Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mechanics Talk: The Birth of a Hero

All right, y'all, tomorrow is my birthday so I'm queuing this up ahead of time, and I hope you all enjoy it! Here's a quick walk through character creation - let's follow a fictional player, Lola, as she builds her first Hero!

Lola is a playtester and has access to the character creation chapter of HJ, so she looks over the list of steps and starts with the basics: what kind of Hero does she want to play? She isn't really very sure on the details yet - she's more of a develop-as-you-go-along type - but she's pretty sure she wants to save people who need it, and she likes the idea of being a sort of action archaeologist like Indiana Jones. She considers the list of Archetypes, and decides that her archaeologist idea could work for Preserver (a character who wants to help find and put important artifacts into museums), but ultimately that Explorer (a character who wants to go new places and experience new things) is a better fit, since she might end up damaging or stealing things in the process. For her second Archetype, she considers both Champion and Savior; Champions are about meeting new challenges and overcoming dangers, which is appealing, but she decides that Saviors get to do that, too, when they're saving people from them, and it matches better with her idea of rescuing people who need it.

So now that Lola knows her character is an Explorer/Savior with a background of traveling the world investigating archaeological sites, she gives her a name - Julia Islington III, from a long line of intrepid lady explorers - and that gives her the idea that maybe some of her ancestors might have been part of the British archaeological craze in Egypt in the nineteenth century, and she decides it'd be neat that an Egyptian god remembers it and has chosen her as a Hero. She isn't sure which one yet, since she isn't very familiar with them, but she'll keep it in mind as she goes on to get her stats.

Each Archetype grants a package of specific Aspect and Talent dots, designed to make sure that a starting Hero can do things that their Archetype will push them to do. Because Julia is an Explorer, she starts with a lot of Hunter, designed to let her travel in the wilderness and survive outside the comforting embrace of civilization if she has to; specifically, she gets a dot each of Mettle, Naturalism, and Pursuit, representing that she's good at traveling and navigating in the wild, and two dots of Tracking to represent that finding her way and investigating things is something she's especially good at. The Explorer Archetype also gives her a little bit of Trickster, representing that she can also explore in more urban environments, and she specifically gets a dot each of Legerdemain, representing manipulating and maybe even breaking into places if she has to, and Streetwise, representing that she can find her way and blend in in human-settled areas as well.

That's good for exploring, but Julia's also a Savior, so Lola goes to check out the stats she gets from that Archetype. Saviors wear a lot of hats in their quest to help people out, so she gets three stats for this one; first, she gets a little Creator, with a dot each of Energy, which will let her sustain and heal people as needed; Vision, which will let her come up with creative comforts and solutions; and Willpower, which will help her keep going so she doesn't collapse when people need her. She also gets some Lover, with a dot each of Beauty (for attracting positive attention), Inspiration (for helping others be their best selves), and Persuasion (for convincing people to let her help or at least get out of her way; and she rounds out with a drop of Sage, giving her a dot of Mysticism so that she can meddle in magical forces if she has to in order to help someone (or at least not be completely clueless about it).

Lola notes that Julia doesn't have any Warrior or Leader; the first one worries her a little since it means that bad guys would be hard to fight, but she reasons that her archaeologist isn't here to fight people anyway - she's here to find information and maybe make her fortune, and rescue people from cave-ins along the way! She's not concerned about not having any Leader, since she's used to being more of a solo flyer and isn't interested in bossing other people around. There are other Heroes in the group as well, so she thinks it's likely someone will have some skill in those areas (and if not, they'll just have to solve bad-guy problems some other way besides punching them, like running away or leading them into hostile swamps).

Now that she has her base stats, Lola gets to choose her Endowments - the two extra systems she has access to as a Mortal. One of them is automatically the Hunter Endowment, Persistence, since she has two dots of it; she marks down that her Persistence applies to Mettle, since she plans to have more of that than the other passive Talent points. Normally, her other highest Aspect would give her her second Endowment, but since she has everything else tied at one dot, she gets to choose; after some deliberation, she decides to go with the Trickster Endowment of Gambits, since she anticipates that Julia's career as a tomb robber and people-saver might call for some close escapes from danger.

