Flaws deepen the character

How To Train Your Dragon 2 by tantaku (CC-NC-ND-3.0)

In QuestWorlds SRD flaws are described briefly in chapter 3.4. If abilities are something that helps the characters resolve contests flaws are something that hinders those abilities. During character creation, the player is couraged to take up to three flaws.

A flaw is, well, a flaw in your character. Something that gives a disadvantage in certain situations or on your character’s daily life. As with abilities, a flaw can basically be almost anything. Common flaws are biases, limitations, imperfections, physical challenges, problems, personality disorders, vices, phobias, prejudices, social hurdles, and other deficiencies.

Examples of flaws
Arrogant, self-doubting, depression, obsessed with money, afraid of flying, missing an arm, missing half of the tail (Toothless), hated by villagers

More examples can be found from the internet.

Mechanics of the flaws

Mechanically the flaws get an ability rating that follows the character’s actual abilities. The first flaw gets the highest ability rating, the second flaw is following the second-highest rating. Finally, the third flaw is the same as the lowest ability rating. During the play, a flaw can activate in two different ways.

The flaw can be the active oppressor in the contest. This means that the GM rolls the resistance roll against the flaw’s rating. When contesting against a flaw remember to still think that the contest makes sense. Think about the prize, again. The easy prize would be to “overcome the flaw”. But what does it mean when the character overcomes their flaw? Failing with the contest should also result in an interesting storyline. This contest against the flaw might also be an exchange of a long contest.

The flaw might also be giving a disadvantage during a contest. So there is a normal contest with prize and tactics set. Then we decide that the character’s flaw would play a role here. Changing the contest to have the flaw’s resistance number might not make sense. In this case, divide the flaw’s rating by 5 and round down (a flaw of 19 imposes -4 penalty) to calculate the penalty for the character’s target number.

In either case, remember to include the flaw in the narration. If the flaw is active it should be part of the outcome and somehow affect the character’s actions.

Mouse Adventurer by Halycon450 (CC-NC-SA-3.0)

Why would you take a flaw?

Looking at the mechanics, flaws only make it worse for the characters to overcome the obstacles. Why would anyone take these then? Remember that QuestWorlds is not a game about min-maxing the character. It is about creating a story with its ups and downs.

Flaws deepen the character. A swordsman is just a swordsman until they are the one-handed swordsman. They add color to the character and make them more unique. An omnipotent character is quite dull, also. Even the biggest gods have their flaws.

Flaws are also great story seeds for the character. In the simplest form, during a session, the character can have an arc where they overcome the flaw they have. If the deed is legendary enough the character might even lose the flaw! The player can tell their character’s story just by using the flaws fighting against them and finally overcoming them. These are the stories of a scary little mouse overcoming their fear to become a great adventurer.

Below are a couple of ideas on how playing the flaws can also, mechanically, be the desired activity.

Awarding Hero Points from using a flaw

By rules, the GM can award five hero points during the session. Players start with one hero point. You could, as a group, come up with a house rule that playing out a flaw during a contest or scene is one way to achieve one hero point per session. This way players have an incentive to bring flaws to the table. Again, the flaws as contests should make story sense.

Using a flaw to resolve a story obstacle

A flaw can be used as an active ability in a contest, also. The money-obsessed character could use this flaw to obtain money in a situation where this flaw is an advantage. Now, this should not be the norm. This possibility might also tempt the players to come up with flaws that are not actual flaws. Try to keep the flaws as actual flaws. If the flaw is used multiple times as the active ability during a contest it starts to sound more of an ability than a flaw.

Abilities as flaws

We can also look at the issue from the other side. An ability can act as a flaw during a contest. A big character might have a hard time navigating in a small air duct. The GM shouldn’t always find an ability for the contest to give a penalty, though. Abilities should be used as flaws only when they make a fun moment. Try to find the penalties from the actual flaws, preferably.

Increase in HeroQuest games at Roll20 during Q2/2020

According to Roll20 Blog, the System With Biggest Growth in Q1 was HeroQuest (thanks to Ellie Akers for discovering this). In the blog post, they briefly analyze what is going on with this “game from 1989”. Okay, let’s get some facts straight first.

Hero Quest (the boardgame from 1989) is an adventure board game created by Milton Bradley in conjunction with the British company Games Workshop. I will refer to it in this text now as Hero Quest (note the space).

