Wednesday, December 30, 2015

End of the Year Wrap-Up: Hero's Journey in 2016

Hey, everyone! We hope that everybody who celebrates winter holidays is having some wonderful ones, and that everyone who doesn't is having a great time with whatever they're doing regardless. The year's about to wind down, so we're here for a quick run-down on what's up with HJ, what's doing great, what hasn't done as hot as we were hoping, and where we're headed. (Cameron is on vacation, so don't blame him for not knowing this stuff in his last few posts.)

The Good:

Blessings are done, y'all! I don't think I can express exactly how exciting that is from our perspective because oh MAN they were a lot of work, but baby, they are done! At final count, Hero's Journey will have exactly six hundred and eighty Blessings when it ships, which includes 420 Blessings from Aspects (the ones from the Web of Fate that have to do with your skills as a Hero), 180 Blessings from Domains (the ones that have to do with areas of magical/elemental/spiritual powers that normal people don't have access to), and 80 Blessings from the Devotionals (the ones that are unique to the pantheon you, as a Hero, serve). We have tiny little Blessings for Heroes who are just starting out and are just that little bit more impressive than normal humans who haven't been touched by the divine, and we have enormous world-shaking fundament-altering Blessings for Heroes who have become deities themselves. And everything in between.

Basically we are really excited about being done with these. I would say that you don't know, except I'm pretty sure that after listening to us talk about them and complain about them and say we're alllllmost there for months, you're probably pretty excited to hear it, too.

Augments, on the other hand, are not done yet, since they depended on the Blessings before they could really achieve velocity, but they're in the process of being worked on right now. There are no Augments for Devotionals (and I mean, really, they don't need them, they're ridiculous all on their own), but there are for both Aspect and Domain Blessings, and they range from "slightly extend time that Blessing's effects last" to "make Blessing do whole additional dimension of ridiculousness", and a lot in between. They're (hopefully) moving faster than Blessings, since they're adding to existing material instead of reinventing the wheel all the time, and we'll keep you updated on them.

Playtesting has been super useful lately, with some more concrete feedback on things that weren't working for players or didn't pan out as intended in play in spite of how good they looked on paper. Having long-running games that had time to figure out their skills and get entrenched in and develop characters has definitely paid off with info about issues we might not have encountered in shorter-run stories, and we've done some good tweaking lately (some of which you'll hear about in the next section!).

The Bad:

Subsystems having to do with the Aspects, as we suspected and talked about a few months ago, have been revealed over more testing to not all be stacking up equally. That sucks, because it would have been nice for them to be done, but has resulted in us rewriting them to make them better, which I think we can all agree is a good thing that will make the overall game more enjoyable. For those who were following along with this post a while ago about Aspect subsystems, the Empowerment, Overextension, and Persistence systems were performing poorly in comparison to the other subsystems in play, consistently enough to need retooling.

There's a silver lining on that one, at least - we have updated versions of the subsystems for Creator and Warrior Heroes ready to go, and we'll get to share them with y'all in some blog posts soon as we try to get Hunter to cooperate and finish out the lineup. So stay tuned on that one.

Art delays, something that we haven't actually had much of a problem with over the course of this project, have cropped up in the past few months, mostly revolving around the additional art of Kickstarter-pledged NPCs we're waiting on. This isn't really a problem as far as publication goes - obviously, it's not like we're waiting on art and nothing else right now, so no one get on the art department about DELAYING THE BOOK because it is totally not on them - but it has resulted in fewer NPC spoilers than we were planning on, so apologies to those waiting for them. We've just seen one more character come back recently and are waiting on the last few to make their way back to us. Barring some kind of Canadian zombie apocalypse tragedy, those should all be completed with plenty of time to spare as far as actual printing of books goes.

The Ugly:

Obviously, the big sadness is that we aren't shipping you books right now. Those of you following the blog have heard a lot of the reasons why, so I won't rehash them; but we are still not there yet, which is disappointing to everyone here, and we know to all of you, too. Obviously, with the issues of first-time game devs being bad at estimating time investment needed, occasional playtesting hiccups, and sometimes members of the team falling deathly ill, providing you with new deadlines hasn't been working, so instead, we're going to focus on what we're doing, and how close that gets us to being finished and on our way. So, let's look at:

What's Coming Next:

Here's what our to-do list looks like for the beginning of the year. (Well, not actually, our actual to-do list is on like three whiteboards and is covered in scribbles and side notes and is basically incomprehensible to anyone except for us, so this is the clean version, readable by human beings.)

  • Finish the Augments. These are the last large piece of the actual game left outstanding, and they've already been started, so we just need to confront and kick their asses as efficiently as possible. This will involve checking them against each other and the whole big sprawl of the Blessings landscape, so it is intensive, but we're hopeful that it won't be nearly as slow as the Blessings process was.
  • The Hunter Subsystem. Hunters. Every time. This is the last of the Aspect subsystems to need an overhaul, and will hopefully get straightened out organically as we work on the Hunter Augments here and are immersed in Hunteryness for a while... but if it doesn't, it'll be next up. Ideally this won't take too long, other than testing it in live games to make sure the darn thing works this time.
  • Outstanding Appendix Tables. Like most RPG books, HJ's has an appendix that has maps and tables and other good stuff in it, and a couple of those tables are still in the sketched-but-not-fleshed stage. Off the top of my head, I know we still need to finalize some sample Divine Favor, work on the ever-popular Volatile Item table, and some other things of that nature. Again, hopefully not a very time-intensive step, but one that needs to be done to make sure all player tools are in place. This is the last thing that actually involves any writing - after this, written content is done!
  • Finalize NPCs and their Art. As noted above, we're still waiting on some art to come back for these folks, although you can see that they're not pressing right now. Finalizing them will mostly have to do with cross-checking them with the finished Blessings and Aspects to make sure their character sheets are correct, and making sure no one is an unbalanced Unplayable Character Mess after all's said and done.
  • Jess, John, and Anne Proofing Party. After all that, John and I will have to sit down and read the entire book, now in its final order, from cover to cover a few times and make sure everything makes sense, there aren't any weird quirks or legacy rules left from earlier versions in there, and that nothing jumps out as in the wrong place or section or as being worded poorly. This will probably happen over a week or so while in pajamas and yelling passionately at each other about minute details no one cares about. Somewhere, probably being about fifty times more professional, our lead editor, Jess, will also be doing this, and hopefully telling us that we did great and there don't need to be too many more changes.
  • The Final Layout. At that point, the book's done and the art department is in charge of final arting and laying-out of pages. They've done a lot of prep work for this and we have full confidence in their ability to be amazing at it, so holy bananas, that will definitely be an exciting day. Because after that day... things get to be printed!

And that's the end, y'all. That's what we're doing and where we're headed. Today, Augments: tomorrow (or at some point) the world.

Future Updates:

Despite Cameron's diligent attempts to drag us out of our poorly-lit writing dungeon for meetings once in a while, news has been slow to come out to you folks, so we're looking to get that moving again. Cameron's updates will continue to talk about where we are in the process and what we're working on at the moment, while I'll be doing some more focused updates on specific issues and spoilers that will hopefully be fun for all of you. In no particular order, I have posts queued and outlined for talking about the new subsystems, spoiling some finished blessings, discussing a few mechanics you haven't heard much about yet (Travel Episodes, y'all!), co-op play issues in HJ, and of course more NPCs.

We'll talk more about the future of HJ (hopefully, a bright one) as we get closer to the end of the tunnel, but that's all for now!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Monthly Update 12.11

Hello Everyone,

So I understand that those of you reading this cross multiple faiths, languages, and countries. But for our North American team the time-period from the last week of November, to the January 1st is generally pretty jam packed. With travel, holidays, closing out the year at our day jobs, seasonal affective disorder, we haven't gotten to talk as much as we usually do.

So what can I tell you about the progress of the game? Unfortunately not as much as I'd like. The work on the game continues, and the thorny few remaining bits remain. Anne's health is improving, but as with anything health related the path is never straight. She continues to perform the Herculean balancing act of health, day job, and Hero's Journey work.

In random (but awesome) other news, John is in Las Vegas, where he was invited to participate in Magic: The Gathering event, he is there this week. I don't have all the details, but will fill them in my next update if you're interested.

This will be the last post from me for the year, and I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all for your questions and comments throughout the year, for baring with my late posts, sometimes evasive answers, and for your patience as the team works to finish the game. You are a great community that I look forward to seeing grow as the game is actually released.

So that's it for me this year, I will no have guaranteed access to a computer for the remainder of the year, but this isn't going to be the last update. Anne is preparing something, that will hopefully serve as a "Thank You" for all of your patience. But I will let her tell you about that when it's ready.

So thank you again! I will be back on January 8th (Yes, it will be the second Friday in January).

Have a great rest of the year!


Friday, December 4, 2015

This isn't the Post You're Looking For...

This isn't the post you're looking for...

As has been par for the course for my monthly updates, this will be delayed one week.

