Advice for QuestWorlds players

Most of the RPG blogs out there tend to give advice to the GMs. I have to admit that the same symptom is present in this blog, too. But here is a post that is targeted to the players! If you have been invited to a QuestWorlds game, or already attended a couple, here are three preparation tips and three pieces of advice to follow during the play.

The Sentinels: Heroes of Keywan by b-cesar (CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0)

No need for system mastery

The great thing about QuestWorlds is that you can come to the table without knowing anything about the rules. Running the contests, from a system perspective, is solely the GM’s task and players don’t really have lots of options they should know. You can’t screw your whole party because you didn’t know that you can, for example, cast the fireball twice if you move three steps right.

All you have to know is that the GM will present your group with story obstacles and you have to come up with an entertaining way, by using your characters’ abilities, how your characters will try to overcome them. Easy.

Prepare to lose some fights

As QuestWorlds emulates a story, your session will have its up-beats and down-beats. Just like a good story does. Marching from victory to victory gets dull, fast. A couple of failures here and there build up a nice story. So, don’t take it too hard if your character or the group fails a contest. The GM takes care that there will be interesting stories waiting behind failed story obstacles. And if there isn’t, the GM will take care you don’t end up in that kind of situation, at all. Embrace the failure and see what kind of personal story you can build up for your character from those failures.

Know the setting, even a little

As I wrote here in this blog before QuestWorlds doesn’t really hold hands when teaching the genre or the setting. You can, of course, go to the table without knowing anything but don’t expect to get a character sheet in front of you that tells you everything you how your character should act in the setting. Unless your GM has been really busy.

So, to prepare for a QuestWorlds game, familiarize yourself with the setting. at least a bit. Watch a movie, read a short story, or read the document about the world the GM sent you beforehand. Or, if the table is up for it, swing the setting your own way. That’s fun, too!

Bandit Camp by ThemeFinland (CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0)

Improvise!

During the play be ready to improvise. This might sound like a generic RPG advice but QuestWorlds really emphasizes player improvisation. The GM does not ask you to roll for a certain ability or say that this contest will be handled with, say, sword skills. The GM just presents your group with the story obstacle and frames the contest. It is the players’ job to come up with how they resolve the story obstacle using the abilities their characters have.

You have the possibility to act with other characters, also. There are group contests and then your character might end up augmenting the other character. This goes hand-in-hand with the most important improvisation rule: accept what the other player established and build on that (kind of “Yes, and”). You constantly have opportunities to bring your character on the frame (remember to give the spotlight to others, too) even if they are not the main character in this specific event.

Take up the narration

Another improvisation possibility comes in when narrating out the result of the outcome. Now, this might differ from GM to GM. Some like to tell the player what happened in the contest. Others, like me, like to hear from the players what happens to their characters. In a sense, the GM has already handed over the narration to the player when they ask what ability the player wants to use. I think it is fair to let the player continue after the roll.

The contest outcome is not just a victory or a defeat. You have the used ability, possible augments and bonuses, and the two roll results. These aspects all should give you enough “creative juice” to come up with a narration that makes sense in the given context. Listen to the GM if they have some limitations for your narration.

Don’t just roll unexpectedly

This advice might go to any RPG out there but especially in QuestWorlds, it does not make sense for the player to roll on their own search or perception rolls. If you have an urge to roll the dice discuss with your GM. In your mind, you should try to frame your roll so that you can tell why a branch in the story at this point would make sense. If you don’t know, you should still tell the GM that you want to roll. The GM might give you an automatic success! There might be no tension in the automatic success but at least you contributed to the story with your character’s actions. The GM might have some other tools in their toolbox, also, so telling about your ideas are always worth to bring boldly to the table.

Have fun!

As is with every RPG out there, having fun is the main goal.

If you are a GM link this post to your players to read before your first session. There were no rules explanations in this post because, I will argue, the players don’t really need to know them beforehand. Rules are easily taught when the game starts.

Using QuestWorlds in GM-less play

One great interest of mine, for some time now, has been solo roleplaying. There are two definitions for this term, actually. It is either solo so that there are one GM and one player, meaning that the player plays solo. Then there is the meaning this post talks about: playing without a GM all by yourself. Just you and the dice. You should try it, it is fun. But, let’s expand from that a little and see how QuestWorlds can help to play roleplaying games without a GM. Either solo or with a group.

