Sunday, February 25, 2018

John Musings 2: Saga Blessings

In the past 3-4 months we've collected an epic amount of playtest data. We have 11 different players across 3 games. They are a wide variety of player "types," and it's interesting seeing what things they value. I'll probably make another post later in the playtest process sharing some of the data on how different players spend their Renown in very different ways, but for today, I want to talk about something that players have disliked universally, across the board.

Saga Blessings are big powerful effects that don't refresh every game. At character generation you start with just 5 of them. Sagas tend to be fairly long, and so players use their Saga Labors sparingly. Our aim has always been to make Saga Blessingss incredibly powerful, while still being balanced. A player should feel excited when they buy their Saga-cost Blessing. It should be the pinnacle of the power in their Talent (or Sphere). We want players to say, "I cant wait to use this!"

As we tested, we found that a certain type of Blessing seemed to always fall short of this expectation. These Blessings asked the player to use them ahead of when they needed them for a continual powerful effect. Let me give you some examples (examples are in my shorthand, not copied from the text).

Toughened Hide:
Talent: Unarmed
Labor: Saga
Speed: Dedicated
Effect: For the rest of the episode for every 2 fatigue you would take, instead take 1. Also if you only would take 1 fatigue from an attack or effect, instead take zero.

Navigation:
Talent: Pursuit
Labor: Saga
Speed: Dedicated
Effect: Roll Pursuit before a Travel Episode. For the length of this Travel Episode, Destiny will inform you of each Odyssey Event before they happen For every 4 successes your pursuit roll, you may have Destiny reroll one of these events that you dont like.

Both of these Blessings are very powerful effects that can change the course of of the episode type they're involved in, and they fit perfectly with our idea of what a character who is a master of that Talent should be able to do. The skilled Unarmed fighter never goes down in combat and is able to shrug off minor damage and keep fighting. The Pursuit master controls travel for their group and can make sure that the way ahead is safe and they get to work with Destiny a little to help the team.

BUT!

Players are not using these powers if they have them, or shying away from them all together. The problem lies in that the player never truly knows if the situation warrants using their valuable Saga Blessing.

Maybe they use Toughened Hide for a fight that seems very difficult. But it turns out that they had misjudged the power of their opponents, and could have survived easily without using Toughened Hide. This left the player bummed out instead of excited about their most epic of powers!

Maybe they use Navigation, but the entire Travel episode contained Odyssey Events that were rainbows and butterflies. They did their cool thing, but it had no effect on the story. In a future episode they might choose not to use Navigation, but this time the Travel episode was full of painful and horrible Odyssey Events. Instead of the player feeling excited about their awesome Saga blessing, they end up just bummed about it.


Solution 1:

Our first attempt at a solution involved Saga Blessings having a refund mechanic - so perhaps if you used Toughened Hide, but it ended up taking equal or less than your Unarmed dots in fatigue damage, you get the Saga labor back. Or if you used Navigation, but never rerolled an Odyssey Event, you'd get your Saga Labor back.

It was tricky to come up with a possible refund for each Blessing that we were happy with, and it added a lot of word count and this extra refund rule. If we went through with this change, did every Saga Blessing need a refund? If not, would that be confusing to players and inconsistent?

Even with a refund mechanic, these Blessings still weren't giving the feeling we wanted the player to have. Yes, they provided a mechanical benefit to them or the group that was powerful. But it wasn't "showstopping." They did use their Talent/Sphere in a powerful way, but the player still didn't feel awesome about it. They weren't happy. Which brought us to....

Solution 2:

What makes a player feel awesome in the game? Obviously there are a lot of different answers to this, but for Blessings that use Saga Labors, we strive to get that immediate happy feeling for the player. We want the super move to feel SUPER. Part of feeling super is doing something in the moment, changing the game in the now. With that in mind, we decided the better way to fix these Blessings is to try to rework them so they aren't something you use ahead of time. They're able to be saved until you most need them and then used to save yourself (and maybe also your friends). My project right now is working through these and shipping them back out to the testing crew to see how they react. So far they've been pretty joyous.

I'll list here what Toughened Hide and Navigation changed into. They have John names at the moment because Anne hasn't gotten her wordcraft hands on 'em yet. (Although its possible they just stick with the original names, I changed them so players would know, in playtest at least, that they were different).

