The great thing about RPG Chicago (gotta plug my awesome group) is that you get a chance to meet new people and try new games that you'd probably never find out about before. That's the real reason I decided to step up and run it when the previous leader stepped down--it's a resource that not a lot of nerds have in a hobby requiring you to be social. With that in mind, a few Friday's ago I decided I needed some nerd time with new people, so I showed up to GamesPlus to play Hero's Banner.
Hero's Banner: The Fury of Free Will is an RPG where the mechanics are there to drive a story along. There are a lot of games that claim this, when they really mean mechanics aren't based around Dungeons and Dragons style battles. Hero's Banner actually succeeds at that goal. Each person plays a character who is a young noble, in a land of four countries who are constantly at odds with each other. They're at a point in their life where they have three possible paths to take, and someone pushing them towards one or another. While your story unfolds with the rest of the group, your character is forced to make choices that will eventually sway them to one cause more than the other. After a certain point, your character will have to decide on one path, and tell the epilogue of how that path went.
There were three of us, so three characters who's stories did intertwine, affecting each other in little ways. There was Victor, who's fighting family's tradition was clashing with his desire to stay home and write. There was Uriel, who's mother was a notable Guildmistress, though he thought of leaving the family spice trade for heroic glory. And there was Danica, my character, who was ready to marry but had the skill to be a great advisor.
Throughout over 6 hours of gaming that happened over 2 session, Victor, Uriel and Danica found their paths, although none of them were without losses. Victor teetered the line between brazen fighter and comfortable coward, pursuing an army assignment from his father but not to completion, finding information about a spy and taking that back to the information while allowing the court to believe that high general Dragos was killed He didn't admit to not being able to torture subjects and letting Dragos abandon Victor's leadership to pursue the original mission. After a tall tale of victory, the traitor was found to be the brother in law of the King, Mihale. After Mihale was almost publicly executed and awaiting the cruel judgement from the King of Prodan in a jail cell, Mihale's wife pleaded with Victor to recant the story, and with a heavy heart and a convenient distraction due to other more pressing political matters, freed the traitor that he had named, running away from his family and homeland and instead settling down far away to write a a tale that warned of the dangers of lying.
Uriel, after once again being on the run with his mother from a shipment gone wrong , settled in Prodan for a while to sell the spices that he had saved from a burning ship. Although heroics had helped him before, they later sent him the jail when he and a friend were arrested from a bar fight that got way out of hand. Apparently Uriel had friends who thought using chairs in a fight was awesome, and not capable of bringing someone close to death. In jail he heard of the possibility of slaying a "demon" and was released to the church's custody to hopefully become such a hero, only to find the church wished him to slay his own mother. Stabbing the one priest that was in his way and about to make a run for it, he finds his boyhood crush, Magda, as a stable girl married to a less than desirable husband. Uriel ended up punching the husband, saving the girl, and with the help of a convenient lady of the court, escaping the capital of Prodan and meeting up with his mother, only to have his mother leave town without him to save her own hide. Uriel settled down with Magda and had a family, finally finding the love of his life.
Danica's story started out with an attempt of love, from the Prince of Prodan no less. After her father, a close and trusted advisor to the King, introduced to two and everything was going splendidly at a court function, the King intervened and made sure that both the Prince and Danica's father knew that such an affair was not to be decided on a whim. The Prince sent a note to Danica later to meet her at night, where he not only confessed his attraction, but that he needed her help in assassinating his own father. Danica said she'd helped, but towed the line in court when apologizing to the king about what happened between her and the Prince in court. Danica planned a couple of events to keep suspicion away from her Prince, including a reconciliation between father and son for all to see in church. She thought she had found a sucker to commit the murder when helping the church preach to those stuck in the local prison, convincing one prisoner that the king was a demon and releasing him to the custody of the church. She discovered how this plan backfired when she found Josef stabbed through the gut, and through prayer a miracle occurred and she saved his life with the power of the Ancients. Offended that her Prince never respected the church, she immediately went to the King and confessed the sins of the heir, renouncing everything she had done and preaching the truth of the Ancients, in the hope of unity across all the four kingdoms.
In the end, this game is ridiculously rewarding because it allows the player to become a character with goals and conflicts that they have to figure it out. Now, the only downside is that this isn't a game for people new to RPGs, especially when it comes to the GM. The GM has to be ready to take something and make a scene out of it quickly. Like within a minute or less. That said, once you have a GM who can master that art, you're bound to have a engaging experience that is unlike any other RPG out there.
I already know this is a game I'm going to be playing and GMing again and again and again for years to come.