Why play without a GM then? There are multiple reasons. Some games are designed to play without a GM (like Fiasco). Sometimes no-one wants to GM or everyone wants to experience the game as a player. You might also be writing a scenario or a game system and would like to make test runs for it on your own before showing it to others. With solo gaming, you can also get yourself familiarized with a supplement and the scenarios beforehand.

When playing a game meant to be GM’d without a GM one concept is crucial: Game Master Emulator. It is a tool that acts as the GM for the players doing some (probably not all) of the GM’s tasks. The grand old king of game master emulators is, unquestionably, Mythic Game Master Emulator(affiliate link). Briefly, in Mythic GME the player can ask the emulator yes/no questions (also, check out Mythic Variations 2 for more complex cases) and get answers. The tool also introduces new threads and characters in the game. In the end, everything boils down to the players interpreting the answers from the emulator to the context of the situation. But, when the players want to check their success on a story obstacle they don’t ask the emulator. Then they will use the RPG system at hand.

Example of questions to ask from the emulator
Is there anyone in the room?
Is the door locked?
Is the tribal king supporting my cause?

Example of questions that cause the RPG system to kick in
Do I get out of the room unharmed?
Can I open the lock before someone catches me?
Can I get the tribe to support my cause before the king?

Syllabear, the Lone Druid by Halycon450 (CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0)

Using QuestWorlds with a game master emulator

QuestWorlds (free SRD available) is a great game system to use with a game master emulator. It stays away from the play when you don’t need it. There is no need to track fatigue points, rations, or the passing of time. Combats are fast as you don’t have to delve into the nitty-gritty details. This goes for all contests, not just combats. It guides your story just like the game emulator is doing, just from the contest resolution side. Just make sure you still frame the contests and use QuestWorlds properly to get the maximum use of the system.

QuestWorlds outcome for the contest tells you if you succeed or fail but also at which level. Mythic answer to a question can be yes or no but also an exceptional yes or no meaning there is something more on top of the asked thing. Likewise, the QuestWorlds contest outcome can be marginal, minor, major, or complete. These can be roughly translated as “Yes But”, “Yes”, “Yes And” and “Totally Yes And!” (and similar ones for No). This is great creative juice for the players to interpret and come up with new twists and turns for the story. And if the players are not sure what the Major Victory might mean they can always ask the emulator more about the outcome (“Does this Major Victory mean that the king gives us one of his personal bodyguards as a companion?”).

Setting the resistance

One challenge with QuestWorlds is the resistance number. QuestWorlds uses opposed roll and one task for the GM is to set the resistance target number during the roll. It is important that there is that opposing target number. You can read more about why to have the GM die in play from this blog.

Usually, the GM uses their gut feeling in setting the opposing target number to steer the story and make the contest look credible. But how to determine the resistance value when there is no GM with their gut feeling the correct value? Here are a couple of recommendations from me.

Use the players’ gut

It might be clear for the players to feel what is the correct resistance number in this contest. You can go with round-robin or who shouts first. Or you could use Planning Poker to come up with the resistance.

The downside is that the players might tend to steer the resistance lower to get more victories. That is the nature of players, sometimes. Of course, if the group (or you yourself) likes to see failures and feel they add to the story you probably will see good opposition values keeping the story fresh.

Ask the emulator

This is an extension of the gut-feeling. If you are unsure you can ask the emulator about the resistance. A positive (or exceptional yes) answer to the question “Does the troll have company?” will surely increase the resistance of a combat contest. The problem is that Mythic will answer more “yes” when the story has gone against the heroes. So, failing in contests and then asking more questions that would make contests harder might result in a spiral of failures.

Pass-Fail cycle

This is a resistance setting tool from the original HeroQuest(affiliate link) system. It didn’t make it to the QuestWorlds SRD but I will now present it, a little adapted, here. With this tool, you (the player) don’t need to do anything else but to look at the previous contests’ outcomes. Major and Complete outcomes are counted as two (so, previous Major Defeat and Minor Defeat is a total of three defeats). Read the table from up to down until you hit a row that matches your previous two results, even partially. The final target number is the base resistance (14) combined with the difficulty level modifier.

