First Thoughts

Mechanics Kvetching

Pass/Fail Cycle vs. Constant Ratings

Oh cripes.

I want players to respond to the conflicts within the setting. Their changes have to matter. And I don’t want to give them the sense that there is some way they are expected to react or act. And the pass/fail arc gives some sense of direction. I just don’t want to give the wrong sense of direction.

Let us think of Comprehensive setting (ontology) and mechanics. Glorantha is made of myths. All myths have the following conditions:

  1. the central conflict of the myth is where the protagonists are most changed and effect the most change — so, the climactic scenes of any heroquest should have the preset high difficulty that S:KoH suggests.
  2. no mythic figure is all powerful or all wise, but time and chance happen to all: so, the pass/fail cycle is entirely appropriate for heroquesting.
    > assistants to the heroquest can step in and bear losses or defeats that in the canonical myth belong to the protagonist … myth hacking is cool!
    > players are consciously manipulating a story arc but who cares! The universe of the setting assumes such story arcs are the fabric of existence … self-consciously manipulating story is cool!

Let us think of Local setting

  1. The Clan Wyter
    > The threats to the enduring entity of interest to the characters will dictate Crisis Challenges.
    > These threats will also escalate as the sessions progress. Therefore, the players will have to work to improve the clan. So the escalating base difficulty serves a setting-enforcing purpose: players must work to keep the clan’s abilities ahead of the basic resistance.
    > “Prizes” worked out in confronting Crisis Challenges should be of some kind that improve the Clan, not just maintain the status-quo.
    > As they players learn more about the setting, they should be able to apportion their efforts with some consistency, know the consequences they risk, know the dangers they face: so the pass/fail cycle shouldn’t compromise this activity.
    > I don’t want to add too many metagame mechanics but assume that every session will use the climactic consequences table at some point. For any Crisis Challenge to be met, it must be overcome on this table. And its appropriate scale of threat should remain constant! Thus, the pass/fail mechanic can provide a rhythm to the session but cannot determine the climactic moment when the characters are absolutely prepared to lay it on the line. That moment of decision, to take on the Crisis Challenge, to win something for the Wyter, that happens with solid parameters against opponents who characters can shape through prior actions, get to know through intelligence, spying, etc.
    > How to decide when the climactic table is used? As GM I can call for it any time the Crisis Challenge is met and the stakes include a Prize that will benefit the Wyter or end a resource crisis.
    > The introduction of the climactic contest table should reset the pass/fail rhythm. And that is one big whammy. Howsabout a green poker chip, each player gets one. Play that chip and you get to invoke the climactic contest table. If the Prize is NOT something that will help the wyter, we go with the dramatic rhythm as established to this point. If the Prize aids the wyter, then we go with threat as established. In either case, we reset to the base resistance. Noone gets a new Green Chip until all players have spent theirs.
    > What could reboot the series so that we deal with simple base resistances again? Maybe taking the Clan to Tribe status, and thence nation?
  2. Agents Capable of Affecting CLAN
    > All agents capable of Affecting Clan must be specified beforehand. This is honest prep. That way should the community resource come into crisis, there is a specific, familiar, real, effective agent responsible for it, not some random arbitrary new threat unrelated to the fiction established heretofore.
    > If no crisis is rolled for the community, there should still be obstacles. And what if the in-fiction response to PC action necessitates some kind of response? Say the Crisis Challenge relates to economics but the PCs do something provocative that brings the Lunar Army down on the clan?
    > In any challenge where the CLAN is under conflict, use the established ratings of both Clan and the attacking agent to determine which side gets the prize. The PCs can assist, using the standard helping rules. As it is not the PCs facing the consequences, the regular contest results table will be used.
    > my aim is to challenge the heroes, so setting the clan against a clan-level threat would not be my preferred move.
    > Oh man! I get to BURN UP RIVAL CLANS!
  3. Agents Capable of Affecting CHARACTERS
    > whether it is by a long-standing enemy of the clan, a personal rival, or a new factor in the political/religious/economic equation, the players must be challenged
    > as I am NOT pre-planning a story arc the dramatic rhythm presents a problems
    > why not use the pass/fail cycles as a modifier to the basic category of threat?
    > establishing that a rival is fast with a sword but has a superstitious fear of spears, because in every generation a male of his house is killed by one, that should be a fact of the setting that players can use to their advantage
    > and who would want to have this fact rendered meaningless by some arbitrary dramatic rhythm, to be unable to use this insight because successes by OTHER characters have raised the resistance to nearly impossible (22 points higher than the base)
    > advantages that are the result of a prior contest should be ON THE CHARACTER SHEET, so the fictional circumstances dictate when that bonus can be brought it
    > the pass/fail rhythm seems to be becoming a hoop for the GM to jump through (instead of default Heroquest, where the PCs jump through rote hoops to mesh with the GM’s story arc)
    > We have established that “Prizes” set for a conflict may be of benefit to the Clan. That means there are “Prizes” that players want their characters (or other players’ characters, or even an NPC) to have. So if the “Prize” is of direct benefit to the clan, it might be treated differently from a conflict where the “Prize” is for the character.
    > But don’t we have Hero Points to bend the story to fit a player’s goals? How about this, the PC is facing a non-Crisis Challenge, or some challenge not directed at the Clan as a whole. The player can go with the pass/fail cycle, and use hero points to make up the difference.
    > In all cases, the GM is to set the scene in a way that preserves the CREDIBILITY of the setting. If an NPC is being given a low resistance, frame the situation so that the NPCs lowest ability is the determining factor.
    > Think of the pass/fail cycle as a pacing device: if I see a juicy high resistance is in place, make a strong move with one of my strong NPCs, don’t claim that Dagobert the Useless has suddenly learned to be a great magician. Or establish how friends or even a wicked mentor have allowed a feeb to get the drop on a PC. In any case, the PCs will have to roll high and spend Hero Points. Again the Green Chip could be used to invoke the climactic contest chart. Let players hand them around.
    > The pass/fail cycle isn’t that extreme. Say someone wants to finally step to Harek because the cycle has brought us to “very low”. An expert versus a Superhero doesn’t fail the credibility test (he isn’t a god), but it is a Stretch. So a 3 mastery-rated opponent is reduced to 2w, but as it is a stretch, the best you will get is a Marginal Victory. Even with hero points! So you just scratched Harek. Now deal with the consequences.
    > Actually, the rules for Stretches allay my fears about the pass fail cycle producing rank absurdities
    > A Very High resistance can be overcome with Hero Points, and if I jettison my early ideas about clamping down the Hero Point flow, there will be plenty to go around.