In addition to Archetypes and Aspects, Julia will start with one Domain and one of its Spheres, so Lola investigates the nine options. She isn't sure if the mighty powers of the Elementals are for her - they seem kind of bombastic - and the Celestials are neat but abstract, so she decides that she'll go for Spiritual, choosing Fortune so that Julia can have a little more luck than the average Hero. She also likes that in the future, she'll be able to spread easily out into the other Spiritual Spheres, Life and Death, which might help her in her role as a Savior because they could help people. She gets the first Blessing in Fortune, Lucky Break, and notes it down for the future.

Lola adds the basics that all characters start with: a certain number of health boxes, a Defense of 1, two Reserves (equal to her Archetype dots), and the base points of Inspiration and Mettle that she gets from having dots in them. She starts with three of each kind of Labor, but then realizes she has to choose her divine patron to get her bonus Labors, so it's time to go read up on the Egyptian gods! She doesn't know much about them, but she looks at their bonus Labors to see which ones she might get the most use out of, and decides on Anubis, since she's a tomb-robber and he's a tomb-guardian and she thinks he might find the idea of kicking her out to right some of the wrongs her ancestors committed cosmically appropriate. He grants her one extra Labor that can only be used for Creator Blessings, one that can only be used for Sage Blessings, and four that can only be used for Spiritual Blessings, so she has lots of motivation to keep advancing in Fortune!

Finally, it's time to go the Web of Fate. Each dot she has in a Talent gives her one node in the Web in that area, and once she's spent those, she gets twelve bonus nodes to put anywhere else she likes. Once she's done so (she puts her extras into Energy and Naturalism, and Fortune over in the Spheres), she ends up with ten Blessings in various areas as well as five more health boxes, three more passive Talent points, three bonus successes to resistance Talents, and an extra success to Disguise. Finally, she knows she's a Hero for the Egyptian gods now, so she begins with Serekh, the first of the Devotional Blessings on the Divinity track, and decides to choose Nefer on the Ritual track for her second one, hoping to progress down both tracks in the future.

And now Julia Islington III, professional ruin-crawler and rescuer of children fallen down wells, is ready to start her first Chapter!

Obviously, Lola will probably do a little more work to come up with things about her Hero's backstory and goals to help Destiny plan the story along, but she has everything she needs mechanically to jump in. In the future, she'll gain a node to put anywhere on the Web or in the spheres each Chapter, and one point of Renown to spend toward buying new dots - but for now, she's an exploration machine ready to start her journey!


  1. So... You're starting Aspects and Talents are completely determined by your starting Archetypes... I don't know how I feel about that :| Actually, I do... I don't like it :(

    I can understand that you want characters to start with some basic ability to fulfill their Archrtypal duties (a Ruler with no Leader or an Artisan with no Creator is likely to not be advancing 'in level', so to speak, particularly quickly) and I'm totally not against the idea of having Archetypes come with pre-packaged stats (I'm actually quite fond of that)... but I am not fond of not having any way to customize it beyond that at chargen.

    You will not believe how hopeful I got when I reached the sixth paragraph and went 'Oh, phew... so now is where she uses her bonus points to add in some Leader/Warrior' and then it turned out that nope, such was not the case :(

    And yes, I know that she can buy new stats as soon as she wants with Renown, but there's one problem I see with that (besides the whole 'every Archetype combo starts out with the exact same Talent points' thing) and that's Endowments... Endowments are a big draw of each Aspect and this way they're essentially Archetype locked. And unless you guys changed that the Endowments you get at chargen last till Immortal tier.