HeroQuest is the roleplaying system from Chaosium that was the base for QuestWorlds SRD, the system this blog is all about. It has multiple versions but I refer to them all as HeroQuest. There is also HeroQuest Glorantha that is the latest version of HeroQuest played in the mythical world of Glorantha.

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Systems With Biggest Growth In Q1 from Roll20 Blog

Roll20 is the de-facto standard virtual tabletop to play roleplaying games but also board games and card games. Mostly it is used for roleplaying games. When you create a game in Roll20 you can tell what system the game is using. The problem here is that there is no way to choose HeroQuest, HeroQuest Glorantha, or QuestWorlds as the game system. There is also no Hero Quest (note the space) as the game system. The system field does not accept free text either. I asked how they have got this number but got no answer.

But, let’s assume the games are, actually, HeroQuest games. HeroQuest has been with us since 2003 and, let’s face it, it is not the most popular system. I can think of a couple of reasons why “HeroQuest” word is now topping the biggest growth list.

This list also shows only games that had over 200 games in Q2 (that is still going, btw). 4066% raise would mean that there was a minimum of five games of HeroQuest in Q1 if in Q2 there were 200. Did Covid-19 run all the HeroQuest players from physical tables to Roll20? The problem here is that HeroQuest (and QuestWorlds) does not need Roll20 due to its abstract theater of the mind nature. On the other hand, Roll20 is the go-to remote playing experience so maybe the players actually use it. On top of that, there are character sheets for HeroQuest Glorantha in Roll20! So, maybe there are players actually playing HeroQuest (Glorantha) in Roll20.

Character sheets for Hero Quest and HeroQuest Glorantha from Roll20

Another option would be the new interest towards HeroQuest (Glorantha) following the release of QuestWorlds SRD. QuestWorlds was released in April 2020 so it could affect the Q2 playing numbers. Maybe HeroQuest players dug up their old books and started playing again taking new ideas from the QuestWorlds SRD to their campaigns.

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Q1 growth report from Roll20 Blog

All in all, this is all just my speculation. Leave a comment on your speculation. There was a slight increase in HeroQuest already in Q1. Maybe HeroQuest (and QuestWorlds) is on the actual rise. I personally hope that is the case.

Common pitfalls to avoid

Autumn Hunter by Deevad (CC-NC-ND-3.0)

In modern RPG landscape, QuestWorlds isn’t, anymore, the odd duck in the pond. Narrative games exist and players and GMs are used to systems differentiating from the “traditional systems”. Still, QuestWorlds can be easily interpreted representing yet another traditional system. Not least because of the contest mechanics that could be used to resolve tasks and not story obstacles. Here is a list of common pitfalls I have encountered when discussing the system. These might be also a style of play questions so take these with a hint of salt.

Every combat is a long contest

This is quite usual even if it is usually specifically instructed otherwise in the rules. Combat might, indeed, be the final contest in the story arc where the big bad is beaten and then the long contest is a suitable method. But just having a combat contest does not mean you need to have rounds to resolve the contest. You can narrate a series of back and forth sword fighting with the outcome of the simple contest just fine. Heck, you can narrate it with an assured contest. Killing the rats in the basement should not require a roll for the hero but it can be narrated.

“I try to hit it with my sword”

QuestWorlds is not about task resolution but story obstacle resolution. Hitting with a sword is usually one task inside the bigger story obstacle. Always dare to ask the question “why?” to find out what is really in stake during this contest. You can read more about this in Contests resolve story obstacles.

Silhouette – Jungle Ambush by FritzVicari (CC-NC-SA-3.0)

“Everyone, make a perception check”

This is a familiar sentence from the traditional role-playing games. The GM has secret information that the players only know if they (or some of them) succeed in a check. In QuestWorlds you cannot make checks like this. First, the characters do not have stats to check against. They have abilities that they offer to the GM to resolve an obstacle. So, GM presents the obstacle, players come up with abilities to resolve it.

Is the perception check an obstacle then? It might be. Missing out crucial information can deviate the story against the heroes. But the players (not the characters, necessarily) should know what they just missed. The players should always know what is the prize in the contest. Think of a movie scene. The heroes walk in the jungle and miss the signs of the ambushing enemy. If we, the viewers, never see the enemy waiting for the heroes then there really didn’t happen anything, until the enemy group attacks. So, framing this kind of contest so that everyone knows about the ambush is like raising up the tension for the movie viewer.