Previous two resultsDifficulty level for the contest
three or more defeatsVery Low (-6)
two defeatsLow (-3)
three or more victories, no defeatsVery High (+9)
two victories, no defeatsHigh (+6)
two victories, max one defeatRaised (+3)
two tiesLow (-3)
one defeat or one victory or a tieModerate (+0)
Pass/Fail difficulty table adapted from HeroQuest Core Rules
Outsider by Vetrova (CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0)

Use the Chaos Factor

One integral part of Mythic GME is the Chaos Factor. Basically, the factor (from 1 to 10) tells you how “chaotic” the story is at the given scene. It affects a couple of things but you can expect more unexpected and more yes answers if the factor is higher. The chaos factor fluctuates based on how well the heroes have things under their control from scene to scene. Well, isn’t the QW contest check kind of testing this as well?

QuestWorlds has a resistance class table (SRD 2.3.3.1) with ten levels (the same amount that chaos factor levels, how convenient!) five being the Moderate (+0). Incidentally, the level 5 in chaos factor is also the situation where everything is in the beginning, kind of status quo.

Now, you can interpret the chaos factor to the resistance table in two ways. Either lower the resistance level when the chaos factor is low. This means that when the PCs get a grip of things it becomes also easier to hold that grip. In another way around (so, low chaos factor results in higher resistance) the chaos factor will fluctuate more as the resistance becomes harder when PCs get things their way. I would argue the latter results in more interesting stories.

Get help from a supplement

I won’t go to great details here but there are all kinds of supplements for GM-less roleplaying that might help with setting the resistance. For example UNE, The Universal NPC Emulator(affiliate link) has a tool to set the NPC power level compared to the PCs. This will guide setting the resistance number for that NPC. Of course, this does not help with abstract resistances.

Perilous Intersections (free pdf) has a concept of Danger Level that could work as a guide on setting the resistance for QuestWorlds contests.

For more solo-roleplaying tools, head no further than Dieheart Solo RPG Resources list. It is really extensive and last updated (at the time of writing this article) in June 2020.

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Breaking version changes: New version removes degrees of outcome

UPDATE: The degrees are back in the SRD as ranks. The following post still discusses the reasons behind the initial removal and is good to read to get a grasp at what parts cause confusion in, especially new, players.

The latest version of QuestWorlds SRD (0.20) was recently released. As of writing this post, the online SRD does not yet show the new version but the PDF in the QuestWorlds master branch is updated. The new version introduces a major change in the core of the contest resolution removing the concept of degree of the outcome in favor of highlighting more binary outcome and interpreting roll results. You can read more about how the degrees are interpreted from this blog.

The new version does not mention marginal, minor, major, or complete outcomes anymore. All the benefits (bonuses) and consequences (penalties), if the GM so desires, are calculated from a new concept called a rank. The rank is also used as a tool to clear up other things for the GM. For example, adjusting the resistance is tied to the rank number instead of using terms like Moderate, High, or Low. Augments are also changed so that a victory always yields a single +3 add to the target number. Or +6 if it was due to entertaining roleplaying.

One small adjustment, due to the missing degrees, is also that the player character can’t actually die (or be otherwise out of the game) in the new rules. The new rules encourage the player to decide if their character’s time has come.

The player and GM roll results are still compared to determine the rank but also to guide the narration instead of naming the outcome. So, by reading the SRD, the story obstacle should resolve differently if the rolls are success vs. failure rather than failure vs. fumble even if they both result in (using the old term) minor outcome. The previous version included guidance about wording the outcome as “Yes, and” or “No, but” etc. but the new version does not give any advice on that.

The reasoning behind this change is that the degree of outcome was the single hardest thing to grasp for new players. New GMs tend to not give the contested prize to the players in Marginal Victories (one of the common pitfalls) or were troubled by the difference between marginal and minor outcomes, to name a few problems. Removing the degrees steers the game system to be more about victory vs. defeat that ensures the GMs to concentrate, hopefully, more on the prize. The roll results work as a guide to the player and the GM to narrate the outcome.

Speaking of narration tools, the new version also includes a way for the GM to award bonuses on defeats and negative consequences on victories. So, the penalty is not anymore just an outcome of a defeat. This helps the GM to make the narration choices concrete for the players and makes sense in close call outcomes.

The old rules are in the appendix now for reference but they probably won’t get updated in the future changes. A list of all changes in the new version can be found in the SRD GitHub repository.