Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Hero's Journey: Words Matter

So, as I'm sitting here editing The Hero's Journey, Second Edition I wanted to talk a bit about the game's focus in both this version and the first edition. Both incarnations of the game were build to emulate the style of fantasy found in classic fairy tales and works of heroic fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien, the Dragonlance novels, and Feist's Midkemia series. The protagonists are heroes -- active forces for good in the world -- and there is a clear divide between good and evil. Magic is truly wondrous and awe-inspiring. Mythic beasts and dangers exist just beyond the horizon, and in the end doing the right thing matters.

In it's original edition, the rules of The Hero's Journey spoke of this a lot. But the rules never truly reflected it. The tropes of the game were bent or ignored in order to firmly fit it into compatibility with White Box games and White Box rules. The new edition of this game makes no such concessions and is, in fact, not compatible with White Box. Well, at least not without some serious changes.

Alterations have been made to every aspect of the game and the game's terminology. Why change terminology? Because language is a reflection of tone and theme. Previously, The Hero's Journey featured eight attributes: The "traditional" six (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom (called Willpower) and Charisma), plus two new ones: Appearance and Luck.

The new edition has paired this down to six, each of which has been titled to lean into the archaic and evocative language of myth and legend.

Might: This is an analogy for strength in more traditional games, impacting melee combat and carrying capacity. The term "might" was chosen because when one hears of "Mighty Heroes" it conjures images of daring deeds and feats of amazing physical prowess. Strength is a bit more dry and analytical.

Alacrity: This is an analog for dexterity. But, it also reflects a character's speed and preciseness, in addition to their physical agility and sense of balance. Again, I felt it was more prosaic and evocative.

Resolve: This is a combination of physical and mental endurance, a blending of constitution and wisdom/willpower. Why do this? Because in so many heroic stories, you hear tale of physically weak heroes who had a strength of will, a resolve, that allowed them to carry on, to push past physical and mental limits, to achieve the impossible.

Insight: I have always found it difficult to roleplay a character smarter than I am. Wizards and wise men in stories are not described as being intelligent, but they are often described as insightful. They are able to deduce more, notice more, and make connections not visible to others. Insight seemed a more accurate term and it combines the "perceptive" aspects of a character often previously lumped into Wisdom in more traditional games. Gandalf or Merlin would never describe themselves as intelligent, but everyone respects their sharp insight into a situation.

Bearing: This replaces Charisma, but is a bit more subtle in its use. Often you have heroes who rise from obscurity and show a "noble bearing." It's an indefinable quality akin to charisma, natural magnetism, and a kind of subtle aura of power that surrounds a character.

Weal: This replaces Luck, but Weal is an ancient term that means a combination of destiny, luck, and a general sense of fate that is tied to an individual. A character is bound by their destiny or fate, to an extent, but still somehow maintains free will. Weal seemed like the most accurate way to reflect this element of fairy stories and heroic fantasy and the archaic term "Weal" seemed to be the most appropriate term to reflect that.

Next time, I'll talk about the Lineages of the game -- how some have changed, some have been cut, and new additions have been made.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition: Why?

A few years ago I wrote and published The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. It was idea that began on a lark and was written to be nothing more than "James's ideal version of White Box." Much to my surprise, Mike Herrmann took my writing and turned it into a genuinely beautiful product. That little experiment took me on quite an adventure. It was nominated in 2017 for a Three Castles Award, which lead to me attending my first ever North Texas RPG Con. It was there that I met several of my heroes and met strangers who have since become dear friends.

But even with the unexpected adventures that came with the success of The Hero's Journey, I always felt like it wasn't quite the game it could be. I love White Box. It's my favorite OSR game out there. It's simple. It's clean. It's an infinitely versatile chassis upon which to build a game. I'll forever be both in awe of and in debt to Matt and Marv for their creation. Follow me for a second on a bit of a tangent, OK?

Anyone who knows me for five seconds knows I love Lord of the Rings and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Naturally, I gravitated to a Middle-earth based RPG. I was just a bit out of time to play MERP and instead was introduced to Tolkien RPGs through Decipher's Lord of the Rings RPG. I loved it nad hated it. It was almost perfect. It was almost awesome. It was almost Tolkien. It is a great game. But instead of bending the game's rules to fit the conventions of Tolkien's subcreation, Tolkien's subcreation was bent to fit Decipher's in-house CODA system. It was a great game, but it wasn't quite Tolkien. And it always felt a bit disingenuious because of that. Fortunately, years later Cubicle 7 Entertainment would publish The One Ring -- a game specifically designed to fit the conventions of Tolkien's world. I love that game so much that it inspired me to become a publisher in hopes that one day I could be a part of that game and by extension, that world.

I guess that's what was bugging me about The Hero's Journey. I love that game, but in many cases I chose to bend the genre conventions it was designed to emulate in favor of making it compatible with White Box. And, to be frank, I got a lot of praise for the game. I was (and still am) proud of it. Oddly enough, it was never received as a "White Box game." It was seen by the community at large as a kind of thing in its own right that stood apart from White Box.

That was a bit disappointing back then. Now, it's freeing. People recognizing it as its own game (along with some encouragement from a dear friend) has given me the permission and freedom to do exactly that: To make The Hero's Journey its own game. And it's a helluva game. I haven't felt this personally invested in a game since I was writing the original White Star.

I'm going to try to be more active on this blog and the next few posts will discuss some of the changes coming to The Hero's Journey, Second Edition. I hope you'll join me and more importantly, I hope you'll enjoy the game when it's released. For now, I'll leave you with the new cover art. It's by a personal hero, mentor, and friend, Jon Hodgson. He was the art director and a lead artist on The One Ring and has done art for Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, and countless other companies. He's worked on game lines the likes of Beyond the Wall, World War Cthulhu, Dragon Warriors, Pathfinder, Crypts and Things, and Pathfinder.