The GM does not roll

This is something that comes up now and then. The GM does not feel like rolling the resistance roll. The problem here is that it messes the whole mathematics behind QuestWorlds. Rolling the two dice results in a bell-curve of outcomes having the marginal outcomes being most common. Rolling just the other half results in a more straightforward probability having 1/20 chance of getting critical. How do you then interpret the critical? Is it a Major or Minor victory?

If the player just rolls if they succeed with their ability we are close to something like RuneQuest or DnD. And then, those systems have better mechanics to deal with seeing if a character succeeds with their skill. The single roll also ignores the resistance value which is the main tool for the GM to direct the narrative in QuestWorlds game.

If the GM just does not want to roll dice give players two dice. The other one is the resistance die. GM still should be giving the resistance value.

More on this topic in this blog post.

Min-maxing the characters

The free nature of character creation might steer some players to build “one-trick ponies” maxing out their one or two abilities. Some players like to do this for various reasons.

GM should encourage the players not to think about system optimization but to create engaging stories. More diverse abilities result in more feasible options for resolving the story obstacles. The player using only a couple of abilities would result in a “duller” narrative. And in the end, the narrator can always come up with contests (and resistances!) where those abilities don’t make sense forcing the player to use lower abilities or take stretch penalties. On top of that, the GM can amp up the resistance after they learn what ability the player is (again) using. So, min-maxing, from the player’s point of view, does not really give any advantage.

QuestWorlds is not about players winning over the conflicts created by the GM. It is about building a story collaboratively. Failed contests are a good thing as they steer the story to unexpected (sometimes even for the GM) directions. The player setting a low value to their ability should trust the GM not to take any unnecessary advance over that or punish the player for this choice. This is a promise the GM should give to the players and keep that promise.

The monster dies only from Major Victory

When the PC wins the contest you would be tempted to read the state of adversity of the enemy from the consequences of defeat. The consequences are meant for the story heroes, not the adversaries. When the GM thinks about what happens to the enemy they should not go further than the prize of the contest. Did the heroes try to kill the monster? Then the monster should die even from Marginal Victory. Did they try to escape it? Then the extra goodness would be killing it while escaping. Sometimes the enemy dying might even be a bad thing and the enemy dies from Major Defeat.

The exception to the rule here is chained contests where the adversity is applied also to the opposing enemy each round until it is dying or dead.

More?

These are some of the common pitfalls I have encountered. Do you have some others from your experience? Comment below and maybe I will make another post with more pitfalls to avoid.

Long contests resolve the important contests

Warhammer 30k – Duel of glory – by Dagahaz (CC-NC-SA-3.0)

As we know, contests are used to resolve story obstacles. In some situations, a single opposed dice roll might not have enough meat to it. That is why QuestWorlds presents a way to spend a little more time on that arc-ending duel or final contest. This resolution method is called the long contest.

Use the long contests sparingly

Story Arc by Juho Rutila (CC-SA)

The story usually has multiple obstacles that the heroes will resolve. Not every one of them is significant or raise great interest in the audience (in the case of RPGs, the players, and the GM). These lesser obstacles should always be resolved with the short contest to keep the story advancing. At some point, everyone at the table has the feeling that this event here is now somewhat remarkable. There has been an arc leading to it and people are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens. That is when the long contest lets you, as the playing group, to zoom in to the obstacle and take a little more time resolving it.

When the GM uses long contests sparingly they also add up to the meaning of the contest. When the GM presents the scoreboard or chips used to the table the players know that this contest will define something big in the story arc. Make the long contest really count.

One note about fights. It may seem that fights are always good candidates for a long contest to play out the blow-by-blow nature so familiar from traditional RPGs. A fight can be resolved with a simple contest. More about this and other pitfalls to avoid in another blog post.

The heart of contests in QuestWorlds is the framing. Even when doing long contests think ahead what is the contest about. What is the final prize? For long contest resolution mechanics, there are three types of long contests in QuestWorlds.

Scored contest

In this long contest type, the players go through multiple rounds scoring resolution points against their opponents. The opponent can be an NPC or an abstract opponent. Just like in simple contests.

Round by round the players and the GM roll for a single opposed roll. The roll outcome deals one to five resolution points either side. Whichever side first gets to five resolution points is out of the contest. The mechanics can be found in the SRD.

The advantage of the scored contest is that it is quite simple and straightforward still providing some tactical elements (assists, disengagement, parting shot). The contest will end at a decent time still providing some decisions for the players to make. Rules-as-written state that the players choose their tactic and target number for the whole scored contest. Allowing the players to change tactics during the contest (so, changing the ability and target number they are using) usually results in more meaningful rounds and interesting contests.

