Murder Most Fowl!

Art by Jennell Jaquays from The Legendary Duck Tower

Over the weekend, my spouse (Adrean) and I had some free-time, and we played a one-off of Hero Wars. I already had a character made, a beer drinking Humakti Duck, and Adrean was down to play as Duncan McQuack, Initiate of Humakt.

I sat back and thought of a self-contained situation, roughly a short story worth of material. I grabbed a Dyson Logos map of a caravanserai, Duzig’s Hold (link at the end)! I decided the hold would be somewhere on a Lunar Tradout up towards Dorastor, but that’s not important. We don’t have time for lore! We’ve got a game to play.

I quickly flipped through Anaxials Roster, and decided an Ogre (a human who turned to cannibalism and became changed by Chaos) with the chaotic feature of Ant Pheromones had killed/partly eaten two people in Duzig’s Hold. Who were these people though? I made up two Trading parties, one Orlanthi and one Lunar. The victims were two of the Lunars who snuck off for some sexy time.

Both the Lunars and Orlanthi blame the other for allowing the murders to happen. Both cultures worship Humakt, so Duncan McQuack is trusted to be a neutral party and uncover the truth.

So we started right there, moments after the bodies were found (still warm).

Duncan McQuack went to the victims bodies, and tried to experience their last moments. McQuack failed, and the harrowing vision overwhelmed it (in our Glorantha, most Humakti are Agender, in-setting referred to as Swords, using it/it/its pronouns), inflicting a -1 Hurt status going forward.

Duncan grabbed Duzig’s teenage sons (Danzig, ZigZig & ZigZag) to look around the area for any sign of the killer. This led the group into one of the stables. Duncan failed to notice an ambush of a giant ants, one ant bit ZigZag knees (inflicting an Injury) and this attack kicked off an Extended Contest between Duncan and Duzig’s Boys vs a group of dog-sized ants!

We used the Follower and Collective Ratings rule for the combat. Followers add their Action Points to the Hero, while Collective Ratings distribute AP among a group of opponents who are treated as one actor rather than individual characters.

The fight was awesome! We loved how wagering AP and narration worked together for handling groups of characters.

An Example from one exchange.

Adrean wagers 8 Points: 1 point for ZigZag trying to defend themselves from the ant gnawing on his leg. 2 Points for DanZig and ZigZig forming a battle line to defend themselves. 5 points for Duncan rushing the largest ant.

This dynamic, where we locked down the actions as we wagered our Action Points, made describing the outcomes of each exchange so easy and fun! The battle was colorful, provided all the context to keep building on the fiction. and created a real Howardian momentum to the action.

We enjoyed the short session so much, we are going to continue to play and find out what happens next!

To note: As far as prep goes, I had various locations locked down. I know who the Ogre is (one of the Orlanthi, the lead trader’s cousin, Ogrid). The sequence of events prior to play and a rough idea of who everyone is. No clue trails. No set pieces. I am here to play, not to guide.


, ,

5 responses to “Murder Most Fowl!”

  1. It’s a joy to see this, including among many other things the playfulness: duck! murder! (ogre) Go! If there’s one thing Glorantha doesn’t need, it’s any more frowny serious-business intensity.

    It’s also great to see the table follow-up to our discussion of Hero Wars combat. The interplay of stated things + dice + points is remarkably good design.

    • The juxtaposition of the cartoon-y (ducks and silly), grotesque (cannibal murders), “stoned philosophizing in a diner at midnight” and sword & sorcery action (giant ants) is exactly what I *want* from Glorantha. Its a wonderful source of inspiration for that flavor of fantasy.

      That discussion was very helpful (, and frankly I feel kinda silly on my part because I built a theoretical situation in my head about perceived edge cases without any actual play. Wouldn’t you know it? Nearly all my “but what about” was absolutely solved when the dice hit the table.

      Here is something I feel is worth mentioning about Hero Wars and Extended Contests. There isn’t an *explicit* goal for an Extended Contest. I’m used to games with a “conflict system” having set goals. HeroQuest 2nd Edition, contests are fought over “a prize”. Mouse Guard/Torchbearer have Conflict Goals. Hero Wars has no such thing.

      Its a curious difference, and I noticed its effect immediately in play. There was a lot less fussing over what was an appropriate action. It felt a lot more immediate and fluid than the aforementioned systems.

