Monday, March 30, 2015

Mechanics Spotlight: Durability

Since Cameron briefly alluded to it on Friday and I can sense the storm of questions coming, I decided to head y'all off today and post about a so-far unknown Hero's Journey mechanic: durability!

In a nutshell, durability refers to the resilience of a weapon against damage and wear and tear as it is used. No weapon is indestructible, not even a magical one; each has a durability rating that governs how much it can be used before it falls apart and how much punishment it can take before being damaged or destroyed. Heroes can repair and restore their weapons with various skills and powers as they go about their adventures, or, if they prefer, simply accept that sometimes their trusty sword gets dented and blunted beyond recall and it's just easier to go find a new one somewhere.

There are two major reasons that durability is important in HJ and that we love it (and hope you will, too!). One is a mythological reason, and the other is a game mechanics and design reason.

From a mythological standpoint, the possibility of weapons becoming damaged by continual use or aging over the lifetime of a Hero's adventures is an extremely important one; weapons breaking at inopportune times often has heavy symbolic weight in myth, and many stories of the exploits of gods and heroes are affected at a key moment by the reliability of an important or legendary weapon. HJ seeks to allow Heroes to tell stories wherein their swords break dramatically at the moment of their deaths, they can break an enemy's weapon over their knee to signify their defeat, or they need to desperately seek out a new weapon in the midst of battle as they avoid the deadly sallies of their foes. Durability allows stories such as the tale in which Baal, thunder god of the Canaanites, must be rescued by his fellow deity Kothar arriving in the midst of battle to hand off new clubs to him, or the more modern mythic tale of Aragorn, the future king of men in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, seeking out and reforging the broken sword of his ancestors.

So a system in which weapons are not just indestructible eternal tools that no one thinks about after they get them was a necessity for HJ, the better to make sure no mythic door is closed. Of course, we don't want keeping track of durability to be a huge pain in the neck for players, so while I won't go into the way it's tracked here, rest assured that it's a simple system that doesn't require a lot of time or distraction from gameplay! (Or so our playtests seem to be telling us, thank goodness.)

The mechanical reason for the system is more down-to-earth, and has to do with the difference between heroic warriors who fight with weapons and those who use only their bodies for offensive actions. Heroes who use Weaponry rather than Unarmed to attack their enemies are capable of inflicting more lethal damage on their enemies - just as in real life, it's easier to kill someone with a hammer or a knife than it is to just punch them to death, so folks using Weaponry have a leg up when it comes to inflicting deadly mayhem. The tradeoff for this is that they are dependent on their weapons; they need to have them in order to be effective, and the durability system ensures that they need to pay attention to their upkeep or reserves of backup weapons in order to avoid suddenly finding themselves in a bad situation in the middle of a fight. Heroes can thus choose between being more dangerous but needing to do more work to keep their weapons in usable shape, or being less lethal but never having to worry about being caught in a fight they can't participate in.

There's a lot of stuff for non-fighting Heroes to do that pertains to durability as well - in particular, Creators are the main people who are capable of repairing damaged weapons or creating items that have increased durability, and Tricksters who are strongly into the Streetwise side of things may have to encounter durability in regards to vehicles they use to travel and transport people along their journeys. A few scattered Blessings here and there also allow Heroes to interact with durability and the weapons that it affects.

In designing HJ, we often found ourselves having to walk a fine line between making sure the game is mythically resonant and allows the telling of the kind of heroic stories we find in ancient myths, and making sure it is efficient, easy to play, and not so complicated that it cuts down on the fun factor for any of the players. In this particular case, durability is designed more to capture the spirit of the idea than to do anything gritty involving tensile strength and ammunition capacity and other boring things; as a Hero, you'll have the opportunity to tell exciting stories and overcome a weapons failure by the skin of your teeth, but luckily no one will require you to know the acidic damage point of the metal your handgun is made of, so you can continue on without sweating the small stuff!

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