Advice for Creating a Jumpchain Jumpdoc (WIP)
You’ve got a desire to create a jumpdoc, but you’ve never done it before. Don’t worry, friend, that’s what this guide is for.
Step 0: Familiarize Yourself with Jumpchain
All of the advice which follows this step assumes that you’re not brand-new to Jumpchain. You’ve probably read through a few jumpdocs. Maybe you’ve even read through the Jumpchain Glossary to help understand what exactly an “uncapper” or a “capstone” means. (If not, please go ahead. I’ll wait.)
Back so soon? It’s like you didn’t even glance at it. Well, at least you know it’s there if you have questions or are wondering how to phrase things in Jumpchain mechanics terms. In all seriousness, one of the best ways to prepare for writing your own jumpdoc is to find jumpdocs that you enjoyed reading and try to determine what made them so enjoyable. They'll serve as models when you're writing your own jumpdoc.
Step 1: Choose Your Inspiration
Most jumpdocs are going to be based upon a specific setting, story, or media. (The exceptions – generic jumps – aren’t recommended for a first-time jumpdoc creator, but a lot of the advice given here also applies to them.). Try to choose something which you greatly enjoy – the love for that setting, story, etc. will generally shine through the work and improve its quality. A well-written jumpdoc can also lead others to check out that fiction for the first time.
Once you have something in mind, check to see if a jumpdoc already exists for it. There are three major Jumpchain communities: /tg on 4chan, /r/JumpChain on reddit, and the SpaceBattles forums. Each of them maintains its own Google drive with a list of jumpdocs, and while some jumpdocs appear on multiple drives, /tg’s drive has the most unique jumpdocs.
In some cases, a setting is large enough to encompass multiple jumpdocs. For example, DC Comics has jumps for specific comic events, superhero teams, movies, TV shows, and cartoons, each of which is still considered unique.
- /tg is fairly strictly against duplicate jumpdocs, and a duplicate jumpdoc is likely to be rejected from their drive.
- Reddit and SpaceBattles allow duplicate jumpdocs.
However, if you are thinking about creating your own jumpdoc for an identical setting, you should be able to explain to yourself and others why the existing jumpdoc is insufficient. If possible, try contacting the author of the existing jumpdoc to see if you can adopt the jump, or if he or she is open to making the changes or updates which you think are needed. If this doesn't work, either because you aren't able to reach the author or because the two of you have different views on what the jumpdoc should contain, you can prepare to create your own jumpdoc. Avoid reading, referring to, and especially copying the existing jumpdoc while you create your own. Plagiarism is too easy to do accidentally if you have another author’s text in front of you.
Now that you’ve decided what you’re going to write about, the next steps go through the jumpdoc itself, from the beginning through to the end. These steps don’t need to be completed in order – no one will know if you wrote up some items before you finished writing perks – but their order within the jumpdoc follows a fairly standard format. I intend to write up one of my own at some point, but in the meanwhile, Bluesnowman's template and cthulhu fartagn's template + advice give a good sense of how a jumpdoc fits together.
Step 2: Introduction
Remember what I said before about your jumpdoc potentially being a reader’s first exposure to a bit of fiction? Given that’s the case, the first part of the jumpdoc should explain a bit about the setting that the Jumper will be visiting. This doesn’t need to be long – a single paragraph might be sufficient for something that people are probably already familiar with, while no more than three paragraphs should be needed for something that is fairly obscure. If you get tempted to write more than that, consider this section to be the “elevator pitch” and save the details for the Notes section at the end of the jumpdoc (more about that later).
This section can also include a short, evocative quote from the fiction. Again, no more than a paragraph or two, and it helps to use italics in addition to quotation marks to make it stand out from the portions which you wrote for yourself.
In both cases, the idea is to grab the reader and give an idea of why this particular jump should be added to his or her jumpchain.
Step 3: Background Information
This section begins the Jumpchain-specific game mechanics that relate to how the Jumper enters the setting, how long the Jumper will remain in the setting, and how the Jumper will be able to purchase perks, items, and powers using the rest of the document.
3.1 Choice Points (CP)
By default, each jumpdoc grants a Jumper 1000 CP (Choice Points) to spend on anything within the jumpdoc. CP is the standard abbreviation and in some jumps is renamed to fit the theme of the jump (e.g., Cosmere Points in the Stormlight Archive jump), but functions the same way. Some jumps grant more CP that can only be spent in certain sections of the jumpdoc (what’s commonly known as a stipend), and other jumps grant 0 CP by default, requiring the Jumper to gain all of his or her CP from Drawbacks. The latter is known as a Gauntlet and is more complicated to write than a regular jump would be. Any Gauntlet-specific or Gauntlet-focused advice will be noted in green text.
