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Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a Win/Mac/Linux adventure role-playing game by Lori and Corey Cole, Quest for Glory series creators.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a Win/Mac/Linux adventure role-playing game by Lori and Corey Cole, Quest for Glory series creators.
1,869 backers pledged $116,888 to help bring this project to life.

Leveling Up the Hero-U Skill System

Posted by Corey Cole (Creator)

When was the last time you gained an experience level? Did you get a promotion at work and suddenly find that three or four of your skills had instantly improved? 

That’s exactly how level-based role-playing games work. Each time your character gains an experience level, their skills improve.

A D&D-style leveling system makes a lot of sense for a paper game - less bookkeeping - but that isn’t an issue on the computer. We think character skills should improve by using them or by getting specific training, not because of killing 35 Dire Rats.

Real life doesn’t work that way, so we developed our own game system in which players had a chance to improve the skills they used the most. It took some time at the table, but it made the game seem more realistic.

Shawn Is A-Gog at the Prospect of Fighting this Goblin-Frog
Shawn Is A-Gog at the Prospect of Fighting this Goblin-Frog

Setting Some Skills on the Sierra Skillet

When Sierra called on us to develop a role-playing game, we adapted our in-house rule system to the computer. When you climbed a tree, your Climbing skill sometimes improved. That gradually caused your Strength and Agility to improve as well. There was no direct way to improve Strength by itself until we later added a gym to Quest for Glory V.

We have a similar system in Hero-U, but we’ve simplified it a little so that the effects of players’ actions are more intuitive. Shawn can use most stats directly, such as trying to be Charming in conversation.

Over the course of the game, these help define Shawn’s character. If he relies on Moxie, he becomes good at that and will be more successful with Moxie attempts later in the game. Use more Charm or Smarts, and that stat improves instead. Shawn can improve all of his skills and stats through practice, but the ones he uses frequently will improve faster.

Attributes and Skills in an Adventure Game?

Hero-U "Character Sheet" Showing Stats and Skills
Hero-U "Character Sheet" Showing Stats and Skills

Yes we have numbers! They are a staple of role-playing games because they give players a feeling of progress and allow tougher challenges as the game progresses. One difference between our games and most adventure games is that our characters learn, grow, and change over the course of each game.

A Skill System lets us “soft-gate” the story - you can discover a problem early in the game, but might need to improve some of your skills before you can overcome it. One way to think about the difference between role-playing and adventure games is that adventures have puzzles, each with a specific solution.

RPGs have problems, and there are many different ways to overcome them. We think the latter approach makes more realistic and fair gaming - players don’t have to guess our way of solving a problem; they need to find a way that works within the game rules.

Old School Thieves Needed Agility...

Back in the day (D&D and Quest for Glory) the character class was Thief, not Rogue, and most people didn’t consider thieves to be very heroic. In fact, the first project leader assigned to Hero’s Quest (Quest for Glory 1) refused to have anything to do with a game that allowed you to play as a thief.

That gave me the opportunity to take over as project leader, which turned out to be really important to making Quest for Glory what it became. There are some aspects of game design which you really have to program yourself, and the Quest for Glory skill system was one of those. So I have a special place in my heart for the Thief class.

The key stat for a Thief was Agility, because they used it to be a swashbuckler, to sneak around quietly without bumping into things, to open locks, and to disarm traps.

… But a Dumb Rogue is a Fail Rogue

In Hero-U, we’ve redefined the Rogue character. It’s no longer just about being more Agile than the next Rogue, it’s also about being smarter, or at least more charming. In fact, we leave that up to the player - either approach can be successful.

Besides being a Rogue, Shawn is also a University student. That makes intelligence (and perseverance) important. Then again, Shawn thinks the word “intelligence” is much too hoity-toity for him. He has “Smarts” and he likes to show them off.

Being smart helps Shawn learn faster, affects his Tool Use skill (lockpicking and trap disarming), and is an important factor in his Gaming skill. Robert Heinlein once said he worked his way through College teaching probability to his fellow students... for instance, the probability of successfully drawing to an inside straight. Smart players have an edge.

So Let’s Play It Smart

Say Shawn has been cornered by a hungry Dire Rat at the end of a corridor. There’s a door at the end of the hallway, and a balcony up above. First Shawn tries to open the door and escape…

But the door is locked, and the Drat is closing in. Maybe, thinks Shawn, Drats like apples. I’ll just toss it one and get away…

But those teeth look really sharp, and the Drat is salivating. Shawn strongly suspects it prefers a redheaded rogue to a half-eaten apple. Maybe a bit of flash powder would work - throw some at the Drat, then enter Stealth and sneak past while it’s blinded…

Or at least that would work for a rich rogue who could afford blinding powder. Shawn realizes he isn’t carrying any. But he does have a trap. Maybe he can trap the Drat long enough to pick the lock on the door and escape…

That is, he can do that if he’s practiced his Tool Use enough. And if he doesn’t mind losing the trap, which did after all cost money. Shawn is not exactly made of Lyra. There’s still at least one other choice...

If Shawn is conveniently carrying a rope and grapnel (made by attaching a hook to a rope), and has practiced both throwing and climbing, he can easily catch the hook on the balcony railing and adroitly climb out of danger.

Of course, after he tried two or three of those things unsuccessfully, the Drat has reached him, and now it’s time for combat. Alas for the Dire Rat, it didn’t know that Shawn has been working out with the target dummies every day, and he knows someone who just loves Dire Rat filet.

