For this next bit, get out your copy of Planet Apocalypse and look at some of the hero sheets.
Improving your hero in Planet Apocalypse is a matter of spending Courage on your “tech tree”. Every hero has his own unique gift track. You can easily see how different they are.
Hannah Hazard’s has only 1 start area which generates two paths.
Prof. Maxwell’s also has two paths, but by having two start areas, the way the progression works is different.
Cindrew’s is totally insane, with 5 different Starts.
Moose has the simplest track – one start, no branches.
Now, each slot on a track has a reward already printed. When you buy a gift with your hard-earned courage, you also choose a card from the gift display. For example, you might take the Medikit gift, which causes your First Aid to cure +1 extra health. But you ALSO get whatever is printed on your hero’s gift track.
So, for instance, if Hannah’s first gift is Medikit, she both gets the Medikit boost, plus she adds a 1d4 token to her attack box. Next time Hannah gets played, she will almost certainly get a different first gift – perhaps Vanity, or Hero Worship. But her first gift always also gives her a 1d4 attack token.
In this way, Hannah will be different every time you play her, but she will still have some features that remain unchanged, and recognizably Hannah.
Of course, you may also buy your gift slots in a different order in different games. Hannah only has one Start slot, so she always takes that first, but her second gift could either be Zeroed In or Head Shot.
And different heroes are REALLY different in terms of their gift tracks. Moose Kowalski, for instance, only has a single linear track, and has to buy his gifts in order. This represents his lack of imagination and stubborn nature. Tarang’s two starting gifts set up his basic dichotomy – whether he needs to focus on defense or offense this game. When he progresses past the start slot, this dichotomy continues. His top track starts with Prayer (heals him), then boosts his toughness, then gives him Luck. His lower track starts with Silat (kills extra baddies), then grants a new attack die, then bumps up a die.
You usually won’t fill all six slots
Unlike some other games (such as Cthulhu Wars) it’s not usual in a game of Planet Apocalypse to “level up” your hero all the way. Typically the game ends when your heroes are at about 3-5 gifts. If a hero gets all 6 gifts, it’s because the other players have explicitly “fed” that hero to bump him or her up to maximum power. Sometimes this is a good idea, but often not, because it means you have one really tough hero, and a bunch of sad sacks.
For example, to buy all Hannah Hazard’s gifts (not counting extra-cost gifts) is 43 courage. This nets you 6 gifts. For the same price, you could instead have gained up to 9 gifts divided among Hannah, Cindrew, and Professor Maxwell. So as I said, sometimes it’s good, but more often it’s wise to spread the wealth.