How I got started with HabitRPG (and you can too)

It's Self-Improvement Week on Backtalk!* In honor of such an event, which just so happens to coincide with the Spread the Word Challenge on HabitRPG, I wrote a getting started guide for HabitRPG - the way I did it. Please feel free to share, and I hope you'll join us on both Backtalk and HabitRPG.

*We have weekly themes, and themed posts are all tagged "Theme of the Week".

How I got started with HabitRPG (and you can too)

I've written about HabitRPG before, here and here (and so has Lifehacker). If you have been privileged to not be on the receiving end of my spam, HabitRPG is a free to-do list sort of webapp (there's less-featured free mobile apps too) that gamifies your life. If you do your best work while you're being graded, HabitRPG can help improve your productivity - at home, school, and work. Before I continue, I will note that this post is part of a challenge, and if I win, I will receive an in-game reward.

What is it?

Before you read further, you probably want to know a bit more. HabitRPG is an RPG for your to-do list. There are several columns of tasks: habits (positive or negative), dailies, and to-dos. It's your completion of these tasks that drives your HP (health), XP (experience), and gold, and ultimately, your progress in the game.

A screenshot of part of my task list. My party members have been edited out for their privacy.

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A negative habit or failure to complete a daily (and you can set them to be specific days, though the default is all days) results in loss of HP. Completion of non-negative tasks increases XP and gold, and when you advance to the next level, restores HP. Furthermore, the point-value associated with tasks changes based on your history: if you're really bad at doing something positive, you'll lose more HP if it's a daily and you'll gain more XP when you do get around to doing it (positive habits, dailies, and to-dos). The best part is that if it's not going to be doable in the short term for you (you're sick or on vacation, etc.), you can check into the inn (click the tavern tab) and you'll be protected from damage from your own incomplete dailies.

One of the best things about HabitRPG is that it pre-populates your tasks list to start so you aren't so confused, but it's easy to get rid of the ones that don't work for you, and there are plenty of suggestions from the community in the form of challenges (coming up!).

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How I got started

As I've mentioned in my earlier post, I started HabitRPG because when I got to grad school, I realized I'd had much academic success previously because I thrive on structure. My first year of grad school was pretty structured, but as my qualifying exam loomed, I knew I needed a better way to study. I discovered HabitRPG because my friend was checking off her tasks during an unproductive study group meeting. I went home and spent several hours customizing my own account.

Taking it slow: just the tasks

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There are plenty of social features with HabitRPG, and it can be overwhelming when all you're trying to do is work out your to-do list. I spent a few weeks working on mine, without trying any social aspects of the game - after all, the social features won't work if you're not going to commit to using it to manage your tasks.

The hardest part was building up the task list, even though I had a good idea of what I wanted. That's something you just have to invest time in, but there are a few things that can help.

  1. Include a mix of things that are easy for you to do and things that are harder - if it's all hard, you'll just watch yourself losing and losing, and it's terrible for your motivation. Besides, different things might be your hardest tasks on different days.
  2. Don't be afraid of the mundane. That's what HabitRPG is for. Witness part of my daily list at the left.
  3. Your task list is not immutable. You change, and it's important to remember that adding or subtracting tasks as you go along is a good idea. For example, when I was trying to learn a new language prior to a trip, I added a daily for studying that language - now that my trip is over and I've got a lot of other commitments, I'm retiring that daily and adding others.
  4. Don't get too specific. If you have irregular tasks, I suggest making a daily for "write a to-do list for tomorrow," and positive habits for "completed an item on my to-do list" and possibly "completed a task I've been putting off for awhile".
  5. As I mentioned before, the community has great suggestions, in the form of challenges - that's where I got the items in step 4 (coming up).

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Rewards, Drops, and Equipment

In addition to picking up gold and XP as you go along, you also get other drops within the game. These are mostly eggs and hatching potions to hatch a pet, and food to feed your hatched pets and raise them into mounts once they've eaten enough. Pets and mounts can be used to customize your avatar: one pet and one mount may accompany you at any given time (my green dragon pet is really cute, isn't it?).

