Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mechanics Talk: Stats and their Mission Statement

All right, here's a great big post about base mechanics, because we've had people asking: how do stats work in HJ, and why do they work that way? So here we go!

So what are HJ's stats?

Hero's Journey doesn't use an ability/attribute type of mechanical setup, where characters have a certain score in a characteristic like Strength or Wisdom that affects how good they are at things. (To be clear, lots of games do use this sort of system, including some of the big ones, like Dungeons and Dragons or the World of Darkness games, and they're great! It's a solid approach.) Instead, HJ uses a role-based system, where characters have a certain score in a certain role, like Trickster or Hunter, and how invested they are in that role determines how good they are at things. It has a little in common with games that have classes (like Paladin or Mage), but differs in that these are the specific things you roll to do and achieve things, rather than signifiers that attach things to a character. (Which pantheon your character works for is closer to a traditional view of a class!)

These stats are rolled against a difficulty, for most actions - that is, Destiny will determine that the Heroes need a 6 or better to notice this sneaky ghost or to successfully disarm this bomb, letting different tasks be flexible on roll requirements depending on how difficult a task should be and how good at it the Heroes probably are.

What's the difference? Isn't one stat that means "dice you roll" basically the same as another?

Mechanically, yes - you can call a stat pretty much anything and just say "represents X dice", easy enough. But past the basics there, the difference is that when you build and play a Hero, you're not trying to get a score on how much of a certain static quality you have, and figuring out what you can do from there; you're getting a score on how good you are at being a certain type of character, and figuring out what you can do from there.

For example: in a game with an Agility/Dexterity type of stat, that stat would give you a measurement of how agile the character was. This might then be applied to a lot of different actions - am I agile enough to dodge an attack? To hit an enemy? To jump over a pit? To juggle a set of balls? To beat someone in a race? Depending on the system, there might or might not be additional skills that modified the stat (maybe I need to get the Acrobatics skill to juggle or tumble effectively, or at least better than my naked Agility can do), but at core, if I'm not agile, I can't do those things, or I'll be bad at them. Essentially, it's a stat that measures a real-life capability range and applies it to a character, which can be really neat because it allows for flexibility - it's a kind of stat that can conceivably be applied to anything that you could argue involves being physically agile in some way.

HJ, on the other hand, isn't concerned with measuring how agile a character is. Because it's a game about being a Hero - a mythic Hero, who does things because they're heroic and because the story is about them, rather than because they're gifted in X area - the stats are concerned with the kind of Hero a character is supposed to be. HJ doesn't really care about measuring how many miles per hour a character can run, or how many megatons of force they can employ against something, or exactly how measurably charismatic they are when confronted with other people; it cares about whether or not they're fulfilling the role of a Leader Hero in this moment of the Saga, and the stats are shaped accordingly. Instead of saying "which stat will let me do X?" and buying that, players are encouraged to say "what kind of character do I want to be?", and the stats accordingly are designed to give a character with them all the skillset they need to successfully do so.

This is partly because one of HJ's goals is to design around the ideas of what kind of Hero your character wants to be - who are they and what do they want to do? What heroic tradition are they following? Do they change the world by being a Lover who affects the hearts and minds of those around them, or by being a Sage whose knowledge and learning move things behind the scenes or bring new innovations to the world, or by being a Warrior who fights evil and saves the downtrodden? The packages of Talents that go with each Aspect represent the kinds of sub-skills that go under that umbrella, but the overall message is this: design your character based on who they are and what they want to do, not based on what an abstraction of their capabilities might be.

With ability-style stats, players have to try to match abilities to what they might eventually do with them - if I want to fight monsters, I need Strength to hurt them and maybe also Agility to chase them and maybe also Endurance to survive the combat, and are there other ones I'm missing? - and they also find that they end up sometimes with stat spreads that oddly branch out into other roles that may or may not be part of their character or role. A character with a stacked up Agility stat who purchased it because they're an agile rogue-type character who can juggle and throw knives and play card tricks with aplomb may also find that, bewilderingly, they're suddenly the best combatant in their group, because Agility is also used for accuracy in attacks, or that they're a faster marathon runner than the athlete in their group because Agility is also used for that, which can end up with some weird overlaps. (Not that having extra abilities is a bad thing, of course. It's just a different kind of theme than we're looking for with HJ.)