So Little Time, So Much to Do

Time is one of the most important resources in Hero-U, and that means that players will need to choose which skills are most important to them. There are no absolutely right or wrong approaches. You can solve the game’s problems with a wide variety of skills, but which you choose affect the story and Shawn’s relationships with other characters.

Spending most of his time in the Practice Room will let Shawn improve his Tool Use and other physical abilities, but he might learn more about some subjects in the Library. Adventuring in the dungeons can be profitable and a good way of improving combat skills, but it’s also dangerous. Socializing with other students improves Shawn’s social standing, and may lead to a special relationship, but it takes time away from studying, practicing, and adventuring.

As a result, each Hero-U game you play is likely to be subtly different from any other play-through. Skills open some doors and leave other secrets hidden for later games.

And maybe you’ll level up from playing Hero-U and get some new life skills!

Skills Pay the Bills

We’re at $93,400 and 1550 backers going into our final weekend. The campaign closes at the end of the day (in California) on Monday, June 15. The key now is to raise enough to meet a few of the stretch goals and improve the game as much as we can. Keep sharing, and visit for more updates and a different free desktop image every day until the campaign closes.

Thank you so much for your continuing support of Hero-U!

Jeremie Lariviere, Jon Cassou, and 19 more people like this update.


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    1. Corey Cole 2-time creator on

      @Zac: I should have said "Theft is bad" rather than "Thieves are bad". One of our favorite TV moments was from a Halloween special of The Real Ghostbusters. The villain says something like, "I need that for my invention, but they won't give it to me. I could just take it, but stealing is wrong. But I need it. So much for *that* moral dilemma!"

      To be a "good thief", it's important to only steal things from bad people, or to steal back things that were previously stolen. Perhaps the Robin Hood thing, for example. But I wouldn't know; I try only to steal good ideas.

    2. Corey Cole 2-time creator on

      "Moxie = Willpower" really means that through the course of the series, the same stats will have different names. Shawn has Smarts; the Wizard will have Intellect. Shawn has Moxie; the Paladin has Will.

      For me, Moxie is synonymous with Chutzpah, probably another word that different people interpret differently. :-) It's pride, willingness to risk ridicule, and yes, the courage to not run away from danger. In a monster, moxie is bravery, but for Shawn, the player is in charge of that more than a stat score.

    3. twincast ~ Mangy WoOS-DOoD Mage

      @Jon: Well, yes, in dialogue it obviously translates as snark, but there's more use to it than that. Sounded like Courage to me, but then Corey equated it to Willpower in the comments... Both fits.

    4. Missing avatar

      Jon Cassou on

      Twincast: The Moxie skill seems to be more about having the guts to be a thorn on someone's side, basically being able to say/do things most people wouldn't have the gall to do, like say insult classmates and so forth. That's what I could say about it from witnessing that one dialogue demo.

    5. twincast ~ Mangy WoOS-DOoD Mage

      I see you recently replaced Lockpicking with the more general term Tool Use and Spot (presumably fully rolled into Perception?) with Gaming, which suggests that there'll be ample opportunity for games of cards and/or dice (among others?); interesting.

      And would you say Moxie is more Willpower or more Courage?

      And I am aware that it's pretty silly in an OCD-y way, but I wish stats and skills were the same amount (or alternatively differed by more than just one)... Spellcasting would just double for Magic, and splitting Defense into Blocking and Dodging again would make little sense in this series, but how about a general Communication skill affected by all three mental stats? ...Easier, though, (particularly at this point) would be to just drop a stat, namely Luck, which I really, really hate as an actual attribute, anyway. ;P

      And while I vastly prefer point-buy systems over level-based ones, accurately tracking actual skill use by hand sounds daunting even to me. Mad respect.

      And regarding evil thieves and heroic rogues: I remembered a few days back that the equivalent profession to a non-specialized rogue is called a "Streuner" (=stray(er)) in The Dark Eye, which would nicely eliminate the overwhelmingly evil connotations of "Schurke", but on the other hand you could hardly sound further from a (completed) institutional education...

      Lots of ands. ;P

    6. Darklord on

      I remember spending ages climbing up and down that tree in QFG1 to get amazing stats! :-P

    7. speedster -Armikrog Army Annelid- $4.96 on

      Go on Visa, exercise that moxie skill by talking back to the creator of QfG ;)

    8. Visa | Tormented Dreamgoat of Eternity on

      In any case. Great update, thanks Corey!

    9. Visa | Tormented Dreamgoat of Eternity on

      "There was no direct way to improve Strength by itself until we later added a gym to Quest for Glory V."

      Didn't QfG3 have the means for that though? You could use the wrestling bridge at Simbani village in a "wrong" way (going through it by hanging with your hands from the bottom of the bridge", which would increase your strength quite rapidly.

      Just to nitpick and shine with the vast part of my brain that has been reserved for "QfG memories".

    10. Corey Cole 2-time creator on

      Actually the idea of Hero-U is that Shawn is being pushed in the direction of being a thief, but that isn't really right for him. The mysterious stranger intervenes to show him a different path. That's why the game is subtitled "Rogue to Redemption". Thieves are bad; Rogues can be cool.

    11. Missing avatar

      Jon Cassou on

      And this is why I loved the Quest for Glory series, plus the prospect of Hero-U: unlike most RPGs, you improve in the skills related to your action rather than reaching level caps to improve a set skill pool.

      Now I'm not too big on having the Thief class either, due to being more chaotic rather than being lawful good, but I do like how Hero-U is making the rogue: I can be the thief for the people rather than being the stereotypical criminal.

      I've made the YouTube video to attract attention. I'll keep sending people your way! :D

    12. Jeremie Lariviere

      nice update, thanks!