Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mechanics Talk: Fire in the Sky

All right, so time to talk about some more mechanics! There have been recent rumblings about Domains and Spheres, and since we already talked about their Talent counterparts a little while ago, now seems good.

Domains and Aspects use roughly the same mechanics - they provide dice to roll on the same scales and have sub-specialties, the Spheres, which provide mechanical benefit to those rolls just like the Talents do to the Aspects. And they have nodes to specialize in, so that just like the Aspects and Talents, two different Heroes who have Domains and Spheres in common aren't necessarily identical (although the trees for the Spheres are less extensive, so there's more overlap potential).

The Domains and Spheres are mostly different in that you don't use them for heroic actions, regardless of the situation. Adventuring calls for rolls from the Aspects and Talents, but there aren't any situations where you'll be called upon to just roll Elemental or Spiritual (at least, not in the base system, although I'm sure a creative Destiny might come up with a situation now and then where it might become relevant). They instead roll purely for their own Blessings, which are magical powers that by nature are the sort that regular, non-Heroic folks just don't have access to. (This is a little different from the Talents, which have Blessings that regular, skilled specialists like scientists or artists might have access to, as well as Blessings that are purely Heroic.)

The Sphere Trees look different from the Web of Fate as a result, with a smaller total number of nodes (because investment into Domains and Spheres is more optional than Aspects and Talents) and more of them dedicated to Blessings, which are the main point of the Spheres. There are still nodes that grant bonuses and resources, just like in the Web, but a smaller percentage. And the Blessings in them are, on the whole, more powerful than those in the Talents: the first reason is because they don't come with the side benefit of a dot that is relevant to everyday rolls in a Hero's career, and the second reason is because the Spheres are where the truly supernatural powers are, and being a wielder of them is impressive!

The neat thing about Domains is that characters can one hundred percent choose to get them, or not, and still be valid and exciting Heroes either way. There are Heroes and deities throughout different mythologies who both clearly have Domains and who clearly don't; the example we usually use when we talk about it in character generation is Herakles, who like many of the hyper-specialized Greek heroes just does basically one thing. Since that one thing is represented over in the Aspects - Warrior, for the most part - he's an example of an effective hero with no Domains at all. On the other hand, a Hero with obvious Domains might be the Sybil of Cumae, whose obvious powers in the Death Sphere allowed her to help guide the future father of Rome, Aeneas, on his journey through the underworld. More pop culture examples are everywhere - for example, in DC's Justice League, Cyborg, Flash, and Batman are great examples of Heroes all in on Aspects and Talents (Trickster, Creator, Warrior), while right next to them Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman are obviously asserting powers from the Domains and Spheres (Celestial, Elemental).

Neither is "better" than the other - it'd be hard to say Ares is "worse" than Apollo just because he only does Aspects instead of Domains, so a lot just depends on what a given player wants their Hero to do and represent. Domains are impressive, supernatural, flashy; Aspects are workhorses, needed all the time and capable of heroic feats without the aid of, to all intents and purposes, extra "magic". Domains are Heroes tapping into cosmic, universal forces to help them; Aspects are their own personal, inborn purpose and skills.

Since Domains are optional, and they require a Renown investment that isn't going to Aspects, most Heroes in playtests have tended toward not really expanding into them until they've had enough time to feel comfortable about their Aspects and Talents first, so progress in them has been slow. For the most part, the older a character is and the more time they've had to develop, the more likely they are to have Domains, which makes sense in a narrative sense - "higher level" characters in stories, heading up toward Immortal and Divine, usually tend to have more of those obviously cosmic powers! There are however, brief spates of Domain excitement now and then whenever a character uses a Sphere power and all the other players go, "oh my god, did you just call up mist out of the sea/set that guy on lightning/beat the house at roulette, where is that power", so the coolness factor sometimes overwhelms people.

Domains are expandable, with six more Spheres planned for the future after the first core set comes out (so if you're one of those people going "why on earth can I get an Elemental Domain but it doesn't have any Earth powers?", that's why!).


