Playtesting is Learning, Learning Is Cutting

By | November 27, 2016

We’ve been playtesting Forthright Open Roleplay in its various iterations now for almost 6 years. It started out as “just another d20” system, a paring-back of Pathfinder, and by the time 5th Edition was released in 2014 was so substantially similar to 5th Edition that we had to practically start over again from scratch.  In late 2014 we did just that, and what’s available online now is the result of that redesign.  I think it’s good.  But it’s only good.

As I’ve been running playtest journeys, what I’ve found is that there are some rules in the system that I just don’t use. Rapport is one of those rules – it’s a clunky, mechanics-based way of handling developing relationships. It would work perfectly for a computer game, but it discounts roleplay for mechanics. As I’ve evolved as a designer, I’m less inclined to favor mechanics over roleplay, because if you mechanize something enough you can develop a game that plays itself without need for human intervention.

The last several posts here on the developer’s blog have been about things I’m cutting as I work the system full-time. Special Effects. Bolsters and Hinders. There’s more: Specialties are gone, the One-/Two-/Three-Star character distinctions are gone, and character creation is streamlined even further. Each of these could have its own post, but I prefer to sum up:

  • Specialties were a character-development restriction that required players to choose, upon character creation, not only what they wanted their Protagonist to be now, but also what they wanted their Protagonist to become. This was too much to place on a player at the start, and served ultimately to reduce choice. It doesn’t match our design goals.
  • One-, Two- and Three-Star definitions were a way of deciding what a character was worst and best at, but it had a deformative effect on long-term play: there was no sense of advancement for players, because they were already as good as they could get at their best role. Specialties and the Star proficiencies went hand-in-hand; getting rid of one made it very easy to remove the other.

Now, at character creation, players will choose one of five Fighting Styles, Personas and Crafts each. They won’t need to choose what they’re better at, because all characters will start with a +0 bonus to Fight, Talk and Skill. This will allow for more character growth and make Setbacks and Exchanges more likely in the early part of a long-term game, reinforcing the feeling of progress as characters advance.

Character advancement has also been refined, by cutting XP entirely. I’ve been tweaking XP through playtesting to try and achieve a stable “Protagonists should get about 1 Boost per session.” Recently I realized that I was literally using one number (XP) to mean another thing (Boosts). Now, Protagonists will simply gain 1 Boost at the end of every session. While this removes some of the power of XP to shape play, what I’ve found is that players are going to do what feels appropriate to them regardless of what the rules say. And again, that’s the heart of roleplaying.

Forthright must provide a clean and immersive roleplaying experience. I don’t want rules to suddenly appear that restrict play. All rules should instead help move the story forward instead of stopping it in its tracks. Getting rid of rules that strip excitement from play or add clunkiness to play is getting us a lot closer to that.

Thanks for reading! As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.