December 31, 2010

FRE: Primer Release and Design Notes

Welcome to Free-For-All Friday! Today I’ve got something special for everyone, in the form of my first game release. Last week I mentioned I was taking KORPG’s 1 Page RPG Throwdown and writing up the ‘intro’ to Freeform Roleplaying Engine, AKA FRE. I wrote it, tested it against one of the most brutal optimizers I know, I’ve edited it. It’s as done as a one page document can be, so I’m giving it to you guys for free. In a big twist, you’ll be able to find it here on Googledocs instead of having to deal with one of the terrible upload sites. So, how about you go get that so I can get into my designers notes and you have an idea of what I’m talking about!

FRE: Intent

When I began designing FRE, I was looking for a system that’s easy to play and easy to run with as little need for outside determinants as possible. The reason I wanted such a quick system is because the intent was to design a system for forum based freeform roleplay. Dirty secret: freeform is how I got into the hobby!

I knew I didn’t want dice because dice are clunky and impractical to the flow of a freeform game, and while some systems have limited dice spectacularly, it was still too much dependence for my goal. I also knew that some systems being used by freeformers were overly complex, requiring many hours of complex calculations to produce a ‘balance’ that really wasn’t necessary for freeform games.

So my goal became obvious: a system in which any character was balanced with another regardless of breadth or depth of ability, and which was quick and easy to use.

FRE: Resource Management

I chose research management as it was the easiest way to determine outcomes without relying on flimsy statistics that could only handle a narrow band of power well. With resource management a god and a vagabond are equally ‘plot important’ even if the god attacks with world shaking power and the vagabond just creeps people out.

Resource management also lets the players have a ‘give’. By encouraging stake setting the system encourages players to go only so far as they are willing, so character death or removal is a choice of the players, not the system choosing to arbitrarily destroy them.

FRE: Plot

I want to bring up Plot specifically due to its major revision between versions. The original version of plot read as follows:

A User spends Plot to change the story in any way, including adding new NPCs, surviving death, rewriting history, or making an Offense or Defense when they are out of those two attributes. Plot that is spent is lost.

The power I originally gave plot made it the de facto ‘best’ stat in Primer, even if it didn’t recover like Offense and Defense. Combined with encouragement to give out much more Plot in the draft, this made the game more about convincing the Moderator to hand out as much Plot as possible to take advantage of the system.

While this is not the final form Plot will take in the full version of FRE, it’s what works for Primer, which had to be approached as a stand alone game.

FRE: Moderators

Because I couldn’t do it in Primer itself, I will offer my advice to Moderators here. Don’t hand out more plot than you can handle. The more you give, the more the players will write into the game (This is good.), but if you can’t keep up with all the plot threads, start pushing them to their conclusion in an effort to simplify your task.

NPCs should max out at about 4 of either stat, and only because that’s where players will be. While players can advance their characters with plot, it isn’t intended, and if they do it too much their ability to cause lasting changes diminishes, so even a combat monster should wreck the game too much.

FRE: Stakes

While stakes are only mentioned briefly in the Primer, they are at the core of FRE, and writing out the Primer has brought it to the forefront of my mind when I begin designing the Basic set stakes will play an even bigger role in the mechanics of the system. Part of that is to better model fiction, which is what most freeformers are trying to emulate from the start.

Stakes make it obvious what it means to win or lose in any specific scenario. This way ‘losing’ doesn’t have to be death, but can be more interesting to the overall plot in general.

FRE: Player VS Player

One thing that I’m sure some of you have noticed is that the system works just fine as a PVP system. This is intentional, and is going to stay in the system. Much of the drama of forum freeform games comes from player interactions and not Moderator plot. Even so, the system will be able to produce team based games just as easily, and I intend to make that obvious for the full product.

So there you have it, FRE, from the designer’s mouth. Any other questions, I’d be glad to answer in the comments!


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