Organic Fastball Special

I love spontaneous teamwork that builds off the choreography of the moment. One player is in motion, another participant builds off what has been established without ambiguity or abstraction. A recent game of Hero Wars had such a moment. 


We are playing with the old module “The Legendary Duck Tower” written by Jennell Jaquays and Rudy Kraft. 

  • Adrean played Greer, a Dara Happan Hunter who follows Durbadath, The Lion.
  • Syri is playing Gahz’lynn, a Herotling Duck Initiate of Humakt. 
  • Sally’s character is Toemi, a Troll Merchant who worships Argan Argar. 

The band was being ambushed by Gargoyles after disturbing a large pile of skulls in an dilapidated courtyard. This began our first Extended Group Contest in Hero Wars. 


I’ll break down the sequence of events in a direct manner, rather than attempting a prose description.  This is in the middle of the fight, so round numbers are there for clarity.

Turn 1 – Gargoyle: A Gargoyle swoops down at Gahz’lynn, who responds by leaping in the air and meeting the attack with their own. The Gargoyle is more successful and Gahz’lynn is sent flying backwards in the air.

Turn 2 – Toemi: The player, Sally, asked if she could catch Gahz’lynn and throw her at the Gargoyle. Syri was pretty excited as her turn was next. In Hero Wars, a character may use their turn to Enhance an Ability on another character or themselves. Toemi used their ability Large to catch the Duck and throw her at the Gargoyle.

Turn 3 – Gahz’lynn: Is being thrown through the air, and attacks the Gargoyle, succeeding enough to knock it out of the Contest.

WOAH! This was such a great and cool moment – a spontaneous and unplanned “Fastball Special” (from the X-Men comic books)! I live for such moments in play, where the choreography of bodies in motion is perfectly captured by the chosen mechanisms. No need for clever descriptions, appeals to authority – just spontaneous, no BS, play.


How coincidental was this though? It’s easy to look at the turn sequence as happenstance, one turn followed by the other. However, Hero Wars has a great mechanic, where character’s can spend Action Points (a currency used during an Extended Contest) to jump ahead in the sequence. If Sally wasn’t going next, I would’ve had her spend Action Points to take her turn *right there*.

Hero Wars has been a wonderful game, and we’re hopefully going to continue playing it for the foreseeable future.

Have other people’s experience this kind of emergent teamwork within an Action Sequence? I’d love to hear about it!

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7 responses to “Organic Fastball Special”

  1. I can confirm this was a really fun moment in play! One thing that really tickled me was how Gahz’lynn remained airborne the whole time, feet only touching the ground once the gargoyle was shattered.

    I very much enjoyed how the narrative flexibility of Hero Wars meant I didn’t have to think in terms of prescribed concrete action options: I could just look at the fictional situation and ask myself WWGD, with the things written on my sheet a fruitful ground of inspiration. “Swordfighting augmented by acrobatics? Clearly Gahz’lyn would launch herself heedlessly into the air at these flying foes!”

    Even whiffing that first roll didn’t squelch the vision or the narrative flow–Gahz’lynn leaping ineffectually at a Gargoyle was just as fun as hitting her mark–and then Sally’s assist was a synergy that made a fun action beat transcendently, unexpectedly better!

    • Hello! With apologies for the brevity, this is my big Yes to enjoyable failure as a core feature of play.

    • Hey, Syri!

      I was thinking about why the flexibility of Extended Contests in Hero Wars work because I often find it laborious in games like Dungeon World, WUSHU or HQ 2nd Scored Contests. I think it’s because of a couple design features.

      AP Loss/Transfer provides clear constraints on narration outcomes, while being *unpredictable* in terms of consequence.

      Sequencing is dynamic and representative of people in motion, doing things!

      I did not need to consistently *edit and revise* all the intents and actions to create coherent/interesting action, play the permission giver or fight choreographer. It was absolutely clear what was possible, what was happening and how everyone was reacting to *it* as it was going down.

      Look at how dynamic and *clear* ordering is…

      The order of a Round is set by Current AP Total. The order will shift based on what we experienced happening. You lose big. You’re off balance, out of position, on your back foot! You gain AP from a Critical? You *clearly* have gained the upper hand on your opponent.

      This order isn’t fixed within a round either! One can always delay an action. Due to how Augmentation and Multiple Defense Penalties work – acting later in a round makes sense both within the fiction and tactically. Also jumping up in order to act *right now* by spending AP, as I mentioned, is extremely cool.

      It’s both a flexible system but very *grounded* in the immediate circumstances the characters are in. As I said, I didn’t have to play Director or Choreographer, because the system enabled us to *dig in and do that* without conferencing or asking permission from The GM to engage with it.

    • Fully agreed with JC on the issue with Dungeon World and the necessity for the GM to play focus and constantly edit/cut/frame and extract intents from players, since they’re not obvious from the moves triggered. I can do this, but it’s difficult and exhausting to do in a way that’s consistent and predictable.

      I think this so-called “spotlight management” (this is the PbtA culture term for the skill necessary to solve this problem) is essentially a sign of a resolution system that’s not actually framed around resolving the parts of the situation we care about. Thus the need for GM intervention, ostensibly to provide players with the necessary “spotlight”, but really to essentially adjudicate the conflict by fiat.

    • You are absolutely right about the lack of resolution in parts of play, for sure. I felt there were assumptions about the interactions between participants that led towards a kind of spotlight management.

      I know the convention demonstration scene where Dungeon World saw development favored the GM as Entertainer. I can’t help but feel those specific social dynamics led to that need for GM Control, we’ve experienced.

      In games I’ve played within that context (during that time), the organizer of a session was expected to deliver the most fun, back of the box experience. So, what folks did around spotlight management favored the loud, grandstanding and “cool for the genre”. Centering Spotlight Management around Performance became the implicit way of handling it, and *it was exhausting* to manage.

  2. I have nothing to offer but a huge ‘Hell yes!’ I love these sequences of intense, unscripted action – I think they distill and crystallize techniques of functional play, and I have learned many lessons from similar moments that I’ve been able to take into my practice.

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