Note how long that the Jumper will remain in the setting in this section. The typical duration for a jump is a decade, but some jumps (especially those based on specific stories) last less time, while some jumps can last considerably longer. In general, if a universe has nothing interesting to do after the end of the main narrative, consider reducing the duration of the jump or adding a toggle Drawback which allows the Jumper to end the jump early. If your chosen setting operates on considerably longer scales (e.g., Civilization, Stellaris, xianxia stories), consider increasing the default duration and adding a toggle Drawback which allows the Jump to extend the jump.
3.3 Background Choices
When a Jumper enters a new setting, there are a few background choices for the Jumper to make. Sometimes, specific Origins (see Step 4) will restrict these choices or charge CP for them, but in most cases, they can be made freely.
Sex, Age, and Race/Species
A Jumper can choose his or her sex and age in nearly all jumps. In some jumps, especially those associated with fantasy or science fiction stories, the Jumper can also choose a race/species. While some older jumps charge a small amount of CP to choose sex or age, most modern jumps allow them to be changed freely. On the other hand, races/species which are significantly stronger than humans in some fashion will usually cost some amount of CP to compensate for the extra powers. If you are doing these steps in order, don’t try to figure out how much CP a race/species should cost now. Instead, just note that it should cost something, and come back once the bulk of the document is written to figure out exactly how much.
If you have multiple races/species, consider ranking them (i.e., “this alien is about as powerful as this one, but the third one is a lot stronger…”) to assist with assigning CP costs when you're ready to do so.
Locations and Times
Decide which locations and times that a Jumper can enter the story. Older jumpdocs often provided a list of 6-8 distinct locations, possibly with the final option being “free choice” and had the Jumper roll randomly to see where he or she ended up. The random selection could be bypassed by a small amount of CP or sometimes associated with an Origin (e.g., "if you are a Sith, you may start on Korriban for free."). While most newer jumpdocs still offer a list of locations, it’s more common to allow a Jumper to select freely from them and only roll randomly for fun (or occasionally for a small amount of bonus CP – carrot rather than the stick). Some newer jumpdocs instead allow a Jumper to enter in any reasonable location for his or her Origin or similarly broad options.
Note that no listed locations should be innately hostile to the Jumper, especially if the Jumper cannot select freely from them. It’s appropriate to include such locations as Drawbacks, but a Jumper shouldn’t be screwed over because of a poor die roll or forced to spend CP in order to avoid that possibility.
Most jumps which are tied to a specific story will have the Jumper start at the same time that the story begins. Other jumps which are tied to broader settings may offer multiple times for a Jumper to begin the Jump. For example, a jump based on the movie Lucy offers a single starting time, while a jump based on the Warhammer 40K universe would offer a range of times.
In some cases, location and time may be linked, where selecting an insertion time also determines the location or vice versa. This works well for broad jumps where there are clearly delineated stories: an example would be the Terminator jump where a Jumper could insert into any of the existing movie or TV storylines at the appropriate time and place.
Step 4: Origins
It is not an exaggeration to say that origins are the most fundamental part of creating a jumpdoc. Narratively, origins categorize the sort of character or role that a jumper takes within a setting. Mechanically, origins provide the chief source of discounts in cost for perks, items, and other such things. These discounts incentivize a Jumper to resemble an archetype from the jump’s setting and provide much of the structure that the jumpdoc author will use to assemble the other portions of the jumpdoc.
When brainstorming origins for a jumpdoc based on a story, think of all the characters who interact with one another. Sometimes, stories will mention extremely powerful, god-like beings (or even gods) who only have a minor, direct impact on the narrative. These types of beings usually don’t work well for a dedicated origin because they don’t interact on the same level as the rest of the characters who will serve as inspirations for the primary origins.
By default, an origin also grants a Jumper a history within the setting, including memories of the life that the Jumper had lived until the jump begins, an appropriate standard of living for the origin, and so forth. Any benefits or disadvantages that come from an origin are not considered fiat-backed: while they apply to the jumper in the current setting, they won’t apply to future settings without being purchased as perks or items.
“Drop-In” origin(s) are the exception to the aforementioned default. As the name suggests, a Jumper who takes a Drop-In origin is essentially dropped into the setting without any history. It is a good idea to include at least one Drop-In origin for players who don’t want their Jumpers to accumulate memories, social ties to individuals within a setting, or other things which could conceivably have a large impact on the Jumper’s personality.
