheet, and for my first two games I used it constantly, setting difficulties slavishly to it. And to be honest, it probably detracted from my game. Heresy! Robin Laws the author who I much admire has explored the role of the Pass/Fail cycle in his book Hamlet’s Hit Points — perhaps it’s my M.A. in Cultural Studies, but I really did not get enthused by it. If you love that book you will adore this aspect of HQ2 – but I finally for my third game did what Robin always intended, and set resistances as my storytelling instinct suggests, rather than worrying about the Pass/Fail cycle. I use it now as it was intended -as a guide – but most of the time i just set the difficulty of any given challenge based on my simulationist instinct, and you know what — my HQ2 games are much better for it.
It’s a shame that this element that excited me so much was not all I hoped for – but as I say, I’m a simulationist at heart. My players always get in to interesting trouble, of their own making, and I am happy to use static resistances. In the Colymar Campaign in Sartar Kingdom of Heroes many challenges have set resistances,and you can modify them of course as your story requires, and I find that liberating. It’s what GM’s have done for years. A run of good or bad luck is not dictated by arbitrary changes in difficulty anyway — I rolled 5 criticals against my players in my last session, and let the dice stand, so the story was pretty dramatic, but of the resistance was 6 or 19 the result would have been the same anyway.
So is the Pass/Fail cycle a good idea? Yes; just follow the advice in the book, and don’t follow it slavishly. I like to write down a few skills and numbers for some npc’s — and my sense of story dictates the pacing, contests, and difficulty levels more than following the cycle now.
If you have read my earlier reviews you will know I loved Heroquest 1, and really enjoyed it, and was wildly excited by HQ2 when it first came out. My players however are always more alert to problems than me, and the multiple augment thing did become an issue, as did high power levels over a year or so of weekly play. Both these faults are addressed in HQ2, and while I worried about the loss of Keywords with specific listed abilities, my players took to it. I did not really get the Rune magic system till I bought Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes – for HQ in Glorantha see my rave review of that. The book has faults, and there are aspects of the rules that I still struggle with — I find gun battles are at times a bit hard to describe, but I used a lot of simple contests for most, and it worked fine. So long as you get the way contest work, and carefully read the advice, it’s a brilliant system. and while my players and I came to not dwell much on the Pass/Fail cycle, other groups will adore it. I was not keen on Hamlet’s Hit Points — if you liked that book, this is the system for you. The main rule book has loads of examples, but nothing in the way of scenarios, and having played The Colymar Campaign from Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes a while that was amazingly handy in showing how to run the game, so that was a missed opportunity. (There are scenarios on the web, and any old HQ1 scenario, or indeed almost any rpg scenario at all, would be easily converted I think. However while i could run Traveller or Ars Magica scenarios with HQ2, I probably would not want to, as I could run them with those systems they were written for…)
This is a superb rpg, and I am still excited by it, love it, and really enjoy talking about it, as you can probably tell. It joins Ars Magica and Call of Cthulhu as one of the very very best rpgs I have ever run, and I have run a lot of rpgs over 30+ years. It is bit of a struggle to master, but once you finally get it, it is a beautiful game. Highly recommended.
Heroquest 2 is available from the Moon Design website here.