Since I don’t get to GM that much, I do my best to use the opportunities I do have to do something different. I gave the instruction of something like “300 with Vikings” in the beginning to my players.
Mild spoilers on the Battle of Iceland scenario ensue.
Battle of Iceland is part of the Barbarian Adventures campaign designed for the first edition HeroQuest (or Hero Wars, its predecessor, I forget). Its basically a sort of series climax. Its supposed to be a battle which is built to over quite a few sessions, as the PCs gather allies and make their way to the site with other clans (known as Iceland, but not the real Iceland) after finding out their gods are dead and the winter is not going to turn into spring. The battle itself is actually a huge ritual sacrifice to their gods in order to awaken them once again. The campaign can then continue onto even more epic events.
Instead, I decided to run this as a oneshot. Sure, the emotional investment is going to be lessened, but actually going through the campaign is never going to happen with my schedule and the difficulties in getting a group together regularly.
Also, I just wanted to see how this would work. The characters would be under attack all the time, and since the system is more about the narrative than the tactical aspect of the game, it was going to be all about what the players come up in describing their actions, rather than coordinating their efforts. I was using the second edition HeroQuest, which is generally much better than the older ones, but actually in this scenario that might have been a mistake. Then again, the strength of the older system in this situation is the Action Point economy, which allows players to make decisions on how they approach situations, where they can take calculated risks or divert them simply by deciding how many APs they are willing to commit. On the other hand, this system does have a steeper learning curve than the newer system, so with that in mind I chose the newer, more steam-lined system.
HeroQuest is generally my go-to system when I need a system, but can’t find any that will specifically support the genre I want. Its very flexible and can be converted to work in pretty much any world in just few minutes, if you know what you’re doing. Its a great tool in the arsenal of a GM, because fairly simple rules encompass pretty much anything in a simple way. Since all traits of the character (abilities, skills, social network, wealth and credit, special weapons, retainers, magic) work pretty much the same way (there are differences, but they aren’t huge) and you can use any of your traits to help any other traits if you can explain how, even basic combat can become much more interesting if people start to use their traits in imaginative ways.
The character creation took more time than expected, since I didn’t want much from the characters in the beginning. Just their cult and “occupation”, which are very much entwined. I told them they are all warriors, but that they should have a more colorful description. I don’t remember the adjectives I asked them to insert in front of their role, but the roles where a champion, a reclusive wildman and a slinger. Each had a sidekick (which I told them they could play as their characters if their first character died). Those were a bear, a giant wolverine and a giant.
Actually, in terms of this world, the sidekicks were fine. The rules definitely allow those and since the rules are what they are, it doesn’t really matter how awesome and powerful your sidekick seems, as they are still going to be just as useful as any other sidekick, just in different situations. Maybe your giant is slow, or your communcation with your bear is limited. In any case, it won’t give you any more plusses than a midwife or, say, a kid. Its your job to find how to incorporate the sidekick best.
(Note: We used sidekicks here more like a trait than the actual second edition rules, where a sidekick will have a few traits of its own.)
So, I explained the situation and told them they would be in the front line. Then I pretty much threw more and more opponents against them until their side had either lost or I felt their gods had been empowered enough to rise again. In practice, I had to hurry this up a bit, since I was on a schedule, but I don’t think it mattered.
At first, the players were in on the action, but I wasn’t able to vary the threats enough to keep the scenario interesting for the whole time. On the other hand, it wasn’t tactical combat either. I’ve run many sessions where a combat scene has taken up the whole session simply because the system was that slow and the players would think through each of their moves with quite a bit of deliberation. Here at least they could simply narrate what they were doing instead of having to calculate their exact moves.
I wasn’t able to encourage the players to take quite as much of the narrative responsibilites as I would’ve liked. Much of the narration was done by me, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. If I’m alone responsible for the content, I might as well write a short story about it.
Well, I won’t be doing that again. Still, a worthwhile experiment (at least form my perspective). I bet there are GMs out there who could do it much better than me, but I’d rather run something that enables more character interaction.