Dec 12

Updated: Yes/No, but Little Wizards


This article is a synthesis of two previous posts. Both looked at ways to make the outcomes of skill checks interesting, and ease the process of narrating the results. First, there was Totally Yes/No and But which expanded the graduated outcomes in HeroQuest. The second post was Little Wizards and Making Failure Interesting.



My Tales of the Hero Wars campaign is played primarily using my beloved HeroQuest rules. I combined the approaches of HQ and Little Wizards. In HeroQuest terms, many of the Little Wizards outcomes fit in different places within the hierarchy of results. While I want the structure of the HeroQuest results, the Little Wizards suggestions help me narrate a broader range of outcomes. Before taking a detailed look at each of the Little Wizards results, it is worth reminding ourselves of the two different approaches.


The HeroQuest Way

Any roll in HeroQuest produces a sliding scale of either Victory or Defeat In addition to HeroQuest’s simple descriptions, I add brief narrative outcomes. These narrative phrases help the GM recount the designated outcome.:

Complete Victory        = Yes, TOTALLY
Major Victory                 = Yes AND . .
Minor Victory                 = YES
Marginal Victory          = Yes, BUT
Tie                                         = No change, or no effect
Marginal Defeat           = No, BUT
Minor Defeat                 = NO
Major Defeat                 = No, AND
Complete Defeat        = No, TOTALLY


The Little Wizards Way

In contrast, the excellent advice in Little Wizards only dealt with ways to make failures interesting. There are great possibilities here, especially the last option where the GM simply turns to another Player and asks them to narrate the outcome. My Players enjoy messing with each other, making this result a lot of fun. The Little Wizards suggestions were:

1. Not that Way
2. Obstacle
3. Complications
4. Setback
5. Tough Decision
6. Another Player Narrates



Each of the Little Wizards suggestions fits into the HeroQuest hierarchy of outcomes:


1. Not that Way

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No, you cannot pick the lock

The first Little Wizards response is the easiest to place, as it is clearly the simple “No” result. Whatever the Player was trying to do cannot be achieved that way.  As this works so well for the simple “No”, then it can be equally effective for the simple “Yes”. Whatever the Player was trying to do can be achieved the way they described it. In terms of narrative, this is the simplest option for the GM. The Player has told you what they were trying to do, and you quickly narrate it back to them as a success or a failure. There are no additional narrative twists to these results, just a simple “Yes” or “No” outcome.


2. Obstacle

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No, but your initial attempt reveals a needle trap. You may try again, by attempting the much harder task of overcoming both mechanisms.

The second Little Wizards option is to introduce an obstacle, which makes the attempted task harder. This is specifically intended to allow for a retry at a higher difficulty. This is clearly a “No, but” response. The initial attempt fails, but the Player may try again. For the narrative, the structure is straightforward, simply requiring the addition of an obstructing factor which raises the difficulty for the next attempt.


3. Complications

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No, and a guard just walked around the corner.

This option adds an external complication to the situation. The task has failed, and the situation has worsened further. This clearly falls into the “No, and” category of responses. However, the basic premise of adding complications to the plot works in another set of HeroQuest results: the “Yes, but”. Overall, this is a better outcome than the “No, and” result, as the locked door is now open.


This outcome allows the GM to complicate the plot despite the low-level of success achieved by the Player. In terms of the narrative, this is also dependent upon the GM thinking fast to find a suitable external complication. It is worth the effort, as this outcome adds new input into the story.


4. Setback

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No, and your lock pick is broken.

This option is the internal, Hero-focused version of the previous one. Thus, it is another “No, and” outcome, with the impact on the Hero or their equipment. Anything which makes the Hero less capable of performing the same task again is a suitable choice.


As before, this is equally suited to the “Yes, but” outcome in HeroQuest. Likewise the narrative only requires the GM to pick how the Hero has been impaired. Choosing from a limited set of options is fine, as the Players will respond differently each time, and thus keep the story varied.


5. Tough Decision

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No, and you set off the trap. Will you keep your fingers in the lock and let the needle hit you? Or do you leap back and let it hit the fighter behind you?

The focus of this option is to give the Player two difficult choices. At first, this seemed like a “No, totally” outcome, but then I remembered how the Player still has some degree of choice as to the final outcome. This keeps this outcome in the “No, and” category. The door is not unlocked, and something terrible happens. Only now, the Player is forced into a choice to determine exactly what happens.


Unlike the previous two options, this could also be suitable as a “Yes, but” result. The negative consequences are somewhat harsh, so it is a matter of taste whether you want to be this cruel to the Players. Perhaps the outcomes could be a little less painful for the “Yes, but” version. I like the roleplaying opportunities of the decision-making part of this outcome. This sort of choice reveals a lot about a Player and their Hero.


This is the hardest of the narrative options, so probably should be a rarer outcome. Harming self vs. harming another is the simplest format, but even this requires a lot of improvisation by the GM. Ensuring these choices are equally tough is a difficult call. In a sense, any two bad outcomes should be enough, as the value of the game here is in the choice, not in the balance of outcomes.


6. Another Player Narrates

Player: Can I pick the lock?
GM: No. [Turns to another Player] Tell us what happens.

This is the most entertaining Little Wizards option. I love the way this option does so much for the game. It brings another voice to the table, has the potential to take the story in new directions, surprises the GM and moves the burden of narrative around the table. In terms of the HeroQuest results, this option is suitable for all of them except the simple “Yes” or “No” outcomes. These make poor choices for this option as the outcome is so simple there is little for a Player to add to the narrative.


The Combined Way

Bringing the two versions together gives us this revised table:

HeroQuest ResultNarrative Option
Complete Victory1-4 = Yes, TOTALLY
5-6 = Yes, TOTALLY another Player narrates the outcome
Major Victory1-4 = Yes AND . .
5-6 = Yes AND . . another Player narrates the outcome
Minor VictoryYes, it happens that way
Marginal Victory1-2 = Yes, BUT an external complication is introduced
3-4 = Yes, BUT you suffer an ongoing penalty
5 = Yes, BUT you must make a tough choice
6 = Yes, BUT another Player narrates the outcome
Marginal Defeat1-4 = No, BUT you learn more and may try again at higher difficulty
5-6 = No, BUT another Player narrates the outcome
Minor DefeatNo, it cannot be done that way
Major Defeat 1-2 = No, AND an external complication is introduced
3-4 = No, AND you suffer an ongoing penalty
5 = No, AND you must make a tough choice
6 = No, AND another Player narrates the outcome
Complete Defeat1-4 = No, TOTALLY
5-6 = No, TOTALLY another Player narrates the outcome


I added a d6 roll to randomize the results to keep things interesting. I roll the d6 at the same time as I roll for resistance to avoid delaying the game. This has since been upgraded to using a d16, but this was where the Narrative Outcomes table began.



This expanded table adds to the variety of narrative outcomes created by the graded results generated in HeroQuest. There is more that can be done with this table, but for this article, I am confining myself to the Little Wizards outcomes.


What narrative options would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



The Updated series of posts are articles taken from my archives, given a fresh edit and generally rewritten in light of my current GM style. I doubt I can update every post on the blog, but I am pleased to give a least a few of my essays a new lease of life.

To save memory space, I plan to remove the old version and re-direct links to the updated essay. If you spot a broken link, then I would appreciate a quick email notifying me of the problem.


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