get jealous: my HJ playtest
#1
So, it's after midnight, but I can't really wait to post this. I got to try out Hero's Journey tonight-- to my great surprise, it just fell into place for me-- and I'm basically just bursting to share.

There's a lot of stuff that won't really totally sink in for me until later, but I'm trying to write as quick as possible before I forget details, so here it is. I'm still fuzzy on a lot of the terminology, and it seems largely subject to change anyway, so don't expect a lot of the fine details in this post to be set in stone, but I got a good sense of the broad strokes.

Character Build Options
The whole system is based around the seven heroic archetypes, and this seems really well-implemented. Each is split up into three skills, so there are twenty-one in all, and they interrelate with each other. For example, the character I playtested had the most investment in the Leader archetype, with points in all three skills: Sovreignty (which is the Leader "core skill" that is adjacent to the other two), Diplomacy (which is adjacent to a Lover skill I don't remember), and Tactics (which is adjacent to the Warrior skill Weaponry).

The skills are in a web, and as you progress your character, you can move outward along one skill, or branch off to either side. So if you're building Tactics up really high, in addition to that Tactics ability, you gain small bonuses in Sovreignty and Weaponry as you go, and getting higher in Tactics gives you the option to "go sideways" and get higher skills in either Sovreignty or Weaponry you wouldn't otherwise have the prerequisites for. If you wanted, you could go sideways from there too, going a whole lap around the web and becoming good at a diverse set of things.

In each skill, progressing that skill gives you options for each new point. A lot of this is a work in progress but it's clear that you have, at minimum, everpresent choices between gaining more passive bonuses to dice pools and gaining more "active use" powers, called blessings, that relate to your skills. It seems to support a wide variety of playstyles and a wide variety of types of character builds.

Also, and importantly, the various archetpes and skills "read" very clearly, and the character build system is very intuitive. There's not a lot of mystery about what makes you good at what. I stuck around afterward to talk design philosophy with John and Anne, and one of their big goals is to make sure there are no "must have" build choices-- i.e., that every build can be useful and effective, and there are no powers that are crucial to take or underwhelming. This really comes across in the mechanics of how different skills all contribute to core mechanics (like Determination or Wounds) so that while certain focused builds will get them extra high, they receive contributions from diverse places so nobody is really crippled no matter how they build.

Actions and Cooperation
Seems like the use of actions, particularly the active "blessing" powers, is streamlined and pretty tidy. You have a common pool of points ("Labors") to activate your blessings with: minor ones that refresh each scene, moderate ones that refresh each game session, and epic ones that refresh only at the end of the story arc. These latter ones are related to character-defining supernatural elements-- divine artifacts, special destinies, prophecies and curses, etc. You just tick off a box when you use the associated power. The bookkeeping (like many other elements) is streamlined and viscerally satisfying.

There are a lot of ways where this system is used to let characters assist each other. As a character with a lot of Sovreignty, I could lead and inspire others by giving them back their spent Labors, drawing more out of them than they thought they were capable of. Anne's character made a lot of use of Inspiration to hand out dice bonuses on important rolls, and Thomas used a really strong Tactics power to break me out of a magical compulsion.

The Power Curve
This, I found really cool. The main effect that your choice of pantheons and gods has on your character is that you get two Ethoi, chosen from your pantheon's set of three. My character, a devotee of Hades, got two of the three Greek Ethoi (of Glory, Community, and Passion, he chose the latter two). You can choose to focus on just one or build them both equally, but you gain and lose an Ethos based on your deeds, and your two combined Ethoi (which can never total more than 10) are the global cap for all your archetypes and skills They don't compel your behavior, but you have to be a champion of your pantheon's values (well, at least two of them) if you want to continue growing in power.

There's a steep power curve that I only saw the bottom end of, but it's somewhat evened out-- even starting characters have enough dice in their pools to be better-than-mortal-average at most things, and it's possible to get a Tragedy roll result if you screw up badly enough (especially in a skill you haven't invested in) but you can't really make a character who consistently trips up the stairs. Growth is a somewhat flattened exponential model with increased points-- f(x) = x(x+1)/2 when you have x points in an archetype or skill-- but the various interconnections between skills mean you may be unexpectedly competent in areas you haven't been explicitly trying to build up. I'm interested to see what it looks like at high power levels, and I'm sure that the high-level blessings and other perks of heavy skill investment do a lot more to change the game than this simple formula can show me right now.

We didn't get into combat but I had it explained to me, and I think it's interesting that there seem to be ways for all characters to do something useful and interesting in combat, pretty much no matter how you build. So you don't have to go out of your way to choose certain powers, design artifact weapons, buy up special defenses to not get immediately destroyed in any fight, etc. There are obvkously ways to build a combat monster (hello, Warrior archetype!) but there should be plenty of ways to make that work, and a lot of ways for even Lovers and Creators and Sages to mix it up in battle.

