I have been using HW to run a fantastical & high-powered Glorantha game. I have been ruminating about how to treat failures. I tried to start a discussion about Simple Contests for HW/HQ but ended up doing a lot of reflection on a play episode and set out some best practices for myself. Hopefully others will find these useful for their own play.
- Be clear when a Contest is over, HW/HQ is not a series of tasks just following one after the other. They are the rule-goverend resolution of conflicts inherent in a situation.
- be clear on the location, the characters participating in this situation, their spatial relationship, and the actions that they are doing and the Ability used to carry out that action
- knowing the character’s intention for the whole contest or desired outcome is helpful only for establishing what the person is doing and how they are doing that — we can interpret the results of the dice an see what has happened and THEN judge if the current disposition of forces resembles that declared intention or if some other conclusion to the Contest is possible
- Consider what the Contest Results mean with reference to the actions the characters described, not the semantics of the Ability’s names or the character’s statements about how they wanted the Contest to end
- Say: “This Marginal Defeat means that my Javelins barely touched you guys, and that you have my left arm caught in your net.” Concrete! Made with reference to stated actions about the use of Abilities.
- Don’t Say: “Marginal Defeat means nothing happened on my side, and you guys have like maybe hurt me a little so I keep doing what I was doing before with just a -1 penalty.”
- Before rolling dice for the next Contest, clarify the new situation
- all the characters from the previous Contest may still be there
- but a new situation has arisen, the characters might have shifted locations and relative positions, they are in different states of mind and body and magic than they were, and we cant re-use the Ability to re-litigate the Contest that has just ended
I handled a Simple Contest in a very bland way. The heroes won a Marginal Victory using a magical javelins Ability in pursuit of the aim “Kill the squad of foes,” and against the foes’ use of a mundane tactical Ability in pursuit of the aim “Capture the hero we’ve been pursuing for days.” The heroes imposed a +1 penalty for all future physical activity because they were hurt by lightning. And I had nothing in mind for the contingency where the foes achieved a result short of Complete Victory.
I work on a Scene-by-Scene basis in this game, inspired by Trollbabe. There no comparable unit of play in HW/HQ. Here was the fictional situation in that Scene. Four player characters are facing off against a detachment of 8 Lunar Antelope riders. Couric elects to stay some 100 meters away and use his elemental power over Water to aid the storm magic of Freja the Vingan. Elenya the Healer rushes to stand between the Vingan and the Lunars, knocking their crescent-bladed arrows out of the air with her enchanted staff. Rutgar the Paragon of Darkness launches a barrage of lead-tipped shadow arrows to cut the Lunars’ connection to the lambence of the full Red Moon. Freja is in her Hero Light and launching lightning javelins at the Lunars. The Lunar leader readies a throwing net and charges the Vingan to capture her while his subordinates wound her with arrows. This is a practiced tactic of theirs.
The Vingan’s aim is to slay all the Lunars who killed her brother. The Lunar commander’s aim is to capture The Vingan. NB: The declaration was helpful to understand what was going on. But I should not have taken it as dispositive. This is NOT Burning Empires where you specify an Intent (that game’s very specific rules term) and a Task. The description of what the characters are going and what abilities are involved needs to be in place before resolving a Contest (HW’s specific rules term). Resolution I ruled that this was a Simple Contest. Couric, Rutgar, and Elenya provided Augmenting Bonuses to Freja, whose “Javelins of Fluminating Vengeance” was the main Ability used to resolve the contest. The subordinates Augmented their leader’s “Capture the Renegade” Ability.
The rules give almost no guidance on how to assess penalties or bonuses that the situation would impose on the resolution.
* I have 4 people on Freja’s side, and 8 foes she is trying to impose a uniform condition on: dead. That means 4 un-matched foes, and so I imposed a penalty of -3 x 4 to Freja’s rating, or -12.
* These are the Ability ratings after all Bonuses, penalties, etc. had been calculated
- Freja’s 70 or 10w3 vs. Lunars’ 76 or 16w3
- Freja rolls 18, a Failure vs. Lunar’s 19, a Failure
- Freja spends a Hero point, Bumping her up to a Success.
- Success vs. Failure = a Minor Victory for Freja, -1 penalty for Lunars Immediate Consequences
- I ruled that the physical conflict had ground down to a near draw, that Freja had only wounded her foes.
- The Lunars had to give up their attempt to capture Freja and do something else. So they elected to flee.
- The established fiction included the fact that Freja had been pushing herself to near exhaustion, and that she would be capable of no physical action after her Heroforming had run out.
Subsequent Conflict and Consequences
Rutgar then went after one of the Lunars to capture him. The -1 penalty eased that capture somewhat. He won a Major Victory, which means the Lunar was reduced to 50% of some Ability or Abilities. I never really thought about the consequences of that. Like -50% to any Ability used to escape from Rutgar’s control ?
NB: I should have established the new situation after Freja’s Minor Victory. We just loosely declared actions. I should have been a little more careful and made some things clear:
* We were still in the same Scene (in Trollbabe’s sense) and all of the characters involved in the previous Conflict were still there
* We had a new situation with characters in different states than they had been in the preceding Conflict, in different spatial relationships, with different activities underway
* We were able to establish what all parties were doing and a new Contest arose out of that.
* There was too much fumbling and confused gesturing and declaiming before we got there
Fixed principles on my part would’ve speeded up the establishment of a situation ready for conflicts and formal Contests.