Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mechanics Talk: Explain to Me How to Leader

On we rumble, into the Aspect of bosses and Serious Business - Leader! Leaders are all about being in charge, which means more than just looking important (although they do definitely do that); it also means being able to wrangle large groups of people, make rules (and make them stick), and inspire people to not only do what they want but really, really try hard at it.

What do you do on your adventures and for your group when you have Leader?

Being the Boss: Leaders are the boss, which is pretty obvious from their name - seriously, thoroughly the boss. They get to make rules, demand things of people, and intimidate dissenters into submission (which, depending on the Hero's personality, could be something they do patiently and comfortably, or something they just brute force without caring much about the feelings of the people involved). Obviously, every Hero can make demands or try to intimidate someone, but the Leader can really make it stick - when they do those things, they change how people behave and what they think, even if they really didn't want to back down to the Hero, which lets them get around a lot of obstacles and head off a lot of potential enemies before they even get started. Being large and in charge is a concrete skillset for the Leader, who has lots of Blessings that leverage it into action. (And, if Leader is one of their main Aspects and they have the Sway Endowment, they can literally just call up underlings to boss around when they need to!)

Managing a Crowd: One-on-one intimidation is one thing, but commanding a group or subduing a mob is also one of the Leader's abilities. They can sway the hearts and minds of huge numbers of people at once with speeches, demonstrations, and other giant social actions (unlike the Lover, who usually only affects a few people at the time more strongly, they get to affect a lot of people but with less intensity). Some Leader Blessings let them not only affect a large group but actually shape them into a living weapon or useful item, although what they can use them for varies depending on their specific stats - to attack people, or set up defenses, or start new trends, whatever they might need.

Resolving Conflicts: It's not all do-what-I-tell-you when you're a Leader; they're also in charge of keeping the peace and making things easier for everyone under their command, including their fellow Heroes. They get to create compromises and enforce fellowship among people - very literally, they have skills to help people stop fighting and start cooperating, helping the whole group do better. These things often provide the people they mediate for with extra powers or resources as a result of working together - it's not just that everyone feels better, they literally are better as a result of the Leader's influence.

Directing a Battlefield: Leaders are also the tacticians; they make combats better for their own side, which includes themself and any other Heroes as well as friendly NPCs. They can read the battlefield and make good plans, of course, which is half the battle right there, but their Blessings let them move people around the battlefield, mess with how effective enemy attacks and friendly defenses can be, give people additional opportunities to help, and so on and so forth. Heroes can always fight without a Leader, but having one makes them so much more effective, especially as a group, that it's always that much more awesome to have one on the team.

What is the Leader Effortless At? Leaders are motivating as all hell. Just being near other people encourages those people to do more than they ever would have thought possible otherwise. Unlike the Creators and Hunters we just looked at, Leaders effortlessly influence everyone besides themselves - they literally give out Labors to other people, illustrating that those people just can't bear to let them down, or are willing to try that much harder to do great things when their Leader is around to see them. To the Leader themself, people are just being effective due to their expert guidance; it seems to them like they just always have the best team. To everyone else, the Leader is a literal Godsend of encouragement.

What are the Leader's Drawbacks? Leaders need other people to be their best, obviously, so they're not as good at solo missions and issues wherein they get separated from their companions, which is how you end up with King Richard the Lionheart sitting in jail for a while while his people try to raise enough money to ransom him back. They also control a lot of situations with social acumen and power - many fights are stopped before they ever begin and obstacles are avoided before they ever become a problem due to the Leader dealing with them in advance - but when an emergency comes up that they didn't previously handle, sometimes they're out of options and have to let the other Aspects take center stage.

In playtest groups, Leaders have been awesome recently by muscling their way into private events by being too important to ignore; redesigning the operating procedure of a crime syndicate by coming up with new rules and strongarming leadership into accepting them; making tactical assessments that allowed them to plan ahead for how to depower their enemies before ever engaging directly with them; and ending combats by intimidating entire groups of enemies into feeling bad for attacking them in the first place.

The Talents under the Leader umbrella are Diplomacy, Purpose, Sovereignty, and Tactics, with Purpose being the first of the stats that is used on the rest of the group instead of yourself (although there are powers that use it as fuel, so you do have opportunities to spend it selfishly if you want to!). Next time: Lovers, the other powerhouses of affecting other people!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Storytelling Corner: Detective Mysteries

After we recently talked about the Hunter Aspect and the Heroes with it who are natural detectives with Tracking last Sunday, we got a couple questions from the question box - or really, more like complaints. The common theme was that detective mysteries are really hard to design in roleplaying games, and they were right! Detective mysteries can be a pain in the ass to design in RPGs. Your pain is felt here at HJ headquarters.

Mysteries - really compelling ones that last more than five minutes - are hard in RPGs, no joke. For one thing, you have to come up with a mystery that the players won't figure out OOC before the characters do IC; nothing is going to bore and frustrate them more than knowing the answer but not being allowed to act like they do because they couldn't make a roll. Of course, sometimes it's fun to throw up your hands and say, "My character has lard where their brains should be, sorry, they're going to hilariously Scooby Doo their way through this situation because they don't have any prayer of figuring it out," but that's not fun every time, and it's especially not fun sometimes for players whose characters are designed to be good at a mystery and just failed their roll this time. If the players and their characters both haven't figured out the solution to the mystery yet, they can continue to try to find out together, which can be exhilarating; and if the character finds out first, and Destiny imparts their knowledge to the player, they get the glow of learning the answer because their character is great; but the character roadblocking their own player usually doesn't feel very good.

