Monday, 10 March 2014

HeroQuest: A Game of Skulls and Shields

For one of the first posts, after the introduction, I'm going to talk about something I played just the other day. I joined in on a game of HeroQuest.

An old-school game by my standards (Well... 1989) it was originally developed with Games Workshop for the Warhammer Fantasy game, although I didn't guess it at all from playing. So, if you've never played any Warhammer, it's fine, neither had the other 2 players. Or the GM.

You can view all the information on the HeroQuest Wiki, especially in the Mentor's Library, but I'm going to rattle on about it anyway.

The game features four 'Heroes' plunged into dangerous situations controlled by the mad wizard 'Morcar'. The map board is the same for all adventures, but each room, secret doors, traps, monsters, chests and collapsed pathways are changed for each adventure.

There are two types of dice: Plain d6's and not-so-plain d6's with pictures on them. The 'combat dice' have 3 'skull' faces, 2 'hero shield' faces and 1 'monster shield' face. To make an attack a number of dice are rolled and each 'skull' rolled counts as a hit. The defender then rolls a number of dice and each shield that corresponds to their type (hero or monster) negates one hit. Better weapons mean more attack dice rolled, and more armour means more defence dice rolled. This could easily be simulated with plain d6's with a hit on a 4+, a hero defending on a 5+, and a monster saving on a 6.

The classes are also very basic, with four classes. All have preset statistics and abilities, and a number of attack dice, defence dice, movement dice, body points (HP), mind points (Will) and a possible ability. Movement and defence points begin at 2.
The classes are: the Barbarian, with 3 attacks and 8 health but with the only 2 mind and without special abilities; the Dwarf, with 2 attacks, high health of 7, mind of 3, and ability to disable traps; the Elf, with 2 attacks, body 6, mind 4, and the ability to cast a single set of spells; and the Wizard, with a single attack, body of 4, mind 6, and is able to cast from three sets of magic spells.
And now for the fun parts. A few of the elements in the game stood out a lot more than others. The big one was that this game was not designed to be like modern roleplaying games. There are no skills, no checks, no opposed rolls and no customization (except for spells and names). I liked it for the very reason I dislike quite a few other games.

I really liked the spell selection. It was a straightforward as choosing which set I liked best of the four. The wizard chose one set first, then the elf, and the wizard got the other two left over as well. It was as simple as "I like this one, we should probably both have healing, so I'll have this one." That was it.
You could look at a set and figure exactly what it was for. Magic spells sets could be given to magic users in pathfinder for quick character creation. Probably even better for sorcerers, with their already limited spell selection. They could get extra spell slots as a trade-off for the restriction in spell selection, maybe?

Monsters were similar to 4th editions 'minions', a single point of damage and they'd be dead. This is for the basic monsters, and only one creature we came across in two games had any different (A fimir for a boss, with a whooping 2 health).

One of the thing that lead to some of the most fun was looking for treasure. There were 25 treasure cards, and whenever a PC asked to search a room they would draw from the deck. With 6 'Wandering Monster' cards and 4 unavoidable 'Hazard' cards, each drawn cards had the potential to kill the player, especially with any wandering monster getting a free round of attacks. While there are plenty of random treasure and monster generators, with the low health of each character, it felt much more old-school (I still feel weird using that phrase). There is a second game released latter, Advanced HeroQuest, which adds most of these features to create more complex roleplaying rules, but I think I like it the way it is.
I can't help but add my own stories. The game I played on Monday was the first time playing the game, and with two players I hadn't met: The GM, Andrew, and a girl from Germany, DJ. We started off by giving the characters the most original names we could think of: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf. I'm sure you can figure out which one was which.

The first game was a free-for-all with the first player finding the escape getting an extra 100 gold over anything we found ourselves. We started with each character at a different corner of the dungeon. There was no party and no sense of loyalty. Which is probably why two of the four characters ended up dead.
Playing the barbarian, described as "the greatest warrior of all," you think I'd go well in combat. Apparently not. I drew three 'wandering monster' cards, and was tied up fighting a goblin for majority of the game. After losing 6 body points before striking it once, I was laid low by a wandering orc right near the exit. We also learnt that it would be better for the wizard to cast spells much more often, as they're isn't much point holding on to spells when you're dead.

In the second game I played the Elf, and after one player had to go, so no-one played the barbarian. The wizard used the 'pass through rock' spell to escape into a locked room, and from there could cast spells that did not require any line of sight. After I found the boss, guarding a captured knight, a 'sleep' spell had it down before it could act. Unable to defend, the wizard hit it for 4 damage with a long-range fire spell.

The best part, however, was a race to the final treasure chest. The dwarf, with only one health reached the room first. If he chose to search for traps he would automatically disarm them, but the wizard would come in the room the next turn and take the treasure. He chose to open the chest and not only was it empty, but trapped. He suffered a single point of unavoidable damage and died. The wizard looted his body and sold his  helmet to me in exchange for half the gold I earned for rescuing the knight.

And after that long post, I think I've said all I can. I really love the gamble on treasure vs. trap, and simple spell selection and might try something with that.

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