Vegeta!:
Talent: Unarmed
Labor: Saga
Speed: Instant
Effect: Heal fatigue equal to your successes. Able to be used even as you take a hit that would otherwise knock you unconscious.

In a long drag out fight, this Blessing is technically mechanically worse. But it doesn't require the Warrior's player to plan out which fight scene will be difficult or important. Instead this gives that epic Rocky Balboa feel. You get knocked down, but you get right back up. You're unstoppable. Also of note, the Unarmed Warrior can now use this multiple times if need be, only allowing themselves to go down when overcome by lethal injuries (or they run out of Saga Labors).

I Know a Great Bar Around the Corner:
Talent: Pursuit
Labor: Saga
Effect: Call a bonus Lull during a travel episode. For every 4 successes the Lull also eats through the next Odyssey Event.

Think of a long exhausting journey through the mountains. There have been perils at every turn. Your group has been barely surviving the cold, and you just had to fight off a yeti. Everyone is tired and you could camp for the night, but if a pack of wolves or a bear attacked in the night, you'd be done for. So its your moment to shine, Pursuit Hero! You've been through these mountains before and you're actually just around the corner from a ski lodge. You're good buddies with the owner and he'll put y'all up for the evening. It's warm, with good food and drink, and you'll be protected from any danger. During the rest you'll scout around or plan a better route going forward to reduce the danger (fewer Odyssey Events).

No more pre-planning for the Pursuit hero! Now you can save your control of travel scenes for the moment you need it. Calling bonus Lulls is VERY rare outside Lover/Creator, but its okay to have a little overlap here because the Hunter controls Travel Episodes, and sometimes the group just needs a break to refresh, heal, and start again in the morning. Now the Hero gets to be reactionary, using their Saga Labor only when they know the team needs it.

So that's where I am right now. I'm working through all the Saga-cost Blessings we have that are like that (about 15 or so). Some may end up staying, but my biggest goal is the player feels AWESOME when they use a Saga Labor. If I used this Blessing, I want to say "YES! this is what this Talent is all about!"

Or something like that. Thanks for reading everyone, see ya next week.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mechanics Talk: Divine Favors

Okay, Divine Favors haven't gotten much discussion, and that leaves a hole in the mechanical landscape. So let's talk about them!

Divine Favor represents very literal benefits or gifts given to a Hero as a result of their awesomeness; often, they come from the Hero's divine patron, although they might also be bestowed by other authority figures, gained as a result of their adventures, or even assigned to them by the impressed public. In myths and other heroic stories, Divine Favor are the tools that help Heroes succeed in their aims; magical amulets that protect them, or sacred weapons that they wield in service of their cause, or prophecies that foretell their coming, or guardian spirits who never let them down. As in most myths, Heroes in HJ don't start with Divine Favor when they first hear the call to adventure, but they receive it once they are on their journey, providing them with the help or renown they need.


Divine Favors are permanent once you get them, but you only get them once in a great while, so they're a big deal and exciting when they happen. There are several kinds of Divine Favor, so here's a quick overview of them!


Divine Heritage

Divine Heritage is exactly what it sounds like; your Hero discovers that they literally have the blood of their divine patron in their veins, and it enables them to do and be things they otherwise wouldn't have. Mechanically speaking, this means that the Hero is more attuned to the things their divine patron is good at - they have a little piece of them, after all - and therefore they have more options for using a particular skillset or set of powers that their patron does, becoming able to spend extra resources on it that others can't. Examples of Heroes discovering their divine heritage in myth and pop culture include Wonder Woman realizing that she is the Godkiller, Starlord realizing that his father wasn't a human being after all, and of course literally every Greek Hero ever who one day woke up and was informed that Zeus was their dad and there was a giant monster rampaging around trying to kill them as a result.


Enchanted Object

Enchanted Objects can be any kind of magical, supernatural, or just special item that a Hero has that helps them out; protective amulets, magic rings, a potion that never runs dry, and so forth. Since the item is powerful in its own right, it allows a Hero to use it to activate a Blessing without having to pay for it, even one they don't have access to themself; it won't have as powerful an effect as if a Hero skilled in that thing had performed the Blessing on their own, but it's a great option for giving a Hero a little power they don't normally have, or a panic button if they're too dry of resources to pull any more tricks out of their own hat. Examples of enchanted object Divine Favor in myth and pop culture include the Phial of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, Susan's hunting horn in The Chronicles of Narnia, or Andvaranaut, the magic ring from Norse mythology.