So the first hurdle, as a GM, is coming up with a mystery that is clever and difficult enough that the players won't figure it out before you're ready for them to - they have to be interested and want to find the answer, but not be able to just find the answer within the first ten minutes of your session.

And speaking of rolls, where do you call for them? There are a lot of ways clues could be gathered that might tell the Heroes something about the answer, and you as the GM have to know which ones they're good at and what clues will add to the big picture without giving the whole mystery away. Maybe there are NPCs who know some things who the Heroes might get information out of with Lover or Leader rolls; maybe there's evidence lying around that a Hero with Hunter might be able to collect, or maybe there's some nonsense a Hero with Sage could perform to pull enough contextual information out of thin air to help them out, and of course they might be the best at putting all the pieces together later. Since HJ has a puzzle subsystem for figuring out obtuse codes and riddles, you could sprinkle some of those around for the Sages as well. But these are the easy parts of designing a mystery, honestly - things that might give clues that lead toward the answer, hopefully not all at once or too easy, and that hopefully give a few different possibilities before the final hour.

So you have a mystery you think is compelling, and you know what rolls your Heroes could make to try to find out about it. But somehow, even though those are theoretically the only things you need, half the mystery attempts in RPGs fall flat anyway. So what's missing?

In a world like HJ, part of the problem is that this is a mythic world full of magic and possibilities that don't normally occur in the real world - and that interferes with one of the basic rules of mysteries. When you're writing a mystery, whether for fiction, film, or an RPG, one of the basic rules is that you have to provide the readers/viewers/players with all the information they could need to solve the mystery on their own; if they figure it out, it should be because it was logical rather than because they were guessing, and if they don't, they should see how it made sense after it's explained to them. But this depends on the players knowing the "rules" of the world - things like, for example in a traditional detective mystery, the fact that touching things with bare fingers leaves fingerprints, or that a camera pointed in a window will record what happened in there, or that firing a gun leaves powder behind. They can use this knowledge about the world to follow to useful clues like "someone must have stolen the tape, who would have done that" or "there's a powder burn on this person's sleeve, which is incriminating". If your mystery did a right turn and said "oh, it was really this other person, and there were no fingerprints because they have a rare genetic disorder where they don't secrete oil and this was never mentioned or hinted at before the end", your readers would be annoyed, because you broke the rule that they should be able to depend on the rules of the world to find the answer - they never really had a chance, so the mystery is unsatisfying and feels like the author springing a "gotcha" that the reader could never have seen coming.

So you can see the problem in a setting like HJ - the players by default don't know the rules of the world. Magic and divine energy and enchantment are running rampant. They can't be sure if the security footage doesn't show anything because there was nothing to show, or because something happened that doesn't show up on camera Because Magic. They can't be sure if the murder was committed by something with hands at all Because Magic, so they can't be sure the lack of fingerprints means anything. Because Magic is messing up that whole relying-on-the-rules-of-the-world basic rule of mysteries.

So one of the first things you have to do is give the characters (and through them their players) those basic rules, and then stick to them. If the culprits are vampires and can't be seen in mirrors, and this is relevant because a witness who was looking into a mirror thinks they were alone, make sure they know that rule - Sages are great conduits for this sort of thing, because you can call for Knowledge rolls and hand off details when the subject comes up, illustrating them remembering or having previously researched something that might help shed some light on the situation. If the mystery revolves around a magical door they can't figure out how to open, and some of the rules include that certain people were required to do a ritual, let the Hunter find clues about how many people have been there or what they were like, or let your more socially-oriented Heroes ask around and get a picture of who was in the area so they learn these things. And above all, don't change your mind mid-stream - if suddenly one vampire shows up who does have a reflection for , the players will rightfully be mad at you for changing the rules on them and making it impossible for them to figure this out.

The exception to this rule is if the players are beating you at your own Destiny game (which doesn't happen often, but it's awesome when it does, so be excited about it!). Sometimes a character comes up with a theory that is wrong, but both plausible and amazing - maybe they completely missed a clue about the actual culprit, a local dwarf who stole something from the museum for their own forging purposes, but they instead put together a bunch of clues, some of which were just incidental information, to come up with a brilliant theory about how this particular artifact, which was from a now-lost site in the Fertile Crescent, was used as a focus for a summoning ritual for the ancient demon Pazuzu and my gods, team, there's no time to lose! As a GM, it's not just okay but actually important sometimes to recognize when the players are writing a better story than the one you had planned, and decide to go with it. If you find yourself thinking, "Wow, I wish that were true, that's way more interesting/epic/complex than what I planned out," the great news is that you don't have to wish it; you're the metaplot boss, so you can just declare that true and weave it into the larger story of the Saga however you like. Now that dwarf stole the relic for the cult, who paid him to do so, and if you don't find them in time to stop them, there are going to be so many more hurricane problems in the area than anyone planned for.

So there's your setup for an RPG mystery: 1) Write the mystery, 2) Figure out how the players can solve it, 3) Make sure you give them the "rules" of how things work so they can participate, 4) Be ready to hand out clues as rolls dictate, and 5) Be flexible if the story takes off without you.