Resolution points, and especially the difference of them, quite well describes the situation in the contest. Always look at the resolution tables while having the contest and think about what might happen in the next round. The hero being one Minor Victory (2RP) round away from winning with an overall Major Victory (that is 5 RP difference) is totally different from being one Marginal Victory (1RP) away from winning with Marginal Victory (1-2 RP difference). In the latter case, the hero might even suffer a Marginal Defeat. This understanding of the contest’s situation gives fuel for the narration and teeth grinding descriptions.

Remember to narrate the rounds so that there is room for the resolution point fluctuation. Try to avoid narrating so final outcomes, until the whole contest is resolved, that it doesn’t make any more sense for the hero to rise to victory from the clear-cut situation.

Extended contest

In this long contest type, the player tries to wear their opponent’s (again, might be an NPC or abstract force) advantage points (AP) to zero or below. Both sides act as active participants as both get to bid their AP against each other. This means extended contest will have more rolls than scored contest and more tactics. The player (and the GM) can decide how risky actions they take by adjusting the bid AP. Extended contest also presents more tactical elements (parting shot, final action, desperation stake, disengaging, AP lending, AP gifting) to choose from. The mechanics are in the SRD.

In the extended contest, the players have more say about how they want the contest to go. Do they bid a lot of AP first or start with a small amount? This kind of bidding might appeal to certain types of players more.

The overall AP situation defines how the contest is going. The bid amount guides the narration for the round. Extended contest narration is also a little more in line with the traditional “blow exchange” scheme. The character tries to do something and then failing or succeeding giving the opposition change to try something else. Nearing the zero AP lets you narrate the situation worsening and when the player bids all of their AP we know the end of the contest might be near giving again narration hooks.

Chained contest

The chained contest is the simplest of the three long contest types. The chained contest is a series of simple contests where the consequences are applied to the next roll. So, getting a marginal defeat in the first round incurs a -3 penalty for the next round. After every round, the player and the GM decide if they want to continue with the contest or disengage. The mechanics are, again, in the SRD.

The chained contest doesn’t really differ from just having multiple simple contests. The chained contest should still be framed. By just reading the rules section from the SRD for the chained contest the reader can’t find how the winner’s victory level is determined. It only speaks about the loser’s state of adversity. Also, it is unclear if the hero achieves the prize when they disengage (after being victorious or after taking a couple of defeats) from the contest.

The chained contest mechanic is originally presented in Mythic Russia RPG as an alternative to the extended contest (AP bid). The text there doesn’t shed light on the obscurities above either. It only states that the chained contest should be played out until there is a clear winner or disengagement. One possible way to calculate the victory level is to look at the difference between both side’s adversaries. In the following table, the state of adversary still carries on after the contest even if the PC wins the contest. For example, scoring a Complete Victory in a Dying vs Complete Defeat means that the PC is still Dying but won.

Opponent / PCFineHurtInjuredDyingComplete Defeat
Hurt/FineMarginal Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMarginal Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulMinor Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulMajor Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulComplete Victory for the PC
InjuredMinor Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMinor Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMinor Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulMajor Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulComplete Victory for the PC
DyingMajor Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMajor Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMajor Defeat for the PC if disengagement was successfulMajor Victory for the PC if disengagement was successfulComplete Victory for the PC
Complete Defeat (contest ends)Complete Defeat for the PCComplete Defeat for the PCComplete Defeat for the PCComplete Defeat for the PCN/A
Chained Contest resolution table by Juho Rutila (CC-0)

As you can see from the table the chained contest will result in more drastic outcomes. When playing out the contest to the end either side of the contest is in Complete Defeat. And the only way to score marginal outcomes is to disengage from the contest early on. This table is just my interpretation of the chained contest rules and overall feel of QuestWorlds. Feel free to use it and make it better.

Escalating contests

One neat new mechanic in QuestWorlds is the mechanic of escalating contests. It is meant for situations where the GM declares a simple contest. During the framing and rolling for the contest everyone notices that this contest actually should’ve been a long contest. It was so interesting or the stakes grew really high.

In these situations, the GM can declare that the roll was actually just the roll for the first round of a long contest escalating the simple contest. This works fine with the scored contest and the chained contest methods. With the extended contest, you can use the default bid of 3 but that is not supported in the rules.