See you all next week!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Monthly Update 11.12

Hello everyone,

Thank you for being patient, or at the very least not digitally storming the castle. I am here with your monthly update. As with many updates there is a mix of progress and setback, and even a question answered.

First, switching things up the question asked by mikijuciso is:

"How many dice will me and my group need once we pick up the game? For starting heroes and for late-game heroes?"

When you pick up the game at the Mortal level you probably won't need much more then 10 dice. As you progress through Mortal, you'll be rolling up to 16 dice. As you journey, surviving and growing (John threw out over the course of several years of play) you will eventually max out at 50 dice after your character has achieved full fledged godhood.

Next, comes good news and a mix of bad.

Good, is that there are only about twenty talents left before finalizing the book goes into effect. The bad part of this, which won't be a surprise if you've been following this blog, is that these are the twenty talents that have vexed Anne and John. They are the rogues gallery of talents, that like to defy balance and definition. So they are taking longer than expected.

The second bad part is harder to talk about; walking the line between honesty and excuses is tough. Throughout this project we have endeavored to be as transparent as possible when it comes to roadblocks and delays (of which there have been many). The core development team for Hero's Journey is Anne and John. They are a two person team, the key drawback of this is that there's not a lot of redundancy.

We know that at this point, many of you just want the finished project, and not hear about the lives of its creators. But the truth of the matter is that Anne has not been well this past month, this is something she is generally able to work through at a diminished capacity, but without details this month has been pretty bad. There have been multiple doctor's visits and her getting healthy has consumed a significant portion of both John and Anne's time.

There has been very little progress on finishing work this month. The good news is that Anne is now on the mend. The bad is that this setback, means that even with the most aggressive timetable, the book will not be in your hands by the end of the year. There aren't any dates that I can give, but what I can say is that the work continues, and I hope to have better news for you next month.

Have a great rest of the month, I will talk to you again on the 4th (but probably the 11th).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mythology Talk: Why Maging is the Hardest

A while ago, we jokingly posted a bunch of unhelpful suggestions from our playtest players, who are bad at suggesting things for us to write blog posts about. One of the posts they suggested was entitled "Why Maging is the Hardest", and was mostly an in-joke based on the fact that the mage characters in our playtest games, especially Bernard the Calamitous, are somewhat constant failboats characterized by no one believing them, accidentally ruining everything with terrible social skills, and using spells that backfire and blow up their party members.

But there's actually a good reason this keeps happening to them, and we're going to explain it today! This boils down to the fact that HJ is based on mythology and folklore, and traditionally, people in mythology and folklore just generally tend to hate Sages (and/or mages).

They hate Sages because Sages ruin everything - or at least, they always feel like they do. Sages show up and tell everyone that awful things are about to happen and then want people to reward them for this service. Sages screw around with magical spells and objects and curses and then, when those things sometimes backfire and scramble the king's brains or tear a slash in the fabric of space-time, they pretend it wasn't their fault or try to convince everyone that it was a necessary side effect of their very important maging work. Sages perform experiments when they don't know what the results will be, and then sometimes those results rain a plague down upon the local countryside. Sages learn all the local politicians' most damning secrets, apparently just for fun, and then accidentally tell them to other people. And they're never sorry, the jackasses.

The thing is, Sages usually actually mean well, or at least they mean well more often than they mean ill. It's just that their powers are scary and most people around them don't understand them very well, which makes sense because the Sage is by definition the person that understands everything better than anyone else. It's hard for the average person to understand that, after some weird dude shows up and explains that your father is going to be bloodily assassinated, it was not in fact that weird dude's fault when that did happen. It looks a lot like they were telling you that they were going to kill your father, or possibly that they did something magical where they caused this to happen by seeing it with their mage brains. The point is, they know things people shouldn't know, and that looks a lot like doing those things, and that means that no one likes the Sage.

This doesn't mean everyone always hates Sages, of course, or that Sages never get to be cool and impressive. Obviously, the Wise Old Sage is a common mythological figure, as is the Benevolent Gandalf-Like Wizard. But they're less common than Evil Wizard, Reckless Experimental Mage, Gloating Prophet, Heartless Agent of Destiny, or They Who Know Too Much types of characters.

So players of Sages tend to find themselves sometimes falling into these roles in HJ. This is especially common if they're primarily Sages - that is, they Sage real hard, and their other skills are used to support their Saging, rather than being separate areas of expertise.

To use Bernard the Woeful as our example again, he is primarily a Sage with a side order of Creator, with a little bit of Hunter and Lover thrown in for flavor. His Creator powers (as they do in myth with figures like Hephaestos or Volund) often appear like offshoots of his Sage powers, since creation and maintenance of magical stuff is so closely bound to the ideas of knowledge and unseen skill. His fellow Heroes know he's a mage, and they know he's good at knowing things, understanding things, interpreting things, and sometimes doing some weird rave moves that affect the fabric of reality or something.

Unfortunately, they hate all those things (even though they like Bernard himself!). He's not a great Lover or Leader, so nine times out of ten they don't even believe him when he tells them some piece of knowledge he came up with - it sounds ridiculous and made up to them since it conflicts with their own experiences. He's just some weird dude who runs around slapping burgers out of peoples' hands and ranting about a supernatural taint in the meat, or screaming "DON'T ANSWER THAT" at the top of his voice every time someone gets a phone call before explaining in what he thinks is a rational tone that the person on the other end is a malevolent fairy. Then, once they do end up discovering that whatever he told them was correct, they resent him for being right and for not saving them from whatever the danger was, and sometimes even suspect him of causing it himself in order to retroactively prove himself right. They never thank him for it.

Similarly, when he does magical things, mostly they just try to stop him or get him out of the public eye. Was he trying to disenchant the fairy connection to that phone, thus enabling them to make calls again without accidentally getting sucked into another world? Well, to them, it looks like he's just being really weird and creepy at them and their phone, and then gods forbid he doesn't make the roll and it explodes, because then he just looks like he attacked their personal electronics with the power of his mind. Was he closing a hole between worlds that allowed a terrible being from the depths of Hades to attempt to reach out into the land of the living? The group is all busy fighting for their lives and has no patience with his decision to stare blankly into the distance for ten minutes while they're all getting shot before declaring that they should be grateful that he rescued them. Was he trying to break a curse that held several zombies in thrall, forcing them to continue attacking people in the area until they were laid to rest properly? Congratulations, the entire neighborhood has reported his cavorting in front of the graves to the police as "unauthorized necromancy".

Essentially, Bernard the Intensely Unfortunate is just the poster child for why maging is often, well, really hard. He knows things other people can't know and does things other people can't understand or even see evidence of happening, so he performs a constant swing back and forth between being considered totally useless and being considered a dangerous loose cannon who ruins everyone's life. It doesn't really matter what he does; if he doesn't perfectly solve everything for everyone forever, he's going to get yelled at. The other players are sympathetic to his plight and often joke with his player, because they've all been there; everyone who's played the Sage is used to being the group's least favorite yet most demanded person.

There are quite a few Sage powers in HJ that mirror this tendency in myth; in particular, Sages have quite a few powers wherein they learn some important information, but can't know ahead of time what it is or how it affects others, For example, the Knowledge Blessing Rare Breed allows them to recognize special enemies they might be facing and relay key information to their fellows in time for it to be used handily. Mechanically, this is great, since it allows them to instantly tell the other Heroes what special powers the enemy has that they need to defend against, and what weaknesses the enemy has that they can exploit... but in a story setting, what it really looks like is that every single time the group fights anything, the Sage runs out in front, announces, "Wait! It's a rare Hungarian fire-breathing dryad, I've read about this!", and then everything is suddenly on fire. Sage powers are often a risk vs. reward situation, and since the other Heroes can't know that's happening, they don't always take the assurance of "Trust me, it would have been worse if I didn't do that!" when they're all dying and wondering how their lives have come to this.

Naturally, not every Sage power does this, and many are just normal, straightforwardly functional Blessings as in any other Aspect area on the Web. Not every Sage is doomed to be Bernard to Beleaguered, either; for example, Sage-Lovers probably have a much easier time convincing people to believe what they say, and Sage-Warriors don't have to worry all that much about their comrades in arms thinking they're useless when it comes down to a fight. But no Hero can do all things, or even really come close, so even carefully tuned Sages with a wide array of skills will probably find themselves hit by the "you said this would happen and then it did and I hate you" stick once in a while.

So, yeah, maging is the hardest, but largely because that's how mages tend to operate in mythic stories. Much as Tricksters always end up shooting themselves in the foot at some point or Lovers end up attracting unwanted attention and having to get rid of it, Sages usually have to handle the consequences of being the only one who actually knows what's going on while the less erudite scream at them to stop fooling around and do something, already.

(Special thanks to the player of Bernard the Chronically Despairing for letting me use him as an example all over this post.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mechanics Talk: Augments and Why They're Cool

Hey, y'all, are you ready to hear about Augments?!

(I know you are because people wrote in to ask about them.)

