Forsooth! Preview: R&D

Mark how well the sequel hangs together: Eleven hours I have spent to write it over.” – Richard III, Act III, Scene 6

Let’s say you’ve just won Game Chef. You’re high on life, drunk on champagne, and generally more pleased with yourself than you’ve got any right to be. Where do you go from there?

From the moment we won, we knew we had to turn Forsooth! into the full-fledged game it needed to be. It’s not just that we were pumped to be able to put out a game that we could justifiably call “award winning,” (work with us here…) it was that we really loved the little game we’d created, and knew it deserved more tender loving care.

For those unfamiliar with Game Chef, you’re given a theme, some “ingredients” (words that should somehow be involved in your games), and must produce a playable RPG, complete with rules PDF, in a week. Combined, these restrictions lead us to design an awesome game we were very proud of.

In some ways, it felt like we were done. I mean, we had a slick PDF and everything! But we knew that almost certainly wasn’t the case. The hard part is the part that comes next; the testing, the tweaking, the whole nine yards.

One thing we knew would go right away was the ingredient that wasn’t really pulling its weight: Exile. The contest had required us to use two out of three of the words Nature, Oath, Exile and Daughter. Natures and Oaths became essential parts of the game, but with Exile, we were just faking it. We said that all the characters had been exiled to a castle, like some weird Real World setup, and that your most important character was your “Exile.” For the full game, there was no reason to restrict the storytelling possibilities that much, so we got rid of the exiled conceit, and the required castle setting, and made your most important character your “Protagonist.”

For the rest of the changes, we turned to what we always turned to: Playtesting. We had precious little time to test during the week of Game Chef, but now we had all the time in the world. Time to get playing.

The first thing we discovered was that oaths were doing too much. As we’d written them, they were one part goal, one part solemn vow. Players didn’t want to break them, because they were the main source of direction for their character. So we added a new mechanic called motivations. In full Forsooth!, you’ll have a very clean dividing line between what you’re trying to do (motivation) and how you’ve sworn to behave (oath). The best part: Now fellow players can tempt you to break your oath by appealing to your motivation. You’ve sworn never to drink, but you want my daughter’s hand in marriage? Well, I’ll only give my consent if you crush a cup with me, sir.

We also found that sometimes players didn’t choose the right character as their Protagonist at the start of the game, so we added a new soliloquy power that would allow them to switch mid-game. That wasn’t the only tweak we made to soliloquies and asides either; while their final abilities feel similar to what they could do in the Game Chef version, they’ve gone through a number of permutations to get them just right.

We also added in the concept of themes, which give plays a more unique, coherent feel, and created a better method of picking a setting — no longer is every play set in a generic castle in who-knows-where.

Of course, that was just the start of creating the full version. We wanted to pack the book with more value than that. So we tried to think of other awesome things we could add to the game. The first thing we came up with: campaign rules. We wanted players to be able to play several connected sessions of Forsooth! The rules we came up with for doing so are unlike any campaign rules you’ve seen before. We call them “cycle” rules, because you’re really creating a cycle of plays, like Shakespeare did with Richard III. Every session will have its own identity, be its own complete work, and yet feel like a part of a larger whole.

We also wanted to come up with a faster version of the game, for when you’ve only got an hour or two to play. The “Cliff Notes Edition” rules we came up with make for a totally different, totally hilarious experience (with a title similar but legally distinct from Cliff’s Notes).

Put it all together, and you’ve got the all-new, all-improved Forsooth! It took us a lot longer than a week to finish it, but we think when you read it and play it, you’ll see the extra work has paid off.

Learn more about Forsooth! and download the version that won Game Chef 2011 here.

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