Last week, I discussed creating a tabletop game for children. I wanted three main things: it to be story-driven, it had to be customization to whatever sort of story you want to play, and it had to be easy to learn and simple to play.
To that end, I’ve wound up with Storyforge. I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with the name… What can I say? I have a smithy theme going on.
I’m working on a full set of rules right now, but in the meantime, let’s explore the basic features of the game.
Description affects story, not mechanics
Like any RPG, there’s plenty of spot for character description, including things like race. However, nothing in the description is going to affect mechanics in any way. For example, whether you play a human, a troll, or a fairy, the actual mechanics of the game will not be affected, so there is no need to worry about game balance if someone wants to play something unusual.
Simple abilities make complex stories
Each character has four ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. These four abilities are the key to any story action outside of combat. When a player wants their character to do something, they explain it and, if it’s something that the character can obviously do, they do it. If, however, there is a risk or chance of failure, they need to roll for it. Whatever they are doing is related back to one of the four abilities, they roll a d20 and add that abilities score, and check against the challenge set by the GM to see if they succeed.
Since we’re not assigning specific tasks to specific abilities, what ability is used is up to the player’s explanation. For example, maybe a player wants to intimidate someone with subtle threats; they want to use Charisma. On the other hand, if they intimidate someone by picking up a golf club and bending it in half, they want to use Strength. As long as the players and GM agree that using a specific ability for a specific task makes sense, they’re good to go.
Generating scores for these abilities is as easy as picking numbers. At level one, players give one ability at +3, one ability a +2, one ability a +1, and one ability a +0. (Having +0 doesn’t mean you can’t use an ability, just that you’re not exceptionally good at it.) Every time they level up, a player can add 1 to any of those scores. Things like magic items can also give bonuses to the scores.
Descriptive combat, customizable combat
Combat is similar to the story action described above. There are four combat scores: Melee, Ranged, Magic, and Defense. When I attack you, I describe which score I’m using (“I’m attacking with my sword, so I use melee”), and roll a d20, adding the relevant score. You roll your defense (a d20 plus your defense score). If I get higher than you, I hit you. If not, I miss.
After that, the details are all in description. Whether I’m attacking with a giant axe, or a whip, or two swords, I’m using melee. If you’re defending with your heavy armor, or by parrying me, or by dodging, its all defense. Melee works for any attack when you’re next to the enemy. Ranged is for any attack where you’re not next to the enemy (within a limit… Say, 10 squares). Magic can be either adjacent or not adjacent to enemy.
Everything else is set the same for everyone. Everyone starts with the same movement speed (for example, up to 5 squares per turn). Every successful attack does exactly 1 point of damage. Every player always has the same amount of health (I’m thinking 7). To add a little more risk, there can be a critical hit system: if you roll a 20 on your attack, you roll a d6 for damage, instead of just doing a single point.
Special abilities for unique characters
The final thing making characters unique will be their Special Abilities. Every character gets one special ability at 1st level, then one more at every odd-numbered level (3, 5, 7, etc.). Special abilities are picked from a list (I’m making about fifty of them).
Every special ability is different, but most are designed to give bonuses to certain rolls if certain conditions are met. Because I like rolling dice, bonuses to hit are met by rolling twice, and taking the higher result (as opposed to a flat number bonus, which I feel because less impactful when the overall scores get bigger). Bonuses to damage simply give you an extra point of damage (so 2 for a normal hit, or 1d6+1 for a critical). For example, one special ability might let you roll to hit twice and take the higher result if you make a melee attack after moving at least 3 squares in a straight line towards an enemy. Another might let you roll twice for a magic attack on a turn where you have not been attacked yourself, or roll twice to defend against a ranged attack.
There will be a few different special ability for each type of attack, for defense, and for general things like ability scores. There will be chains, but nothing more complicated than “you need to take this one before that one;” so no complicated, multi-point prerequisites. My hope is that, with special abilities, you can customize your character to a certain style of play – whether that’s investing really heavily in one tactic or taking a little bit in multiple tactics is up to you.
The final bits
That’s Storyforge in a nutshell. You’ll notice I didn’t say many rules for things outside of combat… That’s because I don’t have many. I know being too loose might backfire, but my hope is that it becomes a fairly open, group worked, story-driven game. If it makes sense, your character can do it.
The simple rules do have their downsides. I’m not sure how to do anything with healing, for example, except for simple potions. I also know there is a chance that some things are unbalanced… Since magic can be used both close-up and at a distance, why would anyone not put all their points into that? My hopes is that that sort of unbalanced metagaming will be countered by two factors. First, things like special abilities might help… Putting all your points in magic seems like a great plan until the enemies defend better against magic than anything else. I also think that the audience of a game like this (and remember, the genesis of this was for gaming with kids and people who want story-driven games) won’t think that way. After all, magic might be the “best” choice, but if my character is a half-crocodile pirate captain, you can bet it makes more sense for me to focus on my cutlass skills instead.
I’m going to finish putting together a small rule book soon, but in the mean time, what do you think? See any really obvious pitfalls that I’ve overlooked? Any suggestions for things I might want to change or add? Would you even want to play a game like this? Let me know in the comments.