Okay, so stats represent a kind of character, not a kind of capability. Doesn't that make every character that is that "kind" of character kind of samey?

It doesn't, and the reason it doesn't is because HJ has lots of different avenues for nuance! We'd probably all agree that just because two different Heroes in mythology or pop culture are both "tricksters" doesn't necessarily mean they're identical - Odysseus and Maui are certainly not the same, nor are the Doctor from Doctor Who and Ed from Cowboy Bebop, but they're all great examples of Tricksters and they all invest in the same Trickster stat. Here are some of the things that let you have a massively wide range of different Tricksters that go in all sorts of different directions:

  • Additional Aspects. Every character has multiple Aspects that can interact in multiple ways - no character is ever just a Trickster, even if they're primarily a Trickster. Beginning characters start with some investment in a minimum of three out of the seven Aspects and a maximum of six, and anyone can purchase dots in any of them as the game goes on as they please. A Trickster-Creator-Warrior has a significantly different overall skillset and opportunities than a Trickster-Lover-Sage, even thought they have some skills and powers in common.

  • Talents. Every Aspect has four Talents, and which ones a character invests in has a significant impact on what they can do. Of course a Trickster has a leg up on Trickster Talents by virtue of their Trickster dots, even if they don't get the accompanying Talent dots - but only over someone who doesn't have Trickster in the first place. One Trickster who gets a bunch of Legerdemain and Streetwise is good at different things from another Trickster who gets a bunch of Disguise and Determination - the first one is great at sleight of hand, sneaking the streets, hiding, and manipulating machinery, while the second one is immune to mind-control shenanigans and excellent at forgery, disguises, and impersonation.

  • The Web of Fate. Within each Talent, the Web of Fate branches in a ton of directions, and even two Tricksters who invest in the same Talent might have very different benefits and powers depending on where they go in there. For example, here are two different Tricksters investing in Disguise:

    Not only do both of them have completely different Blessings, with only the beginning power Improvised Disguise in common, but they also have different extra benefits as well - the character headed off to the right is picking up a lot of extra physical bolsters by gaining extra Defense, Mettle, and health boxes, while the one headed to the left has instead invested in more Blessings and bonuses to less direct things like Art and Augments.

  • Spheres. Every character has access to the Spheres - which they may or may not invest in as they wish. Not only do you have significant differences between a Trickster who also has Fire powers and one who has the more subtle powers of Fortune, but each Sphere has their own branching paths, similar to those in the Web of Fate, and Heroes can get bonuses to different things as they navigate them.

  • Archetypes. Every character has their own set of two Archetypes, which describe their motivations and have a strong effect on what they're doing with their Aspects and why. A Trickster who is a Rebel/Scholar is likely use their Trickster skills to do very different things than one who is an Artisan/Ruler.

  • Pantheon. Every character has both their Devotional powers, which are specific to their patron's pantheon, and the bonus Labors granted to them by their patron, which are specific to each deity. One Trickster might be called to action by Vishnu, who gives them access to a wide range of extra Labors and the personalized powers of the Hindu Devotional tree, and another will have a very different experience when called to action by Ares, who gives them a ton of extra Labors for only one Aspect and the enhancing, amping-up powers of the Greek Devotional tree. Even before roleplaying based on their patron and relationship, they both have access to a very different range of resources and powers.

After all that... the odds of two Heroes, even when both are primarily Trickster, being even close to identical are extremely low. You'd really have to intentionally aim for that for it to happen. (Which of course we wouldn't stop anyone from doing if they had a concept for it, like "our characters are twins and are trying to be the same" or something, but the game is intentionally weighted toward customization and individuality within the broad Heroic Aspects.)

The time characters are going to be closest to each other will be right at beginning character creation, before they've had a chance to progress anywhere; it is technically possible to get characters who start identically, assuming that a lot of choices are made the same way, but they won't stay that way. (Character creation will get its own post later. Y'all are suffering through enough words in this one as it is.)

Isn't there overlap sometimes between things different Aspects can do? Can't Lovers and Leaders both sometimes have the same effect on a group of people, and how do we know which one does what?

