What's up currently is: I'm working on things and Anne's helping me whenever possible. Since a lot of things have already been through a few drafts, it's lots of cleanup and confirming that numbers still add up and systems still balance against each other. I think we are all aware that when it comes to writing/editing and the English language, I'm not Anne, I'm the systems guy. Slower and generally worse, in other words. I usually do a lot of design and testing and numbers stuff, but she's the Head Writer, so this is slow and she is assisting to keep me from wrecking anything she already wrote. Mostly it's the double duty of making sure there are no holes in the system, but also that the copy actually explains the systems right so that readers understand what's going on.
This phase will hopefully not last very long, but it's important to make sure we know exactly where everything is as we return to the project so we don't duplicate any work or accidentally waste time to fix something we already fixed a different way.
What's Going On Outside of Writing
I'm currently working on setting up a new playtesting group (as of this moment, they're in character creation). It's important that this isn't something that will slow things down or anything. We won't be waiting for the playtesting game(s) to conclude before printing or anything like that, if the timelines don't line up. But it's just smart to have people testing things while we're still working - the playtesters have time to look at it while it isn't yet finished, and new tweaks can get a field run. Live testing will also be a good way to get back into the swing of things.
The Personal Stuff
Recent hospital visits were good but not as good as we hoped. We're both still pumped about doing things and we'll keep you posted. Thank you to everyone who commented with kind words and encouragement, we both really appreciated all of them.
Right now we're planning to try to do an update every two weeks or so, even if it's just to say "hey, we're still here and still working on it", so there won't be a long silent stretch again. For the most part we'll probably do those updates on the Hero's Journey blog so we don't spam Kickstarter peoples' emails, but we'll put them here as well if there's important information. Anne is also better at updates so I hope to give them back to her someday.
This post by John Ruthven, systems developer for Hero's Journey.
Way back when we started this project, our somewhat tongue-in-cheek Risks and Challenges section said, "While we are absolutely committed to Hero's Journey for many years to come, someone integral on the production team could still get hit by a bus tomorrow..." What we meant was that since we're a very small team, one person getting seriously taken out of play could cause major problems for finishing the game. And, as some of you may know or have guessed from the long silence, that bus did come along. Happily, it wasn't a literal bus, but it was a bus in the form of a sudden-onset severe medical condition - and it hit our head writer and coordinator, Anne.
We're not going to go into details, because it's a private medical issue and not only do we not want to talk about it, you probably don't want to hear about it. Suffice it to say that it incapacitated her for the better part of two years, and between hospital and doctor visits and the accompanying struggle with life maintenance, the pace of work on Hero's Journey slowed, then crawled, and then had to be put on pause completely. (For those of you not aware, HJ is mostly generated by a married-couple team - I (John) am the systems and design lead for the game and Anne's my wife.) We had already been slowed way down from our original plans by the initial stages of the health problems, which we didn't recognize for what they were at the time, and once Anne was down, the game stalled as a result. Things like playtesting feedback and rewrites dragged on because we weren't able to work directly on them as much as we wanted to, and updates for the community also fell by the wayside.
The Long-Overdue Apologies
We very deeply and seriously apologize for the long break, the long silence, and the long-running pace of this project.
Anne getting knocked over by the Crosstown Episode-of-House-MD Express is an explanation for what happened, but it's not an excuse. We didn't communicate with the backers or the rest of the community about why the project went dark or what was going on behind the scenes, and we should have; the piecemeal updates and occasional answers to individual PMs didn't cut it. There were reasons for that, and the first one was that Anne didn't want to tell anyone she was sick; it's very personal and for a long time she fought it and fought mentioning it to anyone except close friends. We kept hoping the problem would get cleared up quickly so we wouldn't have to talk about personal issues, and we kept putting off doing an update because we wanted to have something to show, like a PDF or a solid time estimate or even just new previews, before we made another update that just said "hang in there" - but those reasons still don't excuse failing to communicate with all of you for so long. We should have done better, period. Our Risks and Challenges section for this project also said "If [a setback] happens, we'll not only let you know what's happening and why things have been delayed, but also keep you updated on our plans to move forward and any new projected times we set," and we did not follow through on that pledge the way we should have. Plenty of you folks have let us know you're frustrated and angry here or on our blog, and you have a right to be upset with us and to let us know it. We appreciate how passionate everyone has been about the project, and how many of you have kept up with looking in on it even during the long period of silence.