  1. So, questions :

    1. Do Domains/Spheres cost the same as Aspects/Talents to buy? Cuz on the one hand they're a lot less useful in everyday situations for just doing things, and on the other hand they do apparently pack a raw punch that can outshine Talent Blessings, so I can see them going anywhere cost wise.

    2. So, how magical do Talent Blessings get? I imagine most of them are things that the average bystander wouldn't register as magical, at least at the Mortal level, but even at Mortal we can see in the Talent trees such blatantly magical seeming Blessing names as Phantom Image and straight up Shape-Changing (though I get that thanks to the general design principles of HJ there's nothing stopping me from fluffing Shape-Changing as just being an extremely well put together body suit, depending on how you fluff it, just like you can always say that your Lover Empathy powers are literally psychic powers instead of just a really good ability to read people), but I can't imagine that Divine Tier Unarmed is 'Here's five different ways to punch something really hard'.

    3. Wonder Woman is using what Domain? She seems like a very clear Warrior/Lover with a side of Leader to me. (Potential Spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen Wonder Woman yet: well I guess minus the whole thunderbolt flinging finale of the Wonder Woman movie, so I guess if they kept that in Justice League, which I haven't seen yet, she is doing Thunder).

    4. Not a question, but I love to think of Aspects and Domains being like the Metaphysical embodiments of the Human and Inhuman powers of the Universe, while, the Devotionals straddle the middle ground, with Ritual being Human Devotion, Theology being Inhuman Devotion, and Divinity being the central pillar of the whole system :D

    5. I assume the six is two Spheres to each Domain, which is where we'll see these Sphere Augments balance each other out? Any potential spoilers for what Powers come in the Future? (Besides Earth, which you just mentioned of course :) )

    Also, I feel this is an appropriate juncture to both reiterate my desire to see Sphere Augments spoiled, and to iterate a desire to see the newly revamped Divine Favor system :)

    1. Answers!

      1) Yes, they cost the same - they don't get rolled normally but they have more and more powerful Blessings to even it out.

      2) You're right, a lot depends on the definition of "magical"! Not every Talent Blessing is "magical" in the sense of "thing human beings in the real world can't normally do" - there are Blessings that represent greater skill in an area, or specialized knowledge/focuses that human technically can learn but usually don't. There are also Blessings that are more obviously "magical", in the sense that human beings can't actually shapeshift or throw lightning bolts at people.

      The Talents have a lot more of the "non-magical" Blessings, partly because they're in charge of all the "non-magical" actions that Heroes take in the game, but they have some "magical" Blessings, too; and the Spheres have mostly "magical" Blessings, but they have some that are "non-magical" as well (for example, Moon has a Blessing that grants its user bonuses to things because they are aligned with the moon phases/tides - it's invisible, so it might seem like that Hero is just more competent, or people might not notice it at all, but it's still there.

      There's also some leveling involved; Immortal and Divine Blessings are much more likely to be magical whether they're in the Talents or the Spheres, versus Mortal Blessings are more likely to have Blessings representing things that Mortal Heroes, who are after all humans, being good at human stuff.

      You are correct, Divine Unarmed powers are not just new ways to punch people, but we'll have to wait to see those...

      3) Ha, yes, I was referring to the recent movies, where Wonder Woman clearly demonstrates Elemental powers. Depending on her time period and series, she sometimes wields lightning powers, and is often immune to electricity as well as to fire. (She, Aquaman, and Superman are a very obvious contrast to the human Heroes in the JLA, which is why I grabbed them as examples!)

      Figuring out what powers they might have is always a die roll with any comic character, given how long most of their histories are and how often they've changed powersets!

      4) That's a great description! :)

      5) Correct, each Domain is starting with three Spheres now, and will gain two more in the future. Your guess of Earth is correct, and might I suggest since the sun and moon are already celestially represented, their smaller cousins might also like a turn?...

      Desire noted!