HeroQuest and D&D – Magic, Part 2

Last week, I talked about how to represent wizards and arcane magic in a HeroQuest-based D&D or Pathfinder game.

This week, I want to touch on divine magic/spellcasters, and then talk about D&D-style magic items.

Divine Magic

In most ways, divine magic works just like arcane magic:

  1. There are many discrete, individual spells.
  2. The cleric (or other divine spellcaster) pre-selects the spells that they will be able to cast for that day.
  3. The divine spellcaster gets more spells per day, including spells of higher levels, as the character gains levels.
  4. And lower-level spells also, in some cases, get more powerful as the cleric gains levels.

So it’s mostly the fluff that’s different between the two types of magic. For example, the cleric prays for spells while the wizard prepares spells. But both require the character to be rested, both have a limit to how often it can be done (once per day), and both take about the same amount of time.

There are even many spells that are shared between arcane and divine casters (e.g. detect magic).

So the HeroQuest approach chosen for arcane spellcasters that I listed last week will work just as well for divine spellcasters. Unless you really want them to feel very different—in D&D they are really just two sides of the same coin—there isn’t really a good reason to use a completely different set of assumptions for each type.

Having said that, there is the opportunity to tie in the cleric’s relationship with his or her deity as an effect on the ability to cast spells in a very direct way, rather than just relying on alignment. Relationships in HeroQuest are given as much mechanical weight as any other ability, so it would almost be a shame to completely ignore that.

In fact, the relationship between a cleric and his or deity could be used both as an augment and as a flaw, depending on the situation.

For example, if the cleric has discovered a lost temple to her god, and is defending it against a horde of orcs bent on destruction, the cleric should be able to roll for an augment on her spellcasting ability using her relationship with her deity. After all, the deity in question has a vested interest in recovering this lost temple.

On the other hand, if a player wants her cleric to take an action that is directly opposed to the tenets of the god she worships, that relationship can be used as a flaw—if the cleric fails a Simple Contest against her relationship with her deity, she is unable to take that action out of fear (or whatever) of the consequences.

Turning undead can be treated as a form of spellcasting or can be its own ability. Either way, the attempt to turn undead could be used as a Simple Contest or as a tactic in an Extended Contest during a more important conflict.

Magic Items

A common element in D&D is the “Christmas Tree Effect” where a character acquires so many magic items that he or she is covered head-to-toe in magic. These include such items as:

  • Magic helms, hats or headbands
  • Magic glasses or eyes
  • Magic cloaks or robes
  • Magic armour
  • Magic belts
  • Magic boots
  • Magic bracers or armbands
  • Magic gloves
  • Magic rings
  • Magic melee weapons
  • Magic missile weapons
  • Magic rods, staves, and wands
  • Magic backpacks, bags, or sacks
  • Magic musical instruments
  • Magic tools of the trade (e.g. lockpicks)

In addition, many editions of D&D had early magic weapons being replaced later with more powerful magic. A low-level fighter might find a simple +1 sword, but it was quite likely that at higher levels the fighter might end up with a sword with a +2 or +3 magic bonus, perhaps with additional abilities (e.g. flame tongue, frost brand).

While some of those magic items provide special abilities that are in addition to what a character can normally do, many of them just provide static bonuses to specific attributes, like bonuses to hit, bonuses to damage, bonuses to AC, bonuses to saving throws, and bonuses to skills (for 3E and later).

This kind of magic item economy doesn’t work very well in a typical HeroQuest game, because all the various abilities and bonuses are abstracted into the Contest system. Sure, there are elements that provide bonuses—situational modifiers, lingering bonuses, individual ability augments, and plot augments—but those are very specific in their usage. They are not designed to be a shopping list of extra +1’s and +2’s to the character’s ability in every contest.

However, this is also an opportunity to do something that the actual D&D rules have never done particularly well—provide a magic item that grows in power along with the character. Sure, there was a single 3.5 supplement called Weapons of Legacy that talked about this option, but it required the sacrifice of abilities by the character to unlock additional abilities.

But imagine the following…

Some time early on in the campaign, the fighter kills a humanoid monster and takes its magic sword. At this point, the fact that the fighter has a magic sword is just a narrative justification—the fighter can hit creatures only hit by magic weapons.

Soon after, the player of the fighter spends some Hero Points and takes “Magic Sword” as a keyword (with an initial rating of 13). Now, the fighter can—when appropriate—use the Magic Sword ability as an augment on his relevant combat ability. But since the sword is now an ability (and a keyword), the player can “unlock” additional abilities by spending Hero Points on it.

Magic Sword 13

It is up to the GM and the players where those additional abilities come from. The GM could make a short list of possible break-out abilities that the player can improve, or the GM can let the player suggest interesting break-out abilities. And there can certainly be campaign requirements to find out what those abilities are, such as requiring research into the history of the sword, or bathing it in the fires of a particular volcano, or having a particular wizard “release” the pent-up magic in the sword, or any number of other options.

So after playing for a while, the character discovers that the sword is the legendary Flame Tongue. But to unlock the fire within the blade, the character must slay a red dragon (or a fire elemental, or something else equally “flamey”). Once the character succeeds at this task, he may spend Hero Points to create the “Flaming Blade” break-out ability. Now he can continue to spend Hero Points to improve either the keyword, or the break-out ability.

Magic Sword 13
– Flaming Blade +1

In this way, as the campaign progresses, the weapon provides not only an incentive for the character to drive some of the action—researching the history of the sword, accomplishing specific tasks with it, etc.—but the sword becomes a key part of the character’s abilities and much more than another Sword +1.

For other kinds of magic items, I would recommend just ignoring the vast majority of those that provide static bonuses.  Part of the reason for bracers that improve armor class, for example, is that some character classes can’t wear armor. So it’s just another version of magical armor and does nothing to add flavor to the game. Bonuses should be specific and flavorful.

But I recommend looking to the actual description of the magic items in the rule books for potential cool ideas.

For example, in the Pathfinder RPG, the Bracers of Armor +3 have the following abilities:

These items appear to be wrist or arm guards, sometimes etched with symbols of protection or depictions of vigilant-looking animals.

Bracers of armor surround the wearer with an invisible but tangible field of force, granting him an armor bonus of +1 to +8, just as though he were wearing armor. Both bracers must be worn for the magic to be effective.

There’s more in the description about how bracers can also be enchanted with some of the special abilities available to magic armour, but that second paragraph above is key. In fact, if you take out the mechanical element, you get the following:

Bracers of armor surround the wearer with an invisible but tangible field of force, just as though he were wearing armor.

Now you’ve got the potential for the player to use the ability of the bracers in creative ways. It’s not just a flat +2 to his AC—he can use the description to potentially do things like augment his bluffing ability to convince someone he’s harmless, and it gives him narrative permission to think of other things he might do with invisible force armour.

Of course, he might just use it to augment his fighting ability in a melee combat contest, but at least the player has more options.

I think you’ll find that many of the descriptions of magic items in D&D/Pathfinder provide a more open framework to use the item as an ability in HeroQuest than the accompanying mechanics might allow in a more rules-heavy game.

So embrace the narrative part of the description and let the player come up with great ways to use that ability to do something cool. With great freedom often comes unexpected creativity.


That’s it for my focus on HeroQuest and D&D. There are so many other genres and specific settings that HeroQuest can do well, and I can’t wait to get to some of the others.

Next week, I talk about another setting that should be an obvious match for HeroQuest, and it begins a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

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