By the way, all this design stuff is really talking about the "whodunnit" style of mystery, where X thing happened and everyone has to find out who did it and/or why, usually while the perpetrator is trying to stop them or at the very least avoid notice. But the whodunnit's related cousin, the howcatchem, is the style of mystery where the Heroes know who did it, but have to instead figure out how to find or trap them, or even know right where they are but need proof or information about how they did what they did before they can bring them to whatever form of justice is appropriate. If the whodunnit is being difficult, due to relying so much on clues and information and figuring out a secret at a possibly inopportune moment, howcatchems can be a useful alternative that sometimes works better in an RPG setting, since it gives the players very clear action-oriented goals but still allows them to do investigative detective work to achieve them. (And if the whodunnit collapses early because someone figured something out at the wrong time or the clues didn't line up, you can always segue right into a howcatchem instead to keep that mystery feel rolling!)

A lot of the crafting rules of RPG stories closely mirror those of writing a story for page or screen; after all, those stories are familiar to your players, too, and HJ is a game where they are literally envisioning themselves as part of stories like that. Often, if you're just feeling your way through, asking, "Would this work in a book/TV show?" can get you pointed in the right direction.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mechanics Talk: Explain to Me How to Hunter

Time to talk about the next group of badasses - the Hunters! Hunters are all about chasing, finding, and going, which might involve chasing down other people, might involve running away from other people, might involve just going places with great determination. Let's check out a day in their lives! (As always, remember: a Hero with the Hunter Aspect doesn't necessarily have all of its Talents, just access to them depending on how they want to stat themselves, and of course all Heroes have multiple Aspects, so no Hero is only a Hunter.)

What do you do on your adventures and for your group when you have Hunter?

Animal Handling: Hunters are the Heroes who are most comfortable in nature, and nature's active representatives, animals, are easier for them to interact with as a result. They're able to act as animal handlers and whisperers, calming upset creatures, communicating with potentially dangerous beasts, and convincing them to do things that might help the Hero and their team out (for example, acting as mounts or guards). Just being a Hunter makes it less likely that animals will take a dislike to a Hero, so even if they aren't actively interacting with the local fauna, they're less likely to upset a territorial bison bull just by traveling through its domain.

Sprinting Like a Champion: Hunters are fast, all by themselves - no one runs as fast as a Hunter or is better at hauling themself at high speeds wherever they need to go, whether it's in short sprint bursts or long-distance marathon racing. Heroes with Hunter can outdistance even vehicles and mounts on foot if they're good enough - yes, they absolutely can sometimes run faster than a less skilled enemy in a Jeep can chase them - and have access to Blessings that can help their friends do the same, let them chase down specific targets that are trying to escape them, or drop obstacles in the way to slow everyone else down. Other heroic Aspects allow Heroes to move fast in their own ways - Warriors can be fast in combat, Tricksters can be fast when they use vehicles and technology, and so on - but for sheer self-motivated speed, no one beats the Hunter.

Naturecraft: Hunters are also the best at dealing with nature - they're good at sustaining themselves on roots and berries, reading the signs in crushed leaves and dropped branches, finding water in the desert or animal tracks in the forest, or navigating treacherous terrain. Surviving in the wilderness is one of their major skills, and when the Heroes' adventures take them out of civilization, the Hunter becomes the MVP really quickly.

Traveling: Whenever there's a long journey to be gone on, the Hunter is the one who's best at it; just like they're good at quickly traveling short distances, they're good at planning, executing, and succeeding at long-range travel and extended trips. Hunters get access to Blessings that let them shorten Travel Episodes or else mess with their contents, potentially avoiding dangers and obstacles or planning routes that take the Heroes through peaceful or even helpful areas. Travel is one of the most dangerous things for Heroes, who are embarking on long exposed trips where enemies and misfortune can strike at any moment; the Hunter helps make those things easier and faster, taking considerable pressure off the whole group.

Looking for Clues: If there are clues hiding in the vicinity, a Hunter is the Hero you want to look for them. While other kinds of Heroes (Sages, most notably) are good at noticing and interpreting things, too, Hunters are the ones who excel at finding traces of past events or physical clues in their environment, and who are able to use them to reconstruct what happened there and what to do next. They're so good at this that some of their Blessings actually involve getting useful information about what's going on in the Saga at large directly from Destiny, as a result of putting together so many things with their Sherlockian eye for detail.

What is the Hunter Effortless At? Hunters, as a group, don't really get tired. Fatigue is something that happens to other people, probably people who don't need to go places and find out what's happening there. They have to eat, drink, and sleep far less often than the average Hero, letting them go on long haul journeys and through long periods of concentration and focus without worrying about little nuisances like "physical maintenance", and they also don't have to worry about getting exhausted as quickly when they're doing taxing physical activities, nor do they feel as much pain as the average person when they get hurt. This even applies to death - when a Hunter gets Mortally Wounded, they even manage to cling tenaciously to life for longer than most other Heroes could before they kick the bucket. Hunters are just tough, no matter what a beating they put themselves through during the chase or how much they don't stop to take care of themselves.

What are the Hunter's Drawbacks? A lot of the Hunter's skills are really badass, but don't always let them help their companions out very much; they're very self-sufficient, which is great when they end up separated from the group or navigating the wilderness alone, but can be frustrating when they're trying to chase down an escaping suspect and their friends are all stumbling along like a huffing and puffing chess club behind them. Also, because so many of a Hunter's skills deal with nature, they can occasionally find themselves at a disadvantage if they're confined only to very civilized spaces; if there are no plants or animals around and nowhere to travel between, they have fewer (although still not none) of their most impressive skills available to them.

