Ch-ch-ch-ch-chaaaaanges!

By | April 26, 2014

Hello everybody!

I’d like to start by thanking the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers group for hosting the 2014 Gamemaster’s Fair last week, and for allowing us to run Forthright Open Roleplay at two different tables.  Thank you guys!  And thanks also to the players who came out to play this relatively unknown, still-not-finished game.

One of the things you things you learn when developing a game is that once you know and are familiar with a mechanic, even if that mechanic isn’t spectacular, it can be acceptable enough.  You grow comfortable with it.  But when designing, comfort is danger – it means that an inferior mechanic or a mechanic that doesn’t do exactly what you want to do might make it into the game.  The best way we’ve found to really hone in on mechanics is to both run and play the game (to see where it can be shored up), but also to present it to new people.  People who haven’t sat down and read the rules, people who’ve never heard of it but like the possibilities it presents, etc.  They’re not in it, so they’re going to have questions and they’re going to have an emotional read on the mechanics that will illustrate (or help illustrate) whether or not a mechanic fits and whether or not it’s fun.

And we got some great feedback this past weekend, more feedback than our exceedingly clever players may have realized they gave us.  Which is great!  Because it will help us to make the game better.  So I’m going to use this space today to identify how we’re going forward from here.

Skill Improvements

One of the things that crystallized for us this weekend is that our Skill system was there.  It wasn’t interesting, it wasn’t revolutionary and it didn’t really fit with our design, but it didn’t not fit.  It was basically a smoothed-over version of the classic d20 Skills.  And while that was nice, it wasn’t great.  They took up a lot of space on the character sheet, they were a little clumsy, and they just didn’t have that good feeling.  So we’ve rebuilt the skill system, pared down the skills to only 12, and we’ve redesigned how Vocations provide skills.  We’re also rebalancing the difficulties that skill rolls need to meet; we discovered that, thanks to a theory error in our skill design, all difficulties were 5 to 10 too high.  Which means that Stunts were also too difficult, so we’re reducing those difficulties as well.  Finally, we’re streamlining Difficulty-creation rules even more so that the charts there are less complex, making it easier for Guides to assign accurate Difficulties on the fly.  The only challenge with this was, all skills had different Boosts that affected them, and streamlining those skills meant we had to go back to the drawing board on Boosts.

Bye-Bye Boosts

We also realized that Boosts – Pace, Perspective, Power and Presence – were acting counter to the core of our design, which is the assignation of value to the fighting, talking and skilling parts of your character.  The Boosts would allow you to custom-craft your character further, allowing you to shore up weaknesses or improve strengths.  On paper, that sounds great.  In reality, the perception will be that these are numbers which must be used for min-maxing a character in order to gain the greatest benefit.  Additionally, no more than 3 of those Boosts were ever going to be maximally useful to a character; making the fourth a “dump stat” either way.  We had already removed Boosts from play at level 1, and were planning on only providing them at levels 2 – 9 to allow players to make more informed choices about where they wanted their bonuses.  But that informed choice would only illustrate that unless you synchronized your character design, you were getting less out of Boosts.  For example, the Scholar-Warrior-Charmer would use Perspective, Power and Presence. . .but the Infiltrator-Assassin-Charmer would only need to worry about Pace and Presence.  Such a design means that some characters would get more out of Boosts than other characters, and that’s when we decided that the Proficiency selection was clear (and complex) enough without piling on.  So Boosts went away.

Hello Magic

We had players at both our tables testing our magic design.  And while there was much to recommend our magic design, it still wasn’t performing like we wanted it to perform.  It wasn’t smooth-and-easy, it was crunch-some-numbers.  And, rather uniquely in the system, it was resource-consuming: characters had to keep track of how much Mana they had at any given point, and their spell effects consumed that Mana.  We decided we didn’t like that very much at all; so we’re switching things up.  Here’s a little preview:  now, instead of Mana being consumed to cast a spell, characters determine what effects they want to generate with a spell.  Each effect has a specified Mana cost, and Arcana (magic words) vary the costs of the effects.  A character has a maximum amount of mana that can be Channeled at any given level or proficiency.  As long as the sum of mana costs doesn’t exceed a character’s Channel, the spell is cast.  These numbers are of course kept low; the maximum Channel the best Wizard at max Level can have right now is less than 10.  This is a design we’re going to start testing this weekend, and we’re pretty excited about it.

Improved Character Sheet

The character sheet also proved to still be daunting to some players, in part because of the skills section and in part because it was entirely too sparse – there were no distinct visual elements on it to draw the eye or help identify the functions of the different numbers and how to use them.  Sarah spent a couple of days in redesign, and now – thanks to the other system changes we’re making – the character sheet now fits onto a single double-sided page.  And that’s the generic sheet designed for fairly big handwriting.

Many Other Little Changes

We’re also making many other little changes, like adjusting the damage of Fisticuffs for non-Brawlers down and removing universal Crossbow training.  We’re also going to be performing a Role and Talent review, to make sure that the Talents and Role abilities are awesome.  All told, the changes we’re making are enough to shift version numbers, so the Beta will go from version 1.01 to 1.02.

Schedule Changes

What this means is that we’re going to spend a lot of time rewriting and cleaning up stuff we’ve already written.  And we’re going to push back the Magic chapter.  Once again, I know, I’m sorry for it but we really want to present the best ideas we’ve got.  Over the course of the next month, we’re going to replace the Beta 1.01 materials with Beta 1.02 materials, and we’ll be releasing the Magic chapter only with Beta 1.02.  After that, it should be short work to put up the Adventuring and Guidance chapters; those are actually largely written already.

Thanks for reading!

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