I’ve let Heroes Fall slide. It’s been nearly two years since I ran it last because I had a terrible play test experience and couldn’t bring myself to look at the game. But it’s sat there, nibbling away at my consciousness and creativity. It lurks, biding its time like the One Ring of Power, until the time is right to reemerge.
That time is now.
What Went Wrong
I pitched Heroes Fall as a game that has a heavy PvP component. That was a mistake. The players were old school hack ‘n slashers. They didn’t get that “I want to kill him” isn’t a valid fictional position to take with the construct of the game. I didn’t push hard enough that they have to follow the fiction. The Wizard literally sat in his ivory tower the entire game and messed with the other players. I didn’t have the experience with games Powered by the Apocalypse to properly adjudicate what was going on at the table. It was a huge mess and unsatisfying for everyone involved. It scarred me. Made me doubt myself. I’d never run a game that fell so completely, utterly flat before and now I didn’t know if I had the chops to be writing my own game. Chances are I probably tried running it for complete strangers too soon, before the game and I were ready.
Back to the Fiction
Part of what I found unsatisfying in all of my plays of Heroes Fall was the lack of adventure. The game doesn’t emulate the stories its based on. In Conan stories there is always an adventure or quest at hand – break into the wizard’s tower, escape the dungeon, kill the betrayers, chase after the vision on the ice, etc. The game didn’t do that and I’ve been scratching my head over it.
Chatting with Andrew Medeiros yesterday he suggested the PCs each get a motivation and mentioned that Conan’s motivation would be power. I like the idea of motivations – they drive play and push characters in interesting directions – but I disagree that Conan’s motivation is power. He certainly has moments when his motivation is power but many of the stories involve a more base motivation – greed, respect, lust, or even simple curiosity and survival. This makes me think that each hero should have a random motivation each session that helps shape what the adventure will be. A quick check on a table at the beginning to determine motivation might be neat. Perhaps we could use five of the Christian seven deadly sins (envy, greed, lust, pride, and wrath; gluttony and sloth don’t sound compelling) or a tarot deck to determine motivations.
Part of the questing problem is the nature of RPGs in that there are multiple protagonists in most games. Yet Heroes Fall is definitely not a party-on-a-quest sort of game. So if there are quests, the fact that the group is not a party will need to be addressed somehow. It could be as simple as giving each character an adventure hook and tying them together, potentially at cross purposes. Or it could involve stripping down the game completely and rewriting it to be a multi-GM game with a single spotlight PC each session. I’ve already done some design on a framework like that for a Highlander RPG. Doing that loses a lot of PvP in that PCs won’t be interacting as much but it does focus more on individual characters. It’s also an interesting way to bring in player-led factions – when you’re playing a GM role you are controlling the whole faction and only occasionally giving your PC some spotlight time.
Anyway, that’s where I stand with Heroes Fall. It’s still kicking around in my noggin and I want to get it finished so I can publish the damn thing already. But it has a long, long way to go before that will happen.
Oh, and the fine folk of CAGWIC (a Chicago game-writers meetup hosted by Ken Hite and Will Hindmarch) are itching for me to finish Heroes Fall so I can write the game that follows it which uses the color from a Heroes Fall campaign to create a post-apocalyptic world. One thing at a time, guys.