    All that aside though... Happy Birthday :D

    "May She, who is the Mountain-King's Daughter when with the Great Lord of Auspiciousness,
    Who is also the Lotus-Born Mistress of All Aims when beside the All-Encompassing Spirit with Unshorn Locks,
    Who is the Most-Beloved of the Ever-Expanding Creative Mind, the Ever-Flowing Essence of the Self,
    May She, Who is This Ever-Beautiful Universe, be pleased with thee."

    - From the Kamala Stotram, in praise of Shakti :D ... here's hoping you have a wonderful birthday and upcoming holidays :D

    1. Thank you, it was a fun birthday! :)

      This is true, Endowments are "Archetype locked"... sort of. Your two highest Aspects will determine your Endowments (if you have ties, you choose), so if you picked Archetypes whose stats don't include the ones that the Endowments come from, you won't have them as an option. A Champion/Ruler can't start the game with Gambits, because they just aren't going to start with any Trickster.

      But - that's intentional. Someone who isn't focused on Trickster shouldn't have Gambits, which are specifically shenanigans Tricksters get up to. None of the stats the Archetype packages give are accidental - they were all chosen to closely align with what those kinds of Heroes do, so only someone who is choosing Archetypes that do little in the way of Trickstering is going to end up locked out of Gambits. You can do it, but only by picking Archetypes that, by nature, are not very conducive to Trickstering (in my example above, Champions have "never back down or run from a challenge" as one of their mission statements, so Gambits are pretty anathema to them anyway, and while Rulers can avoid or shimmy their way out of things, they shouldn't be doing that much if they're actually trying to Rule).

      For the most part, "locking out" an Endowment isn't a common problem, either. There are twelve Archetypes and therefore 66 different possible combinations you could have, and the Aspects are spread as evenly as possible between them; four of the Archetypes (Citizen, Explorer, Magician, and Rebel) give Trickster dots and the potential for Gambits, meaning 38/66 Archetype setups can probably get you the option of Gambits (Rebel actually comes with guaranteed Gambits, while the other three, depending on the other Archetype you choose, have good odds of letting you choose them). Obviously y'all can't see the exact point spread, but it's done with care to make sure that both players who want to choose Archetypes and let Endowments fall where they may and players who want a specific Endowment without being constrained to a small pool of options can have room to choose.

      Thank you for the lovely prayer!

  2. Cool I can dig it. Goodluck to this fictional fictional Julia in her quests, I hope she comes across a Preserver antagonist who screams 'that belongs in a museum!'

    1. I'm a big fan of the duels between Preservers who think things belong in museums and Preservers who think things should stay with the original cultures/sites and not be moved. The academic drama!

  3. Yes, Happy Birthday - and Merry Christmas while I'm at it!
    I think I'm in the same boat as Samudra - I'm not crazy about the "Archetypes give you a fixed set of abilities" design. If you had bonuses for certain things, to encourage a Leader who has Leadership, or a Lover who has Persuasion, and then had a few dots to spend as you wanted, that would leave more room to customize a character. As it stands, there seems to be a real risk of "Everyone who takes Archetype X will have the same abilities", which also encourages Munchkins. Is the example given intended to imply that a lot of the Aspects and Talents will be mandatory? What if your version of Julia doesn't want "Lover" or "Trickster"? Can you choose to pick other skills and stats to go in the Archetype you pick, or are you limited from the start? It isn't clear if the character example given is CHOOSING where to put dots, or if the placing of dots is MANDATORY given her Archetype and Aspects. Again, with Endowments, it states that one of those choices is MANDATORY, again leaving you little option with the direction you can go in.
    As usual, I grant that we're only seeing a peek under the hood, and maybe there's a lot more flexibility here than I'm seeing - but I'm starting to suspect that there is going to be a lot [too much?] of an emphasis on none-too-gently directing players into certain specific roles based on the mythic archetypes, instead of leaving them the freedom to customize.
    But I could be entirely wrong. Time [and previews] will tell!

