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The Odyssey: State of the Game

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

We're calling this post (and probably future posts about the game development process) the Odyssey very much on purpose.

Illustration of the sirens tempting Odysseus to crash his ship on their island

Ladies, we are on a deadline

In Homer's epic ancient Greek poem Odýsseia, the Hero Odysseus tries to return home after the Trojan War to reunite with his wife and rule his kingdom of Ithakē, only to be subjected to an increasingly ridiculous string of nonsense that prevents him from successfully arriving for ten years, during which time his son grows up, his wife has to outwit suitors who keep trying to climb in her windows, and Ithakē in general becomes a wilderness of mythological disaster.

Well, we kickstarted Hero's Journey in 2014. It's 2021. Much like Odysseus, we have been repeatedly blown off course by natural disasters, debilitating illnesses, career collapses, and the general tomfoolery of the world. Much like Odysseus, we are very annoyed about it. And much like Odysseus, we're going to crawl into that harbor clinging to a single plank of wood if we have to. It hasn't been 10 years yet and, if you'll all pardon us the hubris of saying it, we're going to beat that seafaring trickster to the finish line.

The Journey So Far:

The question is always, "So what's actually done for Hero's Journey?" (Well, actually the question is usually "When is your frigging game going to finally release?", which is a very fair question but also unanswerable because we're not prognosticators, so this is the closest we can get.) So here's a quick breakdown for those looking for updates:

A checklist of completed HJ tasks featuring artwork of the Egyptian god Thoth

As you can see, the game's bones are all completed and assembled - the systems are written and thoroughly playtested, and the majority of the game's chapters have been written and are almost player-ready. It's hard to fit the huge amount of math, writing, yelling, and general wranglery that goes into finishing the entire system on a little checklist, but that's all right; what counts is that most of it's finished!

Similarly, writing is essentially done, from the chapters of the book itself to the companion fiction piece to the worldbuilding. Of course, writing is never really done - there's always some little detail you love and want to add in! - but if the systems are the game's bones, the writing is the flesh, and we've got a pretty respectable x-ray model of a creature at this point.

These aren't "barely complete" systems, either - these are mature, edited, and fully playtested (which you can watch in real-time twice a week over on our Twitch channel, if you want to!). The long time lag is annoying, but the silver lining is that it's given us a lot of time to subject playtesters to systems until we're satisfied that they work.

The Continuing Voyage:

So what's still holding things up? Here's the less fun checklist:

A checklist of outstanding HJ tasks featuring artwork of the Egyptian god Thoth

Let's look at those one by one!

Blessing Tweaks. Blessings are always a casualty of changes to other systems. Since they rely on the rest of the game's mechanics and also fill in gaps in powers/skills that can't be handled by naked rolls, every time something changes in the system, a few Blessings have to change as well. This should be a pretty reasonable clean-up item once the others are complete, and we anticipate that the main things that will see changes are Leader/Lover Blessings that will be affected by the Conversation system, and Creator Blessings that will be affected by the crafting system updates.

Conversations. John recently talked about these on Twitch a little, but the quick and dirty version is that Conversations are the system that handles social conflict and interaction with NPCs. We'd estimate that this system is about 85% complete already; it's about at the point where it just needs to be thrown into the playtesting grinder for a little while to make sure it doesn't have any secret issues.

Crafting System. This one won't surprise anyone (frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of RPGs end up with this item near the end of their to-do lists, too). Crafting systems are notoriously hard to handle in RPGs, and with our crafting Heroes who serve Hephaistos or Ogun doing just as many mighty deeds as everyone else, we can't ignore or skimp on it. This system has been through at least five completely different versions that ended up being dropped; the current draft is looking good, but it still needs a little more polish.

Devotionals. As you can see above, we have this broken out by the pantheons in game at the moment, because each one requires enough focus that it's easier to handle them individually. Like the regular Blessings, these pantheon- and god-specific ones are sensitive to system changes and need a last-pass balance run after everything else is finished, and there are one or two stubborn deities who have been demanding a more elegant version of their draft power still to be sorted out.

Divine Favor. These are the bonus gifts given to Heroes by their divine patrons - the traditional magic sword, animal companion, renown throughout the land, and so on. They've been through several revisions as well, mostly to keep them from interfering or becoming redundant in comparison to other Hero buffs (for example, Archetype cards or Sphere Blessings). They'll probably be the next-to-last thing to get finished, right before the Blessings and Devotionals.

Steps of the Journey. The Hero's Journey model is how Hero's Journey tells Heroes how to... go on journeys. And do everything else in their stories. Based on Jung and Campbell but altered for both game mechanics purposes and because it's not nearly as universal as some scholars would like to believe in its original form, this is largely complete but needs a few tweaks to make sure that the right mechanics are attached to the right steps along the way.

As far as the writing tasks go, most of them are just a matter of writing up those last system edits and being done with it. The only exception is the Call to Adventure, the quickstart adventure that accompanies the game... but we'll talk more about that in a future post.

Prophecies of the Future:

So, as people keep asking, how much longer is this mess going to take? Unfortunately, the answer is pretty much "as long as it takes", although hopefully the information above makes it clear how much has been completed and how close to release we're finally coming.

As a teeny tiny team of people who really care about making this decent, we struggle a lot with product vs. quality: if we set a deadline, and we can't complete something by then, do we call the deadline a failure and set a new one, or do we just slap what we've got into a book and call it done? We have always opted for the first, because we've seen what happens when overworked freelancers have to send what they've got to publication and it's not always pretty. One of the nice things about not answering to a studio is that no one can make us publish something that we aren't satisfied with because we ran out of time.

But we do answer to all of you - the Kickstarter backers, the watchers and readers, the folks who might play this game one day - and this taking such a long time isn't fair to you, either. So while we can't give you a definitive date, we can always give you the true answer: as soon as we possibly can.

Which is the Odysseus way, after all.

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