Friday, November 13, 2015

Monthly Update 11.12

Hello everyone,

Thank you for being patient, or at the very least not digitally storming the castle. I am here with your monthly update. As with many updates there is a mix of progress and setback, and even a question answered.

First, switching things up the question asked by mikijuciso is:

"How many dice will me and my group need once we pick up the game? For starting heroes and for late-game heroes?"

When you pick up the game at the Mortal level you probably won't need much more then 10 dice. As you progress through Mortal, you'll be rolling up to 16 dice. As you journey, surviving and growing (John threw out over the course of several years of play) you will eventually max out at 50 dice after your character has achieved full fledged godhood.

Next, comes good news and a mix of bad.

Good, is that there are only about twenty talents left before finalizing the book goes into effect. The bad part of this, which won't be a surprise if you've been following this blog, is that these are the twenty talents that have vexed Anne and John. They are the rogues gallery of talents, that like to defy balance and definition. So they are taking longer than expected.

The second bad part is harder to talk about; walking the line between honesty and excuses is tough. Throughout this project we have endeavored to be as transparent as possible when it comes to roadblocks and delays (of which there have been many). The core development team for Hero's Journey is Anne and John. They are a two person team, the key drawback of this is that there's not a lot of redundancy.

We know that at this point, many of you just want the finished project, and not hear about the lives of its creators. But the truth of the matter is that Anne has not been well this past month, this is something she is generally able to work through at a diminished capacity, but without details this month has been pretty bad. There have been multiple doctor's visits and her getting healthy has consumed a significant portion of both John and Anne's time.

There has been very little progress on finishing work this month. The good news is that Anne is now on the mend. The bad is that this setback, means that even with the most aggressive timetable, the book will not be in your hands by the end of the year. There aren't any dates that I can give, but what I can say is that the work continues, and I hope to have better news for you next month.

Have a great rest of the month, I will talk to you again on the 4th (but probably the 11th).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mythology Talk: Why Maging is the Hardest

A while ago, we jokingly posted a bunch of unhelpful suggestions from our playtest players, who are bad at suggesting things for us to write blog posts about. One of the posts they suggested was entitled "Why Maging is the Hardest", and was mostly an in-joke based on the fact that the mage characters in our playtest games, especially Bernard the Calamitous, are somewhat constant failboats characterized by no one believing them, accidentally ruining everything with terrible social skills, and using spells that backfire and blow up their party members.

But there's actually a good reason this keeps happening to them, and we're going to explain it today! This boils down to the fact that HJ is based on mythology and folklore, and traditionally, people in mythology and folklore just generally tend to hate Sages (and/or mages).

They hate Sages because Sages ruin everything - or at least, they always feel like they do. Sages show up and tell everyone that awful things are about to happen and then want people to reward them for this service. Sages screw around with magical spells and objects and curses and then, when those things sometimes backfire and scramble the king's brains or tear a slash in the fabric of space-time, they pretend it wasn't their fault or try to convince everyone that it was a necessary side effect of their very important maging work. Sages perform experiments when they don't know what the results will be, and then sometimes those results rain a plague down upon the local countryside. Sages learn all the local politicians' most damning secrets, apparently just for fun, and then accidentally tell them to other people. And they're never sorry, the jackasses.

The thing is, Sages usually actually mean well, or at least they mean well more often than they mean ill. It's just that their powers are scary and most people around them don't understand them very well, which makes sense because the Sage is by definition the person that understands everything better than anyone else. It's hard for the average person to understand that, after some weird dude shows up and explains that your father is going to be bloodily assassinated, it was not in fact that weird dude's fault when that did happen. It looks a lot like they were telling you that they were going to kill your father, or possibly that they did something magical where they caused this to happen by seeing it with their mage brains. The point is, they know things people shouldn't know, and that looks a lot like doing those things, and that means that no one likes the Sage.

