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.


  1. This post raises a few questions.

    How often do Heroes wind up with no dice in one stat? How many dump stats do starting characters have?

    If someone has dots in an Aspect, but not in the Ability, does that mean they end up with no dice? If my hypothetical Creator has a bunch of Energy and Vision but no Art, does he automatically fail, or does the Creator aspect help him a little?

    If there's a mechanic wherein a character with no dots automatically fails, are there any where a character with maxed dots automatically succeeds?

    1. Quick answers!

      Heroes are intended to only be good in a few areas - they will start at base character creation with three Aspects they can roll and four they can't. Except for Striving on anything they wish, of course.

      You're swapped backwards - Aspects grant dice, Talents grant successes. So if you have Creator, you always have dice to roll whether you have a dot in the relevant Talent or not. You're still a Creator, even if not a specialized on in that area. :)

      Technically there is no auto-succeed mechanic for Heroes with maxed stats, partly because "maxed" is a pretty fluid thing in the system. However, since rolls are based on difficulties set by the GM, a lot of rolls will be "auto-succeed" in the sense that someone maxed is basically always going to destroy them unless the roll was specifically designed to challenge them. Depends on what the roll is about.

    2. I should have said "starting Heroes" in that first line - Heroes are encouraged to spread out to any stats they want as they start playing. But they start with only three areas of expertise.

      This is actually a point in favor of the Strive mechanic being weighted "toward" lower-level Heroes - they have fewer stats, but their Strives are worth a little more. As they grow and have the opportunity to branch out, they need them less and they get a little less mathematically important.

      Still not sure if that works for the higher-level folks, though.

  2. Personally, I like this. I've played a lot of systems over the years, but nothing frustrates the GM more than "The friggin' cook's a S.E.A.L.?" Legendary Heroes are typically known for being good at one thing, whether it's Mighty Strength, or Seducing Everything The Breathes, or Stealing The Clothes Off Your Back While You Are Wearing Them. The Strive mechanic means it's a really wise idea to have a balanced party when trying to save the world, because if you have four Mighty Warriors, you just might have trouble charming the Key To The World Vault away from it's keepers, or breaking into the Temple of Crimson Doom. I like the mechanic and I like that everyone can't do everything.

  3. Are there ways/means/powers/favours that affect Strive? Make it cheaper to use, or more powerful? I like the idea of someone pulling off stunts he's never done before out his ass!

    1. This actually happened in one of our playtests sessions where Mevlin Strive'd an attack (Mr 0 Warrior) and it got bolstered by Mika's Vision of Loveliness (which gave a bonus cause he is so pretty) and Melvin ended up one shot-ing an enemy that had his defense lowered by a Tactics power from Weyland. Maintaining the illusion that Melvin is indeed the greatest warrior among us but chooses NOT to fight unless he must. Such a hero.

    2. There are things that affect Strive, although not a ton of them.

  4. As an add-on to Griff's question above, what happens if I have Web of Fate bonuses to Talents I have no dice in? What if I pick up a +1 to Naturalism from, say, the Water Sphere, and have no dots in Naturalism? What if I further have no dots in Hunter? Does that mean I have to waste Renown on a Node that doesn't help me only to get a power I want?

    1. Bonuses from the web are always successes, so you still won't get to roll any dice, but the bonus still counts. If you don't strive, you just get a 1 on the roll from the +1 bonus. If you do strive, you get to do a strive with a +1 bonus. :)

      This is actually a pretty important little detail, because Strive normally overwrites whatever your normal roll is (technically, you can strive on any roll, even one that you have dots in, although it's generally not worth it in most cases). But bonuses from the web always apply. so your Renown was always spent wisely!