Forsooth Role Playing Game Review

The Basics:

  • No specified age provided
  • For 3 or more players
  • Variable play length (single-shot and campaign play)

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Emotional Coping Skills
  • Memorization
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Self-confidence
  • Imagination

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Challenge thyself and yonder friends to a rousing game of wit and tongue wagging as you cooperatively tell a tale of bold deeds and vile vexations!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek rejected!

Overview

Shakespeare’s stories have survived centuries of cultural change and yet still remain relevant. It is a true testament to Shakespeare’s ability to write stories about our human nature that we continue to republish his work, create movies from his stories, and pay scholars to ponder his words. Feared and loathed in early education and later in life loved and admired by the very same individuals, Shakespeare remains eternal. His stories, his characters, his lessons are just as intriguing today as they were when first introduced on a wooden stage over 400 years ago. It was only a matter of time before geeks got their hands on his work and made it a game. Honestly, surprised it took this long.

Forsooth!, from Spoiled Flush Games and winner of the 2011 Game Chef Award, is comprised of a single rule book (88 pages) that contains all the rules needed to play, including helpful quick reference tables, different styles of play, character sheets (permission given to photocopy or download the character sheets, by the way), and a number of pre-created game sessions to get the players going. Not included in the game, but necessary to play, are some Poker chips, a unique item to identify a specific person (the Bard), and pencils for all the players.

This is a diceless and game masterless role-playing system.

What It’s All About

Forsooth! puts the players into a play where they act out 1 to 3 different characters. Individuals will role-play these characters using a very simple but descriptive summary they created. Using this, they will act out the character and interact with the other players in scenes. In a very unique twist to the game, the “scenes” are played out much like a live play (without the live action role-playing), wherein the players will bring characters onto and off of an imaginary stage. When on the stage, they will be acting as the character they are currently controlling. When they are done with them, they will make a stage exit. Players are even encouraged to introduce minor characters to help the story move along and even bring back dead characters as ghosts.

All the World’s A Stage

The first aspect of the game is creating the setting and theme. Setting describes the location and time in which the story will take place. The authors of the game provide a very simple method to create the setting by asking the players to complete a phrase. That phrase being, “A _____ near a ______ in _____.” For example, a completed phrase that describes the setting could be “A city near a mountain in Britain.” There is a handy table with numbers that will allow players to randomly roll their results, but this shouldn’t be necessary. Nor is it necessary to put the setting in a real place or during the 14th century. It is important to note that what is created in the setting is meant to be very general. As the game is played, the players will create the more specific locations.

After the setting has been created, a theme needs to be determined. This defines what the story will be about. Duty? Redemption? Madness? There is no limit, but two is the suggested minimum. More can be added if the players are looking for a challenging experience or only one can be selected if playing with newbies. Again, there is a table provided that allows the players to randomize by rolling a die. In this case, two 20-sided dice are rolled together. As a wonderfully wicked and witty aside, the first listed item (with a value of “1”) is “Improbable Results”, which is exactly what you will never roll when rolling 2D20 (where the lowest rolled combined value will be a 2).

Such As We Are Made Of, Such We Be

Now it is time to create the characters of the story to be controlled by the players. For a 3-player game, each player will create 3 different characters. For a 4 to 6-player game, each player will create 2 different characters. For a 7 or more player game, each player will create 1 character.

Characters are created as sketches with a few specific details to help guide the player and to give them role-playing suggestions. There are no stats or dice rolls. The character is as the player decides, but they must be role played using the following descriptions, with deeper character development suggested as the characters is used.

Name and Role

The name of the character is surprisingly important. Remember, these are characters in a play! They should be remarkable! Once a name is determined, give the character a role. Depending on the theme and setting, the role could be a military commander, a simple stable girl, or a vile thief. It is totally up to the player but each character should be created as a supporting part of the story. Avoid creating a character that no one would want to interact with in real life. For example,”Sir Portly the Sweaty, Man About Town”.

Nature

The character’s nature defines how the character is more or less seen by others and, sometimes, themselves. Two words are used to describe the character’s nature and are unique to that character. All other characters controlled by a player cannot have the same descriptive words as another characters’ nature, making each character different. Some examples of a character’s nature could be “melancholy fool”, “tyrannical villain”, and “thoughtful helper”.

