Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

8-Bit theater: Freeform?

Started by Eric J., December 29, 2002, 09:49:29 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Eric J.

I've been toying with this idea for a while.  Of my favorite websights, there are three that imediatelley come to mind.  The Forge is first, followed by and the third happens to be  The last two feature gaming comic strips.  If you like that kind of thing, I highly suggest that you look into either.  Anyway- features 8-bit theature.  It is a sprite comic that has the intentions of paradying Final Fantasy 1.  It accomplishes this and twists several RPG archtypes into something very humerous.  I found it remarkable how much, while reading the comics, I wished to have an RPG session that was anything like the ones depicted.  I decided to, in about 10 minutes, create an 8-bit theature RPG for play.  This is what I came up with:

I created a list of virtually EVERY class of character has ever been featured in a Final Fantasy game.  In the comic the exagerate each classes abilities and weaknesses.  I took their examples:

Black Mage-  Dark sorceror of evil.  His power is rediculously intense and he comes off as the funniest character.  Yet,  can only cast one spell per day.  It is rediculous how he uses his single level 9 spell.

Fighter-  He is the steotypical fighter.  He's very nice, very very stupid, and his only ability is near-invinvablity and his preference for swords.

Thief-  He's a thief, a rediculously good thief.  His penalty is that he always transfers his money to his swiss bank accounts and never gets to spend it.

Red Mage-  This is another good character.  He is versatle.  He can theoretically cast black and white magic, as well as use every physical skill in the game.  As a character he relises that he is in a game and is the personification of "munchkinismn."  His problem is that he can't cast any spells for,if he did, he would temporarilly less versatle.  

I decided that each player would create a character like this:

Choose a class:
Choose a subclass:
Choose a superfeat:
Choose a superhook:
Choose X feats:
Choose X hooks:
Choose a special item:

Now, this could seem similar to other systems that do this, but I think that the style that the system promotes is entirelley different.  Each feat is designed to make the character the comical stereotype of a class, and each hook is to balance that out with a comical and equal detterent to the ability.

The special item is there because they're fun.

The experience system is what drives the characters.  In the comic they never make any direct improvement, but it is planned that the characters will make a class change.  The players are driven to make this happen.  The experience equivelent is what I like to call bits.  They are gained from making everyone...well... laugh.   This is usually caused by some in-character comment or special use of powers.  When you get 8 of these things you gain a level, or change subclass.  This adds a new hook and feat.  After you achieve at least 3 levels in a subclass, and gain 8 bits you can change class.   This gets you a new special item, a new superfeat, and a new superhook.  

After that, there's little else.  Just some guidelines I have in my head, and the possability for mechanics.  I don't know about that, though.  I'd have to playtest it both ways, and wait for your input.

Here's how the first (short) run went.

Players:  Anthony, Charly, Doug.

Player: Anthony
Class: Sneak
Sub-Class: Gambler
Superfeat: Always wins when playing games.
Superhook: No combat ability whatsoever
Feat: Throw exploding cards; Freakin' rich.
Hook:Accused of cheating very often; thrown out of the every casino in the tri-kingdom area.
Special Item: Unlimeted amout of exploding cards.
GM's impression(Yeah, BTW- I'm the GM): A very original design.  His only problem is that his hooks and feats didn't interract well enough with eachother.

Player: Charly
Superfeat: Can cast any spell that is casted on him, or use a weapon that is used on him.
Superhook:  He can do this ONCE.
Feat: Nearly indestructable (I think that I'm missing one here)
Hook: Get's damaged easily
Special Item: Collection of every weapon type in the D&D DMG.
GM's impression: I gave him the idea and I expanded on it.  Less of it was as original as I had hoped.  He was too much like a mime, but this was a fun character.

Player: Doug
Class: I don't know what I agreed upon.
Subclass: Ditto
Superfeat: Can hit things with his mace???
I don't really know the rest either...
GM's impression:  He had absolutelly no idea how to do this, and was unable to pick up on the concept at all.  He didn't understand the goal either.  He wanted to make a Dark Knight that was superfast that couldn't kill people if the asked him not to politelley.  This was not the best personification of a Dark Knight.  Dark Knights deliver packages to small villages that explode and kill everyone.

Location: Corneria (setting for the beggining of FFI and 8-Bit Theater)
I started with Anthony and Charly, since Doug wasn't ready or willing to play at the time.  We started in a castle and the two characters had been summoned by the King.  For some reason Charly walked along to wall.  Anthony just walked by.  It was perfect.  In the game, there is an invisable person who walks in the castle, and I found it wonderfully ironic that Anthony did the smart thing and yet he bumped into him.  After that was over Anthony went to the throne room and had a conversation with the King.