This doesn't mean everyone always hates Sages, of course, or that Sages never get to be cool and impressive. Obviously, the Wise Old Sage is a common mythological figure, as is the Benevolent Gandalf-Like Wizard. But they're less common than Evil Wizard, Reckless Experimental Mage, Gloating Prophet, Heartless Agent of Destiny, or They Who Know Too Much types of characters.

So players of Sages tend to find themselves sometimes falling into these roles in HJ. This is especially common if they're primarily Sages - that is, they Sage real hard, and their other skills are used to support their Saging, rather than being separate areas of expertise.

To use Bernard the Woeful as our example again, he is primarily a Sage with a side order of Creator, with a little bit of Hunter and Lover thrown in for flavor. His Creator powers (as they do in myth with figures like Hephaestos or Volund) often appear like offshoots of his Sage powers, since creation and maintenance of magical stuff is so closely bound to the ideas of knowledge and unseen skill. His fellow Heroes know he's a mage, and they know he's good at knowing things, understanding things, interpreting things, and sometimes doing some weird rave moves that affect the fabric of reality or something.

Unfortunately, they hate all those things (even though they like Bernard himself!). He's not a great Lover or Leader, so nine times out of ten they don't even believe him when he tells them some piece of knowledge he came up with - it sounds ridiculous and made up to them since it conflicts with their own experiences. He's just some weird dude who runs around slapping burgers out of peoples' hands and ranting about a supernatural taint in the meat, or screaming "DON'T ANSWER THAT" at the top of his voice every time someone gets a phone call before explaining in what he thinks is a rational tone that the person on the other end is a malevolent fairy. Then, once they do end up discovering that whatever he told them was correct, they resent him for being right and for not saving them from whatever the danger was, and sometimes even suspect him of causing it himself in order to retroactively prove himself right. They never thank him for it.

Similarly, when he does magical things, mostly they just try to stop him or get him out of the public eye. Was he trying to disenchant the fairy connection to that phone, thus enabling them to make calls again without accidentally getting sucked into another world? Well, to them, it looks like he's just being really weird and creepy at them and their phone, and then gods forbid he doesn't make the roll and it explodes, because then he just looks like he attacked their personal electronics with the power of his mind. Was he closing a hole between worlds that allowed a terrible being from the depths of Hades to attempt to reach out into the land of the living? The group is all busy fighting for their lives and has no patience with his decision to stare blankly into the distance for ten minutes while they're all getting shot before declaring that they should be grateful that he rescued them. Was he trying to break a curse that held several zombies in thrall, forcing them to continue attacking people in the area until they were laid to rest properly? Congratulations, the entire neighborhood has reported his cavorting in front of the graves to the police as "unauthorized necromancy".

Essentially, Bernard the Intensely Unfortunate is just the poster child for why maging is often, well, really hard. He knows things other people can't know and does things other people can't understand or even see evidence of happening, so he performs a constant swing back and forth between being considered totally useless and being considered a dangerous loose cannon who ruins everyone's life. It doesn't really matter what he does; if he doesn't perfectly solve everything for everyone forever, he's going to get yelled at. The other players are sympathetic to his plight and often joke with his player, because they've all been there; everyone who's played the Sage is used to being the group's least favorite yet most demanded person.

There are quite a few Sage powers in HJ that mirror this tendency in myth; in particular, Sages have quite a few powers wherein they learn some important information, but can't know ahead of time what it is or how it affects others, For example, the Knowledge Blessing Rare Breed allows them to recognize special enemies they might be facing and relay key information to their fellows in time for it to be used handily. Mechanically, this is great, since it allows them to instantly tell the other Heroes what special powers the enemy has that they need to defend against, and what weaknesses the enemy has that they can exploit... but in a story setting, what it really looks like is that every single time the group fights anything, the Sage runs out in front, announces, "Wait! It's a rare Hungarian fire-breathing dryad, I've read about this!", and then everything is suddenly on fire. Sage powers are often a risk vs. reward situation, and since the other Heroes can't know that's happening, they don't always take the assurance of "Trust me, it would have been worse if I didn't do that!" when they're all dying and wondering how their lives have come to this.