So, a while ago when we were talking about things that are still being worked on, we mentioned Augments, and you folks have probably been seeing Augments in the Talent and Sphere trees as well. Augments look like this on the trees:

What that swirly magical icon is trying to communicate is that Augments are about changing things and making them fancier and better. While getting new powers is lots of fun, sometimes we want Heroes to also get the option to instead improve the powers they already have. Augments are a way of specializing even further into a Hero's favorite powers, the same way that purchasing different Talents and Aspects allows them to specialize into their favorite skills.

Augments always refer to a specific Blessing, and they always alter it in some way so that it becomes cooler. A given Augment might make a Blessing affect different or more targets, last longer, have an extra capability, increase its range, change its cost, or anything else that is appropriate to that specific power. For example, a Divine-level Streetwise Blessing allows Heroes to reshape a city's local structure to fit their whims, allowing them to briefly change what streets go where and how humanmade buildings and landmarks are shaped and connected; this Blessing only allows the Hero to temporarily bend a city's design to their will, but an Augment exists that allows them to make such changes permanent, twisting cityscapes into new fantastic features. Obviously, the original power was already cool, but with the Augment, it's even cooler - which is what Augments are supposed to do!

Augments are always optional - they're intentionally put off the beaten path of the Talent and Sphere trees, so that only players who are looking to get them pick them up, and players who don't care about them or don't have the Blessings they refer to can easily pass them by to progress onward to other stuff. Not every Blessing has an Augment that affects it, either, since some powers are more easily self-contained or don't have a good avenue for an Augment to buff up.

From our perspective as designers, Augments are really neat because they allow us to do some more fine-tuned balancing stuff. If we really want to have a power that does certain things, but it would be overpowered if it included all the possible ways it's used in myth and legend, we can pare it down to just the most core "essentials" and use Augments to provide the option for the rest. We can also include things that are sort of niche powers that appear in a few myths but aren't the more "mainstream" use of that sort of power; that way, everyone can pick up the mainstream version, and those who have an interest in the specialty version can go out and find it.

It's also a nice way to allow a little more variation between different Heroes who might have the same Talents or Blessings. Of course, different Heroes already have a lot of room to distinguish themselves from one another even if they have the same Talents or Spheres, thanks to choosing different nodes in the Web or Sphere trees, but Augments add another layer of specialty where even Heroes with the same powers may not use them exactly the same way.

Obviously Augments are the last thing that are going to be finished for HJ, since all the Blessings have to be 1000% done first before we can be sure that they balance and connect properly with all the Blessings. We haven't mentioned them too much for that reason, since we wouldn't be able to show many off, but in addition to making notes on Blessings that we know will have Augments in the future, we're getting close to being able to finally attach these suckers.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Update Next Week

So, we try to save our monthly meeting until the last possible moment to give you the most information that we can in these. It makes sudden hiccups or conflicts pretty bad, so we are again having the delay updates until next week.

So in conclusion, and to reiterate.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Playtest Findings: The Web of Fate

Today, we're going to talk about an issue that isn't so much a play problem as an administrative one. A problem with the books, if you will. (Not the game books. More like mob books.)

Playtesting Issue: Keeping track of players' locations in the Web of Fate and Sphere trees is challenging, and gets more difficult the more players are involved in the game.

Honestly, we were expecting a lot more problems with this than we've had, but in spite of the general playtesting quiet on this front, it's still an issue we want to head off as much as possible. The problem is with these bad babies of graphical design right here:

Pretty awesome, aren't they? And, we're very excited about them because of all the different ways they allow players to customize within the same areas, and because they give the game a lot of flexibility when it comes to spending XP and moving between different specialties. However, they do have one very obvious downside, which is players keeping track of where they are on the darn things.

One player can manage it without too much of an issue; they just keep one copy of the webs with the nodes they've purchased marked, and while that is a little bit of annoying bookkeeping, it's not all that hassley since it doesn't come up during gameplay, just before or after. The more players are involved, however, the more complicated it can get; at that point, the options are either to keep everyone's progress on the same web, or to have everyone maintain their own. The first one is more convenient for the GM, since they can always reference it, but more annoying for players, who either can't plan in between games unless they happen to be at the same location as the web is kept, or have to all constantly update their own copies for their friends' progress as well as their own. The second one is better for players to work on their own characters and advancement plans individually, but prone to mistakes (and, for those less ethical players, possible node-stealing). And any combination strategy runs the risk of mistakes as the webs are re-copied or added two piecemeal.

There's a reason that advancement webs like this are traditionally only done for video games, like Path of Exile or Final Fantasy X; they have a database that conveniently keeps track of where the player is, and all you have to do is visit the screen to see everything neatly and graphically laid out for you. Pencils and paper don't have that advantage, so there's more effort on the part of the players to make sure they know where they are on the Web and trees - which, depending on how wide-ranging and eclectic they decide to be, could be anywhere from three or four to twenty-one different advancement tracks.

(These aren't ours, they're PoE and FFX. I'm just including them for reference. Don't panic.)

For those wondering, the playtests have used a centralized approach - we have one hard copy of the Web and Sphere trees for each playtesting game, and all players are being kept track of on it by just putting their initials next to the nodes they have. When it's time to spend XP (which is actually called Renown, y'all, but I keep typing XP because I can't remember if I told the community that yet), the master copy is passed around so players can each take a look and weigh their options, and new purchases are added to it before it goes home with the GM each week. A couple of players also keep their own copy for their own reference in between sessions, but they can always refer to the master at gametime if they make a mistake or aren't sure where they are, and the GM can then use the master for reference when planning obstacles and challenges, since it provides a handy list of which Blessings all the Heroes have.

Possible Solutions:

As I said above, we've known this would be an issue for a long time - since we decided to do it, in fact. We knew it would be a challenge when we designed it that way, and decided that it was worth it for the good things it's doing. So, how do we make this easier for players to use, and mitigate the possible annoyances we know they might face?

First of all, we're in the process of creating and providing some helpful worksheet-type pages, both to be printed in the back of the core rulebook for those who want to make photocopies and provided online as downloads for those who prefer to use computers or mobile devices while playing. We're hoping to provide enough options, in enough different formats, that individual games can find the way that works best for them and have the tools to do it within easy reach. (I can't show y'all a sample right now, I'm sorry, since they're still being finalized pending the last augments being completed... but I promise, they're coming!)

Second of all, we're also considering how to provide good advice on using this system for players who might need it. For whatever reason, our playtest games actually haven't reported much trouble using it; we're pretty sure that's because the majority of them are either being run by us or run by people we coached, so it was an issue we started with and intentionally worked to handle. But that won't be the case for most people, so we're considering the best place to lay out options and provide support if needed. Is it in a section in the GM portion of the book, or the appendix? Do we leave it out of the book, saving page space, and instead make it something we discuss on the site and blog here?

Finally, we're looking at creating some other useful aids to make tracking things on the Web easier - or, dare we say it, even a fun part of the game in its own right. These are things we probably won't have available at release, and couldn't promise or give you great future projections for at this time - for example, something we'd love to do someday is a giant wall poster of the Web that could be put up wherever you play, and kept track of with dry- or wet-erase markers or stickers or something. (Of course, we know you don't all have wall space for that kind of thing, but we have to assume someone else would find that as much fun for the game room as we would!)

There's also another thing that we want to do, which would be good for accessibility and mobility and ease of use, but all I can tell you is that it starts with an "app" and ends with a "Stephen told me not to under any circumstances tell anyone this would be happening any time soon", so that's all I can really say about that.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Monthly Update 10.9

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress and is an attempt to give you a glimpse in the process of making the game. Abilities, powers, and mechanics discussed in this blog my not work as described here in the final product.

Hello Everyone!

My apologies again for having this be a week late. John and Anne have successfully completed their move into a new apartment, and have confirmed that all the finished rewards have been moved safely with them.

So first, if you haven't been over to the Kickstarter Page in the past month, I'd like to draw you attention to the first Backer Reward NPC Greg Fonalledas. We are hoping to post the rest for you to check out on a semi regular basis in the near future.

Next, onto the status of the game. Anne will be finishing the final write-up of the Hunter Aspect, this will finish Aspects entirely. After that, they are going on to Augments. Augments will be another part of the Aspect Web, they are more passive abilities that will... augment to your character's abilities making success easier, or improving their natural abilities that align with the chosen aspect.

There will be six augments per aspect.

Testing continues, and they continue to make tweaks based on feedback. The long running test game is moving from the Mortal to the Immortal tier so they're looking forward to feedback around that transition.

So where do we stand on finishing? We are still not able to give a date, however what I can say is that John and Anne have confirmed that they are on track to finish by the end of the year. This does not necessarily involve the rest of the timeline. As we get closer to the finish line we will have get more concrete and in down a date.

The streaming game is still working through scheduling (turns out that scheduling a game across two continents is hard) as that gets nailed down we we'll definitely update you.

So the plus side of the delay this month, is that you have a week less to wait for the next update (Which will be coming on November 6th).