Anthony(Gambler, remember): "What have I been summoned here for?"
King: (In my most entheusiastic voice) "To slaaaay the Dragon!"

After Anthony left he hired Charly, and, theoretically a bunch of other people.

Anthony decided to exit Corneria and grew to giant size.  Charly (I mean him, and his character) found this quite strange and tried to investigate.
Anthony decided to walk back into the city and he began to shrink.
Charly: "How did you get so tall?"
Anthony: "It's called the 'World Map.' Ever heard of it?"

Every one found this very funny so I gave him a bit (Though it was my joke respectivelley.)

After that, it was kinda fun, but we thought that it was best to sleep.  Anthony wasn't exactly role-playing, but I thought that it went well.  We laughed a lot, anyway.  This was free-form, and I'm curious how the market treates these.  If further playtests go well, I might be able to get permission from the owner of to create a PDF and sell it for a really cheap price on the net.  He has a significant fan base of an estimated 40,000 people, and the majority would most definitelley be Role-Players, so I think that this has potential.  Obviously, the experience point system should be cleaned up, and the sub-class might be better represented with levels, but I ask these questions:

Is freeform (ever?) the way to go?
Do freeform RPGs have any market potential whatsoever?
What would you like to see?

Jack Spencer Jr

I am liking this. I am liking this very much. Keep working on it.

And freeform is a good way to go, never let them tell you otherwise.

Jack Spencer Jr

I had been thinking of this a little and do you know what character I'd like to play? Rygar! Love that killer yo-yo thing. Some thoughts:

I would ditch the class/subclass Well, I would and I wouldn't. Using Rygar as my example, I would call him Rygar, Legendary Hero. Lengendary Hero is, effectively, his class but it is also part of his name. This way, you don't have to muck about with premade classes or subclasses. Especially since you can do more with the feat/superfeat idea. Just a question: What's the difference between a feat and a superfeat? Just asking. I like the idea of Hooks. They work like Flaws, I guess, but calling them Hooks makes them sound more desirable. So, off the top of my head I would have:

Rygar, legendary hero

feat: incredible jumping ability. especially off of his opponent's head.
hook: love interest is always getting kidnapped and needing rescuing or killed and needing avenging.
Item: killer yo-yo thing.

Well, he is a video game character. Next time I'll do Rastan. What do you think?

Eric J.

Well, it sounds like a good character.  I'll try to explain what the differences are to me.

Superfeat/Hook:  Integral to character.  What I mean is that Black Mage just isn't a nexus of infinite power unless he has that ability.  Your character would work with the system, but I don't know if it, as it is, would give the game that 8-bit theater feel.  If you took "Dragoon Leap" as a superfeat, your character would maddly jump attack any enemy that he/she encountered.  You would run into numerous comic situations.

Rygar: There's a legion of imps!  Let's jump attack them...[moves forward].
Party Green Mage [or whoever]: No!  They're using spears!
Rygar: And...?

I call them hooks, because their purpose is to balance out the feats.  A flaw indicates some failure that the character has.  A hook really indicates a failure that is tied to an ability.  That's how I see it.

Class, as I see it, is integral to the system.  It really indicates the stereotype that your character is trying to play.  As a legendary hero, you would always have a love interest that is always getting kidnapped or killed, and you need to rescue them or avenge them.  This works well, because that's what legendary hero's do.  It's funny because it's impossible for anything like that to happen outside of fiction.  No one is trained to go rescue love interests in dramatic fasion.  However, your character should have an equally powerful Superfeat.  As a legendary hero you have a variety of options.  "Allways wins any fight" and "Is always appropriatlly dramatic" come to mind.  

Just think about it.  The party is outside of a bank that's being robbed, and it happens to have a glass window roof.

Rygar:  I have to get to the top.
Party Mage: But the doors unlocked.
Rygar: Yeah, but I have to be appropriatelly dramatic!
Party Mage: Why? The stupid doors unlocked!
Rygar: No! It would be much cooler if I came through the roof.
Party Mage: Just go through the door, and say an appropriate line!
Rygar: But would it have the same impact as my coming through the roof and saying an approprate line?
Party Mage: Fine! You go through the roof, and we'll come through the door.