In playtest groups, Hunters have recently been incredible successes by finding a safe(ish) path for their group through a huge and hostile swamp; convincing animals at the local zoo to help them find a missing friend; cutting down on a long and dangerous car trip by rerouting the team so that a limited number of bad things could happen along the way; and searching for clues around every area the Heroes visited so effectively that they discovered the identity and location of the secret mastermind behind the plot well before they otherwise could have.

The Talents under the Hunter umbrella are Mettle, Naturalism, Pursuit, and Tracking; their names are pretty self-explanatory, so you can probably figure out which ones handle which things above if you take a quick look at them!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mechanics Talk: Explain to Me How to Creator

While we polish up the last of the mechanics and the playtesters cry about switching gears, we've had some questions about what a day in the life of various kinds of Heroes in HJ might entail. So I'm going to do a quick (ha ha, "quick") series of posts about what you do with each Aspect and its Talents, and how a Hero that has them might contribute to their group and be an awesome embodiment of them during their adventures. It's sort of like an advance breakdown of the explanations of what Aspects and Talents do in the book - so here we go!

Creators are about, well, being creative - not just making new things, but improvising on the fly and finding ways to apply energy to maintain things and people. Remember, not every person with the Creator Aspect has many or even any dots in all the attached Talents, but they're the ones who have access to these kinds of skills and abilities!

What do you do on your adventures and for your group when you have Creator?

Making Stuff: Creators are the ones who can create new things, which could be anything from a pedestrian building of a table to a widely-sung piece of sculpture that starts a new art movement. They're also the mechanics, tinkers, and fixers of the world - when your weapon gets broken, or you need more ammunition made, or you ram your car into a tree one too many times in pursuit of your mortal enemies, the Creators are the ones who can fix everything up and let you keep on rolling. Obviously, they can do these things for themselves, but they can also do them for the rest of the team, meaning that having someone with the Creator Aspect is a huge benefit to everyone. When you're a Creator, if you don't have what you need, maybe you can just make it, and if your gear breaks down, well, you can just bolt it back together and keep moving.

Providing Medical Care: Creators are also good at the maintenance of living things; they can't necessary make them (well, not as Mortals, anyway, except for the old-fashioned procreative way), but they can help keep them in good working order. They're the ones who can provide first aid if someone is injured or life-saving feats if someone is Mortally Wounded, and they're also the ones who have access to the most Blessings that magically heal wounds. Again, they can use these skills to help themselves out, but they can also use them to comfort and heal others, so a group with a Creator is a group who loves that Creator for all the incredible help they can provide. If a Hero has enough Creator that it's one of their main Aspects, they also have access to the Empowerment Endowment, which lets them create rest periods for everyone to recuperate and regnerate.

Performing Art: Creators are the creatives, so they're also the people who are creating in real-time - singers, dancers, actors, stand-up comedians, improvisational performance artists of every kind. They can come up with new things on the fly, not to mention creating songs and choreography people will remember for the ages if they're skilled enough. Now, how much people like the Creator themself performing depends on what other Aspects they have - Lover for attractiveness or Warrior for physical power and skill often come into play - but without the Creator themself, nobody's going got come up with any performance of rememberable value.

Inventing Things: Just like they're creative enough to invent new works of art and improvise a five-hour song cycle on the spot, Creators are also creative enough to invent entirely new ideas and things - they're the Einsteins and Imhoteps, the coming up with brilliant new logic leaps and inventing brand new technologies. These things take a while in many cases, of course, but if someone came up with something new and brilliant, that Hero had the Creator Aspect - it's the home of new, innovative, and incredible.

What is the Creator Effortless At? Creators have a leg up when it comes to surviving anything that would try to break down their bodies or energies - after all, they're wellsprings of raw energy and hard work, and they can dump that into their own maintenance as well as into helping others or making external things. Creators are better at resisting poisons, diseases, radiation, environmental pressures, and other outside forces that might try to sicken or weaken them, as well as being better at resisting magical powers that do similar things. Everyone can get extras to help them with this kind of resistance depending on how the progress around the webs, but the Creator is better at it naturally.

What are the Creator's Drawbacks? Creators, of course, love to try new things and innovate - and sometimes that causes problems, even when it's also brilliant. Creators are the ones who are likely to accidentally try something before it's quite out of the half-baked stage, which means some of their Blessings can make items volatile (essentially, prone to explosion or weird side effects) as a result of skipping their testing phases. The Creator Aspect is also very much about the now; they can handle problems when they arise, repair injury that has already happened or address existing damage or challenges, but they aren't as good at planning ahead for the future as some of the other Aspects.

In playtest groups, Creators have recently excelled in their adventures by building a raft to help travel through a treacherous swamp; single-handedly inventing a new kind of fashion and using it to impress local people into granting them safe passage; rigging up a fuel alternative to make a car go much faster than it should have been allowed to by pouring magic-tainted juice in with the gasoline (spoiler alert: it got very unstable, but they went very fast); and improvising such sick burns in an impromptu rap battle that they actually shamed an enemy into going home instead of remaining to have their feelings hurt further.