The two main approaches to Drop-In origins are to have a single Drop-In origin which has dedicated discounts on perks, items, etc., or to allow one more “normal” origins to be treated as Drop-In for the purpose of not gaining a history or memories, but retaining the normal discounts with the origin. The advantage of the first approach is that the Drop-In origin can be used to include perks which interact with the meta-construct of the jump (e.g., a video game jump could have perks relating to the nature of video games, even if those genre conceits aren’t called out within the setting). The advantage of the second approach is the jumpdoc author doesn’t need to determine a full set of perks and items which don’t fit into another origin and those using the jumpdoc have more flexibility in the sorts of characters which can be made without requiring an in-setting history.
Older jumpdocs are more likely to have a dedicated Drop-In origin, while newer jumpdocs are more likely to allow for some or all origins to be treated as Drop-In. Unless a setting itself has a strong reason for tying one origin to Drop-In, such as an isekai setting where the point is that some characters are dropping in, it is generally easier and more fun to allow for multiple origins to act as Drop-In.
4.2 Number of Origins
Theoretically, a jumpdoc could have any number of origins depending on how narrow or broad their associated archetypes are. In practice, very narrow archetypes lead to origins which typecast the Jumpers who select them and make it difficult to find interesting capabilities, powers, and items which can be uniquely associated with the origin. If a Jumper who takes all the discounted perks and items from an origin appears to be a clone of a canon character, it’s often a sign that the origin is too narrow.
The sweet spot is usually around four or five origins. This allows for different approaches to the jump for different Jumpers. It also makes it easier to divide the most interesting aspects of the jump’s setting across the different origins without some origins feeling left out.
An alternate approach for settings where there are not strong, distinguishable archetypes is to have a single origin (or in another way of thinking about it, no origins at all). In this case, there will not be any discounts tied to the origin, which will affect pricing for perks, items, etc. This approach is most often seen in gauntlets, where the Jumper has a specific and narrow characterization, but can also be used in standard jumps.
Lastly, a complex way to implement origins has two axes of origins, where a Jumper selects one origin from each axis. A relatively simple example would be a jump based on a comic book setting where a Jumper could choose an affiliation (Hero or Villain), as well as a battle role (Bruiser, Stealth, and Blaster). This approach gives a Jumper twice as many potential discounts, and consequently twice as many attractive choices. It should only be used when it makes sense to say that each axis is equally important (e.g., being a Hero is as meaningful as being a Blaster).
4.3 Balance Between Origins and “the Protagonist Trap”
Every origin should be equally attractive to a Jumper who identifies with the origin’s associated archetype. A Jumper who enjoys being a scientist should find a jump’s “Scientist” origin interesting to the same extent that a warlike Jumper gravitates towards that jump’s “Soldier” origin. Keep in mind, however, that the perks, powers, and items which will be associated with each origin should reflect the same degree of power and usefulness that is shown in the canon works. This can sometimes affect how to determine what origins work well for a jumpdoc.
The Protagonist Trap occurs when a jumpdoc author bases an origin on a story’s main protagonist where that protagonist is substantially “better” (whether in terms of power or narrative capability) than the side characters which will make up the other origins. For example, Rand Al’Thor from the Wheel of Time is a powerful channeler (magic user), a master swordsman, a nobleman, and is a focal point of fate. Creating a single origin based on Rand Al’Thor would lead to most Jumpers selecting that origin because it has the most interesting and powerful associated perks and items, effectively becoming a "One True Build" problem.
It’s important to remember that Jumpers can purchase things from other origins unless specifically prohibited. Stronger or more complex characters from canon would often need to purchase things from outside the origin which fits them best. To avoid the Protagonist Trap, see what skills the strong protagonist has in common with the side characters, then use those commonalities to identify the archetypes that can be used as origins. Using the previous example, Channeler, Soldier, and Noble all have enough other examples within the story to make for interesting origins.
In some cases, however, some origins will still be “better” than others in the same way that some races were more powerful than other races in the Background Information section. This isn’t just a matter of power in terms of biggatons; a sidekick who always knows the right words to say to ease tensions could be just as powerful in his or her own way as the main hero. More powerful origins can be balanced in the same way as more powerful races – by charging CP to gain the origin, effectively reducing the discounts granted by the origin. Conversely, if an origin is weaker than the others available from the jumpdoc, choosing it could grant the Jumper a CP stipend. As with races, don't worry about figuring out how much CP should be charged/granted at this point: that will be easier when the document is closer to complete.
