Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Forged in Legends: Magical Items in The Hero's Journey 2e

One of my biggest pet peeves in so many fantasy roleplaying games is the "upgrade factor" of magical items. In traditional D&D-style roleplaying games, characters are pretty excited to find a magic item - at least at first. A +1 Sword is awesome and they're thrilled to find it! That is... until they find a +2 Sword. Then the once coveted magical blade gets cast by the wayside as little more than obsolete technology that's either sold off for gold or simply left by the wayside. Perhaps worse is that when a weapon is described in mere terms of being a "+1" or "+2" weapon, it loses all sense of mystic. It's simply a mathematical improvement over its predictor. In essence, these two factors make magical items the worst thing they could possibly be: Mundane.

Magic items should be part of a character's mystique, part of who they are. They shouldn't be a tool to be discarded when a better one comes along. That mindset undercuts the very nature of magic by removing the fantastic and the sense of wonder. Yet, as characters grow in power they're going to want magic equipment that is more able to handle the challenges they face.

The Hero's Journey attempts to avoid this problem through the use of Myth Points, Aspects, and Heirlooms. Myth Points are earned each time a character gains a level. Every level earned means the character earns one new Myth Point. So at second level, the character earns their first Myth Point, at third they earn their second Myth Point, and so on. Additional Myth Points can be earned by specifically questing for them and performing heroic feats that are... well... worthy of myth.

Aspects are descriptors applied to weapons, armor, and shields. So you might have a Feycraft sword, a Valiant shield, and a Renowned set of armor. An item earns its Aspect or Aspects by the owner spending any Myth Points they've earned to permanently infuse the item with that Aspect. But characters can't select any old Aspect. They have to earn, through play, the Aspect they want. So if a character slew a Goblin King and saved a village, they could choose to apply the Aspect of Goblin Bane to their axe. Or if their shield saved them from the grievous blow of that same Goblin King, they might choose to apply Goblin Bane to their shield. Want a Dwarf-Forged weapon? Well, find a dwarf to reforge your sword. Itching for a Feycrafted shield? Well, you might have to cut a deal with the Fey...
Some example Aspects

Heirlooms are a bit more miscellaneous in nature. The Hero's Journey, Second Edition core book includes over thirty Heirlooms to serve as examples for creating your own to suit your legendarium. It is a magical item that is neither a weapon, a shield, nor a suit of armor that has gained magical properties through legendary deeds committed by an individual using the item or by a its valued place within a Lineage's culture and/or history. So, for example, dwarves as a people may know the secret of crafting Fireworks, but Bingo's Book of Rhymes and Riddles was written by a famous halfling adventurer and its pages sometimes contain surprising answers to fit just the puzzler perplexing perturbed player characters. Using these Heirlooms as guidelines, player characters and Narrators are free to create new and unique items to suit their own legendariums as the story unfolds!

This also means that every magical item a player character finds has a rich history and is not something simply to be disposed of. Magic is rare, fantastic, and flows through the history of The Hero's Journey - it's something far greater than simple "pluses" to a stat.
An example Heirloom

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Keeping Wizards Magical: Wizards in The Hero's Journey 2e

Evelyn, Human Wizard
Wizards as portrayed in the the works that inspired The Hero's Journey are characters like Merlin, Gandalf, Raistlin, and Pug. When a wizard enters a room, people notice. People slink back a bit. People are in awe of the magic they wield. But the reality of playing most traditional fantasy roleplaying games always fell short of that for me. Sure, on paper they were described that way - but when it came time to play the character itself you often found (particularly at low levels of play), that you were more of a liability than an asset. You were no fearsome arcanist walked from legend into reality - you were a fragile glass cannon who might be useful if you happened to have prepared just the right spell for just the right moment. Creative and experienced players learned to work around this through clever use of spells, often in ways they weren't intended. But the truth of the matter was that playing an arcane spellcaster usually was an exercise in patience and (often) frustration. That being said, those who did remain patient (and alive) would rise to become earth-shattering masters of magic capable of shaping reality to their will. But until then, hide behind the guy with the biggest shield and hope for the best.

I wanted to take a minute to talk about Wizards and magic spells in The Hero's Journey 2e. They do find their basis in the traditional spellcasters depicted above, but there are significant and important changes. First and foremost, a Wizard either knows a spell or does not know a spell. End of story. It's not memorized, nor does it require a book from which it must be prepared. Instead, a Wizard is limited in the number of spells they can cast each day before needing to rest - at least in most cases.

The spells that a wizard casts are also different from traditional fantasy RPGs, though many elements are familiar. As an example, this is the spell known as Errant Pilgrim.

When a character casts Errant Pilgrim, they choose one of the three effects described above at the time they cast the spell. So, even if Errant Pilgrim is the only spell they know, there is still flexibility in that single spell. Each spell in The Hero's Journey 2e is linked thematically. Errant Pilgrim has obvious nature themes, particularly those that relate to travel and observation. Stand Against the Adversary is themed around protection from and the defeat of evil foes. Breathed in Silver is centered around illusion and fey enchantment. By binding the spells in this thematic fashion, it allows players to create a character who's Archetype is Wizard, but select spells to give them a more thematic flavor without creating additional Archetypes. So if you want to play a nature-focused Wizard who calls themselves a druid, you might select Errant Pilgrim, Harkening of the High Hawk, and Friend of Birch and Beast for your spells.