Achieving “Hero” status, will require rejigging the whole setting to fit with the qualitative change in the characters. No one achieves hero status until such time as the Clan is transformed into a qualitatively larger entity through the efforts of the characters. Gain multiple masteries, devote to the gods, whatever. It is not until you have made the clan into something more that you progress to hero-hood. Or superhero-hood.

Prep for 1st Session

Ordinary person: 14: reasonably affects one other ordinary person
Expert: w: reasonably affects group of ordinary people, 1 expert, stretch to affect a hero or more
Hero: 2w: reasonably affects a hero, a group of experts, a mob of ordinaries, stretch to affect superhero or more
Superhero/Wyter: 3w reasonably affects a superhero/wyter, a group of heroes, a mob of experts, an army of ordinaries, an entire clan
Demigod/Minor God: 4w reasonably affects demigod/minor god, a group of superheroes, a mob of heroes, an army of experts, several armies, a tribe
Up the scale of Glorantha’s beings until we reach world-shaping powers and Greater Gods.

Also, the rune cycle and the lunar cycle can give bonuses!


(thanks to
I might start using these terms to talk about game sessions

Embracing the offers made by other performers in order to advance the scene.

The process of moving the scene forwards.

The question asked of the audience in order to start a scene.

A unit of action in a scene. A scene is made up of a series of beats.

Rejecting information or ideas offered by another player. One of the most common problems experienced by new improvisors.

Breaking the routine
Interrupting an action with another action in order to advance the scene.

Making previous action irrelevant. Once an action has been cancelled, it’s as if it hadn’t happened at all. Usually a bad idea.