Until then, have a great month!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Monthly Update: One Week Delay

We were exceedingly bad at scheduling at the end of September. As a result there is a one week delay on the next update.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Playtest Findings: Striving for Glory

In response to our playtesters' very serious and totally not humorous suggestions from last week, today we'll talk about Striving for Glory!

Playtesting Issue: The Strive for Glory mechanic has met with mixed emotions from some players.

First, the quick and dirty explanation: in HJ, Heroes make rolls based on their stats in order to perform tasks and succeed at things. If they have no stats relevant to something they want to do, however, they cannot roll, and pretty much automatically fail at it (except when there are mitigating circumstances, such as outside bonuses from other sources). This means that players can be very, very good at what they like to do... but if they happen to come upon an area outside their skillset, they may not be able to be very effective, much as those of us who live comfortable suburban lives would not be very effective if suddenly informed we needed to track a panther through the jungle using only our wits. These things happen to Heroes sometimes.

(Please note that Heroes don't have to make rolls to do normal, everyday things that don't require expertise, so not having any dots of Art does not mean that you can't microwave a burrito for lunch. HJ only makes you roll for things that are important to the story or more difficult than a casual amble around your home.)

However, all Heroes have the option to Strive for Glory, if they so wish, which means that if something is really important to them or they really don't want to fail at it, they can pay a Labor in order to roll a pre-set number of dice in spite of being terrible at whatever they're trying to do. In essence, they spend a resource in order to illustrate that, as heroic figures of modern legend, sometimes they can even succeed at something they weren't meant to or aren't great at, because darn it, they're the Hero. Heroes who Strive for Glory on a roll are generally not going to be as good at it as Heroes who actually invest dots into those stats, but they have a fighting chance at success (or at least, at failing less spectacularly).

We had an interesting mixed bag of reactions to this setup, and they mostly fell along divided lines based on whether or not the playtester had played other RPGs of certain types before.

Players who had played a lot of other games before in a number of different systems were a little put off by the idea of having no chance at succeeding at something if they didn't purchase dots in it. Some felt that they should still be given the chance to try at whatever it was they had no skill in, or that they should get a crack at a mechanic that modeled "unreasonable luck" that could strike once in a while. They didn't have a problem with Strive, per se, but rather with the idea that there could be situations where Strive was their only option; they felt that the base system should let them roll regardless of their skill, and that Strive was a band-aid for that problem rather than a compelling mechanic in its own right.

Players who had not played a lot of games before (either they were new players or they had only played, say, a little D&D here and there), on the other hand, took to Strive immediately. It made sense to them that they could not do anything difficult or noteworthy in an area that they didn't take dots, and therefore they were eager to figure out how to use Strive most effectively and incorporate its possibility into their resource economy. Of course, plenty of them still bemoan the cost of Striving once in a while - ah, the sweet sound of a Sage forlornly crying, "This is my THIRD Persuasion roll, why am I the one doing this?!" - but in more of a generalized "spending resources means I might not have them later" sort of normal game-economy way.

We got the same split reaction from GMs working with the playtests, too. Some immediately pushed back against the idea of scenarios in which a player might not be able to attempt something due to their lack of dots, saying that in their experience their players would feel this was unfair or unnecessarily limiting. Others loved it, and praised the fact that this prevented games from being bogged down in endless rolls by people that the GM already knew couldn't roll high enough to succeed anyway, and that it encouraged more management of resources on the part of the players.

A less complained-about but also notable Strive issue is that, since Strive provides a flat, pre-set roll based on the Hero's tier, it is technically "better" at lower levels of power within that tier and "worse" at higher ones. Mortal Heroes at four dots of everything get less out of a Strive than do Heroes with only two dots, simply because the GM is likely to set difficulties that a Strive may have a hard time hitting in order to challenge those in the group who have a good number of dots in that Talent.

Overall, the Strive mechanic has been solid in playtesting, regardless of whether the players liked it or not, but it becomes substantially more important for groups in which all the Heroes have the same skills (and therefore no one has other skills), while groups with a more wide spread of character abilities had a little more breathing room as long as they stayed together and let the person who was good at a task be the one to perform it.

Possible Solutions:

Striving for Glory works well for its intended purpose, and Heroes have a pretty even track record as far as whether or not their desperate Strive got them what they needed, which strikes a nice balance between making sure they aren't competing with those who actually bought stats and preventing them from being utterly helpless if they get suddenly hung off the side of a cliff with no dots of Athleticism. Resource-wise, it's been a good thing as far as making sure players choose whether they really want to do something or not more wisely. All this business isn't really a problem!

This is an interesting conundrum, because it's not so much that a mechanic isn't working as it is a mechanic that is working that some of the players just don't like very much. As we said, a lot of the dissenters were longtime players of multiple game systems, but although it's tempting to just assume that they've been spoiled by the "everyone's basically decent at everything" mentality of FATE or the "there are a few stats involved here so why not give it a try" approach of old World of Darkness games, they do have a point: players don't like being told there is no chance for them to do a thing, especially if it seems to them to be within their character's grasp.

We're wondering if we may not have approached describing or explaining the Strive system very well, in either the written chapter or our in-person playtesting; the whole idea of Striving for Glory is that lots of things you don't do every day are within your grasp, but you have to put forth more effort if it's something that you just aren't very good at. We're going back to re-edit the section, and looking to stress that the Strive system means you can do things, rather than the base system meaning you can't. It may also be worth discussing Labors and how to get and manage more of them in the same chapter - after all, there are plenty of ways to up your number of Labors, both at character creation and later, and those who foresee needing to be jacks of all trades should know about them up front in order to prepare themselves. (Hint: make friends with a Leader. Leaders are great.)

We're also doing some poking around at the specific tier-bounded numbers for Strive rolls, in the hopes of addressing the second issue. While it doesn't come up often, it could be that Heroes end up wasting their Labors on failing Strives at the top end of a tier more than they do at the bottom. We're looking at how to keep Strive reasonably even; we did discuss changing its amount to be based on Archetype dot instead of tier, but for the moment have pushed that idea to the back, since it's a big old pain in the butt and no one wants to memorize ten different levels of pre-set rolls. The current roll is equivalent to a Hero having an average, middling-dots roll in that Talent for that tier, but more specific tweaking may be in order.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

They Claim They're Having Fun, Though

Today, I asked the players in one of the playtest games what playtesting issues I should write about in the blog next week.

Their suggestions included:

  • John's Mean: The Post
  • Why Maging is the Hardest
  • What to Do When Your Group Keeps Ruining Everything
  • The No Mettle Blues: a Story of Regret
  • How to Deal With Horribad Dice Rolls: a Guide to Spending All Your Resources on Your Terrible Group
  • I Strive, You Strive, We All Strive and Then Cry About Our Resources

Meanwhile, with one of the other groups...

Yep, just another day on the farm over here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Devotional Domains: The Missing Links

All right, we're taking a break from playtesting updates for some promised discussion of the Devotional Domain! (Now with Norse and Hindu spoilers!)

Back when we first introduced the Devotionals, we knew that there would be three Spheres - Divinity, Ritual, and Theology - but we only talked about the first one. This was because we initially only planned to release Divinity in the core rulebook; we were worried that it would take too long and be too complicated to do all three from the get-go, and planned to have Ritual and Theology follow quickly in expansions. But, during the process of working on Divinity, we realized that doing a more combined and interlocked design for the Devotionals would solve all sorts of problems that they were having, and since we wanted people to be able to use all their powers from day one anyway... well, here we are, with the new setup we spoiled a few weeks ago.

So, what are these other two Spheres (using the term loosely since they aren't identical in function to the other Domain Spheres anymore)?

Ritual refers to powers revolving around religious practices associated with a Hero's patron god and their pantheon and religion; they might include things like specific rites, festivals, ritual magic, enchantments and so forth. Heroes use them to practice these rituals, drawing power from them as centuries of other worshipers have done before them, and in order to provide power and respect to their patron and the other gods.

Theology, on the other hand, is big-picture stuff; it contains powers that have to do with the worldview of the Hero's patron pantheon, their religion's concepts of things like how the universe is put together and functions, what forces dictate events and what place mortals, gods, and the Hero themself have in the grand scheme of things. These powers are likely to be about harnessing universal forces and respecting a given religion and pantheon's understanding of and interaction with the cosmos.

On a mechanical level, the new interconnected Ritual and Theology are attached to Divinity, and their powers support and enhance its Blessings. Oh, there are certainly Ritual and Theology powers that do unique things on their own and don't require Divinity to be awesome, but having the whole suite is always better than having only one path; for example, Theology often includes powers that make it possible to use Divinity powers more often or more effectively, allowing those who have both to not only have more different Blessings but also allowing Theology to act as a "battery" for Divinity to make it better than it could be on its own. Ritual tends to provide alternative options - ways you could alter Divinity's powers for special circumstances, or Blessings that make Divinity's options have a wider range, again making the combination of the two give a Hero more neat stuff to do than having just one.