    1. Archetypes come with a set pack, so if Julia is an Explorer, she's going to have Hunter whether she wants it or not. This is very much on purpose - if she wants to be an effective Explorer, not being able to find her way out of her own backyard is a major problem, so she has stats that make sure she actually can fulfill that role (same thing with Trickster, where her stats are designed to also let her be able to explore in urban environments).

      There are some Archetypes that are "heavy" on one stat and some that are more "generalized" - heavy Archs get one stat they're very good at and one supplementary stat, versus generalized ones get three stats they're reasonably competent in (or, in the case of Citizen, four - seven is an awkward number, y'all).
      Companion, for example, is heavy on Lover because connecting with other people is the larger part of what Companions do, so they need to be better at it than just a casual couple of stats, but because they're great at that, they get only Creator as a secondary stat set. A Magician, on the other hand, gets some Sage and some Creator and some Trickster, because "change the universe according to my grand design" is a less focused banner plan than "interact with people and form bonds".

      (Obviously, because you get two Archetypes, you never start with stats in fewer than three out of seven Aspects if you pick two of the specialized ones that happen to have an overlap, and could start with up to six out of seven if you start with Citizen + one of the other generalized ones that doesn't overlap. There's lots of room for widely different spreads.)

      Endowment choice above is based on your two highest Aspects once you're done with chargen, so Julia here ended up with Persistence as a mandatory choice because she had higher Hunter than any other stat, and chose her other one since she had ties between her other stats. It's possible to create characters that have both of their Endowments "mandatorily" chosen - because that character is frontloaded in two stats and they're obviously what they're about, like an Artisan/Companion who is rolling in Creator and Lover and whose Trickster clearly isn't a contender for most important stat - but it's also possible to create a character with six evenly tied Aspects who just picks two of them. We assume some players will be more about "give me the heavy stat investment for specializing, I'll take the attached Endowments", and others will be more about "I want to choose from a wide variety of options and have lots of potential growth paths", and both are present!

      These packages are actually very carefully set up not to allow any munchkining past a certain point - they all have equivalent XP/stat values and no combination gives better or higher value results than another (some do give you two stats higher versus more stats lower, but that doesn't matter point-wise - all dots cost the same amount of XP in HJ and you trade off by being forced to either not make rolls or Strive a lot more when you choose to be better at fewer things). I didn't mention it for Julia above there, but there is also a rule that only four of a character's twelve free nodes can go into a specific Talent or Sphere at chargen, to prevent anyone starting the game with every Weaponry node and cheesing the place up right away. ;)

    2. (Jeez, overtyped and had to cut the comment into two!)

      I can see how it would look like HJ characters aren't allowed to be anything but their Archetypes, but remember that characters have vast customizability options - they can literally buy anything for an equivalent price and get any skills and combinations they want to as soon as they start the game. They do start with a base skillset from their Archetype, but the goal is not to keep the character locked in there, but rather to give them the start tools to succeed before they've had time to do anything yet. Once they start actually playing, they have no restrictions on what they can buy or where they can put points; if you like, it's more that they start as very Archetypal character ideas when they haven't been played yet, and then blossom into complex and variously-optioned selves as they start actually doing things.

      Basically, the game allows progression in ten zillion different directions, and starting characters with archetypal beginning stats is both useful to model the story archetypes that the game is based on and to make sure that players start with usable skills in the areas they're interested in. What they do after that is completely up to them.

      (Reading all these comments on a festive Christmas Eve, John is suggesting next to me that we might do a livestream of character creation, maybe with volunteers or something, in the future, since this is a lot and it can be kind of hard to discuss in text without the full rules in front of everyone. We'll see!)