Naturally, not every Sage power does this, and many are just normal, straightforwardly functional Blessings as in any other Aspect area on the Web. Not every Sage is doomed to be Bernard to Beleaguered, either; for example, Sage-Lovers probably have a much easier time convincing people to believe what they say, and Sage-Warriors don't have to worry all that much about their comrades in arms thinking they're useless when it comes down to a fight. But no Hero can do all things, or even really come close, so even carefully tuned Sages with a wide array of skills will probably find themselves hit by the "you said this would happen and then it did and I hate you" stick once in a while.

So, yeah, maging is the hardest, but largely because that's how mages tend to operate in mythic stories. Much as Tricksters always end up shooting themselves in the foot at some point or Lovers end up attracting unwanted attention and having to get rid of it, Sages usually have to handle the consequences of being the only one who actually knows what's going on while the less erudite scream at them to stop fooling around and do something, already.

(Special thanks to the player of Bernard the Chronically Despairing for letting me use him as an example all over this post.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mechanics Talk: Augments and Why They're Cool

Hey, y'all, are you ready to hear about Augments?!

(I know you are because people wrote in to ask about them.)

So, a while ago when we were talking about things that are still being worked on, we mentioned Augments, and you folks have probably been seeing Augments in the Talent and Sphere trees as well. Augments look like this on the trees:

What that swirly magical icon is trying to communicate is that Augments are about changing things and making them fancier and better. While getting new powers is lots of fun, sometimes we want Heroes to also get the option to instead improve the powers they already have. Augments are a way of specializing even further into a Hero's favorite powers, the same way that purchasing different Talents and Aspects allows them to specialize into their favorite skills.

Augments always refer to a specific Blessing, and they always alter it in some way so that it becomes cooler. A given Augment might make a Blessing affect different or more targets, last longer, have an extra capability, increase its range, change its cost, or anything else that is appropriate to that specific power. For example, a Divine-level Streetwise Blessing allows Heroes to reshape a city's local structure to fit their whims, allowing them to briefly change what streets go where and how humanmade buildings and landmarks are shaped and connected; this Blessing only allows the Hero to temporarily bend a city's design to their will, but an Augment exists that allows them to make such changes permanent, twisting cityscapes into new fantastic features. Obviously, the original power was already cool, but with the Augment, it's even cooler - which is what Augments are supposed to do!

Augments are always optional - they're intentionally put off the beaten path of the Talent and Sphere trees, so that only players who are looking to get them pick them up, and players who don't care about them or don't have the Blessings they refer to can easily pass them by to progress onward to other stuff. Not every Blessing has an Augment that affects it, either, since some powers are more easily self-contained or don't have a good avenue for an Augment to buff up.

From our perspective as designers, Augments are really neat because they allow us to do some more fine-tuned balancing stuff. If we really want to have a power that does certain things, but it would be overpowered if it included all the possible ways it's used in myth and legend, we can pare it down to just the most core "essentials" and use Augments to provide the option for the rest. We can also include things that are sort of niche powers that appear in a few myths but aren't the more "mainstream" use of that sort of power; that way, everyone can pick up the mainstream version, and those who have an interest in the specialty version can go out and find it.

It's also a nice way to allow a little more variation between different Heroes who might have the same Talents or Blessings. Of course, different Heroes already have a lot of room to distinguish themselves from one another even if they have the same Talents or Spheres, thanks to choosing different nodes in the Web or Sphere trees, but Augments add another layer of specialty where even Heroes with the same powers may not use them exactly the same way.

Obviously Augments are the last thing that are going to be finished for HJ, since all the Blessings have to be 1000% done first before we can be sure that they balance and connect properly with all the Blessings. We haven't mentioned them too much for that reason, since we wouldn't be able to show many off, but in addition to making notes on Blessings that we know will have Augments in the future, we're getting close to being able to finally attach these suckers.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Update Next Week

So, we try to save our monthly meeting until the last possible moment to give you the most information that we can in these. It makes sudden hiccups or conflicts pretty bad, so we are again having the delay updates until next week.

So in conclusion, and to reiterate.