Friday, June 26, 2015

Weekly Update 6.26

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! Anne is still recovering, so most of the writing and editing has fallen to John. They are still in the slow process of finishing blessings. They are working hard, they are continuing to make progress, but the ability to show that progress is difficult and continues to be slow; it consists mostly of debate, double checking, and fixing small errors.

I have spent a few blogs over the past couple months talking about the time involved with translating and transcribing Blessings. So this week, rather than just giving you a spoiler, I've got pictures documenting the process of creating a blessing.

First, it all starts with note cards. John and Anne go through a lot of note cards...

The idea for a blessing goes onto a note card. It usually looks something like this:

That's John initial idea handwriting in all its glory. When it's time for John and Anne to both talk through blessings there's a whiteboard discussion, you can see some of it on twitter this week. But here are some shots of Whiteboarding in action.

They go from simple...

To complex...

Note: these are not the whiteboards following the creation of the initial note card, but are examples of the discussions that have been had.

From that whiteboard meeting a new note card gets created with more clarity.

After that there's another, more structured, white board meeting. Following this meeting, Anne takes the previous notes and writes them up into a format closer to the final language.

Much later, when all the blessings for an area have been done, Anne and John go back to have a "final meeting". Old debates are rekindled, and sometimes placeholder words are still used.

Following that meeting the blessings are finished... they need to be revisited again.

It's a long, iterative process, but eventually it leads to an awesome finished project.

That's it for the week, have a great weekend!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Weekly Update 6.19

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! This week Anne's furious working caught up with her, she has been sick this week, but both John and Anne finished work on Devotionals. The catch is, with Anne sick, transcribing duties fell to John. When John takes notes, he writes in a language that is tangentially related to English and requires John to fully interpret. So next week Anne will be working with him to translate the finished blessings into meaningful text.

So, as work continues.

We do have some questions from an observer of the Aspect and Domain Spoilers. You can find some examples Here and Here. These questions prompted a lot of discussion which I'm going to try to coalesce into a coherent post.

There are multiple nodes in the Sovereignty Tree that give Bonuses to Talents, however, there are no similar nodes for Spheres (such as water)?

For the sake of transparency, I edited this question slightly, if I misinterpreted the spirit of the question, please correct me publicly or privately. But you are correct, there are not similar nodes that give bonuses to Talents in Spheres, hopefully the follow-up questions will answer the why.
[Edited based on a conversation in the comments]

Are there bonuses to Spheres to be gotten anywhere else?  Do Sphere Blessings not roll as much as Talent ones?

Sphere blessings are not rolled as much and tend to not need as many bonuses.

Talents in Hero's Journey serve a dual purpose as both powers and activities that you'll be doing regularly. For instance, if you're advancing your Pursuit, you will find the talent is helping your character get better at running and movement in general, not just pursuing things.

Are they designed to provide more 'bang for the buck' so to speak with fewer successes?

Using a Sphere Blessing tends to be more "explosive" they need less big rolls to accomplish what their purpose.

What was the design thinking that went behind this?

Spheres tend to be more, and my language is not as precise as I'd like it to be, "magical" than talents. This is keeping in mind we're talking about a game where your character is more than human already. But controlling Water tends to have a more overtly "magical" feel than being a phenomenal leader or a superhuman tracker.

Mechanics-wise the design behind this is that talents set the foundation for the game and your character. They were designed to be in a interconnected within huge web. Once the core book is released, they will be set in stone. All the talents that will be in Hero's journey, will be in the core book (perhaps revisited in a second edition, but that would be way in the future).

Spheres on the other-hand, are self contained, and there will be more Spheres released if future books. Their self contained nature give more leeway to do different things with them, which you will see in the future.

This might spark some clarifying questions, so keep asking!

That's it for the week, have a great weekend!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Weekly Update 6.12

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! This week, Anne continues her work transcribing John's notes into legible, understandable text. This work has not been done in a vacuum, John has had to help interpret his writing. This has led to increasing amounts of balancing discussion.

The takeaway is that there's not a lot of details to report on this week. The work grinds on.

But I have been able to use this slow news week to my advantage, eking out a Greek Devotional Blessing.


Psyche is a Chapter Labor. When taken by a hero, the player is able to choose one of four Aspect subsystems. Brawn, Inspiration, Mettle, or Purpose. Once per chapter, their hero is able to use Psyche to double the effect of their use of their chosen subsystem.

Pairing Psyche with Brawn would allow a hero to lift or break twice the amount, ripping through steel doors or lifting cars without effort; with Inspiration the hero can grant two rerolls to their companions, allowing their inspired target to choose the best possible outcome; Psyche and Mettle grants the hero the ability go twice as long without food, water, or rest; Psyche paired with Purpose grants the ability for the hero to bolster  their allies giving them two labors instead of their normal one.

As with other modifying abilities, you are only able to pair Psyche with one subsystem.

In other news, it's crazy hot in North Carolina, also more art is coming in. I don't think these are related.