Foretold Fate

Foretold Fate means that a Hero is the subject of a prophecy - someone, somewhere, with some kind of spiritual clout, foresaw that they'd do something impressive and therefore they now have the power of their future fate behind them. Sometimes that means NPCs or the other Heroes will also know about them or have expectations about them, and sometimes it just means the invisible hand of Destiny is behind them, but either way, they're the Chosen One and it's a big deal. Having a prophecy about them makes Heroes more prone to doing Big Damn Things, so they can convert some of their most expensive, biggest-effect resources into others and be able to do more grand gestures than less foretold companions might. Heroes with a Foretold Fate Divine Favor in myth and pop culture include Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One from the Star Wars films, Buffy as the Slayer from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Kalki's foretold manifestation in Hindu mythology.


Guiding Spirit

A Guiding Spirit Divine Favor represents that the Hero has the spirit of someone subtly guiding and helping them - an ancestor or relative, often, but also possibly the spirit of a Hero from bygone days trying to help out a new generation. Having a spirit protecting or encouraging the Hero lets them sometimes call on that spirit's skills or powers in life - an ancient Hero or a representative of their ancestors briefly lends them their own powers. Heroes with a Guiding Spirit in myth and pop culture include Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender and his ability to call up past Avatars to help him, Dante in The Divine Comedy with the spirit of Vergil to guide him, or Simba in The Lion King hearing guidance from his father Mufasa.


Legendary Weapon

A Legendary Weapon is pretty straightforward: it's a weapon, it's impressive, and it often becomes a sort of signature for the character, associated with them and their legendary career. Since there are lots of kinds of legendary weapons in mythology - sure, some are for beating down the enemy, but some are symbols of authority or foci for sorcery - the Divine Favor version allows Heroes to pick one area that the weapon affects and get rerolls to rolls from that area, triggering them themselves instead of having to rely on their companions' Inspiration pools. Heroes with Legendary Weapons are common in pop culture and myth, and include Luke Skywalker with his lightsaber in Star Wars, Katniss with her specialized bow and arrows in The Hunger Games, and King Arthur with Excalibur in Arthurian legend.


Lofty Title

A non-physical Divine Favor, the Lofty Title is a designation the Hero has either inherited or earned that describes how and why they're awesome. It could be a hereditary title, like "Lord of the Far Reaches"; it could be an earned designation, like "Poet Laureate"; or it could be an appellation given to them by those who know about their exploits, like "Killer of Bear Monsters". Heroes with a Lofty Title get access to an extra Endowment they didn't already have, related to their title (so, for example, our Killer of Bear Monsters there might be able to access the Warrior Endowment when they didn't already have it, because god damn it, their job is to kill bear monsters now). Heroes in pop culture and myth with titles include Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the Prophet, Setanta becoming the Hound of Culainn in Irish mythology, or literally all the Time Lords on Doctor Who.


Protective Shield

A Protective Shield Divine Favor is also pretty self-explanatory, although it doesn't have to be literally a shield - it could also be a defensive weapon or an object carried around explicitly for the purposes of defense. Heroes get to use this Divine Favor to help protect those around them; they can prevent damage to their allies by swinging their protective shield around, which undoubtedly makes them popular when the shit hits the fan. Heroes with Protective Shields in pop culture and myth include Elric of Melnibone and his Shield of Chaos from the Stormbringer series, Steven's pink quartz shield from Steven Universe, or Achilles and his famous shield used in battle against Hector.


Specialized Training

The Specialized Training Divine Favor is an event rather than a physical item; it represents the Hero receiving training in a certain area that allows them to become awesome at it and that they can carry forward into all their future adventures. Every time you see a Hero do a training montage in a story, they might be receiving a Specialized Training Favor; in mechanical terms, the Hero permanently gains extra Labors to spend on the Aspect they were trained in, because they're just that badass that they can do just that much more. Heroes in pop culture and myth with Specialized Training famously include Danny in The Karate Kid, Mulan training with the Chinese army in her Disney film, or Jack from Samurai Jack repeatedly gaining skills to deal with more powerful enemies via training montages and obstacle courses.


