When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. -Julius Caesar, Act II, Sc. ii
OK. Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve all played RPGs, and at this point, I think we know what the groundlings want. Death. Violence. Bloody murder.
Pound for pound, I’ll put Forsooth! up against any dungeon crawl for pure body count. In the last game I played, seven out of the nine player characters died gruesome deaths at the hands of their fellow players… and in a couple cases, at their own hands, too. What other game can say that? OK, maybe Call of Cthulu. Maybe.
So let’s get into it. How is it done? I can hear the calls now, “Where is the combat system? Tell me what to roll to drown Ophelia in the god-forsaken sea.”
Hold your horses. Put down the dice bag. We won’t be using that today.
Above all else, Forsooth! is a game of improvisation. We draw deeply from the “Yes, and…” philosophy, which is to say, you don’t contradict what your fellow players say, do not negate information, and instead, agree and then add more information to the scene. This ensures that the plot continues to develop, and that scenes are full of bold, exciting action.
So, we don’t roll dice, and we never contradict. Does this mean anyone can just kill anyone at any time?
Almost, but not exactly.
Characters in the game are equipped with a couple special resources, soliloquies and asides. You can spend these resources for in-game, mechanical effects. One of the special effects of a soliloquy is to foreshadow death. Once a character’s death has been foreshadowed, then anybody can kill him or her at any time, just by saying so. That may seem brutal, but keep in mind that A) somebody had to give up a scarce resource to accomplish it, B) spending resources to kill opposing characters generally won’t help you win the game, and C) in order to end the game, most of these poor sods need to die.
In addition, characters who get killed are compensated with the opportunity to enact a “death scene,” where players may freely applaud them. Since applause are what pick the winner of the game, this means killing somebody is not worth points (generally), but getting killed often is.
“But,” you might be saying, “what if a characters’ death has not yet been foreshadowed? Does that mean everyone’s immortal?” Not even close. You can still try to kill anyone at any time, but if a death is not foreshadowed, that character’s controller needs to tacitly agree to the death. We do this by giving him a few options, options that allow him to gracefully accept his fate, or to dodge death while still contributing to the plot. Let’s go to the rule book for this one:
In a pinch, any player can at any time say I kill [character name] as long as they are in a scene together, even if their death has not been foreshadowed. However, this opens up options for the character you are killing.
- The player says “You have killed me!” He then gets to enact his death scene, and possibly win applause.
- The player says “I fight back and escape wounded.” He immediately exits, and cannot reenter or bring on a substitute character from his cast.
- The player says “And I kill you.” He dies, but kills the attacker in the process, and they share a death scene. Other players then applaud whomever they thought performed better. They must applaud one of the two actors, and doing so does not expend any of their extra applause chips. A dying character’s controller may also applaud his killer if he wishes.
With these rules, it’s perfectly possible for characters to die surprising and untimely deaths, but only if the other player agrees that it’s dramatically appropriate. It also adds an element of risk to attempting to kill another character, which is really as it should be. The “And I Kill You!” option makes for some really spectacular moments, especially towards the end of plays.
In order to mirror Shakespeare, which was one of our top design goals, we had to let the blood flow freely, and as you can see, the mechanics more or less ensure that will happen. At the same time, we needed the game to feel fair, and we needed to take the sting out of death as best we could. These rules make death fair—you either have to pay for it, or your victim has to consent—but losing a character is still bad for business. It gives you less opportunity to win later applause, less control over the course of the play, and if that character had soliloquies and asides left unused, actually robs the player of important resources. We needed to make sure that the end of the world for a character wasn’t the end of the world for the player.
We do this in a few ways. First, dead characters can still win the game. So if a character seems to have a big lead, it doesn’t make him a target. Second, as we mentioned above, dying in the first place gives you the opportunity to instantly win applause. However, in order to solve the other issues, we had to get a little more creative.
Players can have dead characters enter scenes as ghosts. In terms of gameplay, ghosts act just as live characters. They can deliver soliloquies or asides (assuming they didn’t use them up in life), and have the same fate score they did while among the living. They may earn applause, which will be added to the total they earned while alive. However, ghosts are generally impervious to all forms of physical harm, and rarely if ever interact with the material world. Each player may introduce only one ghost per game.
In addition to being creepy, supernatural and super-memorable, ghosts feature prominently in Shakespeare. Having dead characters come back as ghosts seemed a natural, on-theme way to let players get extra value from their characters, and ensure they don’t lose a ton of resources when one dies. This gives all players the same power to influence the plot of the play, even when their characters get offed early.
But there’s still the problem of dead casts — that is to say, what happens when ALL your characters are dead, but the show must go on?
The simple answer is “make a new character.” We’ve included guidelines about adding new characters and adapting NPC characters to a player’s cast at a moments notice, so even if all your characters are wiped out, you can still roll up your sleeves and participate.
So there are a lot of options still for the Mercutios and Banquos of the world to get their just desserts. Play your death scene right and you might elicit a round of applause chips from the table, and a hefty boost during the bows phase, too. If the mood strikes you, you can bring your dead character back as a ghost, to take care of a little unfinished business, and even use your leftover soliloquies and asides. Not bad for a dead guy, no? And when all else fails, you can always expand your cast of characters.
We’ll have more previews in the weeks since then. Until then, perchance to dream and all that!
Interested in learning more about Forsooth!? Check out the Forsooth! game page.