Like all "what does X" questions in any game with any stat setup, there will inevitably be some cases where there's wiggle room, or more than one Aspect might theoretically come into play. That's one of Destiny's jobs, to make judgment calls on those things; usually, because the goal is to let characters do things based on their character types via the Aspects, just asking "is the thing we want to do here a Lover thing or a Trickster thing" and going with the answer will get you there. The book does of course give lists of common actions and what Aspects and Talents they roll, and hopefully those fringe cases should be few and far between.

What about things that really ARE qualities, instead of things only one Aspect has? Like Beauty, or Athleticism?

There aren't many of these, but there are a few! In those cases, they're under the umbrella of a specific Aspect because that Aspect is the one that actively uses those qualities in a way that changes and affects a heroic story. Beauty is the easy example; it's not that characters who aren't Lovers can't be beautiful. They can be as beautiful as you want to describe them. But their beauty isn't a story vehicle; their hotness or grace just doesn't affect the story around them, because that's not their role. Whatever else they invested in is what changes the story, whereas a Lover actually weaponizes Beauty into something that can effect political change or distract enemies at a critical moment.

It's important to remember that because your stats are about your role as a Hero in this story, you can describe your Hero however you want; you're not constrained by whether or not a stat says you're "allowed" to present your character in some way. If you want to describe your character as graceful and serene in spite of their complete lack of Athleticism, because they're not a Warrior, that's okay - they're graceful and serene and it's expressed when they're gracefully flitting through the woods with their Hunter/Naturalism or when they walk with utmost poise through the middle of a committee meeting and wow those assembled with their Leader/Diplomacy. They're not going to use grace and athletic ability alone to do anything useful (the Warriors are the ones doing Olympic athletic feats that actually affect the story's flow), but that doesn't mean they can't be described as graceful when they're doing the things they are good at.

So if I'm not a Warrior, I can't ever do basic stuff like dodging out of the way of a falling rock? That sucks!

That's what the Strive for Glory mechanic is for! Remember, Heroes can always Strive if they need to do something outside their normal role for a small cost, so that the Sages can still dive for cover in moments of crisis and the Creators can sometimes marshal their social resources and try to give direction to a team that is taken seriously when the actual Leaders are unavailable. It's no substitute for a Hero having the actual Aspect or Talent in question, but it's an option for moments when you need to say, "look, I'm a Hero and I need to be able to succeed here just on the strength of that alone."

Remember, also, that several things in the game don't require you to use Aspects at all. Your Defense in combat is a completely different stat that you get by investing in the Web of Fate or the Spheres, for example, and insignificant actions like jogging down the stairs in your building or making a sandwich for lunch don't require rolls, so no one is helpless to perform everyday, story-unimportant actions just because they don't have the stat that would correspond if this were an action that mattered to the Saga at large.

I think I hit most of the big questions, but comments are open, of course!


  1. Its what I thought the 'attributes' were, but it's glad to know that I was correct. I hope to see how this works out in the finished product.

    1. Glad to know the idea's coming across! :)

  2. Well, that was a lot to digest, but it was also very jnformative, as well as intriguing. Question: if I wanted to play a character who was intelligent but also strong (so a deceptively brainy chosen of Thor), would I have to take Warrior to represent brawn, even if it wasn't intended to be his/her primary focus? Or is there another way to represent the intellectual who happens to be a bodybuilder, or the gymnast who is secretly good at oratory?

    1. That depends on what exactly you mean by 'not his primary focus'.

      A. If you don't intend for him to ever affect the story with his strength then you don't need to ever put any points anywhere... your character would be the equivalent of those high school 'nerds' in teen dramas who are still totally ripped (because which actor in Hollywood 'teen' dramas isn't ripped?) but will always get beaten up by the 'jocks' and never be able to do anything athletic because as far as the story is concerned he's not relevent to those pursuits.

      B. If you only intend to very rarely step up to the plate and do brawny things once in a while, but never be the one actually responsible for this stuff in the group, then you can just Strive for Glory on those rare occasions to power through.

      C. If you want to be consistently good at brawny things, but just not as good as it as a dedicated Warrior, you can always pick up points in the Brawn Talent from the Web of Fate (they're the fist clenched icons) to be good at that. You'll never beat a guy with both the Warrior Aspect and the Web bonuses, but you will be fine for anything else I think.

