Moving On from Metatopia

By | November 22, 2014

Hello again!

Last week I talked about some of the lessons we’d learned from attending Metatopia 2014.  This week I’m going to talk about how we’re planning to turn those lessons learned into changes for the Forthright Open Roleplay system and core rulebook.

To begin, we’re starting over fresh.  There was a lot of fluff and fiction in the core rulebook as it was written, with explanations about why you would want to talk to people and generally overwrought descriptions (“fluff”) that would make it somewhat engaging to read but actually inhibited its functionality as a rulebook.  Rulebooks should be designed to allow players quick access to the rules, without any lengthy searching or flipping to try and find the relevant material.  This also falls in line with a problem some games have had where the fluff of a description actively disrupts the mechanics, changing the mechanics to closer match the fluff.  Instead of inundating readers with fluff that they might read once, then gloss over so they can get to the important stuff, we’re going to be writing Forthright 1.03 much more tightly, trying to make the text as short-form as possible.

We’ll also be tweaking some of the core mechanics, but this will not make the system unrecognizable.  “Roll die, add modifier, higher is better with binary results” is a clean and simple mechanic that is easy to approach and understand, so that’s going to stay.  But Resists are going away – we kept these around largely to provide a different “feel” for magic and combat maneuvers, but over time we’ve noted that this adds a layer of crunch to the system that is unattractive to new gamers and story-focused gamers.  The detriments, we think, outweigh the benefit – so they’re gone.  This will allow us to ensure that in Forthright, “the actor acts” – which is to say, when you do something, you roll the dice, not someone else.

To preserve the appropriate feel, the Speech / Strike / Trained Skill Bonuses are going to be renamed to Presence / Impact / Aptitude.  This will allow play where you can influence characters without necessarily having to speak to them (something you could previously do, but with the incongruously-named “Speech Roll”) and harm characters without necessarily lining up a particular hit on them.

Big changes are coming to Skills.  Previously, every character got 4 skills that received a Trained Skill Bonus, and all other skill rolls were naked d20 rolls.  We’re actually going to try Aptitude as a character’s bonus to all skills, and giving specific Vocations an Expertise in their focused skills that allows them to Bolster their rolls with those skills.  This is very similar to something we tried early in the system’s lifetime that we had concerns about, so we’ll be tweaking this through playtests as we see Player reactions to this mechanic.  The Skills themselves are not going away, as they will serve as the framework for Expertise.

Big changes are also coming to Levels, because we’re getting rid of them entirely.  Forthright always had a difficult relationship to character levels and, as we’ve worked on it now for the past 3 years, we’ve realized that levels offer nothing unique or interesting in Forthright.  Instead of levels, Achievement will be used to purchase Talents directly.  But players won’t choose from an overblown list of hundreds of Talents – instead, the adventures themselves will provide the Talents the players can choose from.  Every character will be made unique by having their Talents develop along the path their adventures have taken them, rather than being able to plot out a character advancement and optimization track at the very beginning of play.  We’ll talk more about this in coming weeks.

We’re also going to be simplifying and streamlining social conflict even further.  It’s still a little too clunky and disruptive to the flow of communication, and determining the exact value of how much Influence is required has been fidgety.  We’re reducing that to a simple system of “how much convincing is this going to take from 1 to 10.”  Additionally, we’re reframing Influence to be much more about expectation, because playtester concerns about Influence being mind control continue to linger.  This is more about changing the writing so that it sets more appropriate expectations, than changing anything mechanically.

Character creation is also getting a simplification, with less focus on explicit collaborative worldbuilding and more focus on creating the Fellowship and individual characters.  One problem we encountered is that Players were staying away from certain Roles because they’d never played a game where those Roles would be useful all the time (for example, Driver and Rider).  We were not communicating well that the selection of those Roles makes those Roles important and useful in the fiction the characters would be experiencing – again, we just need to set better expectations for players.

And finally, we’re unfocusing from just “medieval-ish style fantasy.”  We will be refocusing the system entirely on multi-genre play.  What this will mean is that we will design support for medievalish-style fantasy, ancient-style fantasy (à la Conan), sci-fi, various -punks, and modern play.  This means decoupling our Fighting Styles and Vocations from fundamental D&Disms and expanding the Cosmetic Rule so that it doesn’t matter how you do, for example, 2 attacks at 1d6.  This could be with a katana that you cut lightly with, or two shortswords – it won’t matter.  Shifting this is requiring a major rewrite of the Roles and adding in some extras, like the new Automaton species (who doesn’t want to play a robot?) and the Cyborg talent (who doesn’t want to have artificial parts?).

Key to this shift away from pure fantasy will be identifying the tropes of different fictions and identifying examples for players in how they will modify the “look and feel” of their characters.  We’re still working out exactly how to do that, but we’ve got some ideas.

So, what do you think?  Do these sound like positive changes, or does it sound like we’re going off half-cocked into lala land?  Let us know in the comments below!

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