Evelyn taps the essence to
cast Fire Both Bright & Sacred
Moreover, Wizards are not without options once they've expended their daily allotment of spell by Tapping the Essence. Tapping the Essence to cast an Apprentice Level spell inflicts 2d6 points of damage on a Wizard - a serious risk that can kill them. They're literally ripping their own essence apart to draw the magical energy necessary to cast a spell. But, even if it does kill the Wizard, the spell is successfully cast - because going out in a blaze of glory is cool. Wizard can always choose to cast any spell they know after they've expended their daily allotment of spells by Tapping the Essence - whether it's an Apprentice, Journeyman, or Master spell

Also, because each Lineage offers a character a few additional weapon choices Wizards are not limited to the traditional "staff and dagger" weapon restrictions - but nor are they martial masters by any stretch of the imagination.

Finally, and most importantly I think, to keep Wizards rare in The Hero's Journey 2e, a character must have an Insight of 15 to even qualify for the class. Few have the mental discipline to wield the arcane arts masterfully. A Bard may occasionally dabble in Apprentice-level spells, but only Wizards ever learn Journeyman or Master level spells. They are the true artisans of enchantment -- feared and awed, as they should be.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

I'm Going On An Adventure: Writing Adventures for The Hero's Journey

So, with the impending Kickstarter for The Hero's Journey, Second Edition set to begin on January 7th, 2020, I'm hard at work on supporting material in the hopes that the funding is wildly successful and folks genuinely want to play the game. But writing an adventure for The Hero's Journey is a bit different from writing a traditional fantasy module. As I was writing The Hero's Journey, I tried to emphasize that while combat was an element of the game, it was not a strong focus an should not be the first solution in a group's repertoire. In fact, combat should be the last option. When swords get drawn and battle is joined then circumstances must be dire.
Tesh, Changeling Warrior, locked in combat with a Redcap

To this end, as I'm penning these adventures (yes, I'm writing several) I decide to break from traditional fantasy RPGs and not list a recommended level. The world of The Hero's Journey is dangerous, regardless of your level. That's already implied by the fact that characters do not see a huge increase in their Endurance, even when they reach high levels of play. It's more akin to "I can get his by a sword two or three times an probably not die" instead of the more traditional route of "I can fall a hundred feet and keep on swingin' without any problem."

As an example, a 10th level Warrior with a Resolve of 18 that rolled maximum Endurance at 2nd and 3rd level would still only have an Endurance of 50. By contrast, the bite of an Elder Wyrm does 4d10 points of damage. This means that the mightiest Warrior in history, a literal living legend, could most definitely survive ONE bite from an Elder Wyrm. A second bite (or a swat from the other claw and tail attacks it gets in the same round) would almost certainly kill that same Warrior. This also makes a 10th level Wizard that casts Wreathed and Consumed can do between 10 and 60 points of damage to everyone in a 20 foot radius. A genuinely cataclysmic explosion. And that's not to speak of the mind an reality altering powers of the Fey...

So, as you can see, combat is deadly in The Hero's Journey. But strange creatures have no "alignment," and have their own reasons for acting as they do then roleplaying becomes the most valuable tool in a character's bag of tricks. Conan cleaves through countless foes with a swing of his axe. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser face off against half a dozen wizards at the gates of Lankmar. But when Tristan crosses into Stormhold, he rarely uses his sword. In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship runs from most combat encounters. When Bilbo faces off against the spiders of Mirkwood he uses hit and run tactics to distract them -- not to face them in battle. The clever hobbit doesn't even think to try to kill the dragon outright. It's not that these things are impossible, it's that slaying a dragon or felling a giant in The Hero's Journey is a genuinely legendary and requires genuinely legendary planning, skill, and even luck.

Tucker (Human Yeoman), Flynn (Half-Elf Bard), Bandoras (Halfling Burglar),
and Evelyn (Human Wizard) are about to have a very bad day...

Given that in traditional fantasy roleplaying adventures a recommended level is usually provided to gauge the viability of combat encounters, it seems at odds to name a recommended level when writing adventures for The Hero's Journey. Combat is rare and deadly in The Hero's Journey, regardless of character level. It is the stuff of legendary songs or sorrowful laments. That goes beyond a character's level and permeates the entire essence of the game. Be clever. Be resourceful. Be diplomatic. Be heroic. Your sword when all else has failed, not as the first solution to a problem.

On the other side of that Narrators running The Hero's Journey shouldn't rely too much one combat. A single tense battle or a few small combats to build drama can be useful, but if your game turns into a meat grinder of character, then your players will never get invested in either their characters or your legendarium. Use combat sparingly to keep the inherent drama of its presence high and when players use a quick wit or clever turn of phrase to avoid bloodshed, then that is to be commended. A hero is not measured by the body count they leave in their wake.

So the adventures I write for The Hero's Journey will have no "recommended level." Instead they will tell stories inspired by folklore and heroic fantasy literature. Players will need to rely on more than their weapons and spells to solve problems. They will need to be of stout heart, quick mind, and perhaps, just a bit lucky... but then again, what hero hasn't been saved by these things more often than not?
Bandoras and his lucky Rabbit's Foot

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.