Supernatural Familiar

A Supernatural Familiar is a companion creature - not a human being, or ever was one in most cases - that helps the Hero out or occasionally shows up and provides useful favors and help. A Hero with this Divine Favor can call their familiar once in a while to show up and use its powers on their behalf, which often includes powers the Hero themself doesn't have. Heroes in pop culture and myth with Supernatural Familiars include Sabrina from Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her cat Salem, Kitty Pryde from X-Men with her tiny dragon Lockheed, or Light Yagami from Death Note with his shinigami companion Ryuk.

There may or may not be more types of Divine Favor in the future of HJ; there are all kinds of features and items that help Heroes out. But those are our starters for now, and they're being used to exciting effect in the playtests right now!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Patch Notes for Heroes

We're working on our final clean-ups still, as Anne said in her last update. Which of course means the playtesters are suddenly getting all those cleaned-up things dumped on their heads. Instead of a more formal update post today, I figured I'd just share the patch notes for them so you can all see how the tweaks are applying to gameplay.

Also I like bulleted lists and patch notes.


John enforcing the rules of creation on helpless playtesters who asked for it

Combat

  • If two Heroes tie the roll for who goes first in combat, they may now decide who should go first on their own.
  • Heroes may no longer wield non-weapon objects with Weaponry unless they have the Blessing that does that. (Well, they can, but they won't do any damage so probably better to just punch the baddies.)
  • If a Hero is knocked unconscious by damage, their active Blessings no longer automatically turn off.
  • Unconscious Heroes may now spend passive Talent points to help their buddies as long as they're still alive.
  • Pain penalties are now applied to a Hero only if they have less than half their total number of health boxes open, and they can never have more than two (one for fatigue and one for lethal).
  • Spending Brawn to ignore pain penalties now lasts for the rest of the Episode instead of being spent per action. Let your mortal wounds fuel your battle rage.
  • PC vs. PC combat that happens during contention no longer spends any resources. Taking damage is optional if you really want to have cool scars and realistic suffering afterward.

Resources

  • Heroes who spend Mettle to avoid exhaustion penalties now completely prevent the penalty from being applied this time, rather than just ignoring it for the Episode.
  • Heroes may now spend Reserves more than once per Episode. Yes, Nick, you can Innervate yourself three times in a row if you really want to.
  • Heroes no longer lose Archetype dots when calling down Divine Interventions. Mom and Dad love you even when you're a fuck-up.
  • Divine Interventions now heal all damage suffered by Heroes rescued by them. Sorry, team that Skadi slingshotted across the highway. She's just excitable.
  • Spending Brawn now applies a flat bonus to any Athleticism roll, once per roll, and a flat bonus to any damage amount if a Hero hits an enemy. Yes, Miguel, you can indeed spend Brawn to shoot someone harder, don't think too hard about it.

Magic Stuff
  • Portals to other places are no longer considered invisible to people with low Mysticism rolls, just unobtrusive or easily mistaken for normal items or doors.
  • Figuring out what requirements a portal has for passing through it now require a Hero to use the Riddles & Codes system.
  • If a Hero's magic item loses all its durability and breaks, it no longer provides its magical bonuses until they fix it.
  • Magic items crafted by Heroes no longer universally leave play at the end of the Saga (though individual Blessings used to enchant things may have time limits).
  • Heroes who roll Mysticism to understand an object or place's magical purpose and fail may still recognize that it has magical potential, even if they don't get details.

Socialing

  • Heroes now roll Enlightenment instead of Sight to recognize that someone is lying to them.
  • If a Hero fails their Enlightenment roll to see through a lie, they now automatically believe what they are told (but may still roll Empathy to see if the person they're talking to is acting suspicious).
  • Heroes also now roll Enlightenment instead of Sight to recognize someone who is disguised.
  • Heroes who use Persuasion to convince someone of something still roll against their opponent's Enlightenment if they are lying, but now roll against their opponent's Determination if they are telling the truth but simply not being believed.
  • Long or multi-part performance art now uses multiple Vision rolls instead of an extended roll with cumulative difficulty.

