Hero Ranks: too arbitrary or all about the vagaries of fantasy life?
Had a great session of Yellow Dawn on Tuesday night. Continuation of the shift from playing one Saturday a month at my place, to playing every week in a quiet room at a pub in the centre of Bristol: table 18. This month has seen two new players become part of the group. Meanwhile, the old-timers remain in play. Nice Guy Tony and Simon P (for Penfold) who have been players of the precursor to Yellow Dawn since 1995. And Game Breaker Hagen and Bergen Boy who have been player since Yellow Dawn was first born in 2007.
Bergen Boy, aka Øivind, raised a point of discussion about the game mechanics behind character development. Specifically the way a character can increase their Hero Rank.
Hero Rank is sort of like character levels in D&D, but not so structured. In Yellow Dawn characters do not accumulate experience points throughout a scenario, with pre-set targets for when their level will increase. Instead, characters are given the chance to increase their Hero Rank at the conclusion of any scenario, or at the end of any particularly intense session where great role-playing or ingenuity or sheer guts was shown. It’s the GMs decision but my view is that Hero Rank rolls should be allowed fairly regularly.
Hero Rank isn’t a levelling system so much as a reflection of the character’s confidence in being a hero, their mojo, their personal status. Unlike Career Rank which represents how successful a character is and their reputation in the industry, influencing how much they can charge for work.
Hero Rank always starts at 1 for any new character. To increase it. A character has to score 10 or more on 2d6 (rolling two six-sided dice). If they succeed, their Hero Rank goes up by +1 and they get an immediate chance to roll again (and go up by another +1).
This can seem quite arbitrary, and Øivind’s point was that for some players (such as him) it feels unfair when some characters have ascended to the giddy height of Hero Rank 13 whilst his character lingers at Hero Rank 4. Those who are unlucky in their dice rolls don’t get to go up as fast.
“Where is the reward? Where is the character development?” Øivind remarked.
The point did resonate with me so I opened it up for discussion with the group but the other players quickly closed it down, supporting the existing game mechanics.
Characters DO develop through succeeding in skill checks; earning points that they can spend at any time to increase skills or improve STATS.
An increase in Hero Rank gives a bonus to Hit Points, Karma Points and an additional Hero Bonus (special ability) and although often hard to achieve, rolling 10+ on 2d6, the law of numbers means that eventually it will happen. It comes down to attending the game. Some players who don’t turn up regularly find their characters parked in a holding pattern, and so don’t get as many chances to try and increase their Hero Rank. This is what happened to Øivind.
The Hero Rank system is wrapped around the ethos that life IS arbitrary and often unfair. The bad guys get the promotions at work whilst good people get overlooked. It’s a fundamental element of Yellow Dawn (many shades of grey in morality, politics and business) and in the world of my writing.
If you want to know more about Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur, check out the official web page here. Alternatively, if you like the sound of thrillers written above a hidden bedrock of Lovecraftian Mythos, set in the near science fiction cyberpunk future, some with a post-apocalyptic twist, then take a peek at the bookshelf here.