Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Project: HeroQuest on Roll20

This scene, but with older kids, was every winter Sunday growing up
Ladies and gents, perhaps you're like me and you'd been playing RPGs for years when Milton Bradley released Games Workshop's HeroQuest here in the US. For some, I'm sure this game was as much of a gateway drug to real RPGs as Dungeon! had been for earlier generations. For those of us who grew into RPGs in the years between and didn't have a clique of older geeks to hang around who'd had access to Dungeon! or experienced DMs, we read D&D, AD&D and even Palladium RPG for the first time and had to figure out how these RPG-things worked without anyone holding our hands during the process. And by we, I really mean me. Well, me and the other guys in my suburb back in the day which I guess is technically a we. 

My favorite brand of crap when I was a kid
The point of this story is that there are conceits of RPGs, specifically the "fantasy adventure" and dungeon crawl variety of RPGs, that I grew up ignorant of. Yes, I'd buy issues of Dragon so I knew that miniatures were out there, but I had no idea how they were supposed to be used. I sort of had a vision of building a huge action playset-type thing like I'd had for my Star Wars figures ages before and somehow using that for D&D-style adventures. I'd read my Red Box thoroughly, so I knew that someone should be drawing maps, but I had no idea how they were supposed to know what to draw. Further, I had no real idea how to make the combat system work, but didn't let that stop me. Whenever confronted with something that we couldn't quite make heads or tails out of, we did what all good gamers have done since the dawn of the hobby: we made it up. (Which is, I think, why we liked the Palladium stuff back in the day; it's pretty obvious that they just took D&D and made up some other stuff for the parts they didn't get or "thought they could do better.")

My first favorite adventuring party
Then, one Christmas Day way back in the mists of time (1990 I think), my brother got HeroQuest. Every other present was disregarded (but not the Christmas kielbasa; nothing comes between teenage Polish fat kids and their kielbasa) as we immediately set up the board and... ineffectually tried to get our father and mother to join us. I even volunteered to play Zargon (for the uninitiated, read this as "to DM"), but no dice. An actual play-through of the game would have to wait until after the two-hour drive from Goshen, Indiana (where we lived), to Grand Rapids, Michigan (where the rest of the Muszkiewicz clan did), so we could force our cousins to play. We might not have gotten all of them hooked on HQ, but i know that at least our cousin Pete was sold (he got his copy of HQ for Christmas the next year) and soon every wintertime family gathering included HeroQuest. 

I painted my brother's HQ minis, too
The funny thing is that HQ taught my brother how to do a lot of stuff that we'd never bothered to learn in D&D. In some cases, this might have been "taught us how to learn" how to do some stuff that we'd just been making up, and in some, it was an "ooh, so that's how it works" sort of moment. Soon, my D&D scenarios were accompanied by miniature-appropriate temples composed of hand-drawn geomorphs on cardstock and painted miniatures where previously had been "theater of the mind"-style combat. It's sort of sad that it took me so long to figure out this stuff because by the time I had, I ran AD&D this way just a handful of times then my friends' interest in stuff like RIFTS (ugh, more Palladium!), Robotech (still more Palladium), ShadowRun, and the White Wolf games sort of took over my gaming life for the next decade or so. Oh, and right about this time, I fell in love with WEG's d6 Star Wars RPG (which I've luckily spent a lot of time thinking about lately), so there's that, too. And Earth Dawn. But every time enough Muszkiewiczes gathered in one place during the winter months, there was HeroQuest!

Wooden dice + crap paint = bald dice
Today, as I reflected more on my experiences with Roll20 as a player and DM, I realized that HeroQuest would be a perfect thing to run over Roll20. Simple rules, simple goals, simple game altogether. Limited need for player focus or stuff like that. It was the perfect "my first adventure game" back in the day, and I'm sure it'd be a great "my first hangout game" today. What would need to change, I asked myself, between the tabletop version and an online version? Realistically, not much. As it stands, the only thing that needs to change is dice rolling mechanism since Roll20 wouldn't have the "skully dice." Instead, you'd have to roll a number of normal d6s compared against a target number to represent how many faces the desired symbol took up on the die. For example, the "skull" result would happen on a 4+ (4, 5 or 6 result). Similarly, the "shield" result would happen on a 5+ (5 or 6), while a "monster shield" could only happen on a 6. 

The big thing that I'm going to have to work on is creating a toolkit for DMs who want to run HQ over Roll20 (or any VTT for that matter, but my efforts will concentrate on Roll20 functionality) and this means parsing out the different necessary graphic assets that one would need to set up the game board, to have tokens for the different monsters and heroes, to build the tiles that needed to be add during the course of the game and of course to create the requisite decks of cards (one of the really nice things about Roll20 is the integrated card deck creator). Right, so now it's time to get to work.