The Talents under the Creator umbrella are of course Art, Energy, Vision, and Willpower; we've been discussing altering the names on these in an eleventh-hour change recently, mostly because we've gotten some feedback that while "Art" is using a traditional meaning of the word to describe skill in making something, it's caused some confusion about the fact that it doesn't apply to some of the fine arts, which are more commonly referred to as "art". So if you've got an opinion, throw it at us in the comments!

Edit: Pulled the trigger too soon! Now updated with images!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

John Musings 2: Saga Blessings

In the past 3-4 months we've collected an epic amount of playtest data. We have 11 different players across 3 games. They are a wide variety of player "types," and it's interesting seeing what things they value. I'll probably make another post later in the playtest process sharing some of the data on how different players spend their Renown in very different ways, but for today, I want to talk about something that players have disliked universally, across the board.

Saga Blessings are big powerful effects that don't refresh every game. At character generation you start with just 5 of them. Sagas tend to be fairly long, and so players use their Saga Labors sparingly. Our aim has always been to make Saga Blessingss incredibly powerful, while still being balanced. A player should feel excited when they buy their Saga-cost Blessing. It should be the pinnacle of the power in their Talent (or Sphere). We want players to say, "I cant wait to use this!"

As we tested, we found that a certain type of Blessing seemed to always fall short of this expectation. These Blessings asked the player to use them ahead of when they needed them for a continual powerful effect. Let me give you some examples (examples are in my shorthand, not copied from the text).

Toughened Hide:
Talent: Unarmed
Labor: Saga
Speed: Dedicated
Effect: For the rest of the episode for every 2 fatigue you would take, instead take 1. Also if you only would take 1 fatigue from an attack or effect, instead take zero.

Talent: Pursuit
Labor: Saga
Speed: Dedicated
Effect: Roll Pursuit before a Travel Episode. For the length of this Travel Episode, Destiny will inform you of each Odyssey Event before they happen For every 4 successes your pursuit roll, you may have Destiny reroll one of these events that you dont like.

Both of these Blessings are very powerful effects that can change the course of of the episode type they're involved in, and they fit perfectly with our idea of what a character who is a master of that Talent should be able to do. The skilled Unarmed fighter never goes down in combat and is able to shrug off minor damage and keep fighting. The Pursuit master controls travel for their group and can make sure that the way ahead is safe and they get to work with Destiny a little to help the team.


Players are not using these powers if they have them, or shying away from them all together. The problem lies in that the player never truly knows if the situation warrants using their valuable Saga Blessing.

Maybe they use Toughened Hide for a fight that seems very difficult. But it turns out that they had misjudged the power of their opponents, and could have survived easily without using Toughened Hide. This left the player bummed out instead of excited about their most epic of powers!

Maybe they use Navigation, but the entire Travel episode contained Odyssey Events that were rainbows and butterflies. They did their cool thing, but it had no effect on the story. In a future episode they might choose not to use Navigation, but this time the Travel episode was full of painful and horrible Odyssey Events. Instead of the player feeling excited about their awesome Saga blessing, they end up just bummed about it.

Solution 1:

Our first attempt at a solution involved Saga Blessings having a refund mechanic - so perhaps if you used Toughened Hide, but it ended up taking equal or less than your Unarmed dots in fatigue damage, you get the Saga labor back. Or if you used Navigation, but never rerolled an Odyssey Event, you'd get your Saga Labor back.

It was tricky to come up with a possible refund for each Blessing that we were happy with, and it added a lot of word count and this extra refund rule. If we went through with this change, did every Saga Blessing need a refund? If not, would that be confusing to players and inconsistent?

Even with a refund mechanic, these Blessings still weren't giving the feeling we wanted the player to have. Yes, they provided a mechanical benefit to them or the group that was powerful. But it wasn't "showstopping." They did use their Talent/Sphere in a powerful way, but the player still didn't feel awesome about it. They weren't happy. Which brought us to....

Solution 2:

What makes a player feel awesome in the game? Obviously there are a lot of different answers to this, but for Blessings that use Saga Labors, we strive to get that immediate happy feeling for the player. We want the super move to feel SUPER. Part of feeling super is doing something in the moment, changing the game in the now. With that in mind, we decided the better way to fix these Blessings is to try to rework them so they aren't something you use ahead of time. They're able to be saved until you most need them and then used to save yourself (and maybe also your friends). My project right now is working through these and shipping them back out to the testing crew to see how they react. So far they've been pretty joyous.

I'll list here what Toughened Hide and Navigation changed into. They have John names at the moment because Anne hasn't gotten her wordcraft hands on 'em yet. (Although its possible they just stick with the original names, I changed them so players would know, in playtest at least, that they were different).

Talent: Unarmed
Labor: Saga
Speed: Instant
Effect: Heal fatigue equal to your successes. Able to be used even as you take a hit that would otherwise knock you unconscious.

In a long drag out fight, this Blessing is technically mechanically worse. But it doesn't require the Warrior's player to plan out which fight scene will be difficult or important. Instead this gives that epic Rocky Balboa feel. You get knocked down, but you get right back up. You're unstoppable. Also of note, the Unarmed Warrior can now use this multiple times if need be, only allowing themselves to go down when overcome by lethal injuries (or they run out of Saga Labors).

I Know a Great Bar Around the Corner:
Talent: Pursuit
Labor: Saga
Effect: Call a bonus Lull during a travel episode. For every 4 successes the Lull also eats through the next Odyssey Event.

