Posted on May 4, 2010 by GRIM
Heroquest 2 is the non-Gloranthan version of Heroquest, the next iteration of the system by Robin Laws and one designed to be more generic, usable for any setting and any sort of game. Heroquest is meant to be a story game, not only in the sense that the system is supposed to encourage story, but that the way the game is supposed to be played is AS a story, rather than a game.
As a generic game system release, there’s no specific background per se to the game but it does – inevitably – reference Glorantha quite heavily as well as a few game settings of its own devices. These are only used as examples and are never fully developed and – aside from Glorantha – they’re a rather eclectic mix.
There are no set statistics, as with the first Heroquest, rather characters are defined as you want them to be, through cultural, personal, item and other related statistics. Some of these have subsets, so if you defined a character as – for example – British, you might assign sub-statistics like ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ or ‘Blitz Spirit’ if you wanted to conform to stereotype. These statistics are rated from 1-20 and in multiples of 20 called Masteries and, depending what you roll, you score a fumble, a failure, a success or a critical success. These are used to directly compare in order to determine who wins a contest or are used to tot up ‘resolution points’. Masteries bump up your success level, even if you screw up, making you truly powerful and truly capable.
While Heroquest one was presented as a sort of hybrid game, somewhere between a traditional RPG and a story game, but well on the way towards a full story RPG. Heroquest 2 completes the transition fully to a story game both in presentation and system but this has been at the expense of some of the mechanical depth of the first version, leaving a more haphazard rather than specified approach to aspects like equipment bonuses and so forth.
The new mechanics make sense if you can absorb the very different approach to gaming that’s presented in the text. For those more in tune with old school RPGs or not wanting to change their style too much this can be a barrier to picking up the game and using it. If you still have the old Heroquest you could reincorporate the missing elements to ‘retraditionalise’ the game a measure and use it in a more familiar way, but that would be missing out on some of the point.
The mechanics encourage a story-led approach, playing to a character’s strengths and to what makes a good story, rather than letting the dice do the talking and making your own story from what unfolds. This can remove elements of tension and danger for a game but can increase immersion in your character, reducing disappointment when they don’t live up to their supposed capabilities but it also eliminates a lot of risk, a great deal of the sense of risking your character and surviving with a tale to tell.
The book itself tries to illustrate this approach throughout but some presentation is lacking, making it a hard slog to get the point. Some of the example game worlds and situations are more immersive than others but overall, atmosphere is definitely lacking.
The cover is a very nice pastiche of multiple styles and ideas, but the interior artwork is not the best. It’s varied, some pieces good, some pieces bad, but it often doesn’t match up to the tone of the writing that it is illustrating. Cartoonish where the material is serious, sketchy where you could use a strong anchor to the text. The layout is, otherwise, mercifully simple and clear to read.
Heroquest is a good system but it requires a severe shift in how you approach playing a game from the more traditional styles. For many people this is a step too far (I can hear RPGPundit screaming from here). If you can get your head – and that of your group – around it there’s no problem, otherwise this can be difficult and may lead to frustrating and incomplete games. I’d like to use the system for my own material and it is licensable, however the ‘moral guidelines’ similar to those that were introduced into the d20 licence make it difficult to judge what’s an acceptable project and that, coupled with the requirement for three print and one electronic copy of everything produced make using the license a hard prospect for micro publisher. This, in my opinion, is what’s preventing the system gaining wider public purchase.
Review by James “Grim” Desborough