Forthright Sneak Peek: Character Advancement

By | October 10, 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:

Leveling characters in traditional RPGs is a static affair: each level comes with it pre-determined powers and bonuses reflective of a character’s class rather than the experiences and story of that character. New abilities are earned “because I am more powerful,” and not “because this is what I have learned.” Some rules over the years have been developed to require a character to train before earning a level to fit with the idea that something has to represent how a character learned these new abilities.

All in all, we felt like leveling was more “part of the traditional experience” and less “a good solution.” After all, in recent years ideas such as “characters simply level when the GM feels it is appropriate” have come along to pooh-pooh the traditional leveling experience. These ideas have cropped up to offer an alternative to traditions such as XP for loot and / or killing.

Levels are, stripped of any mystique built up around them, nothing more than a bonus-delivery system. Players, through play, want to feel like they have accomplished something; they want to feel as if their characters have grown and that they can do more now than when they started. Characters should grow more formidable over time – this is a truism.

But one of the things we’ve been doing as we develop Forthright is examining those roleplaying truisms, stripping them to the core, and then trying to deliver that central experience. That’s why our attributes were only the bonuses they provided (instead of being a number that provided a bonus), and then eventually removed entirely in favor of Fight, Talk and Skill. Likewise, we felt we could provide character advancement without explicitly using levels to do it.


Characters earn Boosts through play. They don’t earn a lot: typically, characters will earn 1 Boost for interacting with a situation (“adventure”) in a way that shapes the situation’s outcome. If the characters also accomplish corollary goals that increased the situation’s difficulty for them – such as saving the lives of all the hostages or finding all the evidence leading to the killer – then they earn additional Boosts for each goal.  These goals can be provided by the Guide through the design of the situation or by the Players through their roleplay (for example, the players want to capture the enemy wizard and safely interrogate him rather than just killing him).

In general, for every situation characters should be able to earn 1 – 3 Boosts. Occasionally, exceptional play will earn more, but overall the Guide must not be overly generous with Boosts and should only infrequently give out more than 3 Boosts per resolved situation.

These Boosts can be traded in for equipment upgrades, new abilities, or greater proficiency in One- or Two-Star Roles, generally at a rate of 3 Boosts per advancement. Boosts are the only way individual characters advance. There is no wealth system to buy cool stuff to make you more powerful – everything that makes a character more powerful or more diverse is earned through Boosts.

Power Through The Story

In Forthright, there is no central list of feats, abilities and equipment that Players can pore over and plan out how they will spend their Boosts. We did not want to introduce that type of metagame; we instead wanted the abilities and equipment available to the Players to be a consequence of their approach to the situations they overcame. In this way, we get rid of the notion that Boosts are given “because I am more powerful now,” and we eliminate the need for training to explain why characters learn abilities not at all similar to what they had previously been working with.

Through play, the Guide will take careful note of how the characters overcome a situation and, when giving out Boosts, will also identify any Talents or Gear that opened up for selection. Additionally, certain events within the game will automatically unlock other Talents that can be purchased with Boosts. For example:

The Company of the White Rose has just fought off a legion of Gray Wolf mercenaries. After this victory, they strode out onto the battlefield and parlayed with the enemy commander, offering him his life in exchange for the name of the people who hired the Gray Wolves to come after them.  The enemy commander accepted the deal.

The Guide decides that, given their story thus far, the following Talents would be appropriate to offer:

Against the Gray Wolves:  Fight Checks against Gray Wolf mercenaries are Bolstered; you know their tactics well.

Intimidating:  Talk Checks against targets who have witnessed your skill in battle are Bolstered; they are afraid for their lives.

Wealth:  Talk Checks are Bolstered when offering a minor bribe; you have money and you know how to spend it. You can trade this Talent for Gear.

During the battle, the protagonist Korgan the Juggernaut reached 0 Resolve. Korgan can additionally choose the following talent:

Tough:  Gain 5 more Resolve.

During the negotiation, the protagonist Torvald Battlewagon rolled a Setback with a Talk Check – not surprising, as that is his One-Star Proficiency.  Torvald can additionally choose the following talent:

Talk Good:  Gain a +1 to Talk.  This can be taken 3 times.  After the third time it is selected, you may upgrade your One-Star Proficiency to a Two-Star Proficiency by purchasing the Two-Star Persona Talent.

Note that in the example above, Korgan cannot choose “Talk Good” and Torvald cannot choose “Tough” – those are unique to the characters and the situations they experienced, while the first three listed Talents are available to all the protagonists.  Both characters would still earn the same number of Boosts, however – their “storefront” is simply different.

The Guide selects from a list of options presented in the Forthright rulebook, tailoring each option to match what the players experienced so that their characters grow from what they have done rather than what they would like to do.  Of course, nothing prevents a character from doing what they would like to do early, without certain success; doing so will make it more likely that the character will be able to advance in the player’s preferred manner.

This is just a sneak peek at the advancement system, which has many additional quality-of-life tools for Guides and Players alike.  Through Boosts and Talents, success is rewarded and failure is mitigated, because both have something to teach characters.

So, what do you think?  Thanks for reading and, as always, we welcome comments in the space below!

3 thoughts on “Forthright Sneak Peek: Character Advancement

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