Where We Are Now
Hero's Journey is not, as understandaby worried about by some folks online, dead. In yet another quote from our Risks and Challenges, "We'll see this game brought to life if we have to do it from cardboard boxes while leeching off of coffeeshop wifi." Anne is (sort of, mostly, if you listen to her) back upright and able to work again and the team is settled and stable. All our previous work - which represents the vast bulk of the completed game! - is still there, all your already-created and purchased backer rewards are still safe in storage, and all your pledges are still safe in their account.
We would like - so much! desperately, in fact! - to give you all a projected date to be finished, but given how this has all played out and how unsure we are of how quickly we can get back up to pace, we don't feel like we could do so and be honest. We're also frustrated and pissed off about how long this has taken and about the fact that it isn't finished yet, and we're keenly aware that we owe you all something awesome.
In the coming weeks, we have some important doctor's visits upcoming for Anne, and we're hopeful about the results. We'll be posting another update two weeks from today to let you know where we are with everything. In the meantime, we're STILL working our butts off to finish this damn game. (Which we still love and cherish and want people to enjoy, but when we're talking about how long production has taken, it's always "this damn game".)
Thanks and Acknowledgments
During the long silence, we added some additional folks who have been helping a great deal behind the scenes but who you may not have heard about yet, so here's a shout-out to Tanay, our fabulous Hinduism consultant who provides invaluable context and religious information and regularly saves us from missteps that plain research does not, and to Katie and Stewart, who joined the playtesting pool for about a year and provided their additional valuable insights into the sorrow of playing magician characters and the joy of murdering the bad guys, along with all the other playtesters who have been along with us for this long ride.
Okay, everyone! It's been a few weeks, so we're officially going to call the Kickstarter voting. The final tally looked something like this:
Votes for Option A: 22 Votes for Option B: 2
Votes for Option C: 9
Those following along from the last update may notice that there's an option C on that list, which didn't actually exist in the original post, where we offered options A and B. That's because a startling number of people here at Kickstarter (but very few over at our official blog) suggested "option C", which was essentially "just keep doing what you're doing and let us know when it's done, we're not bothered about it", which was very excellent of them. (Salutes, you folks.) Not represented on this table are also a large number of votes of "C, but A I guess if that isn't an option," which started popping up around the same time as well.
So, without getting into it too greatly: you're all fantastic, and we love that backers offered a new option of their own organically to let us know what they thought about the process. When we offered options A and B, it was because we were hearing from various backers and followers of the project that they really needed to see something concrete sooner rather than later, and since we agree that this project has gone on much longer than anticipated and you folks deserve to see some return on that investment, we came up with a few ideas for how to do that. Option C, nice though it would be for us because we wouldn't have to do anything extra, wouldn't help those folks whose voices we were responding to in the first place, so we're going to have to decide not to go with it.
But of the original two options, A clearly won by a landslide (even more so if you count the "C, but I guess A" votes, which jump that 22 up to a 35), so A it is! We will be working toward fulfilling that plan!
First Important Thing: Everything we're working on to implement Option A is stuff that had to be done before the book was finished, anyway. That means that those of you who voted C, or who aren't voting at all but were worried about delays, can mostly rest easy that we're not stopping to do things that make it take longer for you to get the final product. What we are doing is mostly redirecting the specific things we're working on so that the things Option A needs done get done first, and everything else will be done later after it's out the door. There will still be a small delay, I won't lie to you - at the end we'll have to stop to proofread everything and then put it into a form we can release to backers - but it won't be a very big one.
Second Important Thing: As we have all discovered together on this winding journey, date estimates have been difficult to come up with and often don't reflect the actual final completion date. So, instead of taking a guess (educated, but still a guess) at when Option A will be finished and ready to rock, we've put together a checklist of all the things that need to get done before that, so you can follow along as they get completed.
Since obviously you folks aren't in our workroom watching progress on these things, that may be a little opaque, so here's a quick rundown on what each of the things on those tables means!
Augments we've talked about before on the HJ blog: these are essentially "boosters" that Heroes can get through the Web of Fate that allow them to enhance their other powers or gain system advantages as they go forward. We're just doing the Mortal-level Augments at the moment, in pursuit of getting Option A packaged for all of you, and will go back to do the Immortal and Divine ones afterward.
The Hunter Endowment, Persistence, has been a mechanical thorn in our sides for a while, but as you can see, it's finally finished! It's in playtesting now, so hopefully we'll be able to call that done soon, as long as no egregious problems crop up from it.
Character Creation Tweaks refer to a few notes we've been collecting over the course of playtesting, mostly referring to making sure starting characters are appropriate in power level and start with their most essential tools. We have a few old legacy rules to go back and update, which hopefully won't take long.
