Forthright now available!


  • Alas, Comment Elsewhere February 3, 2018

    We’ve been trying to find a good commenting system for for ages. Something that emails us when a comment posts, something that doesn’t allow anonymous commenting. We settled on Facebook / Google+ comments for a while, but Google+ kept changing their design and breaking our comments, and Facebook didn’t let us know when a comment appeared (so, if you commented on old-ass content on this website using Facebook … yeah, sorry we never noticed you).

    Lately we’ve given just plain old WordPress commenting a shot. And boy, do predatory Payday Loan scams really want your business.

    So we’re shutting down commenting on this site – there was so little commenting going on here that the effort of killing the spam comments (or paying to get a better plugin) just isn’t a good business cost for us.

    But we still want to hear from you! So please, join our Google+ Community or chat with us over on Facebook or Twitter!

Playing Forthright

  • MAKING A MONSTER: The Medusa February 3, 2018

    Earlier this week, Marshall Brengle and Matt Helms in the Google+ Community were interested in how to build gorgons (from ancient Greek mythology, not the weird bull-thing) in Forthright Open Roleplay. This fits perfectly with the Guidebook Ray Watters and I have been working on, and gave us an opportunity to illustrate our design process. So, without further ado, I present how we made the ever-terrifying Medusa:

    “Save or die” abilities aren’t in the Core Rulebook because frankly, we don’t think they’re fun. Any ability that keeps players from playing the game = no bueno from our point of view.

    What that means is that for those sorts of abilities, we have to find a way to do it that enhances the story, raises stakes, and provides the players with an opportunity for adventure without preventing them from being able to take Actions. And Petrify by its very nature prevents Protagonists from taking Actions.

    So, how do we build [such a monster]? First, we know we’re going to need to create some new Boosts, that’s just a given since we left that sort of thing out of the Core Rulebook. Which is fine, that was our intention – to provide the basic pattern of Boosts that can be used as templates for creating other Boosts.

    So, PETRIFICATION. This prevents Action, and is equivalent to Knockout. Knockout only impacts Minor NPCs, which are (using the Fair Fight rules) approximately 1/3 of a Protagonist. So Petrification can be looked at as either a single Boost costing 3 Boost Points (3x Knockout), or a 1-BP Boost that requires the target to be hit 3 times before it applies.

    Let’s say we want Petrification to be a permanent thing. Well, Injuries give us the model for permanent damage to a character (which can be reversed through special means, like a magical ritual or the like). We definitely want Petrification to have that permanent-but-reversible feel, so Petrification then should be an actual Injury.

    Injuries get applied in combat when a Protagonist drops to 0 Luck, so we want anybody going up against the Medusa to get there ASAP. Increasing her Fighting Stance Harm and giving her Persist Harm sound like great ways to do that.

    Now, do we want targets to just be able to shake off the Persist Harm effects? I don’t know that “I brush off the stone that’s forming around me” is necessarily the way to go, because I kind of like the idea that you’re getting calcified from the inside. So I’d say that, unusually, the Persist Harm in this case requires a Special Substance (SOFT Potion, for my Final Fantasy peeps!) to overcome. And that’s worth another Boost.

    And finally we’ve got the nasty bit. The Medusa needs to be directly observed for her powers to work. Which means her powers bypass Strong and Ultra Defense, and can also really screw up somebody with Acuity! That means she’s going to need a Boost, let’s call it STONY GAZE, that bypasses 2 Boosts and gets triggered on a 3rd, so that seems like a 3-BP Boost to me.

    Now, the thought process on our end was that we’re still talking about the Medusa ~3000 years after the first stories about her were circulated, which means that she’s a really big deal. Really big deals are Major NPCs at the very least, but more likely Masters. So:

    MEDUSA (Master, Intelligent Monster)

    +6 Fight, +6 Talk, +6 Skill, 2d10 Harm Whirlwind, 50 Luck

    Increase Persist Harm (x2, to 1d10), Increase Stance Harm (x4, to 2d10), Infiltrator, Orator (Enticing people to look directly at her), Persist Harm, Petrify, Stony Gaze (3), Unshakeable Persist Harm (removing this Hinder requires a specially-brewed softening agent to be consumed)

    Petrification: Petrification occurs in 4 stages.

