Saturday, May 17, 2014

Aspects in Hero's Journey: Let's Try That Again

Okay, everybody. Last week we released a video giving some teasers about the Aspects, the major stat system for Hero's Journey. Like all self-important authors and developers everywhere, we were super excited about our plans and thought we communicated them clearly and concisely, and went about our business afterward with many high fives.

But, judging from the confusion and questions and even opposition on the forums and in social media, we weren't as clear as we could have been. And while there's certainly something to be said for the tantalizing mystery of an unreleased product, we know all of you want to know what's awesome about this game in particular and why it will knock your socks off with its mythic adventuring. So, today I'll explain a little more about Aspects, and why they are awesome and your characters using them will be awesome, too.

The seven Aspects - Creator, Hunter, Leader, Lover, Sage, Trickster and Warrior - are the central stats that describe a character in Hero's Journey. They take the place of more traditional RPG stats like Strength or Charisma; and while those stats are widespread in a lot of games and there's a reason for that, because they do a decent job of modeling a character's abilities and impact on the world around them, they were not the perfect fit we wanted for this game.

Essentially, traditional game stats like Dexterity or Wisdom or Stamina operate on a "modeling the real world" kind of theory; they are intended to give players the ability to project what their characters might be able to do based on various kinds of strengths and/or weaknesses that people have in real life. We know how what physical strength is because we see and use it in real life, so we create a Strength stat that models that; we know what social graces look like because they're an active part of everyone's social life, so we create a Charisma stat to model that, and so on.

However, HJ isn't trying to model real life. We want it to instead model and enable unreal life - the off-the-wall deeds and incredible feats of mythology and legend. We noticed a lot of confusion specifically over a particular line we said in the video, that it doesn't matter how strong your character is, and that's absolutely true: it doesn't matter how strong they are. "Strong" is just a way that we describe a character based on what they do. Those things that they do are what matter, and that's where Aspects come in.

Mythological heroes, gods and popular legends perform a lot of amazing things, which is basically what the requirement for being remembered in myth is in the first place. Aspects cover the spectrum of the many different kinds of heroes, encompassing the general archetypes important to their characters and the skills that they require to do the things they do. Doing is what's important in mythology, and that's what Aspects are here to enable: instead of looking to a set of semi-realistic statistics for basic capabilities, Aspects enable us to say, "What kind of heroic feat are you trying to perform?" They give characters the tools to do those things that they want to do, and leave the descriptions of them - beautiful, strong, deadly, hilarious - to the onlookers who write the myths about them.

The goal of Aspects is to allow you to do your job as a character without worrying about not being able to do it because it requires a bunch of different stats. If you want to do things that tricksters do, investing in the Trickster Aspect will allow you to do them; you don't have to figure out which stats you need most often as a trickster and try to purchase some in all of them, but rather just actually put your points into Trickster, plain and simple. Where another game might say, "Well, if you want to be good at combat, you need Strength to hurt things, and Agility to dodge things, and Constitution to survive things, and Wits to respond to things," HJ says, "You want to be a warrior? Cool beans, you need some Warrior."

We can't go through all the possible things you could do with Aspects, because that would be... well, all the possible things. It would be a really long list. And obviously there is specificity within the Aspects, depending on how you choose to specialize them with their attendant Talents - you may be able to do most basic wilderness tasks as long as you have some Hunter, but if you invest heavily in Tracking and not so much in Naturalism, you'll have some variation between your awesometastic skills at tracking down prey and your less stellar rapport with the local wildlife. Those who are worried that they won't be able to customize their characters uniquely or that Aspects will take away the ability to have areas where you get to shine above your party members shouldn't be; those things are amply supported by Talents, which are a whole further ballpark in terms of stats to talk about.

A few other things to note: while the names of Aspects could be confused for descriptions of "kinds" of characters, they are not classes. They describe mythic roles that characters can take on, and many heroes will take on more than one over the course of even a single tale. Most heroes are hybrids of several Aspects, although there are a rare few that might dabble in only one or two; you won't choose just one and ignore the others, but most likely have at least a little investment in most of them, just as you would in the stats of any other game. That doesn't mean you can't decide that you want to be all the Leader you can be and head as deep into that stat as you can go, of course, but most of the leaders of myth still have the ability to take a shot at an enemy as a Warrior or pause to provide advice as a Sage every once in a while.

When we say it doesn't matter how strong you are, that doesn't mean your character isn't strong; it just means that measuring it in newtons doesn't matter to anything happening in the game. People won't say that your character's objectively strong in a vacuum; they'll say they're strong because they were Warrior enough to wrestle down a monstrous beast. They won't say that you're beautiful because you happened to look nice walking down a street doing nothing; they'll say you're beautiful because you were the Lover who toppled a kingdom with their charms.

At their core, Aspects aren't about measuring, and are not designed to mirror real life skills as much as they are meant to give characters the ability to succeed at heroic feats. They're about allowing Heroes to do and be as incredibly as they can possibly be. The rest will follow.