    • I agree with you about the openness of the eventual narration. There is in fact a thing which we know is constrained by the dice outcome, but that thing is not everything occurring at this time, and it doesn’t include various nuances of how it got there or what is immediately implicated. Some of these “other things” can be folded in as part of narration, and some of them are explicitly not accounted for and must be dealt with separately.

      I’ve discussed this topic from several angles here at Adept Play, but a good immediate reference is Frog Pool fantasy.

      There’s also some history here regarding the Forge and Story Games in 2005-2006. I pointed out that over-determining and pre-narrating outcomes was actually destructive to the properties of games like The Pool and Primetime Adventures, but it was proliferating as examples and eventually instructions throughout many games during this time, in an extremely uncritical, repeated, telephone-game way, getting more disconnected from reality in each new game (carry, Mortal Coil, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, the first version of Shock, and others). Clearly some discourse and popularity community was taking hold over people in such a fashion as to diminish play-as-development. Play was replaced by pre-conflict and pre-scene workshopping.

      My course Playing with The Pool is basically an entire re-education about exactly this thing, or rather, includes outcome narration as a piece of examining the big picture of talking + stochastic procedures in resolution.

    • After listening to Frog Pool Fantasy, I took a step back and really thought about IIEE in practice during play.

      As I understood it for Hero Wars (using your throwing an axe example).


      Hero: I am attacking the broo with my Ranged Combat Ability.

      GM: The Broo will advance with his shield up and using their Close Combat Ability.


      Hero: I run at the Broo with my axe overhead and throw it headless of exposing myself to harm. I’m wagering 8 AP.

      GM: The Broo sees your reckless advance and rushed in with his shield raise. The Broo wagers 4 AP.

      *Here We Roll Dice and Compare Results. The Hero gets a critical success. The Broo gets a failure.*

      Execution: The axe soars through the air, and the Broo hits the dirt to avoid the axe.

      Effect: The Broo transfers 16 AP to the Hero. Leaving the Broo with couple of AP left. The Hero has a big advantage in the next turn.

      Is that about right?

      We just intuited our way through it, as it felt quite straightforward with what could be said up to a roll, and what was said after.

      The outcome of a turn provided most of the context for the next set of Intents – which is super important on so many mechanical (Improvisation Penalties, what a wager means) and aesthetic levels (if what we’re required to describe isn’t expressive or of any consequence, we might as well just roll dice and be done with it).

    • Regarding anything important, you have it right, or rather, consistent with my thinking about actions during play. Your insight about knowing enough to do things is the key; what “can” be done or “what do I do” are not any sort of problem.

      At the risk of getting pedantic/didactic, I will say two interesting things about IIEE.

      1. The four things are fictionally “there,” they have to be. But that doesn’t mean each and every one of them must be real-life stated, nor do they have to be brushed up as fiction-speech. In your example, some of the suggested talking is more wordy and descriptive than is needed or typical in play. If you say “I chop his damn head off,” that’s plenty, or if context for such an action is already obvious, you might not describe anything before stating AP and rolling on your turn.

      2. Related to the above, one of the big points about IIEE is that they are almost never four separate procedures. A given role-playing system presents its own profile for how they’re combined as table-acts and when they are expressed (finalized) for the events in play.

      Example: in Sorcerer, intent has been made explicit as its own step before rolling dice (for anyone). Initiation + Execution are combined into your single dice roll (and everyone else’s when relevant). Effect is handled as its own step regarding the defensive roll and assessing resulting penalties.

      Example: in early RuneQuest, intent (let’s say an attack) was stated after your previous action so we know how many Strike Ranks must go by before you can do it. Initiation is quite drawn-out, consisting of all those Strike Ranks and whatever may happen during them while you’re “getting there” to do your thing, if indeed you do. Execution is the roll itself and Effect is the combination of rolling hit location, rolling damage, armor, damage effects, et cetera.

      Example: in D&D 3rd-4th-5th, disregarding other differences among them, intent + initiation are the same step, with execution sometimes folded into it without much need to distinguish otherwise, and effect is its own step.

      And then there are games in which it’s all one thing, e.g., Fate, when you just do IIEE as one step with your roll and its opposition.

      Does that help or make sense? It might not be important enough here to develop further, and anyway, I have whole classes to dissect it with zillions of examples (Phenomena, Playing wth The Pool, Action in Your Action).

Leave a Reply