Step 5: Perks
If origins were the skeleton of the jump, then perks are the meat. Perks represent the bulk of most jumps’ mechanics. Unlike items, which generally closely resemble specific objects from a jump’s setting, perks can cover common themes of a setting rather than adhering to exact examples or “feats”. A jumpdoc author has flexibility in deciding which key themes deserve to be made into perks and therefore gain fiat-backing, but this flexibility also means that the author has to communicate clearly what a perk does and does not grant a Jumper or companion.
Brainstorming ideas for perks probably began during the earlier steps, especially when brainstorming origins. It’s good to jot down all the seeds of ideas for perks from those steps, but try to avoid giving those potential perks CP costs or associating them with origins. Section 5.2 covers the cost structure for perks, but generally speaking, it’s easier to tweak the most thematic perks in power than to try to come up with brand-new perks.
Try to come up with descriptive, and if possible, clever and distinctive names for your perks. A Jumpchain author will probably have his or her Jumper acquire many perks, and good names help remind the author what a perk does and where it came from.
A perk’s description should generally be no more than one or two short paragraphs. If you find yourself going over this amount consistently, try to determine whether the perk could be simplified, split into multiple perks, or described in less detail. It’s generally better to have longer, more detailed explanations in a Notes section towards the end of a document rather than trying to include every nuance in the perk description itself.
Perks affect the Jumper/Companion who purchased them, or more rarely the setting that the Jumper/Companion is currently in. Remember that Companions can buy any perks unless explicitly restricted from doing so, so phrase any effects with that in mind.
5.1 General vs. Discounted to Origin vs. Racial
While all origins have perks, not all perks belong to an origin. If a perk is more closely related to the setting than a specific origin, then it should probably be a general perk. General perks are not discounted, so their CP cost should usually be between the discounted and undiscounted CP cost of a perk of the same “strength” in a given origin. This pricing incentivizes Jumpers to purchase perks from their origin first without discouraging the purchase of general perks in favor of other origins’ perks.
On that note, remember that perks which are discounted for a particular origin can still be purchased by Jumpers and Companions who took other origins! They will be more expensive, but unless a perk relies upon some capability which is unique to an origin, it should be phrased so that its effects work independently of origin or other perks purchased. The alternative is to note in the perk’s cost that it is Restricted to the relevant origin.
Lastly, some perks may be discounted or restricted to a particular race/species rather than an origin. Such perks should clearly note whether they are discounted (in which case other races/species can buy them at their full, undiscounted cost, and the perk’s effects are not limited to a single alt-form) or restricted (in which case the cost is not discounted and the perk’s effects are generally limited to the relevant alt-form).
5.2 Cost Structure for Discounted Perks
The costs for perks and the quantity of perks should be symmetric across all origins. Most jumps use a standard set of costs for perks associated with an origin. This structure is:
Typically, 100 CP perks are discounted to 0 CP (i.e., freebies, see below for more details), while all of the other costs are discounted by 50%. This structure has the benefit of maintaining multiples of 100 CP in cost for purchases by a member of an origin, thereby simplifying math when making a build for a jump and avoiding “leftover CP”/“forced purchases”.
Contrast the previous structure with a structure used by some older jumpdocs: 100/300/600 as the costs for perks and items, with 100-CP perks and items being discounted to 0 CP as typical. This structure meant that a Jumper who bought the 300-CP perk for his or her origin would pay 150 CP and then either be forced to buy the 300-CP item for his or her origin as well or else have 50 CP leftover at the end of the build. Some of those jumpdocs created multiple ways of spending 50 CP to avoid this problem, but just as many did not.
A relatively common alternative structure is to drop the 600 CP perks, and is most often used for jumps with several origins and relatively low power levels. Another alternative is to have multiple entries at the lower levels (e.g., a pair of 100-CP perks for each origin, a pair of 100-CP and 200-CP perks…). If multiple 100-CP perks are offered for each origin, the author should note whether both of them are discounted to freebies or if the Jumper chooses one as a freebie and pays full price for the other.
Jumps which use the single/no-origin approach generally use floating discounts, i.e., a jumper chooses one or two perks at a given cost (100 CP, 200 CP, etc.) and discounts them. Alternatively, gauntlets which lack origins will simply list a CP cost for each given perk. These prices should be closer to the discounted cost of a perk or counterbalanced by drawbacks which provide more CP than usual for their level of challenge.