Stepping out of the reality of the scene by saying or doing something that refers to the fact that it’s a scene being played. Also refers to “playing” an emotion rather than feeling it. Should be avoided, though used sparingly it can sometimes be effective.

Complementary offer
An offer that meshes well with what’s already gone before (and usually enhances it in some way).

Many (but not all!) scenes are about a conflict of some sort. If there’s no conflict, the scene may still be truthful but somewhat dull.

The broader setting for the scene (political, social, etc).

To break up laughing while playing a scene. Usually not a good thing to do.

See “blocking”.

Taking over a scene and not letting other performers influence its direction. Makes you an unpopular improvisor.

Assigning attributes to another performer’s character.

Explore and heighten
To take an idea and see where it leads, exploring its natrual consequences while simultaneously raising the stakes.

Taking an idea and letting it become the central theme of the scene.

The audience’s attention should only be in one place at any given time; that place (or person) is the “focus” of the scene. If more than one thing is going on simultaneously, the focus is split. Experienced improvisors will smoothly share focus, less experienced improvisors often steal or reject focus.

Trying to make a joke or do something funny that doesn’t flow naturally from the scene. Always a bad idea.

Talking about things instead of doing them. Also, talking about things that are offstage or in the past or future.

The premise for a scene or game.

Making smalltalk instead of engaging in action.

Information overload
Introducing too much information into the scene, making it difficult or impossible to ever find a satisfying ending that resolves everything.

Instant trouble
Making an offer that introduces a problem or conflict but that doesn’t relate to the narrative of the scene prior to that point (see “Offer from space”).

Making silly faces instead of reacting truthfully. Generally frowned upon.

Identifying characters, objects, places and so forth in the scene.

Narrative Arc
The story told by a scene. Scenes should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

The thing that a character in a scene is trying to achieve.

Any dialog or action which advances the scene. Offers should be accepted.

Offer from space
Dialog or action that is bizarre and that appears to come from nowhere.

Turning intent into action and movement.

Point of Concentration
What the scene is about.

Discussion of the show by the performers and crew after the performance, in order to identify problem areas that may have arisen as well as things that worked particularly well.

A period during which a scene is not advancing. Usually a bad thing.
God, this is terrible in gaming. I have been stuck in hour-long plateaus.

The who, what and where of a scene. The success of a scene often depends on having a solid platform.

The list of handles and/or ask-fors to be used in a show. Also called a “running order”.

Playfully getting another performer to do something difficult or unpleasant which you probably wouldn’t do yourself. Used sparingly, can be quite entertaining. Best strategry is to choose things the other performer does well.

Raising the stakes
Making the events of the scene have greater consequences for the characters. One technique for advancing.

Bringing back an idea from earlier in the scene, or from a previous scene in the show, or even from a previous performance. Stand-up comedians refer to this as a “callback”. Always fun, but not something to over-do.

Running order
See “Playlist”.

Acknowledging an offer but not doing anything with it, with the intent of using it later. Of course, later never comes.

An object that’s used in the scene but which doesn’t really exist. A mimed object. In general, anything that doesn’t support weight (like a chair) should be a space object.

A character’s sense of self-worth. Many scenes are built around status transfers, in which one character’s status drops while another’s rises. Physical environments and objects also have status.

Stepping out
Breaking the reality of the scene. See “Commenting”.

Combining two dissimilar ideas into one, such as hearing two suggestions from the audience and combining them into a single idea that gets used in the scene. Can be fun.

Talking heads
A scene that involves a lot of standing (or worse yet, sitting) around talking rather than engaging in physical action.

Turning something into something else (one character into another, one object into another, one environment into another).

Failing to make decisions. Talking about what you’re going to do instead of doing it.

Walk-on (or Walk-through)
The act of entering a scene, making a strong offer that advances the scene, and then exiting. Use sparingly.

Doing something cute and silly that makes the audience laugh but doesn’t do anything to advance the scene. Very annoying for the other improvisors.

Accepting an offer but failing to act on it.

First Thoughts

For Clan, Kin, and the Gods ErikWeissengruber