Of course, you can have just one, and that's totally good, too. Some players may not be interested in paying much attention to Devotionals beyond the ones they automatically get for gaining Archetypes, and they can still use a smaller selection to great effect for their preferred skills, or choose to invest their points in something totally different that they like using more. Mythological heroes run a wide gamut from the devoutly religious and prone to displays of holy power to the independently potent and unconcerned with matters more divine than themself, and Heroes created by players have the same option when it comes to involvement with their patron's religion.

Obviously, as you can see here and in the previous post on the subject, Divinity, Ritual, and Theology aren't really "Spheres" anymore the way things like Streetwise or Thunder are, since they aren't rolled and don't have a 1-10 dot rating, so they may not have that label in the final book. But they do have the same spiritual "feel" - each set of Blessings is intentionally designed around those three concepts and hopefully provides coherent paths of advancement, even if they don't have those names. Heroes who go up the Theology track on the right side of the trees should have powers that have more to do with religious concepts and ideals versus Heroes who go up the Ritual track having powers centered around rites and practices and Heroes going up the Divinity track having power based on becoming more potent and divine in their own right.

So, you know, mix and match according to your character's taste!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Monthly Update 9.4

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress and is an attempt to give you a glimpse in the process of making the game. Abilities, powers, and mechanics discussed in this blog my not work as described here in the final product.

Hi Everybody!

This past month John and Anne have continued to work on Hero's Journey. Anne actually posted about their progress on Kickstarter towards the end of August, which you can read more about that here. Some of the information here is going to double up with what you may have read there so please bear with me.

The bulk of the work is now done, which is the hardest thing to say, but it's not the "We're finished! Initiate the Two Month Timeline!" that we all want to announce. The work now is in the fine tuning, the fiddly bits of tweaking based on playtesting feedback. This is probably the most frustrating thing to read about because it's, well, boring.

They would read like patch notes. For example:

"After internal testing we have decided that X will occur at a 4% chance, down from 5%."

These are powers that are "done" in that they're written down and usable, but haven't been balanced. All of these tweaks are coming from the result of playtesting. The Playtests are still happening on multiple fronts and power levels. Much of John and Anne's development time is spent meeting with players and poring over the information gained from these sessions.

So is there anything else new I can share? Starting in the next few weeks, most likely on Wednesdays, we're going to start revealing the NPC's created for Kickstarter backers. It might be a couple weeks, but that will be coming.

You haven't missed it, the streaming game, either. Character sheets are still coming in, but nothing has been scheduled. Stay tuned.

Have a great Month, and I'll be back here on October 2nd!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Playtest Findings: High-Level Character Creation

All right, after a week off from playtesting (we moved - I'm writing this from our new apartment, where all the boxes of books and whiteboards are waiting to move into their new homes!), we're back with new notes! The Canadian playtesting group is breaking some new ground with higher-level characters, so they have some interesting things to talk about that the lower-level groups also running right now may not.

Playtesting Issue: Characters initially created at a higher tier may not be comparable to characters that progressed up to that tier from the beginning.

Honestly, this is kind of a no-brainer - a character created as an Immortal doesn't look like one that was created as a Mortal and grew upward through play. We expected that this would be true, and that expectation was amply fulfilled. But how different, and in what way, is still important to examine.

This test group created characters who were a little ways into their Immortal career, using our written rules for character creation at higher levels; that means that these are characters who have already had multiple adventures and experiences in their backstories, and are already firmly entrenched in their powers and roles prior to even starting. They had several issues related to the fact that this came with a lot of extra moving parts - they weren't worried about figuring out what their Heroes had done in their previous adventures, since creative stories about cool things they'd done came easily, but they did hit some snags when it came to starting their new careers smoothly.

A repeated concern was that the players felt that they had an overwhelming number of powers to begin the game with. Although they thought the powers were cool and wanted to have neat magic spells and super feats to wield against enemies and challenges, they had difficulty trying to memorize so many possibilities off the bat, and some ended up having to take more notes about their powers and costs than they would have liked, or had to slow down play when they paused to look things up. This didn't cause them to try to take fewer powers - they were at an average just as likely to pick up extra Blessings as other playtesters - but did make them less confident in using the ones that they had at the right moment.

We also heard some concern over the Archetype system; although the players ended up agreeing that it made sense mathematically, starting at a higher level meant that the players were faced off the bat with gaining Archetype dots more slowly (without going into it too much, Archetype progression becomes slower as you increase in "level" - so Heroes who start as Mortals are moving comparatively much more quickly than Immortal or Divine ones). This is something that might not have been overly noticeable if they'd begun at the bottom, since the progression would have been likely to slow more gradually over time, but some players were nonplussed by the fact that, starting in the middle of the scale, they weren't likely to see it move very often going forward.

There was of course the question of numbers to be dealt with, too, which was one of the major things we wanted to see when this particular test game started. Are our guidelines for what stats to give starting Immortals useful and comparable to those of Heroes who would have progressed to that point from Mortals? Are new Immortals appropriately powerful, and are these guidelines useful for both players who want to start a new game at Immortal level and players who have a character die or be taken out of play, and have to replace them mid-stream? This is pretty subjective data, since the "right" level depends on a lot of factors and different players have different ideas of the power level they feel is appropriate there, but we're collecting information on it to compare to the lower-level tests that are growing toward this level, and doing some tweaking on the fly.

Finally, the testing GM let us know that there was something of a curve for running a game that started with Immortal as well. Without having grown upward with these characters, crafting enemies and challenges with appropriate difficulties was much more of a theoretical exercise, and with so many powers being slung around, there was also some trouble with knowing when to call for power use, when to call for rolls, and how to guess on the fly whether something a Hero was attempting would have been possible at lower levels and how it might have been done differently then versus now.

Possible Solutions:

A lot of these issues are problems inherent in essentially "starting in the middle" of the game, and we weren't super surprised to hear about all of them. While the core rulebook does provide guidelines for creating higher-level characters, it also recommends against doing so unless your play group is either really invested in the idea of starting at a higher power level, or has played through that territory before and won't be running into the new demands of Immortal and Divine games for the first time. That's not because we hate people playing at higher levels, but rather because when players get to spend time with their characters all the way through the game, many of these problems diminish or even disappear: players who buy their powers gradually over time instead of getting them all in a huge dump at once have much less trouble remembering what they do or what options are available to them, Archetypes don't feel like endless never-gaining time dumps since they've had a chance to experience the faster progression of Mortal Archetypes, and GMs have had a lot more time to observe their players in action and know where their skillsets and difficulty levels lie.

Of course, "don't do it" isn't a solution, though, and there are plenty of times that there might be great reasons to start Heroes at higher tiers of power - for example, a Hero on an Immortal or Divine team died and their player needs to replace them with a new character that can hit the ground running with the others, or a group might want to continue to progress upward in power level but try out new characters as they do, or the GM wants to tell a story that by nature doesn't touch on the mortal realm all that much. And as designers, it's our job to try to minimize difficulty in those cases - so what could we do?

The multiplicity of powers may be something we can't directly solve, since it's more a learning curve issue than anything else - some players will have trouble with it, others won't, and power options and choices is a major factor of the core game system that isn't going anywhere. It is nice, however, that the Web of Fate allows players to choose where their points go and what paths they take, so that players who don't want to start with a daunting array of powers can in many cases choose to take bonuses to rolls or stats instead. We're considering whether a quick note of advice reminding players of this would be worth the extra page space.

Our biggest challenge is ensuring that the guidelines for points, stats, and starting levels of various things are appropriate. While of course some GMs will be able to tweak numbers on the fly to make sure that new characters are where they want to be, others will want guidance from the book, and let's be real, it's not just nice for us to provide that, it's a basic necessity. We're still doing some mock character trials and tests to try to get more information on it, but this new live test game was definitely directly helpful for that.

So while there will always be some disparity between characters that went through the organic leveling process and characters that started as full-fledged Immortal or Divine Heroes, we'll be doing as much as we can to minimize it, and to provide GM and player advice in the appropriate places to help ease any remaining growing pains that might linger on.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Playtest Findings: The Endowment Olympics

This week, we enjoyed some spirited player discussion about What Is Best and How To Get It, which is always an interesting exercise in perspective. The topic of conversation was Endowments, those fancy powers for those fancy Aspects, and there was much discussion of which Endowments were the best, whether everyone should get some of them and leave others alone, and whether or not this was fair in light of the fact that they can only be gotten by having points in certain Aspects. (That is, if you want Focus, you have to be significantly invested in Sage for your current power level; you can't just grab the Sage Endowment and not actually bother with any brainy stuff.)

Since they only get three Endowments at any given time, tough choices sometimes have to be made. There were no firm conclusions from the players - some loved some of the Endowments, others loved others, and no one could agree on which ones were "best", which is a tentatively good thing to hear for those of us trying to make sure they're balanced. But there was certainly a lot to talk about!