Rygar: As you enter the bank, Party Mage[:)], you see a figure in blue atire wearing a black cape falling from the ceiling.  His hand is to his swords hilt.  This brings awe to you and your dreams.  As he gracefully kneels as he hits the floor, he takes his sword from his hilt, points it to the fiend X-Death and states: With this act of malice you cease to live and proclaim to the heavens to smite the!
The party mage puts his/her hand to his/her face...

Okay.  Mabee that's a bit of an exageration, but it shows the feel that I'm trying to make with this game.  And, Jack, have you read 8-bit theater?

I think that I'll just have class and level.  This will help design a character.  One of the benefits of doing this is that there's a huge amount of material for me to use.  I can cite examples from Brian's work.  I know how hard a concept this can be for some (my brother for example).  The fact that your trying to design a character for comic purposes is entirelley foreign to some, and unless I can give some detailed guidelines it will fail.  I think that it would help if I used the characters from the comic, to help guide the players (incuding the GM) to be as true to the feel as they can.  While this sems simple from first glance, I think that it could be fairly complicated.  Basically I'm thinking 50-80 pages.

For a freeform RPG?! You've got to be kidding.
No Ken, this is no joke.  I actually want to compile something that's 50 to 80 pages and is said to be a freefrom RPG.

I think that there would be the title page, two to three for introduction.  A table of contents; around 6 for character creation (BTW: Fully illistrated using a little bit of my design and mostly clips from 8-bit theature and the Final Fantasy Sprites.) setting design, gamemastering, NPCs, a pre-run adventure, ect.

The only problem that I have is the cost, and my total lack of experience.  What do you need to have to compile PDFs?  The full Acrobat Reader, which is about... 300$? Anything else?  I figure that I can ask a quick question in the wrong forum.  If it becomes a complicated issue, I can start it in publishing.  Thanks.

Ron Edwards

Hi Eric,

As far as the PDF/format is concerned, I suggest that for now you just keep it all in word-processing files. Worry about the format of "the product" later - hell, if you want, you can make it available as HTML.

Even if you do want to go with PDF, don't buy the full-blown Acrobat just for that. I'm sure any number of Forge folks will be happy to take your Word file (or whatever) and lend you a hand.


Eric J.

Okay.  I won't speak of publishing again untill I read that part of the sight. =)

Andrew Martin

Quote from: Ron EdwardsAs far as the PDF/format is concerned, I suggest that for now you just keep it all in word-processing files.
Even if you do want to go with PDF, don't buy the full-blown Acrobat just for that. I'm sure any number of Forge folks will be happy to take your Word file (or whatever) and lend you a hand.

Check out this thread: for a free solution to creating a PDF.
Andrew Martin

Eric J.

Wow, thanks.  That is the oddest usefull program that I've ever seen... Thanks Andrew!

Jack Spencer Jr


Check out this thread here on the second page where Ron talks a little about Toon and how he would have imprroved the design.

Thinking along these lines, it seems like the only difference between a feat and a superfeat (hook/superhook) is it's relation to class, and class is nothing more than a collection of feats and hooks (one super each IIRC) so it would just streamline the design to simply drop the idea of superfeat or hook and work with feats and hooks, and also drop the idea of classes (slightly, I have more later) so that a character effectively is in a class all it's own defined by it's feats and hooks.

You can, of course, still have classes which are pretty much what you already have, just that instead of calling the pre-chosen feat a superfeat, they are simply feats that said class must have with room for additional feats.

That is, unless there is something that makes superfeats more important than regular feats outside of the relation to class. If that's it, as I had just shown here, there is not much difference.

Now, you'd mentioned that this will be freeform and there's a thread here on the subject. As one who has been studying or at least thinking about freeform a bit for a while, I think I should try to get you thinking in more solid way about what freeform means. Freeform is pure Drama as far as mechanics go (see the GNS essay in the Articles section) May people who do not like such games say that "You can just say anything and it happens" which is true, but with such mechanics, more thought is put into it than that. (There's a nice primer of sort on freeforming here) You don't just say anything and it happens. That is, you could, but the result will be disjointed and incoherent (good example of that in that link) More thought has to be put into what you attempt to do in freeform so that it will be believable. You have to "sell it."

I had gotten the term "sell it" from professional wrestling, although I have heard it in other contextes. In wrestling, it is mostly about the injuries. As brutal as it looks or it is, the wrestlers do not really hurt each other all that badly. Heck, often that hit looks fake as hell. But it works because they sell the hit.

Example 1: The Rock grabs HHH and bounces his head off the steal steps. HHH gets up and keeps wrestling as if nothing had happened. He did not sell it.

