Forthright Sneak Peek: Cosmetics and Continuity

By | September 12, 2015

Hello again!

In the run-up to Metatopia 2015, we’ve been running a series of Forthright Open Roleplay sneak peeks of Beta 3, with a general goal of laying out nearly the entire system in blog posts before November.  Here’s the series so far:

This week I’ll be talking about the central rule of Forthright: the Cosmetic Rule.  The Cosmetic Rule states that “Effects and continuity are governed; descriptions are not.”  What this means in its essence is that it doesn’t matter how players describe their tools or how they accomplish actions, so long as they achieve the same result they would have without that description and the description does not violate the internal logic of the Gamescape.

The Cosmetic Rule solves a classic trap of universal game systems:  the fact that technology, psionics, magic, physical attacks, ranged attacks and whatever else are all handled with their own mechanically separate subsystems in order to ensure that they feel and act differently.  This was a trap we ourselves kept falling into while developing earlier versions of the game.

But what we’ve found, in general, is that players want to take ownership of their characters and their characters’ appearance within the fictional universe.  They care about what their characters can do.  It doesn’t matter whether a character walks, crabwalks, rolls, jumps or does cartwheels: as long as the character moves where the player wants it to go and looks cool doing it, that’s the important thing.

By making this the central tenet of Forthright, we removed our need to have to describe how technology, psionics, magic and meat behave differently in the Gamescape; we give that power to the Guide and the table, so they can generate Gamescapes that fit their conceptions with ease.  Forthright instead concerns itself only with the effects.  Let’s take a look at an example:

The Destroyer is a Fighting Style that uses Power tokens to add effects to its normal attacks.  Its normal attacks deal 1d6 damage to targets.  By spending Power, a Destroyer can add a Fire effect to the attack, setting the target on fire so that it continues to take damage at the end of its turn.  By spending more Power, the Destroyer can also add a Knockdown to the attack.  Another Power spent can allow the Destroyer to add another target to the attack.

A Destroyer could therefore easily be described as a classic fantasy wizard, and the effects above as a Fireball spell.  But that same character and that same action could also be a robot firing one of its more powerful missiles.  Or a character in power armor shooting a flamethrower.  Or a revolutionary hurling a Molotov cocktail.

This frees players of Forthright from needing to memorize vast swaths of arcane rules in order to understand the mechanical differences between this, that and the other.  A corollary benefit to this is that they also have a lot less to read.

The Guide’s chief role in the game, aside from presenting situations to the Players for their interaction, is continuity management: the responsibility to ensure that the Gamescape makes sense and follows a consistent internal logic.  This is vitally important to help everyone maintain their suspension of disbelief and the subsequent “reality” of the fictional landscape.  If there is no continuity and no consistent internal logic, then players do not know where they stand, what they can do, and what can happen to them: it is the same as playing with no rulebook at all, with only the Guide’s whims dictating how the game is played.

Continuity management, combined with the Game Charter, allow different Gamescapes to follow different “rules” without needing to write up extensive House Rules.  For example, if the players agree to play in a Wild West gamescape, then they know that magic and high technology would be out-of-continuity.  But if they had instead agreed to play a Weird West game, that would not be the case.

The Guide is also not the only player that will enforce continuity: the Players will play their part, as well, maintaining consistency in their portrayals of their characters.  A player who decides to play an Automaton armed to the teeth with various hidden weapons within its mechanical shell (usually) won’t suddenly decide that the Automaton’s power source is the magical beating heart of a long-lost archmage: there is a certain level of confuggery that is generally unacceptable to story- and consistency-minded folk.

That said, there is no rule that says a player cannot make that decision, either.  And if that decision is acceptable, then happy news!  That’s now part of Continuity and it’s the Guide’s job to maintain it.  So if the player made that decision to avoid the effects of, say, an electromagnetic pulse. . .well, now he’s got to worry about his cholesterol levels!  Or perhaps ripping the heart out will destroy the heart, so that it can’t ever be used to power the character again.

Yes, some storytelling opportunities are now closed.  But others will always appear, no matter the continuity.  And Players feel in-control of their characters.  And Guides feel in-control of the Gamescape.  And genres get to mingle freely: the frog knight can hang out with the protocol droid and the cat-person spy and the cyborg gunslinger without issue.

Questions or comments?  We’d love to hear them!

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