More HQ d20 rambling

One of the things I’m looking forward to in the HQ game with the d20 group is fights and conflicts.
Specifically, fights that they lose. Also, conflicts that aren’t fights that still *matter* and command screen time during the game.
What do I mean?
When, in d20 combat (and remember that I said “combat” here, not “fights”) if you lose, there’s really only one way (95% of the time) that will end — you’re dead. Granted, the players might win and decide to save one -5 npc to question, but NPCs taking prisoners? Doesn’t happen — feels like a GM cop-out, or the NPCs only have time to take out one guy before they die, so it doesn’t come up.
With HQ, actual flat-out “you’re dead” consequences (and note I said that and not “results”) only come out of a fight about 5% of the time — beyond that, you’ve got lots of nuances… you can, as a player, lose a fight and still be cool… fail in the battle, but win the war.
On the of the main reasons for this is because you set the Goal for the fight, and it’s the GOAL you can lose, and the CONSEQUENCES that hurt you (or not). In d20 combat system, the GOAL is always “live”, and ‘reward’ is what we’d call the Goal in HQ, so if you lose the GOAL, you’re dead.
HQ does it like so:
You’re fighting orcs at the gate of a keep. The Goal of the fight is to get inside. You have a marginal failure. You do not get your goal. Period. Marginal failure indicates that you don’t get it and you’ve got a minor (-1) penalty on a limited set of tasks for some time. That’s it. You might have killed 40 of the damn things and looked good doing it… but there were just… too… many.
How DnD does it:
You want to get inside the gate. There are orcs in the way. You initiate the combat system against the orcs. You lose. You’re dead.
Which one sounds more like something that happens to the heroes at Helm’s Deep? I’m just sayin’.
As for Conflict that aren’t fighting? Let’s consider.

It’s a dirty little secret of d20 that the combat system is a Dice-Pool system. Almost immediately at first level, people who are good at combat start to build up a multi-dice pool with which to determine their success in a round of combat.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about multiple attacks per round. All that is is a multi-dice-pool of d20’s… it’s a pool, it’s just that each dice is rolled and resolved separately.
If all the dice were a success, then you kicked 100% ass. If you succeeded about 50% of the time… not so much. More dice mean more chance of at least accomplishing SOMETHING… a MARGIN of success in the round of combat — a system where you can get 3 success and 2 failures in that gestalt of effort we call a combat round.
It’s a mistake to say that d20 combat and d20 skills use the same mechanic. They don’t, because skill checks are always all-or-nothing, one-roll checks. A dice pool (even the hidden pool in d20 combat) does not exist, no matter how high your level.
The result? Combat is much more (a) rewarding, because you can at least succeed a ‘little’ (b) rewarding, because if you’re good at it, you’ll be in the spotlight about 200 TIMES more than if you’re good at say, Bluff.
How? Compare the handling time of your average d20 combat to your average d20 ‘bluff the cops’ check. Who’s getting more screen time?
HQ does every conflict the same way, with the same (relative) set of consequences. Combats using the simple resolution are rolled once, narrated, and you’re done… a hundred orcs could be defeated by your 100 corsairs in 2 minutes of game time and 3 minutes of narration… while the Extended Contest of Diplomacy could be the focus of the evening, with a 15-minute give and take bidding war.
d20 rewards being good at combat with lots of screen time, due to handling time of the combat mechanics.
HQ rewards being good at ANYTHING by awarding screen time based on what’s INTERESTING to the group. Might be combat… could be a theology argument… could be a basket-weaving contest.
I’m not trying to take this into a ‘d20 sucks’ thread — I LIKE d20 when I want to do what it does well. I am, however aware that it doesn’t do everything well, and I’m very jazzed to have the chance to take the d20 group and show them a game where you can be good an things besides combat and still get lots of play time and drama.


  1. D20…
    Or when you start to notice that you are going to be overwhealmed you retreat and try another approch.
    Happens all the time.
    You lose PC’s but you don’t have a TPK. I’ve never seen the scenerio like you describe at the gate have that outcome.

  2. Never said TPK. If some of you died, but you took the gate, you won the combat as a group… some of you failed in your Goal of “live”, but enough of you succeeded in living longer, so you get the reward.
    As for retreating: sure, that’s an option.
    But that’s not system. That’s aborting out of the system before the resolution happens. Granted, d20 surrounds the ‘abort’ attempt with mechanics of it’s own (AoO’s, et cetera), but it’s still aborting out of the Combat System early rather than deal with the result.
    Most of that comes down to definition of Goal. D20’s combat is obvious based on miniature-based skirmish rules. In such rules, obviously the only relevant questions is ‘who lives and who dies?’ That makes sense.
    But it’s not a system for telling a story. It’s a system for simulating skirmish-level combat, and it’s got one “Detail” setting: High Resolution.

