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.

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.


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).

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.


  1. So, what's the distribution like between Episode Chapter and Saga Labors? From what I understand there are 9 Powers per Talent and 7 per Sphere at Mortal level, so around how many of each are there? Was there an effort to keep them balanced to a third each, or are there fewer Saga Blessings?

    1. Fewer saga blessings. Because over the course of many games you get much fewer chances to use your saga blessings. So 1-2 saga, 3-4 chapter, 3-4 episode for talents when possible.