Deciding What Does and Doesn’t Belong

By | June 11, 2016

We’re now 2 months into Forthright Open Roleplay Early Access, and we’re focused on refining the ruleset to provide players and guides with the best possible experience. A lot of this involves deciding what does and doesn’t belong in the rules, and I’m going to illustrate some of that in this post to give some insight into our process.

Goodbye, Elementaries

In the initial Early Access release, we had an extensive, multiple-page section on Elementaries and how they could be used for spellcasting rituals. We had no similar section on workshops and how they could be used for technological development. When we sat down to decide what to do with this problematic section (add more or cut it entirely), we decided that the Elementaries section just didn’t belong in the core ruleset and pulled it out.

Why? Because the core Forthright rules are intended to be a springboard for player and guide creativity, not to bound that creativity with what was, in essence, setting information. This is the same reason why we’d gotten rid of the extensive Species list that formerly populated the book: we’re trying to balance “here’s a structure to let you do engaging things” with “here’s the definition of a specific story or type of story.” If players want to use Forthright for a no-magic space opera, that section of the rulebook would be useless to them, and that made Elementaries a candidate for cutting rather than a candidate for expansion.

Will Elementaries return? Absolutely! But that extensive rundown of what they can do and be used for will be a rules expansion appearing in a Gamescape more appropriate to intensive magical discussion.

Goodbye, Specialty Creation

Another section we had in the Early Access ruleset (and it’s still there in the 0.3 Early Access edition. . .it’ll be gone in 0.4) is a couple of pages about creating new Fighting Styles, Personas and Vocations. This was intended to give some insight into the structure of the Specialties and act as a springboard for new Specialties being created that fit specific Gamescapes. As we looked at it, though, what we provided wasn’t quite enough.

Again, this meant that either we’d have to expand the section (with examples, which would ultimately mean the book would have 33 Specialties instead of 30) or cut it. Once again, we decided to cut it.

The rationale was somewhat different this time. Because of the design of the Specialties, they’re not intended to be full “classes” like you would see in traditional games. Specialties are intended to be used to assemble classes, not be classes. We had some significant concerns that players and guides would home in on the specialty creation rules, and we would see things like a “Pirate” Fighting Style or Vocation. Part of Forthright is getting behind the template to see what being a pirate (for example) is really all about, and creating Specialties that were so on-the-nose loses some of the flavor of the game.

Rather than imply that creating new Specialties was an integral part of the game (which we would be doing, by having such a section in the core rulebook), we cut it.

Hello, More Examples

Removing rules that don’t improve the gameplay experience and replacing them with more rules isn’t always going to be helpful. Instead, we’re going to fill out more examples of how to use the rules, giving real-play advice while also walking through an engaging story. All the examples in the book are going to follow a single Team through their adventures, not in a point-by-point illustration of a single gaming session, but with different slice-of-life snippets that will help readers see the scope of how the rules interact with the game’s story.

Hello, Better Enemies

Having more and better examples of antagonists for the Protagonists to deal with will help reduce some mechanical blandness that can creep in through the current rules. How can different types of vampires be expressed in Forthright, for example, or how to create and fight a charismatic bad guy with legions of troops at his disposal. Right now the rules for doing this are present, but the how needs to be inferred more than we like – and that’s not going to work out well for anybody. So we’re expanding that and making it more obvious to approach and easier to use.

Hello, Story-Creation Tools

As we’ve been watching what people do with the game and what they talk about, we realized that the unique storytelling stylings that Forthright affords players can get missed pretty easily. And this is absolutely our fault, for not making them clearer or and more obvious in the book.  Rules are for education, not extrapolation.  Extrapolation comes later, after a player has been able to pick up the rules and poke around with them for a while (consider how easy Chess is to play for beginners against beginners vs. the complexity of play presented by Chessmasters).

A lot of this is trying to find the appropriate balance between “Trusting the reader” and “Telling the reader what you want them to know.” The former assumes the reader will be able to figure it out; the latter presumes the reader won’t.

And while we have confidence that readers will ultimately sort it out, as my mama says, I’ve always been an impatient baby.  I want folks to know and be able to see it now. So we’re going to work some better story-creation tools into the book for both players and guides, rules that will help take people away from simpler “go into the dungeon, kill the bad guy, get the loot” stories to things with foreshadowing, flashbacks, narrative switchbacks, and the like.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into our process and, as always, we love to read your comments!