Motivation

The character’s motivation defines what the player uses to determine what drives their character to do things in the story. This is nothing more than a short but descriptive sentence that has enough detail to determine if the character is successful in completing their motivation, but not so descriptive as to be very specific on how they go about doing it. For example, “To find my brother’s killer or die trying” defines the goal of the player and how far they are willing to go to achieve it. The character’s motivation is also a good clue for the other players to use.

Oath

The character’s oath is a promise made. Don’t worry, it can be broken, but that is not really the point. The oath further defines the character and helps the players understand what limits and values each character has. For example, if the character’s oath is “I will suffer no fools”, then you can pretty much guarantee that the character with this oath will be a to-the-point no-nonsense kind of person. If a player does decide that the character should break their oath, they become forsworn, which is indicated by a check box and later used at the end of the game. But, again, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have a character break their oath, especially when it makes for a really good story.

Fate

The character’s fate is a number value from 1 to 3 if playing with three characters, 2 to 3 if playing with two characters, and just a 3 if playing with only one character. The values are not repeated, meaning only one character can have each number value. The character with the highest fate value (by default, it is 3 but it can be more) is the player’s character protagonist whose death or marriage will make a huge impact on the story. Consider all the other characters as very important, but somewhat supportive to the protagonists.

Boldness By My Friend

Now that the characters are created, the game can be played!

The game will be played out in scenes where each scene is set in a specific location. Players will state when a character is on (in play) or off the stage (out of play) but can only have one character on stage at a time. They are welcome to bring characters on and off as much as they like, but they should also feel free to exit all their characters and not bring them on again. Once all the characters are off, the scene is completed.

The player who is identified as the scene’s Bard sets the scene by simply describing the location. For example, “Hamlet and Ophelia are in the garden.” This adds two characters to the scene and sets the location, but does not limit the other players. The Bard’s job for the duration of the scene is to help it keep going or to end it if need be. But the Bard also plays their characters in the scene, contributing to the story. When the scene is completed, a new player is selected as the Bard.

Scenes are improvised with the players working with each other to create an interesting story. Each character’s summary information will help the players a great deal here. If a player should ever be lost or not know what to do, they can say “Line” which allows any of the other players to give a suggestion on how to proceed. When the player is done with a character, they state the character is leaving the stage. The players can also create a temporary minor character to help a story along. For example, creating a messenger that states a character is “needed in another area” because they have been in the scene too long.

As the players act out the scene, they can be awarded Applause by the other players. The Poker chips, or whatever is used (there is a space on the character sheets to keep track of awarded Applause), are given to a player when another player thinks they did a great job at the end of the scene. These are collected and can be given away. At the end of a scene and at the end of the game, they will be tallied to determine who were the most influential characters in the story.

Soliloquies and Asides

Each character has an opportunity to perform one soliloquy and one aside. These are very powerful and potential story changers, which is also why each character is limited in their use.

Soliloquies allow the character to take the center stage and perform a dramatic speech resulting in one of three possible actions. These are as follows:

  • Foreshadow a character’s death that all the other players must now work into the story
  • Advance a theme and increase a character’s fate by +3, making them (possibly) the story’s protagonist
  • Change a character’s motivation or oath

Asides are used to add secret information, cancel or contradict established information, and to set the next scene. For example, a character can say, “I know it was you who poisoned the king!”. Another character can then say, as an aside, “Little does he know that his proof of such an act will not be believed by the Queen!” Since it was an aside, it is now part of the story even though it hasn’t happened yet. Of course, another player could use their aside to change it. If it’s good for the story, just roll with it.

To Die, To Sleep

Every great story has some sort of conflict. Characters in the story can engage in combat or in a dialog that might eventually cause another character harm. Conflict can also happen when two or more characters want to do the same thing. For example, be the first to toast the newly married couple. Asides can be used to quickly determine who gets what they want, and the fate score, too, but this should only be used as a last-ditch effort to determine which character gets their action, but never to influence the entire scene.

Characters can also draw swords on one another, poison each other, and if they are feeling particularly dark or dramatic, jump off a castle wall. If it comes to sword play, asides can be used to determine the outcome of the event or simple improvised. Keep in mind, however, that it is all about the story and even dead characters continue to play a part in the game. They can come back as a ghost, for example, and still be as influential (if not more so) as they were in life.