    3. ADDITIONAL THOUGHT (sorry, there's just lots to talk about and I may have had some cider):

      Every Archetype that grants an Aspect doesn't grant the same Talent spread within it, either; for example, both Ruler and Jester grant Leader, but the Jester has dots in Diplomacy and Purpose, because they're about bringing joy and making the world a happier place so they focus on motivation and peacemaking, while the Ruler has all four but is frontloaded on Sovereignty because it's their job to be the boss. Meanwhile, the Citizen also has some Leader, but they have Diplomacy and Tactics, because they need to be able to either negotiate for or defend their community. All three come with Leader stats, but that doesn't translate to an identical map of roll potential or web nodes and opportunities.

      (As I said in last week's post, even if two players take the exact same Archetypes, they get to customize with pantheon, patron, node placement in the web, Domain/Sphere... they potentially could have similar roles, but being close enough to render each other redundant is unlikely, and being identical is almost impossible without focused effort.)

    4. I volunteer for tribute for character creation. I wanna make a poppa bear guy for Thor who's a war vet and now works as a Gym teacher and operates a soup kitchen.

  4. Also, what happens when the two Archetypes you pick give you bonuses to the same Talent... Surely all twelve archetypes can't have completely mutually exclusive talent spreads... What if after Explorer you then pick up another Archetype that gives you Tracking... It can't go beyond two at chargen.

    And @Purple... As I understand it your Endowments are determined by which two Aspects you have as your highest during Chargen... Unfortunately, if your Aspects are determined by your Archetypes then there's no way to aim for any Endowment.

    And while some Archetypes strongly and readily suggest themselves to Aspects, like Ruler to Leader and Artisan to Creator, what about the more nebulous ones... if I wanted a forest wandering ascetic Scholar, where would I get my Hunter from (I'm assuming Scholar gets Sage)? Will I have to pick up a Hunter Archetype like Explorer even though my character hasn't set foot outside the same forest for decades? And isn't particularly interested in exploring.

    There really needs to be additional layer of customization here, otherwise you'll just have people picking up Archetypes based on what Aspects they want, not what kind of heroes they want to be. You just said in the last discussion Anne that Archetypes determine what your hero believes in and why they're a hero... While Aspects determine how they achieve those goals... But now all I can see is that they apparently determine both. And they most definitely determine your Endowments, there's no getting away from that.

    1. There are specific dot amounts of each Aspect and Talent that are granted by each Archetype pack, so they aren't always the same, and if you pick something that grants both, you'll just get more dots and probably be more badass at that thing. For example, Ruler gives a dot of Warrior with 1 Weaponry and 1 Brawn, and Preserver gives a dot of Warrior with 1 Unarmed and 1 Brawn, so if you were a Preserver Ruler, you'd end up with 2 Warrior, 1 Unarmed, 1 Weaponry, and 2 Brawn. There are cases where the overlap causes a dot to "disappear" because starting characters can't go above two dots, but only in cases where a heavy Archetype (see comment to PS above) was crossed with a generalized one and the generalized one already had "bonus" dots. John has done some truly stunning amount of math on this and assures me that each of the 66 options balances out the same.

      (There are very few of those overlaps, though. Fun fact: there is no other Archetype that starts you with Tracking, so your example is actually impossible - Champions, Citizens, and Preservers all start with some Hunter, but they grant different combinations of Talents, and only the Explorer gives Tracking. Of course, people who start without Tracking dots can still roll their Hunter dice if they want to track, and buy dots later if they want to get better at it.)

      Your third paragraph is mostly addressed by that whole heavy/generalized thing I said to PS above! :) Your ascetic wandering the forest is probably a Scholar + another Aspect that has a little Hunter in it - Preserver, maybe. Or, alternatively, he wanders around the forest but doesn't have any Hunter, and that's why he's wandering instead of doing anything there - he can still be a forest-dwelling ascetic even if he doesn't know how to find his way around or is bad at scrounging for food (that'll just add to the ascetic vibe. Maybe he has great Creator so his Willpower rolls help him out if he eats the wrong mushrooms now and then). Or, alternatively, maybe he is in a forest for story reasons determined by you, but isn't actually about the forest; why is he in a forest, and not the kind of Sage who hangs out in a city temple to talk to people? If the answer is just "for the forest aesthetic" or "because it's a classic Sage thing I wanted to use because it's cool", it doesn't really matter if he's not good at woodcraft, because his story wasn't actually about the forest and he's probably going to go do other stuff once his Saga starts anyway. (And that's fine. Tropes are tropes for a reason and having things in character backstories or descriptions just because they're resonant or you like them or they're common story motifs you think are awesome is always okay!)

