Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

By | June 7, 2014

Hello again!  This week the second batch of materials updated for Forthright Open Roleplay‘s 1.02 Beta is being released:  the Personas, Vocations, Fighting Styles and Skills chapters.  They are on the site and you can check them out here.  For a list of the changes we’ve made, check out the Beta Changelog.

Continuing the 1.01 to 1.02 trend, we are simplifying and streamlining the ruleset.  Gone are the three or four bonuses each Role was giving you; that’s been condensed down into a single bonus.  That bonus is then modified based on its function.  This will be explained further in the Social Interaction and Combat chapters, but you can get a peek by checking out the Character Sheet.  The microtext underneath every field on that sheet will help explain how the numbers are modified and recorded.  Rather than sum up every change, I’ll go into detail about a few of the major ones and why we made them:

  • Abilities vs. Talents:  We changed the Starting Talents of all Roles to be Abilities instead.  This involved adding a new game term, Ability, but it serves a very distinct function.  Previously, a Fair character could always eventually take the Best Starting Talent; it would take at least four levels, but there it would be.  This actually proved frustrating for Playtesters, who felt like if they were better at their Role, they should get perks that no other character in that Role should get, perks that go beyond simply having higher numbers.  After some discussion and debate we agreed.  We then reworked all the Starting Talents into Abilities, tweaking them so that they were more special and engaging to Players who selected their particular Roles.  Capstone abilities, in Forthright‘s case, are actually gained at first level so you can use them throughout your career.
  • Personas Lost, Personas Gained:  We removed the Diplomat and Gambler Personas because they were both fairly weird.  They were experimental to begin with (based, oddly enough, on vague ideas of modeling Neville Chamberlain and Bret Maverick), and they never really clicked with us or with Playtesters.  So they’re gone, replaced by the Curmudgeon and the Fast-Talker.  Both of these are going to be particularly interesting roles, which we have cycled away from and come back to fairly regularly, because they will require significant effort from their Players in order to be played well.  The Curmudgeon, for instance, could slip into “obnoxious asshole” territory very quickly and easily, while the Fast-Talker could prove frustrating for a player who’s not clever at fully utilizing its abilities.  We want to put these out there to see how Playtesters react to them and see if they improve play or deform it.
  • Persona Ability Shift:  The Persona Abilities shifted more than any other set of Abilities.  In previous iterations of the ruleset, we were providing combat-centric Talents to Best Personas because we were concerned that players who chose Persona-Best would feel useless in combat.  As it’s turned out, those Players actually take the full opportunity to talk during combat, embracing the Persona design more enthusiastically than we had hoped.  As a result, we have modified the Persona abilities so that they provide a thematic boost to Influence generation, a thematic defensive benefit, and a thematic unique Ability as the capstone; all of which are geared toward social play.
  • Less Skills:  We reduced the number of Skills in the system by collapsing all Know Skills into a single, unspecialized Knowledge Skill.  We also removed the Deduction and Tactics Skills; they were present only to give Players a check they could roll to ask for a Hint.  We’re actually handling Hints a different way entirely now by providing the Guide with some tips and pointers on giving Hints to Players so the adventure doesn’t bog down in minutia or failed Skill Checks.  Because we cut the number of skills nearly in half (from 20 to 12), we also needed to reduce the number of Skills characters of high Proficiency received.  Now, instead of characters with High Proficiency getting more skills and a bigger bonus, they just get a bigger bonus.  All Vocations get 4 Skills, 2 that are specific to the Role and 2 that can be selected by the Player.  This also allowed us to remove one of the last major D20 System-style mechanics in Forthright.
  • Goodbye Sailor, Hello Saboteur:  This was a pretty easy change.  The Sailor was a bit too boring for everybody: us as designers, Playtesters as Players.  So we killed it and replaced it with the Saboteur, a specialist in lockpicking, trapmaking and sabotage.  The Hunter now more completely focuses on Tracking.
  • Fighting Style Streamlining:  We’ve made the Fighting Styles much easier to read and calculate the statistics for.  Gone are the several different advancement charts for the different Roles; they have all been rolled into one chart in large part thanks to the removal of Mana from the system.  All the Fighting Styles have been revisited to make them interesting and engaging to play, and to ensure that they each have a strategic niche that no other Roles fill.  The Beastmaster, Summoner and Totemic also received some much-needed clarification.
  • Easy Skills:  We’ve also changed the core concept underlying Skill Checks.  Previously, Guides and Players needed to look at complex charts to find pinpoint numbers so they could calculate precise difficulties for Skill Checks.  Ugh.  That seemed like a pretty decent idea, but in practice it was clumsy and troublesome.  Now, the default assumption is that a character will succeed at a Skill Check unless there is some reason why that character will not succeed at the Skill Check.  These reasons are called Obstacles, and each is worth up to a +5 to the Difficulty of the Skill Check.  This has proven in play to be dramatically faster.  Also, because the Guide must enumerate every Obstacle prior to assigning the Difficulty and must share that information with Players, it gives Players a greater opportunity to interact with the Gamescape.  If a character has a high Stealth Difficulty because of a light, finding some way to remove the light becomes a part of the game.  Skills become less about “roll the die and go” and more about actual play.

Thanks for reading.  Please have a look at the new chapters and let us know what you think!