Think of a long exhausting journey through the mountains. There have been perils at every turn. Your group has been barely surviving the cold, and you just had to fight off a yeti. Everyone is tired and you could camp for the night, but if a pack of wolves or a bear attacked in the night, you'd be done for. So its your moment to shine, Pursuit Hero! You've been through these mountains before and you're actually just around the corner from a ski lodge. You're good buddies with the owner and he'll put y'all up for the evening. It's warm, with good food and drink, and you'll be protected from any danger. During the rest you'll scout around or plan a better route going forward to reduce the danger (fewer Odyssey Events).

No more pre-planning for the Pursuit hero! Now you can save your control of travel scenes for the moment you need it. Calling bonus Lulls is VERY rare outside Lover/Creator, but its okay to have a little overlap here because the Hunter controls Travel Episodes, and sometimes the group just needs a break to refresh, heal, and start again in the morning. Now the Hero gets to be reactionary, using their Saga Labor only when they know the team needs it.

So that's where I am right now. I'm working through all the Saga-cost Blessings we have that are like that (about 15 or so). Some may end up staying, but my biggest goal is the player feels AWESOME when they use a Saga Labor. If I used this Blessing, I want to say "YES! this is what this Talent is all about!"

Or something like that. Thanks for reading everyone, see ya next week.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mechanics Talk: Divine Favors

Okay, Divine Favors haven't gotten much discussion, and that leaves a hole in the mechanical landscape. So let's talk about them!

Divine Favor represents very literal benefits or gifts given to a Hero as a result of their awesomeness; often, they come from the Hero's divine patron, although they might also be bestowed by other authority figures, gained as a result of their adventures, or even assigned to them by the impressed public. In myths and other heroic stories, Divine Favor are the tools that help Heroes succeed in their aims; magical amulets that protect them, or sacred weapons that they wield in service of their cause, or prophecies that foretell their coming, or guardian spirits who never let them down. As in most myths, Heroes in HJ don't start with Divine Favor when they first hear the call to adventure, but they receive it once they are on their journey, providing them with the help or renown they need.

Divine Favors are permanent once you get them, but you only get them once in a great while, so they're a big deal and exciting when they happen. There are several kinds of Divine Favor, so here's a quick overview of them!

Divine Heritage

Divine Heritage is exactly what it sounds like; your Hero discovers that they literally have the blood of their divine patron in their veins, and it enables them to do and be things they otherwise wouldn't have. Mechanically speaking, this means that the Hero is more attuned to the things their divine patron is good at - they have a little piece of them, after all - and therefore they have more options for using a particular skillset or set of powers that their patron does, becoming able to spend extra resources on it that others can't. Examples of Heroes discovering their divine heritage in myth and pop culture include Wonder Woman realizing that she is the Godkiller, Starlord realizing that his father wasn't a human being after all, and of course literally every Greek Hero ever who one day woke up and was informed that Zeus was their dad and there was a giant monster rampaging around trying to kill them as a result.

Enchanted Object

Enchanted Objects can be any kind of magical, supernatural, or just special item that a Hero has that helps them out; protective amulets, magic rings, a potion that never runs dry, and so forth. Since the item is powerful in its own right, it allows a Hero to use it to activate a Blessing without having to pay for it, even one they don't have access to themself; it won't have as powerful an effect as if a Hero skilled in that thing had performed the Blessing on their own, but it's a great option for giving a Hero a little power they don't normally have, or a panic button if they're too dry of resources to pull any more tricks out of their own hat. Examples of enchanted object Divine Favor in myth and pop culture include the Phial of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, Susan's hunting horn in The Chronicles of Narnia, or Andvaranaut, the magic ring from Norse mythology.

Foretold Fate

Foretold Fate means that a Hero is the subject of a prophecy - someone, somewhere, with some kind of spiritual clout, foresaw that they'd do something impressive and therefore they now have the power of their future fate behind them. Sometimes that means NPCs or the other Heroes will also know about them or have expectations about them, and sometimes it just means the invisible hand of Destiny is behind them, but either way, they're the Chosen One and it's a big deal. Having a prophecy about them makes Heroes more prone to doing Big Damn Things, so they can convert some of their most expensive, biggest-effect resources into others and be able to do more grand gestures than less foretold companions might. Heroes with a Foretold Fate Divine Favor in myth and pop culture include Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One from the Star Wars films, Buffy as the Slayer from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Kalki's foretold manifestation in Hindu mythology.

Guiding Spirit

A Guiding Spirit Divine Favor represents that the Hero has the spirit of someone subtly guiding and helping them - an ancestor or relative, often, but also possibly the spirit of a Hero from bygone days trying to help out a new generation. Having a spirit protecting or encouraging the Hero lets them sometimes call on that spirit's skills or powers in life - an ancient Hero or a representative of their ancestors briefly lends them their own powers. Heroes with a Guiding Spirit in myth and pop culture include Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender and his ability to call up past Avatars to help him, Dante in The Divine Comedy with the spirit of Vergil to guide him, or Simba in The Lion King hearing guidance from his father Mufasa.

Legendary Weapon

A Legendary Weapon is pretty straightforward: it's a weapon, it's impressive, and it often becomes a sort of signature for the character, associated with them and their legendary career. Since there are lots of kinds of legendary weapons in mythology - sure, some are for beating down the enemy, but some are symbols of authority or foci for sorcery - the Divine Favor version allows Heroes to pick one area that the weapon affects and get rerolls to rolls from that area, triggering them themselves instead of having to rely on their companions' Inspiration pools. Heroes with Legendary Weapons are common in pop culture and myth, and include Luke Skywalker with his lightsaber in Star Wars, Katniss with her specialized bow and arrows in The Hunger Games, and King Arthur with Excalibur in Arthurian legend.