  3. And I shouldn’t make it sound like that’s a bad thing — it isn’t, if that’s what you want.
    Me? I want a dial I can turn.
    “There’s 45 orcs ahead.”
    “Rush em. Kill em all. Drive them before us and listen to the lamentation of the women, etc etc.”
    “Sounds good, roll.”
    [everyone does so, ONCE, results are determined]
    “Okay, here’s how it plays out.”
    “There Count Rugan ahead.”
    “I draw my sword and do the line about how he killed my father and should prepare to die.”
    “Right… go into Extended Conflict and run this one bit at a time?”
    “Oh hell yeah, I wanna see him suffer.”
    It’s not because I want to save time — I want the games to take as much time as they take… what I want is for the things that take time to be things that MATTER.
    If we run both of those fights in d20, the dumb-ass orc encounter takes up more spotlight time than the major culmination of a character’s life-long quest, and that just ain’t right.

  4. Note: written to response #1
    I guess it would all depend in how you played it.
    In the Friday d20 game: Brief background.
    Trouble in the county to the south. Investigate it till we find the source of the trouble. First, a human village with bad people who hate the Orc tribe to the south. The cleric comes up with idea to be the IRC to the Orc tribe. Take food and trade goods down to the Orc tribe. Lots of negotiation later they decide to trust us. Cleric does all sorts of healing and acts of kindness and sways the Orc chief to neutral. From him we found out that the source of our problems were coming from a crater to the south. Off we went and then we come across a gate house?
    Our first attempt was a huge failure. No deaths, but it was close. They were not in a position to follow us (if they left the protection of the gatehouse, they would have been at the same tactical disadvantage as we were approaching it) so we went back to the Orc Tribe. The Chief was willing to help us because the people from beyond the gate house had been capturing members of his tribe. So, for the next three weeks game time we spent on getting info, and capturing the gate house patrols and playing good cop bad cop with them.
    Still all part of a story, and some of our ideas completely threw off our GM so that he had to adapt to the new what the situation at hand.
    Written to Response #2
    Stated much better. So you want to be able to Amber if need be.

  5. I want to be able to Amber in a way that’s not GM Fiat.
    Personal Opinion: Vanilla AmberDRPG conflict resolution is GM Fiat with Justifications — it’s good GM Fiat if you agree with the GM, it’s bad GM Fiat if you don’t.
    That’s not fair: Amber’s not GM Fiat, it’s just a static Karma system with Drama.
    And don’t talk to me about any Amber game you’ve played in the last 10 years — I HIGHLY doubt any of them were actually Vanilla AmberDRPG… they’re drifted rulesets, and you don’t drift a rules set if it’s working right to begin with.
    Amber would be a thousand times better if the bidding mechanic used for chargen had been somehow used IN THE GAME SYSTEM, FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Noblis kind of does that, but it’s clunky. Meh. Still blows my mind that no one’s ever done that — blows my mind further that this thought only occured to me about six months ago.
    Great setting. Fuck-all for a system.
    Now, yeah, one of the things I very much like about HQ is that that extended contest for “This is Important” scenes. A system based on your Advantage in the current scene… a bidding mechanic that reflect how much risk you’re putting into each manuver… spread out into a series of exchanges.
    I’m betting your GM “drifted” the core d20 mechanics to essentially do what I just described above during the negotiations with the Orc tribe. I’ll bet a lot of money, in fact, because I sincerely doubt that you guys did nothing but diceless roleplay for three sessions and then rolled Once for the resolution… I’m sure there was a series of rolls, made over the whole broken down conflict.
    That’s not the rules as written, and that’s fine — people drift a game to make it more like what they want, and more people drive d20 than any other game not because it’s broken but because it’s what more people PLAY, so it’s what they drift.
    I did my rules-drifting … well, a long time ago. I’m sick of it. There are all these threads on and the forge about ‘adding element X from game Y to expand game Z” — Meh. How about we write or buy Game Q instead?

  6. Yeah…It’s drifted.
    Basically, it’s role-playing. We come up with what we are going to do, and how we are going to do it. The GM has in his mind what the Orc chief might want, or might want to hear from us and adds or subtracts points from what we are saying/doing to our roll against the DC.
    Fewer rolls, more roll-playing.
    As to Amber. Todd’s First game was the only straight Amber Game we played (so…1 for 6). To the point that only people on stage were in the same room as the GM. It was a game where knowledge truely was power.
    Now it looks like I’m going to have to buy the HQ book to understand you point better.

  7. Nah… don’t do that… I’ll run an HQ thing for my next “Doyce crack game” slot that comes up… which I guess would be as soon as we wrap Nobilis, in theory.

  8. Wow, great food for the brain! This is just wonderful, Doyce. I’m going to have to link to this post and make sure every-damn-body reads it… twice! 🙂

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