      D. If you just mean that his Physical skills won't be AS relevant to his story as his mental ones, but will still be important as a whole, then you just put points in both Sage and Warrior... as Anne noted, you can start with as many as six Aspects to represent a character who does a lot of things with some proficiency, or you can start off highly specialized in three, or any point in between... no Hero has only one Aspect, at that point he's two one dimensional to be a (good) protagonist... even the stereotypical Warrior Achilles had good Leader investment to lead his myrmidons into battle, and probably tertiary investments into Lover and Hunter.

      Consider also what you want that Strength to achieve? Do you want to be a strong blacksmith who uses his muscles to forge stuff? No Warrior investment needed at all, that's a Creator/Art thing... do you want him to be a great distance runner? Hunter/Pursuit... do you want his Strength to mean a ripped mesmerizing dancer? Lover/Beauty. As Anne noted, don't say 'I want a strong character' ask, 'what Heroic actions do I want my character to take?'.

      I'll note the same thing about intelligence actually... Athena is one of the (if not THE smartest) Gods around... but her intelligence manifests itself more as a Leader (Diplomacy for mediating disputes and establishing law, and Tactics for designing battle strategy) not Sage. Contrast her with Shiva... Shiva is one of the greatest Sages of any Pantheon, a master of knowledge both arcane and mundane, with piercing insight and great enlightenment.. he's also a bit of a bumbling idiot whose followers lovingly call him BholeNath, which translates to Simple Lord (Simple here being used both in the sense of 'not very complicated' and 'not very smart') so you can totally be a master Sage and still not be smart :)

    2. In fact, the sane applies to Warrior... You don't have to be strong to be a Warrior. Your Unarmed roll just determines if your unarmed attacks hit and do damage... Whether you're a bulky bar brawler who does that damage by knocking out teeth with his fists, or if you're a tiny waif of a martial artist whose attacks are really nimble strikes to pressure points for massive internal damage is totally up to how you describe your character :)

      Similarly with Weaponry... Maybe you're a massive muscled barbarian who cleaves through enemies with a huge axe... Or a thin bony sharpshooter who uses a pistol :)

      The ideal of the Aspects system is to let your character BE whatever you want them to be and focus instead on what they can DO... Of course how well it succeeds at that is something we'll have to judge once we have the game in our hands, but I admit I like what I'm seeing so far :)

    3. A question for Samudra: are you a playtester? I ask because you seem to have a lot of information for someone who is just reading these posts. Or are you just making educated guesses?

    4. No actually... I'm not a playtester. I am, however, their Hinduism consultant, which John mentioned way back in the July post :)

      Which means that I had to know basic things like how powers work, since I had to review the Hindu Devotional Powers, but I couldn't tell you what the Talent or Sphere Blessings do. I know what each Aspect, Talent and Sphere are generally about, since I had to judge whether the bonus Labors each God was giving were appropriate to their mythology or not, but I don't know how many dice or successes you get from Aspects or Talents. But most of what I KNOW is Hindu lore :)

      So yeah, most of it /is/ educated guessing :)

    5. This is what I get for not being on top of comments, there are so many to respond to!

      Samudra is mostly right - what you're doing isn't necessarily attached to the concept of "being strong", so you're always "strong enough" to do athletic tasks or hurt someone if you have Warrior and beat people up with it, and you're always "strong enough" to run and jump over things if you have Hunter and Pursuit, and you're always "strong enough" to have attractive musculature if you have Lover and Beauty, etc.

      The only stat that really is measurably just "strength" is Brawn, which gives you a pool you can spend to either break things or lift things, or do other force-related stuff. One of the reasons Brawn is available as points you can get in the Web as well as a stat you can buy is so that people who aren't particularly Warriorly and don't want to invest in it just for Brawn can still have enough points to once in a while throw their unconscious friend over their shoulder while they run to cover or break a window with a chair in a moment of crisis. It's similar in that way to the other passive Talent points, Mettle/Inspiration/Purpose; every Hero can sometimes endure when necessary, sometimes be inspiring or encourage their fellows, even if they aren't a Leader or Lover or Hunter by nature. In those cases, you're better at them in that you can do them way more if you do have that Aspect, but you aren't locked out of them if you don't. :)

