The Probability of Try

By | May 10, 2014

The default assumption of Forthright Open Roleplay is that all players can make meaningful contributions in combat, social interactions and skill use. This goes against the concept of niche protection found in some RPGs.

The challenge is to make sure our rules don’t work against that design goal. That’s one reason we removed attribute scores and Boosts (attribute-like bonuses gained with each new level). Playtests showed that Players didn’t view Boosts or attributes as a bonus. Instead, the numerical gains were seen as necessary (why else would we provide them?). Some players used the bonuses as a reason to not even attempt actions that didn’t gain a bonus to the die roll.

Now the numerical differences between characters is determined at first level, and there are no magical items or character building options that give players a modifier to their dice rolls.

Players choose a Fighting Style, Vocation and Persona during character creation and assign each of them one of the following proficiencies — Fair, Good or Best.

The difference in success rate between each of these proficiencies is 10 percent. So a level 1 character with a Best proficiency in a role would be 10 percent more likely to succeed than someone with a Good proficiency in the same role. That Good proficiency would be 10 percent more likely to succeed than a Fair proficiency in the same role.

That’s a 20 percent difference in the success rate of a Best role with a Fair role of equal level trying to accomplish the same task. That is enough to feel a difference in play, but not enough to make any one player’s contributions meaningless.

This means that every player is Best in something. And Fair is the average amount of ability someone of that level would have in the role, so no player is numerically incompetent in his or her chosen roles.

No attribute scores also means nothing in the ruleset says a player cannot contribute an idea or solution. The mechanics of some systems discourage “smart” ideas coming from “dumb” characters. That’s not the case with Forthright since the character is presumed to be as cunning, wise and intelligent as the player chooses to be. Dice determine if an action is successful, not if an action can be attempted.

Of course, success rates mean little if the difficulty number that players are trying to reach is too high to be attainable. Many playtesters, accustomed to the very high difficulty numbers of crunchier games, have been surprised by how low they must roll in Forthright in order to accomplish some tasks. Sneaking around in the dark to avoid an inattentive guard is quite low, around 5. The guard having a watchdog would increase that difficulty to around 10. True challenges would rest in sneaking around during the day avoiding attentive guards and watchdogs – that difficulty would be around 20 – 25 depending on the player’s approach.

Rolling very well on the die is not necessary for characters, who have an expectation of competence, to succeed at simple tasks. Rolling very well on the die allows characters to achieve success against long odds, or allows Fair roles to accomplish with luck what Best roles can accomplish with ease. And other members of the party can perform actions to help reduce these difficulties.  For instance, causing a distraction that pulls the attentive guards above away from where the sneaking character is trying to sneak.

We want characters to succeed at what players would logically expect their characters to succeed at. The surest way to invest all players in their characters and the story is by allowing them an opportunity to contribute.

Forthright Open Roleplay adds some things not seen in many roleplaying games to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute. The Persona role, which governs social interaction, grants an initiative modifier for conversations. That’s because players take turns trying to convince NPCs and generating Influence to sway their opinions.

The reason we do this is simple – initiative ensures that everyone has a chance to participate in social interactions just like combat. And by providing every character this opportunity, players feel compelled to take advantage of the opportunity. The social turn, like Boosts before it, becomes a necessary part of playing the character (or else why would we have provided it?). Talking and fighting are both built around the idea of multiple successful attempts being needed to reach a goal (defeating all the enemies or persuading all the NPCs). And just like combat, social interactions allow opponents to target weaknesses in all participants to gain an advantage.

I’ll go in more detail about social interactions, tactics and how Forthright splits character and player skill in next week’s column. Until then, feel free to ask us questions or download a copy of the beta rules here.