Game Development

How We Built a Simple RPG System

Firelight is a simple RPG for anyone who has ever wished the massive tomes of D&D or Pathfinder were a little more immediately accessible. Character creation takes minutes, Quests require little to no time to set up, and our core rule book currently clocks in at around 16 pages compared to Pathfinder's 576.

Pathfinder's Core Rulebook, clocking in at nearly 600 pages

Pathfinder's Core Rulebook, clocking in at nearly 600 pages

Of course, you don't get from nearly 600 pages to 16 without making a few changes. Firelight was designed from the ground up to provide new role-players with an immediately accessible entry point into the genre, without outright eliminating core mechanics such as dice rolls, skill checks, and the all-important randomness of complete player autonomy. At the same time, we always thought Firelight should satisfy veteran players as well, with its ability to tell a complete story in just one sitting.

When designing the mechanics for Firelight, we looked far outside the realm of traditional tabletop games. Even as we studied other tabletop titles, we let sources like sandbox video games and mobile apps influence our game design as well. 

One particularly interesting point during early development came when the team took a deep dive into Blizzard's Hearthstone, a mobile game which introduced millions of new players to the world of collectible card games, or CCGs. 

Blizzard's Hearthstone makes CCG mechanics more accessible for a wider audience

Blizzard's Hearthstone makes CCG mechanics more accessible for a wider audience

The notable thing about Hearthstone is how it takes somewhat complex ideas from similar games (Magic the Gathering for example, with which we are perpetually obsessed) and streamlines them to be either faster or more automated. This was a critical realization as we tested new systems for Firelight - We didn't need to outright remove any major systems, but rather streamline them.

Take player creation, for example. This is a major time sink in many role-playing games; depending on the game you have to choose a race, a gender, a name, a specialization, an alignment, a domain, a companion, a backstory, - The list goes on and on. There is usually dice rolling and careful balancing of multiple statistics happening in the background as you make all of these choices.

Depth is not a bad thing - It's why we continue to come back to the classics of the genre, after all - But too much minutiae can be prohibitive, especially if it comes before the actual meat of the game. We wanted to create a game where the math was already done for you, and your character's alignments, identities, and backstories were decided as much through organic improvisation as through out-of-play decisions.

Ideas for Adventurers and Personalities that were used during the testing process

Ideas for Adventurers and Personalities that were used during the testing process

In Firelight, Quests are decided before your characters are made. All of your primary objectives for the session are laid in front of you, and based on these objectives, each Adventurer chooses from eight available archetypes. This allows players to plan how they will cooperate to tackle each objective ahead of time.

After choosing an archetype, each Adventurer draws five Personality cards and chooses their two favorite. These cards will form the underpinning of your Adventurer's personality. As each Adventurer begins the game, they choose a gender and explain their shared history in one sentence. Since all statistics and abilities are pre-balanced, that's all it takes to get into the meat of the game - Improvisation and role-playing.

We approached the other game mechanics with a similar ideology. Both new and experienced players should be able to focus on building their characters through active, bold choices.

Similarly, the flow of play shouldn't be interrupted by checking the manual or referencing spreadsheets with enemy statistics. Having all of the pertinent information for Adventurers, Quests, Treasures, Personalities, and Enemies on cards means they're all out in the open for everyone to see. Only core rules such as timing and spacing mechanics are handled in the rulebook, so you only need to reference it once. It keeps the pace of the game moving always forward, towards the next story beat.

With Firelight, we hope to introduce the joy of role-playing to a whole new audience, without watering down the improvisational interactions and real-time problem solving that make RPGs so much fun to begin with. By streamlining the mechanics of a traditional tabletop RPG, we believe that we've hit the sweet spot for both groups of players. Stay tuned to the HobbyHorse Games blog to decide for yourself - We'll be debuting even more in-person testing opportunities as our July 11 Kickstarter approaches!