It Is Not In the Stars to Hold Our Destiny But In Ourselves

The game ends when either all the players’ protagonists (the character’s with the highest fate value) have either died or married (which might suggest that marriage is death or death is marriage, but that’s not really the case here). The final scene is ended and each player brings out their characters, one at a time, to accept any additional Applause from the players. Even dead players get to come out and accept fan adoration from beyond the grave.

All the Applause points and chips are counted and the player with the character who has the most Applause is considered the “winner” of the game.

Brevity Is the Soul of Wit

That’s the game in a very summarized nutshell. There’s a lot more to it, but the basics have now been explained. The last portion that should be noted is the three different game types that can be played. Depending on the amount of time the player’s have and interest, Forsooth! can be customized for a single day of play or a continues story where character make their way to the stage again and again.

  • Normal play (for lack of a better term) will let the players act out as many scenes as is necessary until each protagonist is either married or dead. These games could last a couple of hours, but always have a final conclusions.
  • Cycle play (also referred to as “campaign play”) is just like normal play, but the characters return! New themes are introduced but the same characters are used, allowing the players to dive deeper into their character involvement and development. If Cycle play is considered, all players will describe their character’s destiny. This the ultimate end goal to be achieved by the time the Cycle play is completed.
  • Cliff Note play is the fastest way to play, but is also more structured. Players only have five acts and use Footnotes instead of Asides (which more or less does the same thing, but are slightly less influential to the story). There is also more narration that sets up the scenes. While game play is faster, the complexity is not. In some respects, it is a bit harder because there is less wiggle room to take the story in the direction the player’s want.

By my beard, we’ve only scratched the surface of this game! There is more to it, of course, and a lot of detail we simply didn’t go into. To learn more about Forsooth!, see the game’s web page or download (for free) the short version of the game that won the 2011 Game Chef Award. I love it when you can “try before you buy”.

Prediction

My little geeks role play all the time. Except, they call it “playing”. The stories they create and the action they narrate is simply incredible! My wife and I have hidden behind corners so we could hear the narration between our children without disturbing them. Truly epic dialog and outrageous plots.

It is not terribly difficult to role-play anymore than it is terribly difficult to act out a scene in Star Wars with action figures. You simply imagine what is going on and act it out. The only difference is that role-playing games have a define structure and rule set. Of course, one could argue that there is structure and rules when children play, but it is much more free-form and often a secondary concern. But because of the more adult themes in Forsooth!, like love, war, and revenge, I don’t think my little geeks will really appreciate it as much as adults.

My oldest little geek really wanted to play the game, so I created a session for him, my wife, and I to play through a story. We decided to do a version of Hamlet which my little geek is somewhat familiar with and is set in a location he can imagine. Specifically, a castle and its surrounding countryside. Teaching the game doesn’t take long and is really more about making the players feel comfortable and answering any questions they might have in regards to what they can and cannot do.

After we went through several examples, we created our characters and got ready to play. Before we did, I asked each of the players at the table their thoughts on the game so far.

“Neat idea! I like how we can act out a play at the table.” ~ Liam (age 7)

“A creative and very geeky way to get people to learn about Shakespeare.” ~ Wife

Looks like both of the players are ready to go, the stage is set, and the audience is ready to be entertained! Let’s raise the curtain and see if this show is a success or a total flop.

Final Word

Improv is difficult, especially when the person who is required to do it is not altogether comfortable with what they are talking about. It takes a quick mind, a sharp wit, and excellent communication skills to pull it off. My little geek held his own but often got lost in the story and what his character was saying because he didn’t take the time to really think about what he wanted to say. He did use the character descriptions to help him out and even brought in a minor character to help move a scene. His level of enthusiasm dwindled, sadly, as his level of confidence grew. How silly is that? But it makes sense when you consider the game from a child’s point-of-view. The game might seem like it isn’t going anywhere, with long stories that just don’t make much sense. Nevertheless, he did very well and I was most pleased. His Soliloquy was simply hilarious as he beseeched the court to give his player the ability to hunt down a villain in the castle using whatever means necessary. Hunting dogs and traps with cakes were mentioned. The success of this game with little geeks is going to depend on their ability to stay focused and interested.

