Forthright Sneak Peek: Action Resolution

By | August 22, 2015

Hi everybody!

Last week, I gave you a peek at the new Game Charter for Beta 3.  Before we go any further, though, we need to talk about the new action resolution system being introduced in Beta 3.

In the past, I have not been a fan of “degrees of success,” preferring instead to have a cleaner, more obvious binary result on the dice.  However, the problem with a binary “pass/fail” result is that, some portion of the time, the action taken and the roll itself didn’t mean a damn thing.  A failure, in a binary system, means “nothing happens.”  The narrative inevitably stalls at that point because momentum is lost – we were going to do a thing, but now we can’t.  Let’s refocus and try and find another thing to do.

Failure on the die has been something that has concerned us for a long while.  What makes failure interesting?  How can failure lead to a more emergent story?

Back in February, we hit upon the solution by focusing instead on the momentum of events and the action being taken.  Failure, we thought, should mean not only that you didn’t accomplish what you wanted, but that the momentum of the story turns against you, forcing you backward or into some other direction.  Success of course would continue to mean that the momentum of the story is with you.  And, taking inspiration from Fantasy Flight’s Narrative Dice system, we wanted “critical success” to be more plentiful and “mitigated success” to be a structured part of play.

Paired with that was the idea that there should no longer be “difficulty numbers” that you’re rolling against.  Forthright has always been about letting the players know up-front what difficulties they were trying to achieve (it’s right there in the name), but honestly that was still a three-step process:

  1. Guide calculates the difficulty number
  2. Player decides if the difficulty number is worth rolling against
  3. Roll and calculate to see if the difficulty number is overcome

The more I played D&D 5e and Fate, the more frustrated I became with that multi-step process.  I wanted die rolls to introduce new complications to the story that was being discovered, not be the focus of the game’s mechanics.  And so we decided to place the result directly on the die, as Apocalypse World and many other systems do.  This removes the first step of calculating the difficulty number automatically.  The second step is inherent to the player’s action – the number is already known, so the player can be doing that math constantly without there needing to be a lengthy exchange of data between player and guide.  This definitely takes the postion that Faster play = more better play.

So the action-resolution structure we developed (which still involves rolling 1d20) looks like this:

  • Setback (Result of 1-7):  You failed to accomplish your action, and the momentum of the story moves against you.  You might get exploited in combat, or suddenly no longer trusted in a conversation, or perhaps you discover the impossibility of your skill alone to accomplish your task.  In all of these cases, you lose ground.
  • Exchange (Result of 8 – 13):  You accomplished your action, but at a cost.  You might get exploited in combat, your conversational partner might become suspicious of your motivations, or you break the item you were using.  You maintain a stable position in the story and can move forward, but with some difficulty.
  • Win (Result of 14 – 20):  You accomplished your action, carrying the momentum of the story with you.  You gain ground.
  • Boon (Result of 21 or more):  You not only accomplished your action, but you gained momentum while doing it.  In combat, you might deal maximum damage and earn an additional effect.  In a conversation, your partner might suddenly offer you a concession to get on your good side.  When interacting with the Gamescape, you might discover something that makes what you want to do next even easier.  In all of these cases, you win and win again.

Using this structure, which we’ve been playtesting since we first mentioned it back in March, the game operates with a smooth flow and provides plenty of opportunity for excitement and surprise.  Generally, we use the mnemonic of “7 down, 14 up, 21 up” to help players remember the key numbers, and we’re incorporating those numbers in a subtle but helpful way onto the character sheets.

And we have redesigned our Proficiencies and Roles to take advantage of this structure.  Proficiencies, instead of “good, better, best” or “fair, good, great” or the other various terms we’d been using, are now “one-star, two-star, three-star,” with more stars indicating higher proficiency.  Each star level is mated with a specific relevant bonus (+0, +3, +6 respectively) and a number of Talents equal to the star level.

Note that with this, the basic Proficiency does not allow a character to gain a Boon – the highest result for a one-star Proficiency is 20.  Two-star characters, though, have a 15% chance at a Boon; and they also gain a Talent which describes a special way they can use their Boon.  Three-star characters have a 30% chance at a Boon (and only a 5% chance at a Setback).  Base chance of at least a success (Exchange or Win) is 65% for everyone, and the chance of an Exchange is 30% for everyone.

This has served to stabilize and tighten the mathematics quite a bit, and it has certainly helped characters with three-star Proficiency feel both special and yet not superhuman when compared to characters with one-star Proficiency.  We’ve been able to task this resolution mechanic for everything within Forthright Beta 3, because ultimately die rolls are only made when the momentum of the story is at risk.

Thank you for reading!  If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to talk to you about them in the comments section below.