Monday, November 17, 2014

Mechanics Update: Ethoi are History!

Okay, folks! We've mentioned that there have been big changes in the Ethoi department over the past few months of development, and a few of you have heard about it but would like to know more. Cameron, always crusading for your questions, brought this one up a few times, but eventually we all decided that it would make more sense for someone (read: me) to write a blog post about the changes rather than try to run it through him to repeat for all of you, like some kind of Game Development Telephone game.

So, here I am to talk about Ethoi! The first big and obvious thing is this: Ethoi are gone. They have been removed from the game. The original post describing them refers to a mechanic that is no more.

So, you know, that's a big deal.

There were several reasons behind our decision to ditch Ethoi, and the first was that we found that they were more limiting for characters than they were helpful in defining them. The Ethoi were designed to help give characters some of the flavor of the Heroes who had come before them, illustrating that the traditional values of their patron god's pantheon and religion affected and shaped them as much as their own decisions and motivations. They were supposed to add color to Heroes' lives and choices by ensuring that they were part of their pantheon's heritage as well as their own new traditions, but in practice they weren't doing that job. For Heroes who were inclined toward them, they weren't encouraging anything that they weren't going to be doing on their own anyway, and for those who wanted to do or be something new, they could quickly become strangling requirements that forced Heroes into narrow versions of what a Hindu or Greek or Norse or Egyptian Hero, specifically, should be.

A second major problem was that coming up with what were essentially religious or cultural values that characters would be required to adhere to made us distinctly uncomfortable the more we thought about it. Although we can make big sweeping generalizations about religious values and even be in the ballpark of correct a lot of the time, in the end saying "this is what a follower of the Egyptian religion considers ethical" or "this is what a Norse person believes is important" treads a little too close to stereotyping Heroes based on their religion or ethnicity, and we were definitely not down for that. After all, people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures can share a background in common but have very different values or ideas of how to interpret moral issues, and forcing characters into a single "right way to be Egyptian" felt simplistic and inaccurate. Plus, we (the design and writing team) are not from all those backgrounds or religions, so us trying to make a call on what they might consider most important was kind of a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey situation.

So, rather than trying to salvage a mechanic that wasn't doing its job and was beginning to look distinctly problematic to us, we scrapped it. Now that Ethoi are gone, what do you folks get instead?

In most of the major mechanical senses, Archetypes have been expanded to take over the job that the Ethoi were doing: it is now Archetypes that govern how quickly a Hero can progress in their abilities and powers, making them the most important stat when it comes to moving up in the world. This is a lot better because the Archetypes are universal to all Heroes; not only do players get to choose which ones best apply to their characters, regardless of their background or pantheon, but they describe styles of heroism and reasons for becoming heroes that could be applied to any Hero from any time or place. When you choose for your Hero to embody the Savior or the Ruler, you have done so because that's the kind of Hero you want them to be, and they can fulfill those ideas as any person of any background you wish.

(As a consequence, Archetypes no longer give you extra Labors the way they used to, but don't worry, you'll get those elsewhere!)

A good thing about Ethoi was that they were giving Heroes some more flavor when it comes to their pantheon; we want the choice of a pantheon and patron god to have meaningful effects on your Hero beyond just roleplaying, so we weren't thrilled about losing a mechanic that made that decision a little more relevant. However, the Devotional Domains have been substantially expanded since then (albeit not all in the initial release), and along with some benefits from your choice of pantheon and patron, we think you'll have plenty to make choosing a given set of gods as your patrons feel both spiritually and mechanically different.

So, that's the scoop on Ethoi, those game mechanics that almost were. Thanks to all of you who asked about them, and as always, feel free to keep asking questions - either Cameron will get you answers in the Friday updates, or if it's something that needs an in-depth response, he'll chase us around the Writing Tower until we can get you a post like this one.

Until next time!