Forthright Sneak Peek: The Game Charter

By | August 15, 2015

Hello and welcome everyone!

In the weeks leading up to Metatopia 2015, we’ll be taking a look at the state of Forthright Open Roleplay Beta 3.  Our first sneak peak is going to be at the Beta 3 Game Charter, the tool used when starting a new game to set player expectations and boundaries for that game:

Forthright Game Charter v0.07


The Game Charter has evolved significantly since we first introduced it in Beta 1.  Upon its introduction, it provided a number of dials and widgets that allowed a gaming group to tweak their experience of play to make the game easier or harder as they liked.  The problem was, you needed to know how to play the game in order to understand how to use the Charter.  While it was intended to be a tool to help set players’ expectations, in that iteration it failed in its purpose for everyone but advanced players.  We’ve since significantly reworked it:

Safety Tier

The Safety Tier is the one thing that has remained relatively unchanged on the sheet, because it’s very straightforward.  Will you be playing a kid-safe, teen-safe, adult-safe or unsafe game?  Different gaming groups and different cultures have different expectations about what is “safe” in each of those tiers, and Forthright does not attempt to define what those tiers are except in the most general terms (“no swearing, sex, drug use or gore” in kid-safe games, for example).

Out of Bounds

Formerly this was divided into a “Yes” and “No” section, and it was fairly nebulous as to whether it applied as an out-of-game social contract or an in-game thematic constraint.  We provided a “yes” section so that this wouldn’t seem so negative – but the fact of the matter is, negative is what this section is all about.  Out of Bounds is intended for players to be able to add in items that they dislike, for any reason, and do not want to experience either as part of the out-of-game social contract or within the game.

I will use my rote example:  when I run games, I always record that “child abuse, racial epithets, gender slurs and sexual assault” are Out of Bounds.  I won’t use them as story devices, I don’t expect other players to introduce them, and if you happen to pull that bullshit in real life you’re not invited back to the game.

Out of Bounds is not a tool for discussion – what a player wants to add gets added, no reasons need to be supplied (though they are welcome if the player is willing), and new things can be added at any time.  This combines the concepts of a social contract and the X-card, both principles we admire as game designers and empathetic people.  However, in situations where players have known each other and been gaming together for years, they may not need to develop such a social contract because they already have an unwritten one in place and well-understood by all.

For those players, Out of Bounds still serves as a function of narrative constraint.  Let’s say the last several games by the group’s guide have revolved around or involved in some way zombies on a boat.  One or more of the other players may be really quite tired of seeing zombies on a boat.  “Zombies on a boat” can be placed in Out of Bounds to indicate that, in this game, zombies are to be prevented from following their nautical proclivities and should spend their time developing other skills.


The Gamescape is the landscape and storyscape of the fictional world in which the game will take place.  In general, the Guide will come to the table with an idea of the game world (either from his own mind or from a published game setting) and the threats that will be presented through the game’s meta-narrative (recurring villains, overarching dangers and the like).  Alternately, the Guide can open the table to suggestions from the other players (which will certainly test the Guide’s improvisational skills!).

The Gamescape section has space for an introductory blurb about the setting, three spots to identify the major threats in the game, and five spots for everyone playing to present their own ideas of what interests them about the game world and what they would like to see or encounter through the course of the game.

This is very similar to Fate‘s campaign aspect generation, but somewhat looser: “An archlich from space,” for example, would be a perfectly acceptable threat to the Gamescape.  Being looser allows a broader range of players to participate in creating the gamescape, as they do not have to identify “a thing and its opposite” so much as the thing itself.  This also provides the Guide with significant freedom to shape the presentation and throw in his own surprises for the players.

House Rules

The final section on the sheet, House Rules is provided because we understand that very rarely will a game of Forthright be played straight from the rulebook.  In fact, the Gamescape itself might prohibit using the full rulebook:  if the gamescape is 1920s Historical Los Angeles, for example, a practically required house rule could be “all protagonists must be human.”  This section allows these rules to be recorded so that no player is surprised by them, and provides the table with an additional mini-rulebook specific to this game in particular.

The Game Charter has been boiled down to its essence in Beta 3, because in many ways Forthright is no longer trying to be the “any game for everyone” that we were first (foolishly) attempting to develop.  This is a game of fast action and adventure, with some fun and significant danger in combat, meant to encourage broad creativity without so much structure that mastery over the forms of genre fiction is required.  In our own tests, we’ve found this new version of the Game Charter to be vastly simpler to use and ultimately more effective than any version before it.

What do you think?  Love it, hate it, think it could be better?  Drop us a line in the comments below!