Finding Forthright

By | August 8, 2015

Hello once again!

This year we’ll be going to Metatopia, the Game Design Festival in Morristown, NJ on the first weekend in November.  Last year, this convention was such an inspiration to us that we scrapped the entirety of what we’d built for Forthright Open Roleplay.  The whole lot of it.  We’d spent a lot of time and energy (years, even) building Betas 1 and 2, and they just came off largely as “yet another D&D.”  This was not wrong.  We’ve spent the last year rebuilding the engine underlying Forthright, though our dedication to the core principles has remained unchanged.

Much of. . .scratch that, most of the work of developing Forthright has actually been developing the language to express what we had been intuitively understanding.  Part of that work has been shaking off the cruft of years of playing traditional roleplaying games and accepting that X, Y or Z is “the way it has to be.”  In a lot of ways, finding Forthright has been like going back to college and re-examining my core beliefs, throwing out the ones that no longer made sense and building new ones that do.

In the weeks leading up to Metatopia, I’m going to be sharing previews of Beta 3, as well as what we’ve learned in the last year as we completely rebuilt this (I think, better) game.  And to begin, I’m going to share what I’ve been calling the Chimera.

The Chimera is a beast of legend, something that exists half-hidden behind the rules and structures which we use to govern play.  Everyone, every group, has a different chimera.  The chimera is the game that people play no matter the game they are playing.  You can use GURPS, Fate, D&D, Call of Cthulhu, BRP. . .almost anything, really, to call on the chimera.  The chimera is what exists when you think to yourself, “system doesn’t matter.”  And it leads to various different games feeling very, very samey.

A brief aside:  when I first sat down to play World of Darkness, I was very excited because I thought I was in for something that would give me the ominous foreboding feeling of watching a good scary movie.  Instead, I got a shitty session of D&D with d10 pools instead of the all the different fun dice.  That time, the chimera robbed me.

Ray Watters and I have been playing games together for so long (18 years!) that we have our own chimera.  When we’ve brought new / younger players into the fold, they found the way we played was very different from the way they had been taught to play (through Pathfinder Society, D&D Lair Assault, etc).  This was the first glimmer of Forthright, and this was the beginning of the hunt for our chimera.

And so, without further preamble, I would like to share the description of our chimera – the core principles of Forthright Open Roleplay:

  • Multi-genre action-adventure
  • Simplicity:  in description, in play, in understanding
  • No character-creation traps
  • Use all the polyhedrals!
  • Failure is meaningful
  • Player skill is rewarded
  • Character death is not an option (unless the player chooses to allow the character to die)
  • Civilization exists and is important
  • Resurrection doesn’t exist
  • Gameplay choices build reputation in the game world
  • Dependent upon defined rules, not “rulings,” for cross-table consistency
  • No information-gathering skills
  • Protagonists bottom out at average, not worse-than-average
  • Little to no preparation time required out of the Guide
  • No narrative-control tokens
  • Gamescape control remains in the hands of the Guide, who acts as a continuity editor
  • Focus on character-in-world immersion
  • Goal of play is identified by the players, not the Guide
  • Teamwork is of great importance
  • PvP should only happen in situations of extreme drama
  • Say “yes” or make roll (not “roll if failure is interesting”)
  • Roll only for actions, not for defense / existing / observing
  • Adventure design should be focused around changing the Gamescape, not maintaining the status quo
  • Magic should be reality-altering, not just “medieval tech”
  • No zero-sum game; advancement must truly advance the characters
  • Advancement should also introduce new combinations of play
  • Situations are encountered; Stories are discovered
  • Character personalities / backstories do not need to be fully “nailed down” at the start of play
  • Drama comes primarily from the team’s interactions with the Gamescape, not each other
  • Protagonists are never absolutely certain what NPCs think of them
  • Not a game about killing

All of our design choices have grown out of these principles, which are hanging on the wall of our office.  We’re pretty comfortable with them; in the coming weeks I’ll be sharing the game that grew out of them.  I hope that you agree with most, if not all, of these principles.  Whether you do or not, I’d love to hear your comments in the section below!