    • Stage One is through the Medusa’s Persist Harm effect, which begins changing an observer to stone by reducing the character’s Luck. The Persist Harm effect can be removed by consuming a specially-brewed softening agent, reaching 0 Luck, or by killing the Medusa. Each attack by the Medusa applies Persist Harm (note: Persist Harm doesn’t stack with itself).
    • Stage Two is the Injury Stiffened, suffered the first time the Medusa reduces a character to 0 Luck: The character suffers from the Neutralize Hinder.
    • Stage Three is the Injury Rooted, suffered the second time the Medusa reduces a character to 0 Luck: The character is Pinned where they are standing.
    • Stage Four is the Injury Petrified, suffered the third time the Medusa reduces a character to 0 Luck: The character cannot take Actions or communicate. The character is now completely transformed into stone.

    Tactics: The Medusa will generally try to hide until it is close enough to target unsuspecting enemies with its Stony Gaze. If all enemies are observing the Medusa through mirrors, she will make a Talk Check with her beautiful voice to attempt to entice targets to look at her directly. A successful Talk Check allows the Medusa to immediately attack the targets looking at her directly, on the same Turn as the Talk Check. Once the Medusa is reduced to half her Luck, she will attempt to Retreat.

    And we closed with some additional thoughts about the creature and the Injuries it can inflict:

    A Rooted character would still be able to be picked up and moved by other characters, he just can’t do it himself.

    A Petrified character, while Petrified, would gain Strong Defense owing to the fact that they’re now rock. Once the Petrification Injury is lifted, they lose that.

    It’ll take 3 total Recoveries to remove Petrified / Rooted / Stiffened. They get removed in that order.

    And lastly, I’d say that the softening agent would probably be a 1-Complexity potion. [It is removing Persist Harm, which generally doesn’t require special tools to remove because Hindrances can be removed with an Action. So the cost of this agent should be as low as it can be while still costing something.] You should probably be able to make 6-Complexity Recover Rooted and Recover Stiffened potions, as well. Recover Petrify probably needs to be a ritual that can only be performed after the poor sap is Petrified.

    A Petrified Protagonist isn’t dead, just unable to act, and with all the Medusa’s abilities so clearly telegraphed, any Protagonist that keeps fighting gives implicit consent to Petrification (

    I’m very happy with the work we’re doing over in the Community, and all of us here at Room 209 Gaming are thrilled with how vibrant and engaged / engaging the folks in the Community are. We’re looking forward to the Rules Questions and Play Reports to come!

    And we’re also happy to point at the Medusa and say, “this game doesn’t need to be as forgiving as it may at first seem.” You can make some brutal, terrifying stuff with Forthright. Enjoy!

Building Forthright

  • LESSONS LEARNED: NDAs Aren’t Worth It December 9, 2017

    When we first started Room 209 Gaming, we tried to do everything by-the-book by following accountant and attorney advice. One of the things we were advised to establish was a Non-Disclosure Agreement for playtesters. This NDA was intended to protect our intellectual property and reputation, and would also ensure that if we discussed game rules or the like with playtesters, they could not come back later and claim they owned IP that was discussed during a playtest or retrospective. At the time, it made a lot of sense.

    After the first session of public playtesting, way back in 2012, we had a playtester attempt to vacate the NDA. Ultimately the NDA stood, but it hit us directly in the wallet. Afterwards, we largely withdrew from public playtesting and went invite-only. Frankly, we couldn’t afford to have that happen again. I was personally so angry and disgusted that Room 209 Gaming almost ended before we’d published a single word.

    It was all very frustrating and very dramatic, but it taught us one very important lesson that we maintain to this day: For a tabletop designer, unless you are working on a licensed property, an NDA is not worth the hassle.