Visuals
Even at this early stage the game is impressive visually. Character sheets are really well-organized, with important stuff in the center (where your eye is drawn) and key mechanics-- your archetypes-- branching out from there. There are clear icons with striking art, and a simple "check the box" type of sheet that streamlines play. Important information is easy to find, and other stuff is off to the side. All the math is done between sessions, not in the heat of the moment.

And the concept art is really cool. Seeing things like the Temple of Thor in rural South Carolina really communicates the feel of the setting better than any kind of forum post ever could.

The Final Analysis
Hero's Journey is looking pretty good! A smooth new twist on familiar gameplay mechanics, really innovative character creation system (I've never seen anything quite like it before), a solid concept with a lot of very cool plans to carry its implementation out. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Hopefully that answers a few of your questions, and inspires you to ask a few more.
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#2
Huge thanks for writing up something on your experience so quickly....and wow, just thank you for the stunning review. Really glad you enjoyed it so much and hope to get a full game in with you soon.

Brent features in a starring role in the first of 3 short mechanics videos for HJ.
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#3
This is exciting!

It really sounds like the main focus of this whole project was streamlining, thus allowing for great roleplaying opportunities and straight-forward mechanics. I like the idea of simplistic, easy-to-follow character sheets that allow for easy tracking. It'll really speed things up in terms of sessions. I know with Scion there are very often long periods of careful calculation and the like, and it seems like with Hero's Journey things are different.

I can't wait to hear more! Thanks, Brent!
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#4
(06-01-2014, 01:28 AM)Lambach Wrote: Huge thanks for writing up something on your experience so quickly....and wow, just thank you for the stunning review. Really glad you enjoyed it so much and hope to get a full game in with you soon.

Brent features in a starring role in the first of 3 short mechanics videos for HJ.

Where are these vids? Or are they not up yet?
Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die
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#5
(06-01-2014, 02:23 AM)codeRR Wrote:
(06-01-2014, 01:28 AM)Lambach Wrote: Huge thanks for writing up something on your experience so quickly....and wow, just thank you for the stunning review. Really glad you enjoyed it so much and hope to get a full game in with you soon.

Brent features in a starring role in the first of 3 short mechanics videos for HJ.

Where are these vids? Or are they not up yet?

They just recorded them this evening, so they still need to be edited and uploaded. It's a process. This is me speaking from video-making experience and nothing more.
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#6
The videos were just filmed this evening. The should be up some time this week but need to be edited. It ended up taking more time then expected and will now be a 3 part series.
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#7
OMG!!! I cant wait to see this
Relentless in the Pursuit of Greatness.
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#8
I really like what I'm reading here. Although, I'm a little bummed that you didn't do any combat. Whether or not combat rules are simple is one of my primary criteria for GMing a new rpg.
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#9
Yeah, we had sme technical difficulties with the camera that ate up a lot of time. That's why the demo is split into a multi-video series. Cmbat will be coming up later, but unfortunately for me, I probably won't be in town to participate in that one.

re, Rob: now that I've had the chance to sleep on it, I think you're really on to something-- it seems like the main characteriing feature of HJ is that it is simplified and seems meant to keep mechanics out of the way to a large degree. The most complex system in the game is the character creation/advancement path/web system I described earlier, and that's something you do between sessions, when you can haul out charts and things. During play, every roll is a single stat, everything seems clear and simple.

The one thing that might contradict this is that I really did not see a lot of the blessings and other special character features. We just had the ones for our characters, and the rest might not even be written yet. I think that especially as you get into higher power-level characters, you might need a separate character sheet page to list your blessings and their effects, epecially if you start racking up a lot of them. The ones we saw seemed very streamlined and simple to implement (honestly they're probably simple enough to work in a LARP format if you got rid of the dice somehow), but I don't know whether or not that would still hold true for the big, earthshaking Godly powers down the road.

But yeah, wait for the video, and you'll see. During the time we were trying to fix the camera I just asked a bunch of questions about the game and how it works, so some of the stuff I'm saying here is not stuff that will be in the video because it's from our other conversations off-camera, but here's a thread about it anyway. Smile
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#10
This is...(dies at the thought of waiting till the fall to experience this goodness for himself)...

...

On a serious note, I absolutely love this. I love how mythically appropriate it is that a war leader (tactics) automatically gets better at being a ruler and a fighter...this web of Fate is amazing, and I'm now feverishly trying to decide what the layout is like in my mind.

The Ethos system seems better than the Virtues system to be honest. I have often felt that having a pool of common Virtues and apportioning them out was a poor way of doing things, especially when you see how differently each culture actually views such things as Order and Endurance and Duty. Having the values of the Pantheon actually BE values OF THE PANTHEON is great and I can't wait to see the Hindu Ethoi.

EDIT: Also, I am so jealous of Brent right now!
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