That's it for the week, have a great weekend!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Process Talk: We Are Super Chill All the Time

Since y'all can't actually see us when we're working, we sometimes worry that maybe you think we aren't working. After all, you haven't seen a final book yet, so it can feel like a yawning black hole of no information. What are we doing all day? Lounging around like Roman nobility eating grapes, probably. Those damn game designers.

Actually, we don't work all day every day; for one thing, we are running two different playtest games, which require a great deal of extra setup and note-comparing afterward (and shout-out to the playtesters, thank you for putting up with surprise changes to your Blessings and us occasionally saying things like, "So, um, there's a new rule to solve that weird problem from last week..."). John also has a part-time job to keep us in Hot Pockets and orange juice, and although we're in summer right now, I have night classes during the schoolyear proper to finish my current degree. Also, we sleep and eat like normal humans.

But, all other times, we are working. Here's what working looks like:

There are four different whiteboards in our house, which we installed ourselves, covered at all times with notes from whatever we're doing right now. John is very visual, so we draw a lot of spaghetti-like diagrams to connect things, build visual relationships to make sure different parts of the game are communicating right, make lists of things, and generally flail around with various colors of ink. I'd take pictures for you, but they're covered with too many spoilers; I actually went downstairs to try to find something I could photograph but ended up failing. There are also pieces of posterboard all over the walls, basically because we actually need full-wall whiteboards but can't afford them, so the whole place looks a little bit like A Beautiful Mind but with game mechanics.

We do also have possibly too many breaks because there are obviously literally thousands of dice on the tables at any given time for us to use, and John tends to drop them and then we have to search under the furniture. But that's a hazard of dice-based gaming.

We spend an average of eight hours a day in this den of math and arguments - sometimes less, if John has to go to a shift, sometimes more, if it's Saturday and we have the entire day open. We have previously discussed video-recording our workdays so you could see one in action, but we always decide not to for two reasons: first of all, because there would be a lot of editing for long silences where we both mutually try to solve a problem before talking again, and second of all, because we fight like angry wolverines.

It's not vicious personal fighting or anything; it's just that, as a two-person team, when we run into things we disagree about, it's hard to resolve those disagreements. In addition, because John is often the mechanics-minded person and I'm often the mythology and theme person, we have the problem of each thinking the other person's objections are less important than our own, so it can take a while to sort things out. We do get there, but once in a great while we get so serious about it that we have to take an hour or two break to remind ourselves that, yes, we do in fact like each other, and respect each other's work, and no one has to move out.

We also have several ridiculous posters listing the things we still have to get done, covered with heart and star stickers to show which things we've finished. There's a sticker system, it's all very serious and official.

Of course, this is just the writing/editing process, which is necessarily very detail-oriented and involves just the two of us; there are a million other process parts, such as the art department (I've heard it's a terrifying dungeon up there, but they keep telling me it's not an HR problem) with their drafting and approval process, the copy-editing process where finished material is passed up to Jess for analysis and the back-and-forths for updating things based on her suggestions, the layout process for making the final book look pretty, and the meetings with Cameron to make sure you're all updated.

So, that's what things look like here, on any given day. And we do get tired, but hey, we're getting to do what we love, so if you'll forgive us the process taking a while, we'll keep trucking!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Weekly Update 6.5

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! It's June! So the work continues of Hero's Journey, and the detour to revisit Trickster and Disguise has been finished. More on that in a moment. John and Anne are back to work on the remaining Blessings. Anne has been working on translating these blessings that, in their current form, look closer to calculus problems, and turning them into understandable text.

But back to disguise. Disguise, in its previous incarnation, was a collection of powers that allowed you to change traits, and to use them together to mix and match to create disguises. Aside from its problematic issues (discussed in Anne's blog post from earlier this week) it also felt clunky in its implementation.

At its core, Disguise is about misrepresenting yourself. But the best con artists are able to turn items around themselves into props to support their misrepresentation. So you can expect to see more abilities to support disguises. Think of things like The Doctor's Psychic Paper.

But in mythology there is precedent for gods and heroes appearing as someone other than themselves. To that end there are still two distinct Shapeshifting blessings, the first is the ability to mimic someone you have seen or met. For that ability, think Mystique, you take on the appearance of a distinct person in toto. In the other you actually create a whole new identity a full construct of a person that you are able to shift into.

Keeping in mind that neither of these abilities give you any skills or knowledge that you didn't have before. They are literally just a facade.

So while vague, hopefully they clear up the fear that disguise won't let you change your appearance. It still will, but it will be more streamlined from its initial implementation.

In other news the art mentioned a few weeks ago, is almost done, and from what I'm told looks great!

That's it for the week, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Design Talk: Disguise Blessings and Conceptual Issues

Normally, I use Wednesday's blogging time to talk about some badass mythological ladies (and believe me, I will keep doing that!), but today, we wrapped up a lot of discussion we've been having lately about the Disguise Talent and its Blessings, so I figured I'd take a minute for a process update.

While we had previously been considering Disguise pretty much completed, we realized that it was having some conceptual problems that needed attention, so we took a break to return to it and address some concerns. These were the kinds of issues that you don't really think about when you're doing the big picture stuff, because you're mired in the swamp of a thousand mechanics and thinking about how you want the powers to be used, but then you get to playtesting, and oh boy.