Lofty Title

A non-physical Divine Favor, the Lofty Title is a designation the Hero has either inherited or earned that describes how and why they're awesome. It could be a hereditary title, like "Lord of the Far Reaches"; it could be an earned designation, like "Poet Laureate"; or it could be an appellation given to them by those who know about their exploits, like "Killer of Bear Monsters". Heroes with a Lofty Title get access to an extra Endowment they didn't already have, related to their title (so, for example, our Killer of Bear Monsters there might be able to access the Warrior Endowment when they didn't already have it, because god damn it, their job is to kill bear monsters now). Heroes in pop culture and myth with titles include Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the Prophet, Setanta becoming the Hound of Culainn in Irish mythology, or literally all the Time Lords on Doctor Who.

Protective Shield

A Protective Shield Divine Favor is also pretty self-explanatory, although it doesn't have to be literally a shield - it could also be a defensive weapon or an object carried around explicitly for the purposes of defense. Heroes get to use this Divine Favor to help protect those around them; they can prevent damage to their allies by swinging their protective shield around, which undoubtedly makes them popular when the shit hits the fan. Heroes with Protective Shields in pop culture and myth include Elric of Melnibone and his Shield of Chaos from the Stormbringer series, Steven's pink quartz shield from Steven Universe, or Achilles and his famous shield used in battle against Hector.

Specialized Training

The Specialized Training Divine Favor is an event rather than a physical item; it represents the Hero receiving training in a certain area that allows them to become awesome at it and that they can carry forward into all their future adventures. Every time you see a Hero do a training montage in a story, they might be receiving a Specialized Training Favor; in mechanical terms, the Hero permanently gains extra Labors to spend on the Aspect they were trained in, because they're just that badass that they can do just that much more. Heroes in pop culture and myth with Specialized Training famously include Danny in The Karate Kid, Mulan training with the Chinese army in her Disney film, or Jack from Samurai Jack repeatedly gaining skills to deal with more powerful enemies via training montages and obstacle courses.

Supernatural Familiar

A Supernatural Familiar is a companion creature - not a human being, or ever was one in most cases - that helps the Hero out or occasionally shows up and provides useful favors and help. A Hero with this Divine Favor can call their familiar once in a while to show up and use its powers on their behalf, which often includes powers the Hero themself doesn't have. Heroes in pop culture and myth with Supernatural Familiars include Sabrina from Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her cat Salem, Kitty Pryde from X-Men with her tiny dragon Lockheed, or Light Yagami from Death Note with his shinigami companion Ryuk.

There may or may not be more types of Divine Favor in the future of HJ; there are all kinds of features and items that help Heroes out. But those are our starters for now, and they're being used to exciting effect in the playtests right now!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Patch Notes for Heroes

We're working on our final clean-ups still, as Anne said in her last update. Which of course means the playtesters are suddenly getting all those cleaned-up things dumped on their heads. Instead of a more formal update post today, I figured I'd just share the patch notes for them so you can all see how the tweaks are applying to gameplay.

Also I like bulleted lists and patch notes.

John enforcing the rules of creation on helpless playtesters who asked for it


  • If two Heroes tie the roll for who goes first in combat, they may now decide who should go first on their own.
  • Heroes may no longer wield non-weapon objects with Weaponry unless they have the Blessing that does that. (Well, they can, but they won't do any damage so probably better to just punch the baddies.)
  • If a Hero is knocked unconscious by damage, their active Blessings no longer automatically turn off.
  • Unconscious Heroes may now spend passive Talent points to help their buddies as long as they're still alive.
  • Pain penalties are now applied to a Hero only if they have less than half their total number of health boxes open, and they can never have more than two (one for fatigue and one for lethal).
  • Spending Brawn to ignore pain penalties now lasts for the rest of the Episode instead of being spent per action. Let your mortal wounds fuel your battle rage.
  • PC vs. PC combat that happens during contention no longer spends any resources. Taking damage is optional if you really want to have cool scars and realistic suffering afterward.


  • Heroes who spend Mettle to avoid exhaustion penalties now completely prevent the penalty from being applied this time, rather than just ignoring it for the Episode.
  • Heroes may now spend Reserves more than once per Episode. Yes, Nick, you can Innervate yourself three times in a row if you really want to.
  • Heroes no longer lose Archetype dots when calling down Divine Interventions. Mom and Dad love you even when you're a fuck-up.
  • Divine Interventions now heal all damage suffered by Heroes rescued by them. Sorry, team that Skadi slingshotted across the highway. She's just excitable.
  • Spending Brawn now applies a flat bonus to any Athleticism roll, once per roll, and a flat bonus to any damage amount if a Hero hits an enemy. Yes, Miguel, you can indeed spend Brawn to shoot someone harder, don't think too hard about it.

Magic Stuff
  • Portals to other places are no longer considered invisible to people with low Mysticism rolls, just unobtrusive or easily mistaken for normal items or doors.
  • Figuring out what requirements a portal has for passing through it now require a Hero to use the Riddles & Codes system.
  • If a Hero's magic item loses all its durability and breaks, it no longer provides its magical bonuses until they fix it.
  • Magic items crafted by Heroes no longer universally leave play at the end of the Saga (though individual Blessings used to enchant things may have time limits).
  • Heroes who roll Mysticism to understand an object or place's magical purpose and fail may still recognize that it has magical potential, even if they don't get details.


