The missing element of HeroQuest

Back in 2011, a roleplaying game by the name of Other Worlds was released by Signal 13 (i.e., Mark Humphreys). Some of the ideas for Other Worlds actually came out of early development of the HeroQuest 2 rules, but the ideas diverged and ultimately we got two different, but similar, games.

I own both games (of course), and there are certainly elements of Other Worlds that I really like. It’s well-written, and the rules certainly work with no major issues. My preference, though, still runs to HeroQuest 2E.

I had considered listing the things that I prefer in HQ over Other Worlds (OW), but those are really just my own opinions and naturally different people will have different preferences. So instead, I’m going to list some core differences between HQ2 and OW, and anyone reading this can determine which sounds better to them.

This is not a comprehensive list, just a bunch of elements that I feel are the major points of comparison between the two sets of rules.

  • While HQ2 uses a single d20 for resolution, OW uses percentile dice.
  • The characters’ ability ratings in HQ2 are on a 1-20 scale. The ability ratings in OW are on the same scale as the percentile dice (starting as low as 10 for children or apprentices or as high as 50+ for legends and/or demigods).
  • In HQ2, the d20 rolls is compared to the character’s relevant ability rating. In OW, the relevant ability rating is added to the character’s d100 roll to arrive at a total.
  • In HQ2, the result of the player’s roll (critical, success, failure, or fumble) is compared with the GM’s result (critical, success, failure, or fumble) to determine the overall outcome of the contest. In OW, the total of the player’s roll is compared with the total of the GM’s roll, with the higher roll winning the contest.
  • HQ2 characters often use Keywords as a short-hand for a group of abilities, resulting in fewer overall abilities in the sheet. In OW, characters tend to have a much larger number of abilities, as keywords are not used.
  • The way the rolls and the scale work with a d100 roll in OW means that contest results tend to be more “swingy” than in HQ2. Humphreys has stated that he designed it this way so that results would “be more decisive and unpredictable” than the more common partial victories/defeats that occur in HQ2.
  • OW doesn’t track injuries like in HQ2. Rather, all contests result in a flaw (for defeats) or new temporary ability (for successes).

In comparing these two games, I have found that the pace of game play in OW to be noticeably slower due to the much larger number of abilities that a player has to manage, as well as the need to add large numbers (e.g. rolling a 78 on the d100 and adding it to the character’s ability rating of 46). The math will not slow down some groups, but it still isn’t as fast as comparing the die roll on a d20 with the ability rating to see if it is higher or lower.

On the other hand, I’m not the biggest fan of Masteries in HQ2. I really wish there was a more elegant, official way to keep the simplicity of the d20 roll and still easily use numbers above 20 for the ability ratings. I know there are a few different workarounds out there, but I haven’t seen any that I feel are a real improvement.

So what’s the missing element?

So what does the core rules for Other Worlds have that I feel is an important missing element in HeroQuest?

The OW rulebook is written to provide the GM (and the players) what they need to start playing the game pretty much right away, in the setting that interests them the most. There are a series of “Genre Snapshots” in the book that cover cultural and professional archetypes, as well as examples of special powers for different genres of games, including fantasy, horror, pirates, science fiction, superheroes, and wild west.

Conversely, the HQ2 book really lacks the same kind of material in the core rules. The section “Creating Genre Packs” has a small handful of unrelated examples of various elements (for example, a single occupational keyword from a science fiction setting, a single cultural keyword and single religious keyword from a fantasy setting, a single magic framework for a pulp-inspired setting, a tech description for a single high-tech weapon, a single psychic talent, a single species keyword, and a single sample creature).

Certainly, there is word count dedicated to explaining how a GM can do the work to develop all of these things him/herself, but if you’re not playing a fantasy game set in Glorantha, there’s nothing there for you to use immediately to get a game going.

The most unfortunate part is the statement near the beginning of the section, “Moon Design Publications will also produce setting packs for various popular genres, and continue its series of HeroQuest supplements set in the world of Glorantha.” But since the HeroQuest 2E core rules were released, only a very small number of third-party materials for other settings have ever been produced. Some of these were well done, like the excellent (but no longer available) Nameless Streets by Alephtar Games, but others were extremely disappointing, like (the also no longer available) Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Dungeoneering and Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Monsters (a pair of PDF supplements that I can’t imagine inspired anyone to convert their D&D game over to HeroQuest).

Recently, the Superluminary setting book for Other Worlds was released. Labelled as “a space opera toolkit for Other Worlds,” it provides some great information on designing a space opera setting. But more importantly, the book includes a huge number of pre-configured setting elements that can be dropped right into a game to get a campaign off the ground as quickly as possible. Furthermore, after providing templates for all kinds of homeworlds, professions, special elements like cybernetic implants, alien artifacts, and advanced technology, starships, alien species, robots, psionics and other special powers, and factions, it wraps the whole thing up with a chapter on a pre-defined setting called “The Merovinthian Sector” that contains yet more archetypes and can be used immediately to jumpstart a game.

How I wish something like this existed for HeroQuest 2E! Unfortunately, as much as HQ2 and OW share many similarities, the two games are different enough that it would require conversion work to use Superluminary with HeroQuest, thus defeating the whole purpose.

A call to action?

As a fan of HQ2, as someone who ran a demo game at GenCon the last time I was there (literally the only HeroQuest game on the entire roster), I’d love for more people to find and enjoy this great system. But the best way for that to happen is for the publisher to throw some resources behind it and provide a product that people can grab and start playing right away. There is already the HeroQuest: Glorantha book, but where is the HeroQuest: [Space Opera Setting] or HeroQuest: [Modern Espionage Setting] or HeroQuest: [Superhero Setting] or HeroQuest: [Post-Apocalyptic Setting].

Which of course raises the question, if I want these things to exist, why don’t I throw my own hat into the ring? There is a HeroQuest Gateway license for a reason, and others have certainly given it a try.

Why not me?

That’s a good question, and one I’ve been considering for the last while. The real answer is that I’m working on my next novel and I don’t need any distractions to take me away from that right now.

But then, I’m actually preparing for an espionage campaign that I will run for some of my friends. So maybe I’m doing some of that work already.

But if an official HeroQuest setting book came out that wasn’t for Glorantha, but instead was for a completely different property, I can say that I’m almost guaranteed to buy it, sight unseen.

In the meantime, maybe I’ve got an idea that I can’t get out of my head. Maybe.

What about you? What kind of book would you like to see for HeroQuest that isn’t tied into the world of Glorantha? What genre would be well-served by HeroQuest? What would make you drop everything and start running a HeroQuest campaign if only there was a book that you could grab that had all you needed at your fingertips? Tell us about it in the comments.

3 thoughts on “The missing element of HeroQuest

  1. It is indeed a pity that Chaosium has not produced any genre-packs yet. I’d love to see something pulpy ala Indiana Jones and something galactic like the one you’re planning! 🙂

  2. Counsel of Wyrms
    Players are like major presences in the world in general, but perhaps just another political cog in the society of dragons.

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