Thursday, May 7, 2015

Game Theory Talk: Heroes and their Blessings

Now that we've updated y'all on how Domains and Spheres are working, we've all got a good handle on Blessings. You buy them, you use them, cool and awesome stuff happens, and you win the day. But what actually are Blessings, and what do they mean in the world of Hero's Journey? When you use a Blessing, what exactly are you doing?

Blessings are not actually "magic powers" - or at least, not all of them are, although some certainly might be. Rather, Blessings are special skills and abilities that only Heroes possess, powers that let them go above and beyond in a way normal humanity can't. Whenever a character in a story - whether ancient myth, more recent literature, or modern television or comic books - does something that normal people can't do and causes you to go, "whoa, that was amazing," it's likely they used a Blessing, regardless of who they are. After all, even if the hero of a story is just a normal person, they're still by definition a Hero.

A great example, when it comes to a Hero using Blessings that are not magical but are still fantastic and cool, is the often-parodied title hero of the 1980's television show MacGyver (who we have recently been discussing as an example in edits, actually!). MacGyver is not magical; he's just a human with no divine or supernatural powers whatsoever, who works as a special agent for the U.S. government and fights terrorism and spies with a combination of witty street smarts, incredible on-the-fly science shenanigans, and jumping off things with his hair blowing dramatically in the wind. MacGyver's signature move is to invent something ridiculous and improbable with only random objects he finds near him, usually in under five minutes, in order to avert certain doom; for example, he once combined a pair of candlesticks, a microphone cord, and a rubber mat to create a makeshift defibrillator and save a dying man in the nick of time.

Completely ludicrous, of course, but that doesn't matter. He's going to save that man, god damn it, with science, because that is who he is.

Obviously, MacGyver isn't doing anything magical here; he's doing some Creator action on a grandiose scale, but he's still a human being using human tools. Normal human beings trying to do this would almost undoubtedly fail; even if they did somehow manage to put the thing together with amazing speed and accuracy before the heart attack claimed its victim, it's overwhelmingly likely that it either wouldn't work or would misfire and kill the poor guy anyway.

But MacGyver is a Hero; he's the Hero of his story, he's the Hero of the show, and he's taking on the direct heroic role of saving this person right now. So he does things normal people can't do, because he's a Hero, and that's what using a Blessing is.

So you'll have plenty of Blessings that are "non-magical", in the sense that they are just things that you can do because you're a Hero and that no one else could do, but that aren't actually outside the realm of things possible or at least vaguely plausible without supernatural aid. You can dodge attacks better than someone else with the same Defense, not because you're using magic, but because you're a Hero who's great at dodging. You can leap a car over a median and drive it dextrously through oncoming traffic at ninety miles per hour, not because you're using magic, but because you're a Hero who is doing an action sequence with your Trickster powers right now. You can convince the leader of a country not to drop a bomb just based on your earnest and impassioned speech, not because you're using magic, but because you're a Hero rescuing millions and forestalling disaster. And you can cry, "Eureka, I've cracked the secret language of the ancients!" after study, not necessarily because any magic is in play, but because you're a scholarly Hero and gosh darn it, that is what you are supposed to do.

Of course, there are Blessings that are very definitely magical; you'll see these most often in the Domains and Spheres, which are for the most part dedicated to performing what might be called spells or magical rituals in other games. They're filled with abilities designed to wield forces usually not available to humans, and that's where you'll see Heroes breathing fire or becoming pillars of light or calling up storms to pour down on their enemies. Wizard archetypes are where you see this stuff in pop culture heroes the most - for example, Merlin in the TV show that shares his name performs these kinds of obviously-magical shenanigans all the time, such as causing things to move without being touched, seeing visions of the future, or changing his own age and appearance drastically.

Merlin is a Hero who specifically does things that aren't usually possible for humans - which is the whole point of his character arc, really - but he is no more or less a Hero than MacGyver up above. They're both the heroes of their tales, and the things they're beloved for - doing what's right, or creating spectacular and interesting solutions to problems, or making watching what they'll do next exciting and mysterious - are the same in both cases.

There are magical-style Blessings in the Aspects, too, of course, especially as you climb to higher tiers of power, such as Hunters literally speaking animal languages or Creators causing people to hear and see things that actually aren't there, and there are non-magical Blessings in the Domains, too. You can always choose what you want to do and where you want to go, as far as what powers are available to you.

What does all this mean to you, as a player? Well, it means that, although there are a lot of awesome things that you can do with just rolls of your stats (believe me, having lots of dots in stats is the best ever, ask the playtest group), there are some skills that are too specialized or powerful for normal folks to have, and that means you'd have to get Blessings to use them. Want to have the ability to shapeshift and change your appearance? Well, obviously, you need Blessings for that, as well as anything else obviously "magical" like creating food out of thin air or flying. But you'll also need Blessings to do incredibly difficult or impressive things that purely human heroes like Black Widow or King Arthur do - create a bomb out of household goods, or use your wiles to convince someone to attack a beloved friend, or steal a weapon right out of an enemy's strong and capable hands for your own use, or successfully impersonate a senator. It doesn't matter that human beings (which your Hero usually is themself, at least at the beginning of the game) can sometimes do those things without magic; what matters is that only human beings who are Heroes do them.

Blessings don't just refer to magic spells; they also mean skills (or even just Amazing Good Luck) that only Heroes have. They're the things Heroes do that make them exciting to read about or watch and fun to fantasize about being, and they have as wide a range as there are kinds of Heroes in humanity's stories.

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