      So your Hero who was chosen by Thor could be someone who doesn't have any Warrior, but has a few points of Brawn from the Web, so he can break a table once in a while if he has to; or he could be someone who does impressive "feats of strength" like rippling his muscles to intimidate someone or leaping over a river while he's chasing somebody, but is actually using Leader/Sovereignty or Hunter/Pursuit to make those rolls; or he could be someone who primarily has Sage for braininess, but who has a little auxiliary Warrior so he can do some athletics now and then even though it's not his primary focus; or he could be someone with none of that, but he happens to Strive for Glory sometimes when Athleticism comes into play and so his reputation for physical prowess comes from doing "strong" things, but not from necessarily being invested in them. Any or all of them would work!

      And yes, Samudra is our Hinduism consultant, so he gets to peek behind the curtain and help us out with things as they pertain to the Hindu deities and their powers. We're very grateful and lucky that he's excellent at it!

    6. By the way, there's a character creation post queued that'll talk about how starting stats work, so hopefully that'll help give a clearer picture of what a character with their multiple Aspects looks like!

    7. Thanks, Anne, that answered my question and clarified that there is a "stat" that does what I want. :-)

  3. Fair enough. :-) I know you also provide a lot of useful info on Hinduism for Scion 2nd edition over at Onyx Path (I've seen your name there a lot as well). I just wanted to know if you are speaking from a position of insider knowledge or not. And for the record, I was thinking of a character who preferred to use their intellect, but was quite capable of acts of strength if push came to shove. I'm not entirely sold on the 'aspects as stats' mechanic, but we'll see how I feel when I read more.

    1. If I may... I still think you're going about this wrong. In HJ you're not defined by /how/ you do things, only by /what/ you do. So saying 'I want a character who solves problems through Intellect' kind of tells me nothing relevant as far as the system is concerned :) WHAT does he use his intellect to DO? Are they a scientist working on some hitherto unknown invention? Creator/Vision; Are they a living library who always knows a bit of relevant info pertaining to the situation? Sage/Knowledge; Are they a street smart smuggler who knows all the best tips and tricks to outwit the law? Trickster/Legerdemain; Are they a cunning battle strategist? Leader/Tactics; Are they a wise old hermit who walks the woods and knows the ways of nature? Hunter/Naturalism.

      A rocket scientist, an investment banker, a smuggler and a doctor are all smart people using their intellect to do their jobs, and they would be equally terrible if we made them do each other's jobs... that's true even in real life, it is even more so in myth. Arjuna may be waaaaay more charismatic than Yudhisthir, but his charisma is only good for his Lover seduction skills... he would be a terrible Leader, because that's just not his mythic role, and so the much less charismatic but significantly wiser Yudhisthir is king instead.

      So, what does this character of yours do? :)

    2. Sorry I meant to type Trickster/Streetwise, not Legerdemain.

  4. See, part of my problem here is that I don't have access to the rules themselves to tell me how to go about creating a character in the first place. A character in GURPS isn't built like one in Pathfinder, or one in Shadowrun, or one in WoD, or one in Godlike; I'm familiar with multiple systems and ideas. I was asking, hypothetically, if I HAD to take "Warrior" to represent a character who had strength that I intended to use, even if that character wasn't intended to BE a warrior [she could be an archeologist, a detective, a thief, it doesn't matter for this question] - the point was, if she's smart, and prefers the brainy solution, but also very strong, and had that as back up if it's necessary, what I'm seeing is that I have to take a particular aspect to represent a particular stat, and that seems awkward to me. Perhaps once I see as much as you seem to have, it might make more sense, but right now, I find the labels to be restricting. Of course, my favorite system is GURPS, so I'm not a huge fan of "archetypes" and "character classes" anyway.

    1. Here's the thing though... From what I understand (and I don't have character creation rules either, so we're in the sane boat here) there's literally no smartness or strength stat in this game... Any solution can be a brainy solution if you describe out that way... Hercules washing out the stables was him using Warrior probably, but it him using Warrior to enact a brainy solution. You can't measure smartness in this game because there is literally no stat that measures it, just like you can't measure strength. So your character can be smart and strong both, no matter what aspects she invests in... But what does she want to do with that smartness or strength? Cuz if she wants to do fisticuffs then she IS being a Warrior... That's literally the warrior's mythic role, to get into fights.

