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.
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.