Once you have your origins and your general cost structure, a helpful way of visualizing perks is a grid with one axis being origin and the other axis cost. Take all of those idea seeds from brainstorming and drop them into the grid. If two seeds would seem to fit into the same spot, try to determine if either of them could move to a different origin or increase or decrease in strength while maintaining the same thematic link to the setting. Don’t try to force every seed into place: once you’ve made all of the easy placements, look over the grid to see if there are any large gaps, particularly in origins. If an origin has large gaps, maybe it wasn’t a good choice for an origin after all. Then review all of the perks at each given cost to determine if they feel consistent in terms of power/usefulness for their given origins. As before, try to tweak any outliers or swap perks within the origin to balance things out.
At this point, in an ideal world, you’ll have your grid completely filled out. In practice, it’s likely that you’ll still have some gaps. Take a look at any idea seeds which you didn’t already use and see whether they could fit in a gap or whether they’d work better as general perks. Take a look at the other origins’ perks for a given cost to see whether they have something in common that could be applied to the origin where you have the gap. Go back to your source material and brainstorm some more.
Remember that the grid is there to help you organize your thoughts and to rank the relative strength of perks within an origin. Don’t let the grid take on a life of its own where you’re trying to create a 400-CP perk for the Nobleman origin rather than thinking about interesting, moderately powerful things that noblemen did in your jump’s setting.
Freebie perks cost 0 CP, thus the name. There are two types of freebie perks: freebies for all, and freebies for a given origin.
If every inhabitant of the setting can do something which is impossible for a mundane human to accomplish or has some extraordinary quality, that should be a perk. An example would be the ability to cultivate in a xianxia setting. Keep in mind that some jumps have a narrower focus than others, and the “setting” may not be the whole world/universe/multiverse. A Harry Potter “Hogwarts” jump will probably give all jumpers the ability to cast Harry Potter-style magic, even though Muggles exist. Think back to the first step: what inspired your jump? If the setting is a roller coaster, no one should have to spend CP on perks that say that they’re tall enough to ride. These freebies belong in the general section for perks, rather than in a particular origin. If a perk is needed to fit into the setting, it should be made mandatory.
Freebie perks for an origin should establish baseline competence in that origin. If a Jumper takes a Swordsman origin, he or she should know how to use a sword and be physically capable enough to do so! Background memories for non-Drop-In origins may help, but by creating a perk, you can make it explicit what a Jumper gains. Also, as alluded to in section 4.3, putting those capabilities in perk form allows a Jumper with that complex background to gain a broad range of competence.
5.3 Perk Power Levels and Absolutes
Perks are based on your jump’s setting and, by extension, the same is true of your perks’ power levels. A perk which says “You are a highly skilled swordsman” will have a different effect if it comes from a jump based on the Three Musketeers or a jump based on Exalted. It’s usually easy to write a perk so that it makes sense in its home setting, but a fundamental park of the Jumpchain experience is the chain-aspect, where powers from one jump are taken to another jump.
With that having been said, try to phrase perks’ effects clearly, distinguishing between effects that are relative to a particular setting and those that scale with the jumper. A good phrase to highlight the latter option is “In future jumps…”, which draws attention to how a perk works in its native setting vs. how it works in the rest of Jumpchain.
A final note relating to power levels has to do with absolutes. Words like “always”, “never”, and “immune” in perks can mean different things in different settings. All perks purchased with CP are fiat-backed, but there are two common interpretations of what this means. Some Jumpchain authors treat the fiat-backing of perk descriptions to mean “the highest possible power level, interpreting the text literally”. Others interpret the fiat-backing of perk descriptions to mean “functioning in the same way as it did in the original setting, including the same power level”. Keep this in mind when balancing perks – absolute effects are generally powerful, especially if it’s clear that they scale with settings.
Step 6: Items...
Step 7: Powers... (optional)
Step 8: Companions... Step 9: Drawbacks... Step 10: Scenarios... (optional) Step 11: End Choices and Finishing Touches... Step 12: Polishing, Peer Review, and Publishing...
Step 9: Drawbacks...
Step 10: Scenarios... (optional)
Step 11: End Choices and Finishing Touches...
Step 12: Polishing, Peer Review, and Publishing...
There are many jumpdoc authors, theorycrafters, and other folks who have written up their own answers to questions of "what makes a good jump", "how should I write my first jumpdoc", and similar topics. If this post is helpful and informative, it's because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.
Some of those who have stood out in particular include kayne, Bluesnowman, cthulhu fartagn, Songless, Ovid, and s-lver. I'm sure that more names will be added to that list before I am done.