  • Heroes now roll Enlightenment instead of Sight to recognize that someone is lying to them.
  • If a Hero fails their Enlightenment roll to see through a lie, they now automatically believe what they are told (but may still roll Empathy to see if the person they're talking to is acting suspicious).
  • Heroes also now roll Enlightenment instead of Sight to recognize someone who is disguised.
  • Heroes who use Persuasion to convince someone of something still roll against their opponent's Enlightenment if they are lying, but now roll against their opponent's Determination if they are telling the truth but simply not being believed.
  • Long or multi-part performance art now uses multiple Vision rolls instead of an extended roll with cumulative difficulty.


  • New Mortal Heroes now start with 2 dots of a Domain and 2 dots in the Spheres within it, instead of 1 each.
  • Heroes now gain a point of Divinity when they Triumph.
  • Fated Downfalls no longer exist; Heroes who simultaneously Triumph and Tragedy are affected by both outcomes simultaneously.
  • Exhaustion penalties from not eating or sleeping now just apply normal penalty rules. Take a nap, losers.
  • Fatigue damage suffered from exhaustion is now a flat one box per day, and can be healed normally.
  • Running/jumping/lifting/climbing all now use a normal Athleticism roll vs. difficulty set by Destiny, and no longer automatically require Brawn (but you can still spend Brawn to be better at them).
  • If a Hero might be about to reproduce, contention is now automatically invoked to figure out the outcome.
  • Diseases now mostly inflict fatigue damage; poisons now mostly inflict lethal damage. Deviations from this model are uncommon.
  • Heroes who roll high enough on a resistance roll to fight off the effects of an intoxicant or drug may now choose whether or not to feel its effects (so yes, Valencia, you can get crunk now instead of suffering because your Willpower was Too High for Fun).
  • The situational damage rules have been updated to do a better job of modeling various painful emergencies. Throw yourself off a building to find out how!
  • Distraction penalties are now resisted by Determination instead of Sight. Sight is not a resistance roll and we were drunk the day we wrote that.
  • Following a trail now uses a series of Tracking rolls instead of one extended roll with a cumulative difficulty.
  • Cracking codes, completing puzzles, and answering riddles no longer require an entire Episode of work to succeed (though they probably still take multiple actions).


  • Creators with the Empowerment Endowment no longer use instant Blessings, and instead can spend a Reserve to call a Lull independently at any time a Lull could normally happen. They are also able to take actions during a Lull without losing the effects of resting. The name will change but Anne's in charge of that so waiting on her.
  • Lovers with Faithful Allies now automatically begin the Saga with them present.
  • As long as a Faithful Ally is within a reasonable range of the Hero and can be contacted via normal means, they may now be called in from elsewhere without requiring the Hero to spend a point of Reserves.
  • The Caretaker Faithful Ally type has been clarified to note that they cannot repair vehicles (that's the Mechanic's job).
  • Faithful Allies no longer automatically suffer damage when their Hero is injured.
  • If a Hero with a present Faithful Ally would be knocked unconscious, they now suffer a number of boxes of fatigue damage less equal to their Archetype dots, and their Faithful Ally jumps in the way and is knocked out instead. If they would be mortally wounded, the same occurs, but the Faithful Ally is killed.
  • If a Faithful Ally is knocked unconscious, they must now rest during a Lull Episode to recover (or be remanded to a hospital or other healthcare facility for a minimum of one Episode).
  • If a Faithful Ally dies, their Hero may not call up a new one until two Chapters have passed. Have some respect.
  • Sages with the Focus Endowment now gain the ability to do yet one more thing during a Lull without losing the benefits of resting if they also have the Empowerment (or whatever) Endowment.
  • Sages with the Focus Endowment now heal all damage they have suffered when they use the Innervation Endowment.
  • Tricksters who roll the Altered Reality Gambit now regain all Labors they spent during the Episode.
  • Tricksters who roll the Surprise Switcheroo Gambit now heal any damage they (and their buddy) suffered during the Episode.
  • Tricksters who roll the Convenient Discovery Gambit no longer regain a Saga Labor, and instead automatically use one Trickster Saga-Labor-Cost Blessing for free (if they don't have one, there's a backup option).
  • Tricksters who roll the Enemy Emergency Gambit can now escape from dangers that aren't literal enemies trying to stab them (like earthquakes, for example). Anne will rename it.
  • Tricksters who roll the Abrupt Judgment Gambit no longer lose the ability to call for Divine Interventions, but now lose the use of one Divine Favor for the remainder of the Saga.
  • Warriors with the Innervation Endowment now regain twice their Archetype dots in Brawn and Episode Labors (instead of all of them) and their Archetype dots in Chapter Labors. The Labors are still "phantom" and last only for the Episode, but the Brawn is now normal Brawn and can be saved.
  • Leaders with the Sway Endowment may now use Blessings on the assistants they call up as if those assistants were Heroes.
  • Assistants called up with the Sway Endowment now have stats based on their Hero's Archetype dots instead of their Leader dots.


  • We're no longer referring the the Talent web separately from the Sphere web as the "Web of Fate". You were all bad at this anyway so this won't change your lives at all.

More official updates to come!