Parent Geeks greatly enjoyed the game if they liked role-playing games and hated it if they didn’t it. Again, makes sense. I wouldn’t expect a player who disliked video games to suddenly like video games anymore than I would expect a player who didn’t understand role-playing to do a dramatic 180 degree turn. For those who did enjoy role-playing games, they found the entire session to be simply outstanding. Even those players who were not altogether familiar with Shakespeare (and found the entire idea of role-playing a Shakespearean play terribly intimidating) had a blast. The level of freedom and creativity was highly enjoyed.

Like the Parent Geeks, the Gamer Geeks who enjoyed role-playing enjoyed Forsooth! A few of the Gamer Geeks thought it to be a bit too free-form, but all agreed that the game was structured just enough to keep the game in a defined boundary without reducing the level of exploration each player could do within the game. The most well received portion of the game was the Applause points the players could collect which provided a clear motive for those players who are competitive.

It should also go without saying, that the level of enjoyment and depth of the game is going to be HIGHLY dependent on the players. If everyone at the table enjoys role-playing games, acting, and being creative, then the game will be a huge success.

I should also point out that it is absolutely unnecessary to know the first thing about Shakespeare, his work, or the time period the plays are set in. No more so than knowing what an orc or a dragon is when playing a fantasy role-playing game. Sure, it helps and lets you play a bit stronger than the other players, but this is a game about communication, creativity, and cooperation. Not historical accuracy, literary knowledge, or theater production. The game is meant to challenge and entertain, not give you a nose bleed and foster legendary loathing for the Elizabethan period. Although those plagues were a real bother.

My little geek announces his intentions to the crowd as my wife and I laugh our butts off

Gamer Geeks, this is an elegant role-playing game system that provides just enough detail to keep the player’s on a path that is easy to follow but is wide enough to branch out. You will need a sharp mind to play the game well and be fully invested in your characters to keep the story going. If you do so, you will be highly rewarded with a fun-filled role-playing experience where anything can happen, and usually does. But free-form does not mean out of control. The rules for the game give the players the ability to guide the story and the other players, making the game not only competitive but also highly cooperative.

Parent Geeks, for those who are looking for a free-form role-playing game where you can sit around the table, in the living room, or on a comfortable floor, Forsooth! is certain to please. The rules are short but the game play is huge. There are no upper limits, but there are clear guidelines that will help keep all the players on track and entertained. Try this game with like-minded friends and with your older children. This is especially true if they are learning about Shakespeare in school and are complaining about it.

Child Geeks, this is a wonderful game, but might not be right for you. There is a lot to consider with your characters and you might not understand all the twists and turns the story takes. You can still play, however, but you might end up feeling confused or left behind. Role playing is difficult but highly rewarding. But until you feel more comfortable with what a role-playing game is, we suggest you play using a game system that rolls more dice and has you role-play less. This will allow you to get the feel of a role-playing game in a more structured way. Then, when you get the knack of the story telling and the player interaction, give Forsooth! a try. We bet you’ll be simply marvelous at it.

I consider myself a hardcore role-player. I’ve played just about every game system you can think of and every genre, from fantasy to the darkest of horror. Sadly, I have not yet LARPed, but that might also be a good thing. I am also a lover of the theatre and actively participated in plays as an actor. Heck, I’m even a published playwright! Can’ you believe it? Yes, you should, because it is true. And, no, you don’t make millions from writing plays. At least, a check of that amount has not yet reached me.

I mention this only to give you an idea of where I come from when I say that Forsooth! is simply outstanding. It is highly creative, exceedingly well written, and tight. The game system is descriptive enough to give a new player a very clear picture of what the game is about, and sparks the imagination for veteran role-players who are looking for a purer form of role-playing. I was most impressed how the authors took the difficult concept of improvised play and broke it down into meaningful parts that defined the character. Then, took all that structure and placed it snuggly into a game flow that felt natural and familiar. The story, the characters, and the players are all swept away on the elegance of a game system that is defined well enough to provide the necessary boundaries without dictating a course. That is not only refreshing, but highly exciting.