Example 2: The Rock bounces HHH's head off the steps again. HHH stumbles aroung a little holding his head as if he is in agony. He sold it.

Selling it goes a little further than just figting, too. It also goes for (so-called) genre expectations and such. In the game you've outlined here, you wouldn't expect a character to pull out a luger and blow the bad guy's brains out, would you? You wouldn't expect a UFO to crash onto the party. You would not expect Captain Amazing to go flying by. It's stuff like that. Whatever is attempted needs to be "sold" to the other players so that they will "buy" it.

You had also mentioned levels, I would advise against that. In freeform, levels are meaningless. I have an idea and you can use it if you want.

At character creation, you can allow players to take as many feats and hooks as they like. Feats should be balanced out by a hook. The GM keeps a secret tally on the player. For every Feat, they gain a negative point. For every Hook, they gain a positive point. This is expressed as a total, so they will either have a negative or positive total, not x positive and x negative points. In play, the GM continues to use this tally. Players gain a positive point for especially inventive use of feats, hooks or general "good roleplaying." Players gain negative points for violating their hooks and thematic bundle or otherwise not "selling it." This total is used to bring adversity to the characters. That is, say the characters are just standing around in the wood. A bad guy shoots an arrow at them. Who does it hit? The guy with the lowest total. Say they go to town and they meet the princess. Who does she fall hopelessly in love with?  The guy with the highest total. This total is sort of like a kharmic balance thing, since their own actions bring about positive of negative effects. Also, the GM may, at any time effect events to the detriment of the characters at the cost of giving the character a positive point OR the GM may effect events to aid the character at the cost of giving the character a negative point.

This strikes me as useful to reinforcing in-game features. But you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

And, like the others have said, don't worry about things like page count at this point. It's tempting. God knows I do it too, but don't worry about it yet. Worry about writing the game at this point.

Eric J.

Let my explain by what I mean by many things.

Class: The character doesn't choose this from a list (though a list is given).  It is more of a "template", though "class" simply works better for the genre.
The only impact that the Class has mechanically would be it's

Superfeat vs. Feat

The difference is in the guidelines, I suppose.  I simply feel the need to distinguish the difference.  Each character should have "1" superfeat and superhook at creation.   The difference is difficult to distinguish in freeform RPGs, but I think that it's different enough to change mechanically.  I know that the rules will have to be filled with examples, but that's okay for me.  I know that the only difference seems to be how tied it is to your class, but I think that it's wrong.  It's simply tied to character concept more.

I'll list them here.

Superfeats are meant to be the characters greatest ability.   It should also work to for significant impact upon the environment.  The character should not be rivaled in this area unless another character's superfeat governes the same effect or countereffect.

It's basically a power thing.  

On the whole 'level thing.'  I'm starting to agree with you.  The only purpose I had was so that time progresses before you change your class.

Thanks for the mechanic.  I might use it.  I'm probably going to add a meta-mechanic anyway.  I'll just have to think before I do.

I'll post again, after I've read a bit.

Eric out.

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Eric J.The only impact that the Class has mechanically would be it's Superfeat vs. Feat

I know that the only difference seems to be how tied it is to your class, but I think that it's wrong.  It's simply tied to character concept more.

Superfeats are meant to be the characters greatest ability.   ....

The character should not be rivaled in this area unless another character's superfeat governes the same effect or countereffect.

Let me try to get this straight here, just to make certain I understand.

Class is basically defined by, mechanically, the superfeat and superhook. This is mostly in the interest of niche potection, to keep the characters unique and differnet from each other.

This is a worthwhile goal, but you had countered it yourself with "The character should not be rivaled in this area unless another character's superfeat governes the same effect or countereffect."

Also, the way things are working here, I still do not see much difference between super and regular feats and hooks. Let me try your examples:

Player: Anthony
Feats: Always wins when playing games; Throw exploding cards; Freakin' rich.
Hooks:No combat ability whatsoever; Accused of cheating very often; Thrown out of the every casino in the tri-kingdom area.
Special Item: Unlimited amout of exploding cards.

I don't see why this does not work.  The GM can simply not allow other players to take the same hooks and feats that Anthony wants to be his niche, in this case the winning games all the time and having no combat abilities.

But the thing is, written like this, you can see that as abilities, they work all the time. What I mean is, what makes taking "Always wins when playing games" as a superfeat different from being a feat. I mean, in actual use it's pretty much the same. He plays a game, he wins. Either way. It sounds like you're allocation things like this as superfeats in the interest of niche protection. I'm just saying you can still have niche protection without having superfeats/hooks. And without them, it's just tidier. Unless there something special about the superfeat/hook I'm missing here.

