>I understand what you're saying about running too many Extended Contests in a session, or trying to fit every conflict into an Extended Contest. But could you elaborate on how using "magical abilities (or any ability, really) in a much more direct way" enhanced play? Perhaps a before-after example. I'm fairly new to HeroQuest and I don't quite understand what you mean.
OK, here goes...
Background: The adventurers are on a riverboat poling their way up the Sesliva River in pursuit of an enemy heroband. The enemy convinced some of the locals, Durnvoking tribeswomen, to slow the adventurers down. The Durnvoking women accept the offer and, for reasons of their own, decide to seduce the adventurer's leader in order to "steal his seed". The adventurers' first sign of "danger" was a large raft surrounded by a flotilla of little canoes. Everyone they saw were women, and the women on the raft were drumming and dancing around a smoking brazier. Once the natives spotted the adventurers, all the little canoes left the raft and began rowing toward them. The adventurers immediately understood that this was an attempt by the enemy to slow them down, and decided to smash their way through the women and continue on.
The adventurers unsuccessfully used Ignite feats in an attempt to catch the Durnvoking raft on fire. The party leader used a feat from his brilliance affinity to make their riverboat difficult to look at. This kept the women from trying to board the party's boat. The Durnvokings sent Want Me spirits (Elmeena the Guileful Alynx Practice, Moon Rites, pg 17) to seduce the adventurers, and the most powerful spirit was sent against the leader himself. All of the men resisted these "attacks" except one, who was about to jump overboard when a friend successfully used a "Douse Passion" feat on him to counteract the Want Me spirit.
Meanwhile, the Durnvoking women tried to physically attack one of the adventurers, who had been flying around on his giant wasp attempting to ignite the raft. The women warriors used Flying Leap (Chagura Sky-Cow Practice) and Sudden Leap (Rinkina the Bobcat Practice) spirit magic to get into grappling range. Although they succeeded with their leaping magic, they did not win the grapple contest and fell back into the river.
Finally, the party leader improvised from his Fire affinity to extinguish the fire in the brazier on the raft, which disrupted the Durnvoking's ritual. The party Vizier, a Crysknife Adept (a school invented by the player) used his Behead spell on several of the women in the canoes. He failed to actually kill them, but was successful enough to scare them away. Finally, one of the other adventurers used Control Plants magic to break up the Durnvoking's raft.
Essentially, I just fudged the results of each action. What effect did the wall of light around the riverboat have? No rules effect - I just didn't have the women attempt to board the riverboat. Extinguishing the brazier kept the Durnvoking leader busy so there were no more powerful Want Me spirits to deal with. How about the break-up of the raft? I said that the women on the raft were too preoccupied to attack the adventurers. The players seemed more than satisfied with these narrative results, and never asked what kind of penalties the Wall of Light feat caused or if the victims of the Behead feat were Hurt, Impaired, etc.
Now, all of this could certainly have been done with a group extended contest. Doing it as a bunch of simple contests was a nice change, though, and helped us to see past the numbers. Next Monday I plan to have a contest between the adventurers and their enemy for the favor of the Anadikki High Karm. This is the climax of the adventure, and will be run as a group extended contest.
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