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And what do you do with the gold? Rewards and equipment, of course. Rewards are things you customize in the task pane (see above): I give up 7 gold to take the time to paint my nails and watch TV, or 5 gold to eat an extra slice of cake or cookies. Equipment is gear that changes your character attributes, which in turn affects the rate at which you advance and rate of drops. There is also the option to customize your character's "costume" based on the gear in your inventory, independent of what you're actually wearing for play. My avatar's costume is a lab coat, but the body armor I'm wearing actually offers more protection (and was a lot more work to acquire!).

As I advanced, I and HabitRPG added some complexity

If you've been playing long enough, it gets time to make things more interesting. At Level 10 in HabitRPG, you can fully participate in the Class system - prior to that, everyone is a Warrior. The four classes are Warrior, Mage, Healer, and Rogue. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it's up to you to decide which one will be more fun/useful for you to play. Your choice is not immutable, but it requires gems to change your class and reallocate your attribute points. You can obtain gems via one-time payment, subscription (which allows you to convert gold you've earned to gems), and winning a challenge (or contributing to the development of HabitRPG, as determined by the staff). At level 10, you also receive MP (mana), which allow you to cast special skills associated with your class.

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Social features: Parties, Guilds, Tavern, Quests, Challenges in no particular order

HabitRPG has a host of social features, which I more or less ignored until I got to Level 10, and I knew I was committed, but they exist at any level, so feel free to take advantage of them. I guess the place to start is the central chat room of HabitRPG, the Tavern. It's a great place to chat about anything you like and the community is very helpful (check out the guidelines here), but because of the message limitations of the Tavern, you may be directed to a guild, like The Newbies Guild or The Back Corner, where extended discussions among members can take place. Often, guilds/The Tavern will have user-created challenges, which are exactly what they sound like: people join to compete against other for the completion of challenge-supplied tasks within a certain timeframe. There is often a gem reward associated with challenges, which comes out of the bank of the creator.

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The other main social unit of HabitRPG is the party. While you can be in more than one guild, you can only join one party at a time. A party is a group of users who hold each other more or less accountable, in that they may chat to one another, and go on quests together. Quests are also exactly what they sound like: members of party (doesn't have to be everyone) join a quest to share a particular reward at its completion. Collection quests simply involve everyone doing their tasks more or less - you're aiming to get specialized drops during the quest. Boss quests are trickier. On a collection quest, you're only damaged by your own incomplete dailies. On a boss quest, the boss you are fighting amplifies the damage from these incomplete dailies and attacks your party members - in short, everyone is relying on everyone else to complete their tasks during a boss quest. Parties, and quests, are also where certain class-specific skills can be applied to a particular group (using MP): healers, for example, can cast "Blessing," which helps party members recover HP during particularly trying times.

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Why HabitRPG in particular?

I drift in and out of the social features of HabitRPG, like many of my friends. They're great for keeping you accountable and add complexity to the game, but when you're in a tough spot, the only thing that matters is that you're doing okay with your tasks. I like HabitRPG in particular because of the quantification aspects: I needed something that would penalize me for incomplete tasks but not keep me down entirely. HP is how I keep track of more or less how well I'm doing in basic life functions - I might not get everything done all the time, but I'm doing okay. On really bad days, I use Alys' Data Display Tool to calculate exactly how much I need to do before bed so my avatar doesn't die.

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The other thing that helps, of course, is the responsive staff and community. When things aren't working, someone's happy to chime in, and that's always a plus. And as complicated as this guide may seem as a whole, it's possible to ease yourself into this game - HabitRPG is actually the first and only RPG I've ever played, in any sense.

Finally, a bit of help from you

This post is meant to be a How to on just getting started. I've linked to the wiki for good reason, in that there's a lot more to discover. Nonetheless, I'm aware that this post could be both cleaner and clearer. If you have questions about something I didn't explain properly, please let me know, and I'll edit the post.

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Thank you, and good luck!