Playtesting Issue: Players suspect that one Endowment is objectively "better" than the others, and are on a mission to figure out which one it is an invest in it as soon as possible.

As issues go, this isn't really all that bad of one to have. Players are always looking for the "best" stat, the "optimal" build, the "most useful" powers, and so on; it's what players as a generality do, from the gentle basic level of "I want to be good enough at this thing that I don't have to sweat my rolls so much" to the committed and passionate level of "I WANT TO BE THE BEST IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE EVEN IF ONLY BY ONE POINT." We're used to them looking for the "best" way to do something, and as designers, we spend a lot of time tweaking and tuning so that, while there are certainly a lot of things that are best for certain situations or heroic career paths, there hopefully aren't any things that are objectively best all around for everyone forever.

Since this is less of a problem-solution issue this week and more of a discussion roundtable, I'm going to just share with you the notes our players (from various different playtests, not just the one discussing it this week) had and the pros and cons they mentioned seeing in each Endowment.

  • Empowerment (Creator): This one is the hardest to talk about, because it's the most "unfinished" of the lot. Although we know exactly what it does - it gives Creators the ability to use supercharged versions of their Creator Blessings in times of need - this involves a lot of balancing and comparing Blessings against one another and whatnot, and so it's been an ongoing process throughout the playtests (one which our Creators have been very patient about, thank you, y'all). As a result, it usually gets the least conversation about its pros and cons, because it's hard to tell until finalization exactly how it stacks up against everything else.

    What players do know and tell us is that Empowerment makes a good panic button for ye olde Creator-healer character archetype; it has several times been used by a frazzled healer who needed to save too many people or had too few resources, and was able to become a brief supernova of wellness for those around them. We've also seen some excitement over using it to repair damaged or broken items (for example, the Warrior's weapon, which she realllly needs right about now) much more quickly and efficiently than otherwise possible, which is another Energy application. We have not seen a ton of use of Empowerment for the other Creator Talents yet, though; our last several games have not featured anyone who really invested in Vision heavily enough to get Empowerment for it, and while we do have characters with Art, most of them are in the playtest that is having trouble keeping its head above water, so there's been a bit too much running and crying and hiding under overpasses to get a lot of makin' stuff done.

    I've heard there are some Creators afoot in the new playtest that just started up north, though, so this is one we're definitely looking forward to hearing more feedback about as it firms up.

  • Faithful Allies (Lover): Faithful Allies are what they sound like: people who love and cherish the Hero and show up to help them at various times, usually bringing with them resources, benefits, or game mechanic bonuses from the sheer force of their adoration. (For example, money, or an item they needed right now, or their arrival triggers a free Lull Episode.) There is still an element of randomness in the Faithful Allies system, in that how well it works affects how useful the ally's help actually is to the Hero, and that there is a small chance that the ally may instead get in trouble on their way to the Hero and need rescuing.

    We found that a lot of players really like Faithful Allies... but had trouble figuring out when or how to use them. One player, for example, had chosen their NPC wife as a Faithful Ally; this was all well and good, but since the wife lived in town with the Hero, it didn't make much sense to use an Endowment to call on her for help when they could also just pick up the phone and call her in person, and they had just seen her ten minutes ago anyway. Players who invest in Lover often tend to want to roleplay and develop relationships with the NPCs who become their Faithful Allies, so some players expressed some concern that the more time they spent with a Faithful Ally, the less useful they seemed to be to the system, since it seemed like they could have just gotten those rewards through roleplaying. (The same players gave us some positive feedback about Lover Blessings that specifically allowed them to work with or save Faithful Allies, though; being able to designate a category of NPCs as ones that they could save with the power of their love appealed to the career roleplayers!)

    Obviously, this is an issue that would depend on the particular game, as well as the player's choices - if Heroes are globetrotting, it makes a lot more sense for a Faithful Ally showing up unexpectedly in their Manila hotel room to be a pleasant surprise, and if a player chooses to designate "my high school boyfriend who never got over me" as their Faithful Ally, there are fewer chances for that character to seem like they should be there helping all the time anyway. But nevertheless, since Lover can be very roleplaying-heavy, Faithful Allies need to find a way to fit into that a little better.

    Those players who did have and use Faithful Allies noted that a "backfire" (i.e., rolled a 1 and now my Faithful Ally has to be rescued from the bad guy) felt worse here than in Gambits below, because it meant that a request for help turned into a strain on their resources, and the whole system was not set up to be as randomly punishing as Gambits in the first place. The chance for something bad to happen is significantly lower with Faithful Allies than with Gambits, but that didn't make players feel any less soured when it did occur.

  • Focus (Sage): Focus is the most straightforward Endowment: it lets players use other Endowments more. That's all it does, and it does it well - Sages are swimming in Endowment usage opportunities, sacrificing having more options for just being able to do fewer options more often.

    Players generally don't have a lot to say about this, but they are pleased, low-key fans of it. If there are Endowments that they feel really suit them or that they love using a lot, taking Focus alongside them gives them all the more access to those. We also heard it mentioned that Focus feels especially good for those players who like to play "support"-style characters - healers, crafters, diplomats, intrepid leaders, or anyone else who spends the majority of their time using their skills and power to help or support others - because it gives them both a larger array of tools to keep helping people, and lessens the occasional sting that they sometimes feel when they spend most of their resources or time on people other than themselves. In particular, Focus + Empowerment, Focus + Gambits, and Focus + Sway were mentioned as popular combos that players would like to have.

  • Gambits: The Gambit system is the reigning champion of player polarization; either they love Gambits, want to see what will happen when they use Gambits, and encourage everyone else to use Gambits, too, or else they hate them, want them to stop happening, and tend to announce they're using them in a sort of hollow, doomsday grave-voice. This is basically what we designed them to do, so it's nice to see they're living up to their purpose.

    Gambits are random; sometimes they're great, save everyone from danger, win people prizes, and make everything awesome, and sometimes they're terrible, everything is destroyed, the plan is in tatters, and everyone is blaming everyone else. And, as a result, that means that whether or not players like Gambits completely depends on whether or not they like randomness in their games, so some always do, and some always don't, and a few put up with it but really wish there was a more dependable way of getting these things done.

    They're tricky to judge balance from, but for the most part, we've been pleased that they seem to function appropriately, and that players have exactly the kind of love-hate relationship with them that the entire universe has with Trickster stories. Those players who love them love them to death - conversations about the best Endowment almost always include one person yelling "OBVIOUSLY, GAMBITS" no matter what opposition they face, and even players who don't personally want to have and use Gambits often mentioned that they still enjoyed watching others do so. Gambits are also very powerful, since in spite of their randomness they can literally save Heroes from certain doom if they happen to go off just right, so some players said that they liked to take Gambits as an emergency precaution, even though they weren't necessarily normally huge fans of random effects.

  • Overextension (Warrior): After Focus, Overextension is probably the second most straightforward of the Endowments; its purpose is to allow Warriors to be even stronger than they normally could, to possibly ridiculous levels under the right circumstances. Brawn, one of the Warrior Talents, already governs feats of strength such as lifting elephants or crushing a car's hood with their bare hands, but Overextension lets Warriors be so strong for brief periods of time that they potentially do things that no one should be doing. Low-level Warriors essentially pretend to be higher-level Warriors, while high-level Warriors do things that probably shouldn't be allowed.

    We have gotten by far the least testing on Overextension, since we have had surprisingly few players go directly for Warrior like their lives depended on it (even though, you know, they often do), and it shows. Players felt like Overextension seemed fine in theory, but weren't using it much and so didn't have a strong opinion one way or the other. A few said that they could use it but preferred to conserve their points to be able to use other, more interesting Endowments like Gambits or Sway more often instead.

    It's hard to tell if this is a failing in Overextension itself or just an issue of non-Warrior characters not seeing much point in spending their points on shot-putting a tractor into a downtown bank. It's possible that more Warrior-heavy games would use it more often, since they would be more likely to be solving problems with muscle and moxy than sneakiness or diplomacy... but we need more Warrior testing to find out if that's true. Salutes up to the new group that just started this week; let's hope they have some more input for us soon!

  • Persistence (Hunter): Persistence is the sleeper hit of the Endowments; we didn't expect it to be quite as popular as it is now, and judging by how few players have it but how many made cranky faces when they said they wished they did, they also didn't expect it to be so good.

    Heroes normally use the Mettle Talent to survive deprivation; it helps them temporarily stave off penalties from failing to eat, sleep, or rest, or from doing strenuous activities for too long. This is its primary function and therefore the one players tend to look at most, so Persistence, which allows Heroes to permanently wipe any of those penalties clean without bothering to recharge, seemed to them at first to be nice and good in a pinch, but not applicable to their everyday lives as much as it could be. (Players getting lost in the woods and trying to survive on acorns, or spending the night in a graveyard mausoleum and realizing they were never going to be able to sleep around this much undead activity, notwithstanding.)