    Why do I say this? After all, I have an experience with an NDA situation in which Room 209 Gaming came out on top. Why would I advise anyone else to avoid them? Well:

    • Copyright law only protects the specific expression of game rules, not the game rules themselves. So, for instance, if I have a mechanic I call the Midgard System that uses the middle of 3d10 to determine the value of a die roll, there is nothing in law that prevents anyone else from using the same mechanic and calling it the Mediocre Triad or something else. Your exact words are copyrightable, your engine isn’t.
    • Even if someone takes your mechanics, they haven’t taken your game. First, the game-buying public in general frowns on design-thieving to that degree, and whoever does it will in short order find their reputation ruined. Second, the thing that makes your game unique is your specific expression of the rules. Even if someone else takes your mechanic, they can’t take the fundamental way of looking at it that only you possess.
    • It takes work and money to transform any mechanic or idea into a functional, published game. The chances that someone will steal your idea, then also have the work ethic and cash to beat you to the punch in publishing that idea as a game, are virtually nil.
    • It takes work and money to enforce an NDA. And that work and money are better spent on your part making your game rather than worrying after what other people are saying and doing. In our case, we could have bought 3-10 more pieces of art with the amount of money we spent on attorney’s fees.
    • You’re specifically spending money and effort to get people to not talk about your game. Word-of-mouth is absolutely essential for building hype and community involvement. By trying to protect what’s virtually un-stealable, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by preventing your audience from growing.

    Licensed properties are their own special thing. These usually have a brand or franchise manager, and they’re very careful about what gets out and about because they want to ensure the franchise grows and isn’t damaged by incomplete information. In these situations, it’s my understanding the brand owner will cover at least some if not all of the legal costs of the NDA (they are, after all, the ones demanding it). And when they’re handling the NDA, they can do whatever they want with it without expending the designer’s time and effort.

    In the end, having the NDA did us no favors. It cost us extra money (four figures, for creating and enforcing it), it damaged goodwill between us and others, and the kicker is: nothing of that initial playtest session’s ruleset made it to the final game. It was entirely pointless.

    So please, learn from our expensive lesson. If you’re considering an NDA, if you’re thinking someone might steal your game … let those anxieties go. They can’t steal the fundamental you-ness that will make your game what you imagine it to be, and there are way more cons than pros in creating an NDA. Save your money. Save your hairline. Design your game.

Con Reports

  • Metatopia 2017 November 9, 2017

    Hello and welcome! It’s been a few weeks since my last non-announcement post because we’ve been terrifically busy. Not only is Forthright Open Roleplay now available (and a silver seller!), but Sarah and I moved to a new house (and corporate office, I suppose) and I headed to New Jersey for the one-of-a-kind Metatopia. I didn’t bring anything of my own, because my goal this time was to give back to the community that made Forthright possible by playtesting as many other games as I could.

    It’s taken me a while to sit down and write this because, alas, my flight back to RDU from Newark was cancelled due to clouds. Like, apparently, seriously terrifying clouds that shut down almost all traffic out of Newark this past Sunday night. So I had to cancel my flight and drive home…an 8-hour drive…starting at 8pm. I am not a young man anymore, that was hard.

    Anyway, my brain seems to be fully-functioning again, so let’s talk Metatopia!


    Metatopia is in a big way a networking convention, and this year I think I met and had wonderful conversations with more people than the previous two times I’d been to Metatopia. I think that’s mostly on me, as my previous visits were with Sarah and Ray and if I’ve got somebody I know I tend not to branch out to meet people I don’t. But I was also previously burdened with a severe case of impostor syndrome, like I didn’t really deserve to be there, and that anything I had to say was pointless and dumb compared to the gaming greats around me. Combined with a compulsion to stay entirely focused on the then-unfinished Forthright, I don’t think I was in a mind space to fully appreciate what Metatopia had to offer in this regard.

    This time, I arrived with confidence – we had developed Forthright and gotten it to publication, and people in general liked it. That pushed impostor syndrome right out of my head – I had done something. And I got to hang out with a lot of great people and really enjoy myself as a result – and I thought about listing them all here, but that feels strangely like name-dropping oh look who got to hang out with. So…next!


    I only attended two panels this year, one of which I was on. From Idea to Product: Your First Game was a panel I was on with John Adamus and Laura Simpson. It was a really interesting experience to share advice with a room full of people, and hopefully the mistakes we’ve made will help some of those fine folks avoid making the same ones. And I got to meet Laura Simpson, who developed Companion’s Tale, a game I’d not heard of but am now dying to play!

    Generic But Indie was a panel I attended at the urging of Jason Pitre and boy, am I glad I did! This panel had Jason, Brennan Taylor, and Hannah Shaffer talking about the difficulties of creating, marketing and sustaining a generic product with supplements. I’m really glad I went to this panel, because that was very much the original business plan for Room 209 Gaming: create Forthright, then do a bunch of game-setting products. We wanted to avoid the pushback Fantasy Flight experienced by repackaging the same rules over and over for Star Wars.