Eric J.

Well, the superfeat isn't really tied to class.  It's just something that is closelley tied to character concept.  It should be the first thing that you put down when you construct your character.

Let's stick with the Anthony example:

I see how you interpret it and it's pretty close to what I am creating.  However, I would like to clarify what I think the difference is.

I wouldn't like  "Always wins at games" and "Freakin' Rich" to both be feats.  First of all, one is implied to be a product of another, and it is subordinate to it.  This is hard to explain... Mabee it comes down to the 8-bit theater feal.

In Anthony's character I feel that it would be reasonable for him to run out of money if he went on a spending spree.  If he had taken "Really Freakin' Rich" as a superfeat I would want the character to be able to buy KINGDOMS.  He would run into remarkably funny situations.

The party encounters a mercanary group.

Freakin' Rich Guy: "Can I help you gentlemen?"
Mercenary Leader:  "We're here to kill all of you."
Party Mage:  Whispers[I think that I can telleport us...]
Freakin' Rich Guy: "Whatever they're paying you, I'll double it."
Mercenary Leader: I don't think that you understand...
Freakin Rich Guy: Quadruple.
Mercenary Leader:  You aren't prepared to do that... You see, we were promised 100,000 gold pieces.
Party Mage: What?!
Feakin' Rich Guy: (ignoring Party Mage) And?
Mercenary Leader: Each...
Freakin' Rich Guy:  And?

If one bothered to do the math, you would know that it amounted to 400,000 gold pieces times the amount of mercenaries which would probably have been three.  This would be over 1,000,000 gold pieces.  

What I'm saying is that superfeats really aren't supposed to be subordinate to specifics, which is contrary to feats.

Here's an example from 8-bit theater: Black Mage is a nexus of power.
However he has the joke of inflicting stabbity stabbity death upon others.
I would say that he has the feat: Can inflict "Stabbity Stabbity Death."
In the comic he is always trying to kill "Fighter" but failing because his armor is too thick.  I am simply trying to distinguish between their abilities.  I want things that each character really can't fail at, except when the penalty to their power interferes.

I know the need to streamline character stats, but I feel that it's streamlined enough.  

If a player looks at Anthony's sheet; I want him to see "Superfeat: Always wins at games" and think, "Shit, dont' play games with this fellow." and when he looks at a player's sheet that says "Feat: Always Win's Games (The guidelines will differenciate between this, but I'm talking about the two different versions of the game)" to think : "Okay, this guy is really good at games, so when I play him, I better cheat"

In short, I want all of the characters abilites to be subbordinate to the Superfeat.

The superfeat is not linked to class.  Nothing is.  Class is just something you write under the heading: Class.  It will be a guideline for the player to build their character and what stereotypes to parady and will impact what class the character will become when he changes, nothing more.

Thanks for your ideas BTW.  It really has led to my development of what Feat and Superfeat should be.

Jack Spencer Jr

OK, so we're talking a matter of degree here.

QuoteIf a player looks at Anthony's sheet; I want him to see "Superfeat: Always wins at games" and think, "Shit, dont' play games with this fellow." and when he looks at a player's sheet that says "Feat: Always Win's Games (The guidelines will differenciate between this, but I'm talking about the two different versions of the game)" to think : "Okay, this guy is really good at games, so when I play him, I better cheat"
OK, but I think that just more careful wording of the feat will give you the same effect. That is "Always wins at games" will always win. When does he win? Always. While "Really good at games" is just wins often. DO you see what I mean? I understand the need for degree but I can see it working with just feats if they're worded properly.
QuoteThanks for your ideas BTW.  It really has led to my development of what Feat and Superfeat should be.
Glad to help.

Eric J.

More carefull wording would help, but that might lead to arguments over what you can do.  I want a part of the character that says:

I can do THIS.  There are really no "if"'s.  Having more detailed wording seems to detract from the streamline ideal anyway.

Instead of having more advanced rules to determine a single line of abilities I would want less detailed rules to characterise several.

I'm pretty clear on how I'm going to accomplish this part, and right now I'm looking for meta-mechanics, and class specifics.

Ron Edwards

Hi Eric,

One element of character creation in Hero Wars and The Pool which works really well is to disallow certain phrases:


... and so forth. These are really putting outcomes (play-stuff, story-stuff) into what should only be methods (i.e. personal character-stuff).