    But Mettle is also used for something else, which is that when a player is Mortally Wounded and likely to die soon, Mettle points can be spent to keep them on the brink of death long enough for someone to (hopefully) rescue them. Players were aware of this, of course, but it took several hard-fought combats and at least one Divine Intervention for them to realize exactly how valuable Mettle was to them in combat situations - which in turn slingshotted back around to make them realize that Persistence, which means spending much less Mettle and being able to hold onto it in case of Almost Certain Death, was a lot more useful than they had previously thought.

    Persistence is still somewhat incognito among the other Endowments; players who have been testing for a while have now said that they wish they had taken it or paid more attention to the system it underwrites, but it still tends to be glossed past pretty quickly by new players who come into a game that doesn't outright say things like "you will be crossing deserts on foot".

  • Sway (Leader): And finally Sway, which is probably our greatest designer headache, due to a combination of wanting it to do a lot of neat things but not wanting it to be too complicated a system and distract players from everything else they're doing. Sway allows Heroes to gain control over a specific area of influence - say, the criminal underworld, or the media - and influence it to get things done for them. They can pretty much ask for anything that their contacts could reasonably do, and if it works well enough, that thing will get done and they'll get to hang up the phone and tell their fellow Heroes that "their people" are on it in as snooty a tone of voice as they wish.

    Like some of the other Endowments, Sway is semi-random, but unlike Gambits (where the effect is completely random and everyone begs a deity for a good roll) or Faithful Allies (where the amount of help gotten from the system is random but usually above zero), Sway's randomness element is in the consequences of the Hero's request. What they wanted is going to get done, but if they roll poorly, they may end up getting the people who did it for them in trouble, or even lock themself off from being able to use their Sway in the area again for some time. (For example, one player recently rolled catastrophically poorly... so while her paralegal did indeed manage to steal the incriminating magical item from the police station and allow her to win her case, he also went to jail and she's not going to be able to call on him again for a long time, or possibly ever.)

    Sway was originally more punishing than this, with roll results where the Hero's task didn't get accomplished, so it's already been tweaked as a result of playtesting and realizing that this wasn't good enough and was causing undue amounts of player angst. Now that it's been updated, players are more optimistic about it, but still cautious - the spectre of that one time someone used it twice in a row and both times it just didn't work hasn't left their minds, and even though that isn't possible anymore, it's probably hard to shake. We're looking forward to increased data on that from the new groups starting up here in the near future, and the players at the in-house tell us that they'll probably do it again... you know, sometime soon. Probably.

Possible Solutions:

So, with all those players telling us things they did and didn't like, where do we go from there?

For Faithful Allies, our current fix to the system is to allow them a form of "do-over" if they roll poorly; that is, if they get a low roll and a Faithful Ally ends up in trouble and needing help instead of showing up and providing it, they can immediately use the Endowment again for free once they rescue their friend, ensuring that their point wasn't "wasted", just had its effects deterred for a while and required a little more work to get to. That way there still may be some rescuing of your loved one in distress in order, but once you find them they can still hand off the critical item you needed and no one needs to feel like they spent points on just making their life harder. (Of course, you also have the option to not go to the effort to rescue your loved one in peril and, if you have at least one other Faithful Ally, spend another point to use the system again to call them instead... if you're a heartless person, but then some Lover Heroes might be!)

The main concern we've been hearing about Gambits is a theoretical one - some players, usually the ones who wouldn't touch Gambits with a fifty-foot pole and like to know what's going to happen at all times, have raised concerns that it feels "unfair" if the Trickster uses a Gambit and they're caught in the often spectacular splash. Of course, most players aren't going to use Gambits except in an emergency or when they think they couldn't succeed doing something else, since they're costly and might backfire, so it's unlikely that anyone is going to torture their fellow players with random effects just for fun; but still, players who like predictability in their games have been a little unsure about the power Tricksters wield to make a mess of things. We're not sure if this is a problem we can fix mechanically; making a mess of things is as much what Tricksters are about as making order of them is what Leaders do, but more importantly, this seems like more an issue of communicating with fellow players and discussing what to do and why. We're talking about whether we need to add a "Gambits Etiquette" sidebar somewhere that says "sure, they're fun, but remember to only ruin the lives of other characters, not other real-life players."

As we noted above, we still need to see Overextension in action more to figure out how well it's playing alongside the other Endowments. If it turns out that it's too lackluster in comparison to the other systems, we may have to revisit it and see if it can be spiced up some and become more of a fun and enticing option for players. Stay tuned on that one.

Sway has already been updated during playtesting to make it less likely to ruin someone's day, but we're still going to do some more looking at its risk vs. reward ratio to make sure it's something worth investing in for the serious Hero on the go. Actually, we'll be doing that for all the random-roll Endowments, as a final sweep - for Gambits, we want to make sure that all the random effect results are at appropriate levels of awesomeness/danger/confusion and that there aren't any results that players might feel "don't matter", and for Faithful Allies, we want to do another balancing pass to make sure that different levels of rewards for different rolls are appropriately spaced out and relevant to the Hero.

In closing, I'll quickly mention a side topic of conversation that spun off about Endowments' attachment to Aspects. For the most part, players felt positively about this; Gambits, for example, feel like something Tricksters should be doing, and Sway makes sense as something a Leader Hero should be able to do when they want to. Some players said that they really liked the fact that deciding to be a certain kind of Hero came with its own type of special extra powers, just for being that person, and helped make the Hero feel like they were doing what they came to do even if they didn't have all the Blessings or rolls to back it up quite yet. On the other side, a few players expressed a longing for Endowments to be separate from Aspects, mostly because they could then choose which ones they wanted without having to be invested in that set of stats to begin with.

Since the point of Endowments is to give Heroes powers to match their Aspects, we probably aren't about to uncouple them any time soon... but it's still fun to listen to people spitballing what they'd do if they had that freedom.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Devotional Domains: Powers of the Pantheons

As presaged by Cameron last week, we're going to take a quick minute to talk about the Devotional Domain today!

As I'm sure some of you recall from back in the day, the Devotional Domain was originally envisioned as being the same in structure as the other Domains, but would have different powers specific to the pantheon that a Hero's patron belonged to - that is, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, or Norse Heroes would all have different powers, although the Domain itself would look the same otherwise for each of them. However, over time and lots of development, we started to come to the conclusion that the Devotional powers were different enough, in both mechanical effects and spiritual purpose, that they needed to deviate from the way that normal Domains work.

So we redesigned the Devotionals, and they're now unique in structure. Here's a quick sketch of what one of them looks like - future Greek Heroes, you're getting a sneak preview of some stuff because Greek is the one I have close to hand! (Don't judge the art department, they haven't made the good version of this yet so you're just getting mine.)

As you can see, things have definitely changed from the original ironclad three-lane plan! (Actually, these changes happened quite a while ago, but we didn't get to share them with you before now.)

Some things have stayed the same: there are still three distinct kinds of powers (Divinity, Ritual, and Theology), with each providing different ways for a character to relate themself to their Divine Patron's pantheon and religion. What's changed is that they are now more interrelated, with more chances for Heroes to travel between them if they want to, and more flexibility when it comes to wanting to diversify their Devotional powers. Since they are not rolled for anything (that is, you'll never make a Devotional + Ritual roll, or anything similar), they also don't follow the same everything-same-dots structure - technically, you don't need to keep track of them with dots at all, just know where you are in the tree.

We also made the decision to slightly prioritize the Divinity track. Since the Heroes are becoming more divine as they grow in power, and possibly becoming gods themselves if they make it far enough, Divinity is the central column that each Devotional set is built around, with a few more powers than on the other two tracks and a mandatory beginning there for each Hero (although they can leave it for Theology or Ritual pretty quickly if they want to).

The different tracks of the Devotional Domain have also been mechanically tweaked to be more complementary; although Heroes don't need to have all three of them, the more they have in each area, the more effective their Devotional powers will be overall. In general, the Divinity powers involve special skills and abilities that Heroes not working for this pantheon don't have access to, while the Ritual powers often buttress or increase the effectiveness of the Divinity powers, and Theology powers provide increased or more flexible resource options for using both Devotional and other Blessings. You may also notice that there are no "extra" nodes, the way there are in other Domains; the Devotionals, since they're so personal to the Hero, are about only the concept that they represent, and don't add any bonuses to the general game mechanics.

For those wondering how you get Devotional powers, there are two ways to do so! Heroes automatically gain Devotional powers as they grow in power, so over the course of their lifetime they'll get up to ten nodes for free just for being their badass selves. But if they want to get more Devotionally awesome more quickly, they can also buy nodes with Renown (although Devotional nodes are in fact the most expensive thing you can get with Renown, so save and spend wisely!).

The test games have so far enjoyed working with the effects of their Devotional Blessings; in particular, the Greek Heroes among them have enjoyed stunning success at some things and stunning failure at others, as is the hallmark of Greek myth, and the Egyptian Heroes have unsettled but ultimately helped their fellows with their spells, scrolls, and ability to transfer power. The Norse and Hindu Heroes' mechanics are a little more slow to gain steam, so they haven't done much yet, but they have very big results when they do, so we're looking forward to seeing them cut loose when the moment comes.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Monthly Update 8.7

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress and is an attempt to give you a glimpse in the process of making the game. Abilities, powers, and mechanics discussed in this blog my not work as described here in the final product.