    2. Oh, ha, I just commented above, but: character creation post is queued, so hopefully it'll help illuminate some.

      The seven Aspects don't necessarily describe your character all the time, is one way of looking at it; they describe your character only when they are doing those things that they govern. So if your character has a lot of Hunter and Lover, and a little Warrior and Trickster, you may not think of them as a warrior; most of what they do isn't about that. But in the moments when they use those stats, they are fulfilling the Warrior's role in the story - even if your character isn't a Warrior all the time, in the moment when they lift a bus over their head and hurl it at an oncoming monster, they are embodying the idea of a Warrior Hero, even if they only do it for a bit.

      The Archetypes, which you have two permanent ones of, are better descriptors of who your character is all the time - you'll see them in the chargen post!

  5. I don't think there's ultimately an answer here until we see the character creation rules [and, eventually, the game itself]. But I'm not in love with the generalizations I'm seeing as it stands. Perhaps in context, it will seem different, but saying "you can't measure intelligence" or "you can't measure strength" because they are Aspects or archetypes, not stats, is too much of a sweeping generalization for me. Again, in context, maybe it will make more sense. But we don't have the context yet. And while I understand that it is intended to mirror the characters of the great mythological tales, it's also intended as an RPG for people who may not have read those epic tales, and I hope it's not so heavily invested in being a simulation of them that one can't design a character without knowing The Odyssey or the Ramayana back to front. :-/

    1. You can create any kind of character in Hj... You just need to figure out what you want them to do :) not how they do those things, which is a thing for backstory, but just what they do :) and pretty much any action you want to accomplish is covered by the twenty one active Talents, irrespective of setting or game style.

      Honestly though, you're probably right... Our discussion has pretty much turned into an eternal cycle of 'I want a smart character' 'what does she do with that smartness' that I don't think will be breaking until we at least get the character creation rules (here's hoping that post gets out fast :) )

      I also realize upon rereading my last post that I might have come off as a little rude or abrasive... I apologize, that totally wasn't my intention... English is not my first language, so I occasionally misjudge the tone of what I write (especially when I'm typing on my phone and having to split my attention between composing my thoughts and looking out for autocorrect :) )

    2. It's not so much saying "you can't measure strength", but more that this game isn't interested in measuring strength. It's not the sort of game where we want to go "character X can generate Y kilotons of force, so therefore we know they can breach the hull of this ship because it takes Z kilotons of force to do that and Y is more than Z." That's a perfectly fine way of doing a game, it's just not what this one is doing!

      Instead, whether they can or should succeed is attached to what's happening and the GM's (Destiny) estimation of how hard it should be. So we don't measure how strong anyone is, because instead the goal of the rules is to say "can/should the Heroes be able to solve this problem that way?", and the answer determines how high they need to roll. In a way, it's more about dramatic/cinematic measurement than real-world measurement - this is a heroic tale, so we're not trying to measure real-world capabilities, we're trying to measure whether or not a Mortal/Immortal/Divine Hero could be able to do this at a dramatic moment in the story. Not "can they do it based on their strength", but "can they do it based on what kind of Hero they are and where they are in their story".

      (This is interesting when you compare it to things that are easy to measure in real-world terms - speed, for example. We don't measure the Hero's mph, we say, "can the Hero keep up with this guy on a motorcycle", but the results can theoretically be measured in real-world terms, so you can say "because this Hero rolled so high, they kept up and unseated their enemy, which means they ran at least 40mph". Which of course sounds ridiculous if you're concerned with the fact that mortal humans can't actually run that fast, but since this is a Hero touched by divine power, we're not. And later, if he rolls badly, he may only be able to keep up with someone on a bicycle - it doesn't mean he necessarily got slower because we could later measure he only went 20mph the second time, but terrain difference or fatigue or confusion or anything else made a difference to the scene, and he doesn't have a static speed that is always the same.)

  6. Hey, fair enough - no offense taken. :-) I wouldn't have guessed English was an extra language for you - your command is better than a lot of the English-speakers I know. :-/ I think once I see the whole enchilada, as they say, I might feel differently, but right now, I'm not sold on things as I see them. I guess now we both just sit and wait eagerly for more previews!