There are several kinds of Blessings that Heroes can get through the Disguise Talent - among them, Heroes can get Blessings to help them perform spur-of-the-moment emergency disguise procedures, to impersonate other people, to hide their appearance and the appearance of others, and to shapeshift into different forms in an attempt to hide their own identity. Some of these are pretty straightforward; it's pretty easy to figure out how to help Heroes convincingly turn a trashbag into a cloak for a few seconds or convince people that this is really an FBI badge, no, honest. But others were a little complicated - specifically, the shapeshifting powers.

Originally, there were three types of shapeshifting Blessings: ones that caused you to transform into a random person, ones that allowed you to transform into a specific person you were impersonating, and ones that allowed you to transform into an invented person whose details you could specify. I won't go into all the details of their mechanics right now, but the random Blessings were intended to help Heroes who needed to quickly look different from themselves to avoid notice or escape trouble (for example, if being chased by law enforcement, they could quickly transform into someone who did not fit the suspect's description), the impersonation Blessings were meant to allow Heroes to perform shenanigans by posing as others (for example, they could pretend to be the boss of a company in order to sneak in and get access to classified materials), and the design Blessings were intended to give Heroes room to turn into people with specific characteristics as needed (for example, they could fit the general description of a member of an international entourage without being a specific person whose background could be investigated).

The problem with some of these Blessings was not that they didn't work to do what we wanted them to, but rather that they were creating some problematic concerns for players at the table and the game as a whole. Describing how a character changes is all well and good, but some of the Blessings, the random ones in particular, were lending themselves toward encouraging harmful racial stereotypes, and that was something we were definitely not okay with having in the game.

For example, we found that people often might end up using these Blessings to say things like, "Okay, I turn into a Chinese guy." This had a number of problems attached to it:

  • Describing a transformation as "I turn into a Chinese guy" is actually completely meaningless. There's a vast spectrum of different appearances among Chinese people, not to mention a very large number of ethnicities that are all Chinese and are not identical to one another. What this player is actually telling us is, "I turn into what I think a stereotypical Chinese guy looks like," which both doesn't actually tell the other players what they look like, and encourages everyone at the table to come up with their own racial stereotype. Not a good thing.
  • Any player (especially white players, which we are not kidding ourselves are not the majority of our potential audience) saying, "I turn into a Chinese guy" ends up in a weird area where they are in danger of performing harmful stereotypes of Chinese people in an attempt to appear "authentic", or roleplay the transformation effectively and convince those who are looking at them. There are definitely players who can pull off roleplaying a person of an ethnicity other than their own without being offensive or possibly alienating other players, but there are also players who can't, even with the best of intentions, and we don't want to put them in that position. (More importantly, we also don't want players to whom those stereotypes would be hurtful to be in the position of having to endure them.)
  • Having powers that allow players to say "I turn into a Chinese guy" in effect cause the idea of being Chinese - a real and complicated ethnicity with a long history and a complex relationship with the world - to be turned into a costume, which skirts uncomfortably into the territory of yellowface and other behavior that people use to perform stereotypes or present races other than their own as "other" or different from "normal" people. While none of the test players went down this road, there was still a real danger of players trying to "claim" identity with peoples whose experiences they did not share, and in the process browbeat characters (and potentially players!) who were actually of those ethnicities.
  • Players were experiencing some confusion, because these powers allowed them to physically shapeshift into other people, over being disguised as a person who might have different visual traits versus becoming a person who actually was of a different race. Obviously, using a magical power to suddenly look like the Chinese-American guy who lives down the hall from them did not make them also Chinese-American in any way, and we did not want a lot of confusing and uncomfortable conversation between players about their genetic structure or racial identity based on temporarily pretending to be someone they weren't.

Obviously, some of these are issues that have to be at least partially handled by players themselves being aware and not creating a hostile environment in their games. There comes a point where, as game designers, we have to accept that we can't actually stop people from being jerks, nor can we ensure that players don't make accidental missteps; players have to accept responsibility for their own actions, too. But, as responsible game designers, we can do our best to make sure that the Blessings we write don't actively lend themselves to being used poorly, and that we don't create a game that makes it likely for players to be disenfranchised.

Of course, Heroes still need powers that let them shapeshift into a myriad of different forms, which might include anywhere in the spectrum of human appearance and beyond, so we didn't make that impossible or anything. But we did decide, after discussion and attempts to finagle mechanics around to work properly, that the random transformation Blessings just weren't going to cut it, so we had to remove them and move toward working to create other Disguise Blessings that provide the kinds of mythic transformations Heroes of both ancient and modern stories often undergo, but with hopefully less room for misuse. Heroes can disguise themselves as whatever they want, but it was important to us to write powers that make it clear that they are donning a disguise, not becoming someone else, and that those disguises were used in appropriate ways to tell stories and encourage enjoyment, not cause distress or harm to players, even unintentionally.

So, yeah, that's what we've been doing all week: cleaning up our own mess. We apologize for the slight delay, but we hope it'll help the end product be a better and more fun game for everyone!