Divine Favor Selections are an appendix item, and are essentially a list of sample forms Divine Favor can take that a GM can use for inspiration or just lift and put into their own Saga without worrying about having to balance or design themselves. We aren't including everything that is an "example" type of material in the Option A PDF, since some of them aren't essential to beginning to try the game out, but DFs are noticeable enough to characters that we think it's worth taking the time to do it for them.
The Hero's Journey Structure is so close to being done that we almost crossed it out, but there are a few edges we'd still like to smooth. This item refers to providing a sketch of what the HJ is in terms of this game, how it's used, and a few helpful asides to give GMs examples or visuals to move it along.
The Magic Item Table is exactly what it sounds like: there are magic items in the game, and sometimes players might find some (or, if they're Creators, make some!), which means the GM can use some guidance about what they do and how to stat and roll for them. We couldn't really be fair to the Creator Aspect if we didn't include this in the Option A package, but happily it's both required for the book to be complete anyway, and something that will probably come up even for Creator-light games.
Odyssey Event Selections are another appendix item of suggestions or examples that can be used by a GM, this time referring to Travel Episodes and all the glorious problems they bring with them. It's been under organic development as part of the playtests for a while now, and we don't anticipate it taking very long to complete once we buckle down on it!
Prophecy Effect Testing is an ongoing thing we're doing in both rewriting some powers for clarity and watching them play out in playtests; essentially, many mythologies and religious have tales of people who can see omens of the future, read portents of things to come, or experience visions of foretold events, but this is hard to model in a tabletop game where none of the players or the GM actually have precognition, so we've had to play with different approaches a lot over time. Our current powersets are working on twin options of "the player foresaw it, so the GM makes it happen later" for things that are not too disruptive to the game, and "the player immediately triggers it, but it was something they foresaw/knew, and it should be clear that they did not actually cause it".
Time/Downtime System Tweaks refer to a few places where the system needs clarification as far as realtime vs. gametime and how to manage the passage of both in actual play. A few things from our original chapter need to be altered based on playtests, but shouldn't be a big hardship.
The Volatile Item Table is similar to the Magic Item Table, except, as you might expect, worse for everyone involved; volatile items are a special class of things in the game that are unstable and may be great and useful, or may cause a random effect, or may blow up in everyone's faces, depending on how destiny feels like treating you that day. These are again very necessary for the Creator players, who may create or affect these types of things, so they're a final entry in the "lists of stuff" column that needs to be addressed.
XP System Tweaks are another thing that we already know the issues with and just need to write up alternatives to; playtesting has suggested some problems with advancement in the original setup that we need to solve with some quick fiddling. This will be a quick one in terms of us doing it, but may need a little time to get crossed off as we make sure it holds up under testing.
Since we don't want to flood you folks with notifications, we'll be continuing with updates over at the official HJ Blog, where you'll probably see that checklist popping up several times (hopefully with an increasing number of items crossed off!). We'll stay focused on character creation and Mortal-level hijinks for a while in order to get the Option A PDF done and ready to send to backers, and then we'll move on to finishing the higher-level stuff while you check out the base!
Thanks again to everyone for your input and feedback - it's important to us and we hope we can use it to keep doing better. Until next time!
It’s been a long wait on Hero’s Journey, and friends: that sucks. We know it sucks. We’ve been hearing your frustrations about it, and we know something’s got to give. We’re not going to go into all the reasons for the delays right now; some you already know if you’ve been following us, and others are irrelevant because let’s face it, explaining them doesn’t help the book get out any faster.
What we are going to do is talk about what we’re doing for you backers in the meantime. It’s been a long wait and you all more than deserve something to show for it.
You’ve given us some great suggestions for how to help keep you involved and get things to you faster, so today, we’re going to start putting some of those into action! You’ve been incredibly patient and we appreciate that deeply - so much so that we would throw an appreciation party if you weren’t in lots of different countries and we didn’t still have lots of work to do. So, to keep from having to make you be any more patient than you have to be, we’re looking for a way to help get HJ to you faster (like, real soon faster!), and we want your input on how to do that. Below we have two options for ways we can get HJ in some form out the door and into your hands sooner, and make sure that, as backers, you get rewarded for your investment and support even while the project takes longer than expected.
In Option A, we’ll release the entire basic-level Hero’s Journey game directly to you, the backers who pledged for it, in a no-frills content-only PDF, so that you can immediately start reading and playing it. Since almost all the work we still have to do regards fine-tuning issues at higher levels of the game, the only things that won’t be included are higher-level powers, which we’ll continue working on while you check out the game’s backbone, character creation, and the kinds of sagas it can design. You will still get all your promised rewards as soon as we finish the outstanding work and send the book to print, without having to wait for that day to get a look at the game you backed.