    2. You're right, some players do pick their Archetypes based on the Aspects they want... but that's just reverse-engineering the same process. Somebody wants to be a combat monster, so they go Champion/Explorer to get as much Warrior and Hunter as possible - good! That's great! The Champion/Explorer's goals are to travel to exciting new places and fight dangerous enemies there - they should be people who have lots of Warrior. Someone who wants to optimize for fighting stuff presumably likes fighting stuff and wants their character to fight stuff, so having to take the Archetype that says "you want to fight stuff" to get those stats is 100% working as intended. If we've done our job right, there shouldn't be any situations where choosing your Archetypes based on the stats you want ends you up with Archetypes that don't make sense - that's the whole point of the attached packages, that they illustrate what kinds of things those heroic Archetypes are likely to do. If you want to make cool stuff, you're not "forced" to take Artisan - Artisan literally says "I want to make cool stuff", it's doing exactly what the stat attached to it is doing.

      (Granted, generalization stats like Citizen or Savior are a little less on the nose, because they have a lot of dimensions in which they could do things, but even so, their stats were chosen carefully to be ones that those Archetypes would be in favor of using. None of these are random stat assignments.)

      So whether a player goes "I want to be X Archetype, who has X goal, so I need X stat to achieve that" or "I want to have X stat to do things, so I choose X Archetype, who has X goal", X should always work out to the same thing. It should be the same forwards as backwards, in the vast majority of cases.

      (Playtests have seen players take both approaches, which is always interesting. Some folks roll in with a firm "I want to seduce things and steal stuff" plan and pick their Archetypes to optimize their Trickster and Lover, and some folks describe how their character became a Hero and what drives them to succeed, and their Archetypes give them the stats to match.)

  5. It all looks very "character-classy" - I take an Archetype, and my options are limited to those abilities that are linked directly to it, and no others. Maybe you can branch out later, but that isn't clear from the example given.

    1. You absolutely can! You can literally buy anything you want to with XP, forever, after character creation. The chargen goal is to give your character starting stats that align with their goals and make sure they don't accidentally have a hole where they can't do things their archetypes will probably want to do, but it locks in absolutely nothing about your future progress. You could go off and buy completely different things than you started with and never touch the originals again if you wanted to (though most don't, given they're hopefully useful ones to your chosen Archs!).

  6. Also, how come she has a dot of Pursuit, but no Pursuit starting Blessing at least?

    1. Damn, because I accidentally left it off. She should have Escape Velocity!

  7. See, this is why I always add "I could be wrong because I don't have the whole picture yet". :-) If customization after creation is as open as you say, that eliminates my worry about static character classes. And most of my other concerns also seem to be addressed here - I'll have to unpack this all after the holidays. Thanks for the responses, enjoy the cider, and have a Merry Christmas/solstice/festivus as well!

    1. Yeah, it's hard to talk about the whole picture with missing pieces, it's always good to hear questions so I know what to try to catch up!

      And yeah, as far as something like a character class goes, really the only thing that functions like that is your pantheon/patron - those can never be changed after character creation, and your pantheon decides what Devotionals you can buy, so that is a chargen-only choice. Archetypes themselves don't change much, either, but you do get an opportunity to re-choose them at Immortal and Divine, in case your character has realized they just aren't into the Scholar gig anymore.

      Let us know if you have more questions, and have a great holiday! :)