Encouraging Roleplay

By | July 16, 2016

With Forthright Open Roleplay‘s rules largely in the can, we’re now focusing on tweaking language here and there to make the rules crystal-clear. Sometimes, this results in some rules being changed or dropped, because the language required to make the rule more understandable just isn’t worth the rule being there. Other times, we discover that there’s an entire subsection of rules that are actually missing from the book. Whoops!

In this particular case, what we discovered we’d cut out of the rules are the majority of mechanical incentives to roleplay. In most cases, this is fine: players play roleplaying games because they want to roleplay, they don’t need any encouragement beyond that.

But in the case of Forthright, the feedback players give the Guide is essential for the Guide to provide appropriate elements for the players to interact with. We’re trying to move away from a design which dictates, “here’s the plot, you’re going to interact with it because otherwise there ain’t nothing else to do.” Currently, the rules don’t offer the Guide much beyond the Team’s Purpose as a signpost for what the Guide should prepare. Thus, Guides are effectively encouraged by the rules to offer samey sorts of adventures to the players, making Forthright – in the long run – kind of boring to play.

Quelle Horreur!

This also leads to bland characters and characterizations. In dozens of sessions, we’ve found players who are eager to not step on anyone else’s toes, so their characters aren’t particularly spotlight-focused. Not all players, of course, but enough that I began wondering if there were not something in the design of the game that could be modified to encourage more complex characters that players have thought harder about and therefore are likely more attached to.

Cue the least (or most!) interesting part of the character sheet: that blank box just underneath the character name where players could record whatever they wanted about their character. Appearance, personality, etc. The sky was the limit, and there were no restrictions. . .or requirements.

The “blank page” problem has been an issue for Forthright for as long as we’ve been putting it in front of people. We’ve had a not-insignificant subset of players tell us they don’t know what to do, they don’t have any ideas for their character, etc. On one hand, we wanted to help these folks to play the game more easily. On the other hand, we didn’t want to hold back the players who weren’t having that same problem. This is one of the reasons that Forthright has Gamescape and Team creation ahead of character creation: to help inspire ideas in players who otherwise would have none.

But that blank box was still a problem, and I thought about how we could use it to solve the bland-and-safe problem. Finally, I decided to split that box into two sections: Goals and Flaws.

Goals will help players identify what their character wants out of play. This is something that is specifically different from the Team’s Purpose, but it can tie into the Purpose by providing that character an extra dimension to why the Purpose is so important to him or her. A character might be a part of a Team that is entirely focused on getting rich, but the character wants to be rich because of a sick family member that needs cash for medical care.

Flaws will help players identify what gets their character (and the whole Team!) into trouble. Flaws aren’t goofy roleplaying tics: these are things the Guide can set in front of the player and reasonably expect the character to get into trouble because of it. A character can be hot-tempered when mocked, for instance.

A character’s appearance is a minor aspect of play in Forthright thanks to the Cosmetic Rule, so there’s no need to explicitly define it on the character sheet. I’ve long been of the mind that the only things that should appear on the character sheet are ties into the game rules, and so plucking that out of the otherwise-blank box ultimately doesn’t hurt anything and helps us accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.

Goals and Flaws could be ignored entirely if there were no other mechanical incentives to invoke them, so XP gain will be partially tied to them. Whenever a character’s Flaw causes trouble for the team, everyone on the team gains +1 XP. Whenever a character advances their personal Goal, everyone on the team gains +1 XP. 1 XP equals 1/3 of a new Boost for characters.

Reworking the XP system in this way allows us to speed up character advancement while encouraging players to play characters instead of tools to interact with the Gamescape. We’ll be putting these changes into the next Early Access release (about 2 weeks from now) so you can try it out.

We look forward to your feedback!