Play Now! You can, if you so choose, start creating characters and even running beginning-level games as soon as you receive the material! All the rules for actually running a game, as well as powers for beginning characters and guidelines for GMs, will be immediately available to you.
Talk About the Game. If you choose, you can discuss the game and give feedback on it via our blog or forum. As designers, we work hard to make sure nothing is broken and to playtest the game thoroughly, but there are hundreds of you with hundreds of extra brains out there, so if you want to bring something up before publication, you can. (Nobody has to be our free playtesters, though, so don’t think you do.) We’ll also all get the opportunity to talk about how things work in blog posts and on the forums with more freedom.
Get Extra Stuff. Those of us designing player aids and extras that we were planning to provide for download anyway in the future will be able to get a jump on them since there will be people actively playing and able to tell us what they’d like, which means that those things can come out faster and already be ready to go when you receive the finalized book.
No Change in Rewards. You will still get all promised backer rewards, including a shiny fancy book (or fancy art-filled and linked PDF), dice, prints, etc., as soon as we can go to press. You just get access to the game itself before then, so you don’t have to wait anymore to actually play it.
Game Leaks. Although we will only release this information to backers who already pledged to get the book in some form, there’s always the chance that someone will, either accidentally or intentionally, leak it to the rest of The Internet. This would mean that backers didn’t have exclusive access to it anymore (although they would still get their much fancier physical or PDF copy at the end), and that we could potentially lose the opportunity for some other folks in the future to buy it, since it was already out there.
Preparation Pause. There would be a slight slowdown in work on finishing the game for final publication, so that we could get the team together to throw together the material already finished in a decent format and then release it to all of you before moving on.
In Option B, instead of spending even more time working on the outstanding fine-tuning issues remaining, we package up the game as it is now and send that sucker to print, producing a Hero’s Journey official core rulebook right away. The book would omit the higher-level powers and rules we are currently working on in order to avoid making you wait for them any longer, and backers would get all their rewards on a much faster timetable, with the material left out saved, expanded, and released later as a supplement for those who wanted it.
Books Get Printed! We would be sending the book to print pretty much as soon as the art department can get the current material laid out and ready to go, which means there would be a real-live book in your hands much, much faster.
Get Non-Book Stuff. You also get all your other rewards, which have been hanging out in boxes at our house, waiting forlornly for the book to be finished so they can see the light of day. If you’re a person who isn’t even getting a book, and only pledged for dice or something, you no longer have to wait around for the book you’re not even reading to be finished before you get them. (For those of you who aren’t getting a book, the only reason we haven’t sent you your other rewards yet is that we didn’t want it to be unfair to those who got your rewards and a book who would have wait longer even though they pledged more.)
Future Expanded Material. Having more time to work on higher-level parts of the game will allow us to incorporate more material in them than was originally planned for the core book (for example, extra systems for specialized things like animal companions), so that the game unfolds more since we aren’t trying to rush it as much.
Books Out in the World. Because the book will be officially released, it can also be made available to folks who missed the Kickstarter window or who might be interested in checking it out.
Less Content. The book comes out right away, but has less content in it than originally planned - it will have everything you need to play at the Mortal level, but it will not have higher-level powers and will not go as in-depth into Immortal- and Divine-level specific systems and issues. It will still have extras achieved from stretch goals (for example, Fire powers), just at Mortal levels.
Editing Pause. Although the book would definitely come out faster, there would still be some delay while we went back and removed material and graphic design elements that referred to higher levels of play, before it could be released and we could move on to continue working on the next set of stuff.
Level Cap. If you play and love HJ and your game wants to move on to higher levels, or you were a player who wanted to start at a higher level or convert a higher-level game from another system, you will not be able to do so right away, and you would have to get another book (with more cool stuff in it, but another book nonetheless) in order to do so.
What we’d like to ask of you backers - all of you, whether you pledged one dollar or one hundred, although we'll be paying special attention to those who pledged for a book and are most affected - is which of these options you’d prefer we went with. You can leave comments here, or send us a message, or comment on the blog post over on the official HJ site - but let us know! We want to make sure we provide the one that the majority of backers want, and that we do it soon, so that you have something to show for your dedication while we trudge toward the finish line.
We’ll probably be doing one of these two options above, but if you have a suggestion for a different way you’d like to see backers brought more into the loop and given more access (other than “finish the damn book”, which we agree with but are already working on as much as possible), leave that here for us, too! We’ll be watching this space and ready to discuss it if you do.