    But, as it turns out, indie games tend not to suffer that pushback because they’re small enough that they offer additional growth opportunities rather than a burden. So that’s led to a shift in how we’ll be developing Gamescape products in the future.


    The last time I attended Metatopia (2015), the con had grown to a point where there was friction between developers and players. Designers were expecting more robust feedback than they were getting, while players were expecting a more traditional con experience. I’m happy to say that this year, that did not seem to be the case – Double Exposure printed up packets for all the game tables that explained the roles and responsibilities of the devs and the players, and provided handouts with some great tools for structured feedback. I was pretty impressed.

    And I got to play some really interesting games. “Take two stats and add numbers into a single die pool to roll” was a favorite mechanic this year, at least at the tables I gamed at. Some of the highlights (in alphabetical order):

    • BLOCKBUSTER! was the last game I got to play, from Duffy Austin, and it was an absolute blast. You take on the roles of egomaniacal actors who are swinging a directionless movie production back and forth to give themselves spotlight. It only needed a couple of tweaks, and I can’t wait to play this game again.
    • Harnessed by Ian Jarrard is ostensibly a sci-fi game where players powers stolen from an ancient cosmic evil to fight that same evil when it returns. In the state it was when I played it, it was still a fairly traditional game, with lots of things that it didn’t need because they weren’t what it was about. But Ian was very receptive to feedback, and this is the one game I can say I wrote that a mechanic was too damn fun, so why wasn’t the whole game revolving around that? Fortunately, Ian is going to be reworking it more into “Doctor Strange in Space,” which is kind of what it was, and I’m looking forward to the next iteration of the game.
    • ISSUES! The Comic Book Continuity Building Game, from 9th Level Games, was a surprise for me because, while it was kind of a roleplaying game, it was also kind of a storytelling card game. The players got to take on different roles in a comic book company, building comics together based on card prompts. I think this is going to be a great party game when it’s done.
    • Pasion de las Pasiones, from Stop, Hack and Roll, was not a playtest I participated in. But damn do I wish I had! This was in a lot of ways the star of the con – everyone I encountered who played it was talking about it, talking about it passionately, and talking about it positively. In it, you play both the characters in a telenovela and the family at home watching the show. It is designed to be raucous and hilarious, and the volume from the playtesting tables certainly attested that it’s doing its job!
    • Project Violacea from Wrong Brothers Gaming (I love that name) is an interesting one. It’s marketed as a biopunk dystopic future about underrepresented demographics fighting against the controlling elites. I was fairly nervous about the quality of feedback I could give on this one, but overall the playtest turned out pretty well. It uses an interesting d100 mechanic with Fate-like aspects. This was an alpha test, but the mechanics are sound and I’m looking forward to seeing how they approach the world.
    • Retrievers, from Saddle Shaped Games, had a very interesting tension mechanic that built and released tension over the course of a heist-style game. I’m interested to see where James Dagg goes with it.
    • Save The Universe by Don Bisdorf is a PbtA-style game where the players are Guardians of the Galaxy-style heroes who are facing off against a galactic menace. This game was very polished and tremendous fun, but what really stood out for me was the rearranged die mechanic. Rather than 2d6+Bonus, higher better, Don has rearranged the difficulty curve, adding more entropy by making the face of the die matter based on your character’s strengths and what you’re attempting to do. Very impressive, I’m looking forward to playing more.
    • Space Ice Hauler Heartbreak, from James Malloy, is about two lovers – the Lighthouse who stays behind and the Hauler who heads into space – changed by their long-distance relationship and the ravages of time dilation. While emotion-games aren’t usually a thing I go for, the potential in this game is tremendous. This was another alpha test, and even in this rough state I could see how beautiful it could be when it’s finished. Rob Donoghue as my Lighthouse telling me I need to stay away from caramel apple empanadas because the doctor says so was a highlight of the convention 🙂

    Overall, Metatopia 2017 was another successful convention from Double Exposure and a great opportunity to play some great new games in their infancy. I hope I was helpful! And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get a caramel apple empanada XD

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