Systems

  • New Mortal Heroes now start with 2 dots of a Domain and 2 dots in the Spheres within it, instead of 1 each.
  • Heroes now gain a point of Divinity when they Triumph.
  • Fated Downfalls no longer exist; Heroes who simultaneously Triumph and Tragedy are affected by both outcomes simultaneously.
  • Exhaustion penalties from not eating or sleeping now just apply normal penalty rules. Take a nap, losers.
  • Fatigue damage suffered from exhaustion is now a flat one box per day, and can be healed normally.
  • Running/jumping/lifting/climbing all now use a normal Athleticism roll vs. difficulty set by Destiny, and no longer automatically require Brawn (but you can still spend Brawn to be better at them).
  • If a Hero might be about to reproduce, contention is now automatically invoked to figure out the outcome.
  • Diseases now mostly inflict fatigue damage; poisons now mostly inflict lethal damage. Deviations from this model are uncommon.
  • Heroes who roll high enough on a resistance roll to fight off the effects of an intoxicant or drug may now choose whether or not to feel its effects (so yes, Valencia, you can get crunk now instead of suffering because your Willpower was Too High for Fun).
  • The situational damage rules have been updated to do a better job of modeling various painful emergencies. Throw yourself off a building to find out how!
  • Distraction penalties are now resisted by Determination instead of Sight. Sight is not a resistance roll and we were drunk the day we wrote that.
  • Following a trail now uses a series of Tracking rolls instead of one extended roll with a cumulative difficulty.
  • Cracking codes, completing puzzles, and answering riddles no longer require an entire Episode of work to succeed (though they probably still take multiple actions).

Endowments

  • Creators with the Empowerment Endowment no longer use instant Blessings, and instead can spend a Reserve to call a Lull independently at any time a Lull could normally happen. They are also able to take actions during a Lull without losing the effects of resting. The name will change but Anne's in charge of that so waiting on her.
  • Lovers with Faithful Allies now automatically begin the Saga with them present.
  • As long as a Faithful Ally is within a reasonable range of the Hero and can be contacted via normal means, they may now be called in from elsewhere without requiring the Hero to spend a point of Reserves.
  • The Caretaker Faithful Ally type has been clarified to note that they cannot repair vehicles (that's the Mechanic's job).
  • Faithful Allies no longer automatically suffer damage when their Hero is injured.
  • If a Hero with a present Faithful Ally would be knocked unconscious, they now suffer a number of boxes of fatigue damage less equal to their Archetype dots, and their Faithful Ally jumps in the way and is knocked out instead. If they would be mortally wounded, the same occurs, but the Faithful Ally is killed.
  • If a Faithful Ally is knocked unconscious, they must now rest during a Lull Episode to recover (or be remanded to a hospital or other healthcare facility for a minimum of one Episode).
  • If a Faithful Ally dies, their Hero may not call up a new one until two Chapters have passed. Have some respect.
  • Sages with the Focus Endowment now gain the ability to do yet one more thing during a Lull without losing the benefits of resting if they also have the Empowerment (or whatever) Endowment.
  • Sages with the Focus Endowment now heal all damage they have suffered when they use the Innervation Endowment.
  • Tricksters who roll the Altered Reality Gambit now regain all Labors they spent during the Episode.
  • Tricksters who roll the Surprise Switcheroo Gambit now heal any damage they (and their buddy) suffered during the Episode.
  • Tricksters who roll the Convenient Discovery Gambit no longer regain a Saga Labor, and instead automatically use one Trickster Saga-Labor-Cost Blessing for free (if they don't have one, there's a backup option).
  • Tricksters who roll the Enemy Emergency Gambit can now escape from dangers that aren't literal enemies trying to stab them (like earthquakes, for example). Anne will rename it.
  • Tricksters who roll the Abrupt Judgment Gambit no longer lose the ability to call for Divine Interventions, but now lose the use of one Divine Favor for the remainder of the Saga.
  • Warriors with the Innervation Endowment now regain twice their Archetype dots in Brawn and Episode Labors (instead of all of them) and their Archetype dots in Chapter Labors. The Labors are still "phantom" and last only for the Episode, but the Brawn is now normal Brawn and can be saved.
  • Leaders with the Sway Endowment may now use Blessings on the assistants they call up as if those assistants were Heroes.
  • Assistants called up with the Sway Endowment now have stats based on their Hero's Archetype dots instead of their Leader dots.

Miscellaneous

  • We're no longer referring the the Talent web separately from the Sphere web as the "Web of Fate". You were all bad at this anyway so this won't change your lives at all.

More official updates to come!