Hello Everyone!

Great to be back. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that John and Anne have been deep in the jungles of Blessings. I've come back from my meeting with a few updates, though sadly, no spoilers this time around.

I'm going to tackle the first thing head on. The timeline, when will the core book be released?

Anne and John are more than halfway through blessings, but there's no timeline for when that will be finished. They are knocking them down finishing several spheres and trees. Some are going faster while others need a lot of debate. So while they work I can lay out some estimates for what to expect when all the blessings are complete.

  1.  John and Anne say "We're done writing!" everything then goes to the Art and Design team. They will finalize the layout and design for finished blessing and the remaining chapters in preparation for printing.
  2. The final content for the book will go to the printers, they'll get back a copy for review. If all goes well, they'll give the go ahead to print the books. This may take some back and forth with the printer. The printer is not in the State, so there will be some lag in shipping.
  3. They order the books and get sent giant heavy boxes of books.
  4. Anne, John, and probably an awesome team of volunteers will pack up and ship books and rewards to all the backers.
  5. The packages ship. PDF's get sent. (The PDFs probably arrive first)
Steps 1-4 will pessimistically take something close to two months depending on multiple factors. Shipping to all the supporters will add to this given the nature of international shipping. We're all hoping that this will go faster than that, but that's the timeline. From the point at which "We're done writing!" gets posted we're probably looking at two months. We will be updating every step of the way on that.

Next up, we haven't talked about Devotionals for a while. Anne is finishing up a post talking about the process they took to finish them, look for that on Monday. Also, Anne has been working on appendices with things like sample creatures and items you heroes might encounter or acquire along their journeys. 

The test games continue. Anne has been posting updates things they're learning as they go. Check those out here, here, and here. Look for those on Thursdays. The Canadian team will also be starting up a new running test game, so they'll probably be taking it to twitter soon.

Last month I mentioned that there would be a live streamed game coming. You haven't missed it, John and the players have been talking back and forth, this week the players finished their characters. So the game should be scheduled soon. Stay Tuned.

Have a great August, and I'll be back here on September 4th!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Playtest Findings: Escape Hatch Frequency

This week's playtesting conversations have all revolved around a mechanic called Divine Intervention, and the weighty issues of character death and its impact on both players and the story. So obviously, that's all easy to solve, right?

Playtesting Issue: It is difficult to tell if the frequency of "escape hatches" for characters is balanced over a long period of play.

This is going to need a little explanation, so bear with me. Divine Intervention is a mechanic that rescues characters from death; it can be used by any Hero if they have just died, are about to die, or are otherwise about to be completely unable to escape from some form of certain doom. Each Hero may call a Divine Intervention for themself whenever necessary, after which a god (usually their divine patron, but you never know) or some other divine phenomenon rescues them; but they may only do so once per tier.

And since I can't remember if we explained that previously, there are three tiers of heroic power! Each Hero starts at the bottom as a Mortal, and if they successfully survive and thrive for long enough, they can evenutally reach the Immortal tier, and finally the Divine, at which point they are deities in their own rights. Tiers usually take a long time to progress through - they're each a third of a given Hero's lifetime, after all, so they're multiple Sagas long and nothing to sneeze at - so while having the ability to call down certain rescue immediately is very powerful, it's also nothing that should be expended carelessly, and once it's happened, it won't be replaced for a very long time.

This week, the Thursday playtest game used their third Divine Intervention out of five Heroes, which, as you might imagine, is significantly faster than we had planned or anticipated them being used. So, while Hermes dragged a pile of half-dead Heroes out of police custody and expressed his extreme disappointment in their life choices, John and I discussed whether or not the balance of Divine Interventions was too low for the needs of these players, who seem likely to need more help before they're through.

This is a very difficult question, because frankly we just don't have the sample size we need to get good data on it. Ideally, we'd need to look at, like, one hundred different games over the course of an entire tier to see if Divine Interventions are either too liberal or too scarce to do tehir job effectively, and we're just not going to get that much testing before the game goes to press. Clearly, this particular game would mostly likely have lost the entire party to death or permanent destruction multiple times without being able to call for a Divine Intervention, so they obviously need them a lot. But then again, their first Saga has (as lovingly described in a previous post, you guys are great!) lasted a lot longer than planned and they've managed to not only create additional problems of their own but also allow the original problems to spiral out of control, so they may not be a great example of an average Saga's worth of danger. The Wednesday morning playtest, on the other hand, has never used even one, but they also played a shorter Saga with shorter Chapters, and thus had fewer dangerous times when they ran out of resources or got into protracted trouble.

It's also worth noting while considering this issue that each Hero's per-tier Divine Intervention aren't the only "escape hatches" in the game. Some Heroes have extra Divine Interventions from having a divine patron who is a minor god (and thus more available to come bail their sorry butts out when they're in trouble, as opposed to the major gods who are too busy for that) or getting a particular Divine Favor, and changing how many of these a Hero gets automatically will change the worth of those bonuses. Heroes who invest in the Trickster Aspect also get access to the Gambit system, which is vastly more unreliable than the Divine Intervention system but still has a decent chance of getting them out of the frying pan, and may be able to help other Heroes around them if it goes well. And while there aren't any larger systems for saving Heroes who are about to fall over, there are several Blessings that can be individually used as escape hatches to save Heroes from imminent mortal peril under some circumstances or with certain resource expenditures.

So, the question is: how often is too often? Without any extra benefits, every Hero will have the chance of getting a Divine Intervention to save them from death free of charge twice in their lifetime (Divine Heroes no longer get Divine Interventions, since they themselves are... well, divine). If they want more than that, they have to invest in powers or systems that give them more escape hatches, if they think they might need them. Avoiding death completely for free twice just for existing is more than a lot of games would provide to a player character, but is it good enough for Hero's Journey? Would giving them more be way too much? What about Heroes who, by stacking as much escape hatchery as possible, have three Divine Interventions, twenty-plus Gambits, and three Blessings in an attempt to make themselves unkillable? If we make survival easier for the less inclined to min-max, are we letting that person make themself unfairly eternal?

We definitely don't want death to be something that players don't have cause to fear, or that is supremely unlikely ever to happen. For one thing, knowing you could lose a Hero is an important motivator for players to do a good job and use their resources and skills wisely; if there's no pressure from the possibility of losing a character and no urgency making them want to avoid messing up, they don't have a good reason to take anything in the game particularly seriously. On the other hand, we don't want them dropping like flies, and since we know losing a character sucks, we want to avoid making it likely for players to have to go through that all the time.

And, of course, death is also a very common and important motif in heroic myth, and it can and should be part of HJ sometimes. Death is part of some Heroes' stories - in fact, especially at the Mortal level, it's the end of a lot of Heroes' stories - so it should sometimes be part of the stories of Heroes controlled by players. Other Heroes also often deal with the death of a fellow as part of their stories; completely apart from the mechanical considerations of accidentally-immortal characters, we also don't want death to be completely absent from the game so that its mythic impact can never be used in anyone's Sagas.

Possible Solutions:

We have totally not solved this one yet, so we're looking at a sort of grab bag of ideas, and running a lot of possibility math in order to try to guess the curve on that fictional "one hundred games" sample size we mentioned above. We like the Divine Intervention mechanic overall, since it h as a good place in mythic stories and we like Heroes to have a better-than-average chance of survival to go with their better-than-average chance of getting murdered, but how to go about using it is still up in the air.

If we end up running with the idea that Heroes need more escape hatches, we've discussed these possibilities:

  • Heroes get one Divine Intervention per Saga instead of per tier, making it much less likely that they'll immediately blow them all at the beginning and never have an option again. On the other hand, this might cause that whole "immortal PCs" problem we were talking about.
  • The Heroes as a group get a communal pool of Divine Interventions, which allows us to set an appropriate number of them, and also allows them to be used for whomever needs them instead of being just one shot per individual Hero.

If we end up going with the idea that Heroes need fewer escape hatches, we've discussed these possibilities:

  • Rather than each Hero having a Divine Intervention to blow, each entire group of Heroes has one, most likely per Saga instead of per tier, which they decide to use via consensus. This would allow the DI to refresh more frequently, but not give the group a never-ending font of them so that they never actually get into trouble.
  • Hero's get only one Divine Intervention ever, barring whatever bonuses we keep in play, rather than multiples existing.

Right now, we're really not sure which direction we're leaning; we're pretty sure Heroes don't need a lot more escape hatches, regardless of the difficulties the playtest game is having right now, but we're also not sure that means they need a bunch fewer, either, or that the current configuration of them is at its optimal setup right now. It's probably going to be an ongoing conversation for a while, since it doesn't have an easy answer and we probably won't be able to get that information out of the small pool of playtests we have.