If you are a role-player looking for an elegant game system that promotes dialog, improv, and critical thinking with a dash of competitive and cooperative play without a defined game master, Forsooth! should be at the very top of your list!

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Forsooth Role Playing Game Review

  1. Marty Connell says:

    Great review and glad you swung the door open to RPG material.

    • Cyrus says:

      Thanks! I hope to play more one-shot type role playing games in the future. I still LOVE role playing but don’t have the time to create epic campaigns with daring do. Single one-shot plays with systems that are meant to be played in a single sitting are the new hotness for me!

  2. GameLover says:

    Spoiled Flush games ROCKKKKKKK

  3. Ben Haskett says:

    This definitely seems like a great game, but like you said, only in the right kind of group. Forsooth would probably fit very comfortably between a small gathering of drama geeks or even part of a drama teacher’s curriculum. It seems like a fantastic tool for strengthening improvisation.

    Unlike you, I’m very new to the role-playing scene. A few friends and I have recently managed to put together a gaming group for the purposes of playing D&D, 4th edition. We’ve gotten together about half-a-dozen times since then (I’m a Dwarf cleric by the name of Gavril Goatbeard), to roll dice and embark on a quest to put an end to a destructive cult. Thing is, D&D is a bit too far into the deep end for our wives to accept. Popular media hasn’t exactly portrayed D&D in the most positive of lights since its creation, and since that’s our spouses’ only frame of reference, this is sort of considered the dark underbelly of geekdom. The “nerd wall” is entirely to high. What seems great about Forsooth, based on what you described, is that it bridges the gap and offers something more palatable for non-gamers; once you take away the goblins, elves, dragons, and combat, role-playing doesn’t seem so nerdy anymore. I can see a fun time in our D&D group pulling in our significant others for a night of theatre.

    Anyways, great review–you’ve definitely piqued my interest.

    • Cyrus says:

      Now hold up there, Ben. Shakespeare’s plays had lots of magical creatures. For example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream had fairies, MacBeth had witches, Hamlet had a ghost, and The Tempest had spirits (hard to tell if they were demons or angels, at times). Plus, lots of combat, death, and overly dramatic dialog. Long story short, you do not have to give up the fantasy element when playing Forsooth! anymore than you should need to dumb-down D&D. The complexity is in the system. Forsooth! is very straight forward, but depends HEAVILY on the players to keep it going. D&D also depends on story, but is HEAVILY dependent on rules to sort out cause-and-effect.

      The “right system” is the one that all the players enjoy. That could be Forsooth!, D&D, or even Wraeththu (which is so terribly disturbing, I am not going to add a link to it. If you chase it down, remember this: once seen, it cannot be unseen.)

      If you play Forsooth!, you are not tied to any specific play by Shakespeare in the same way that players of D&D are not tied to playing a monster or a character a specific way. Shakespeare’s plays have been made into modern movies that put the location in modern times. You should feel free to act out a game in ANY time or place! Shakespeare’s theme’s can pretty much fit anywhere, even the Forgotten Realms, but you might want to avoid Athas…everyone is grouchy and complaining of the heat in that world setting.

    • Ben Haskett says:

      Haha, touche, Cyrus! That’s an excellent point. I guess the difference is that Shakespeare is celebrated almost anywhere you go, while Dungeons & Dragons (or other fantasy stuff) is a little bit shunned in some circles. So I think it’s be easier to introduce to a group, and its more open-ended rules certainly don’t hurt. But like you said, the setting could be anything you want, whether it be a love triangle at the local car wash, or space opera. Also, while combat sounds like it could be a huge part of Forsooth, I more-so meant the abandonment of dice, miniatures, and combat stats.

      Oh… and I did google Wraeththu. My first reaction was “I’m 12 years old and what is this?”

      On another note, I would love to see more reviews of stuff like this. I know that an attractive part of Forsooth was its single-shot game play, but I’d love to read your thoughts on games like D&D. I don’t know much about D&D (still very new), but I’ve heard that game stores often host single-shot combat scenarios. So maybe you could do set up something similar for games like Pathfinder, Warhammer, and the like, which I know nothing about. Easier said than done, of course, but I’d love to read about your experiences with them!

    • Ben Haskett says:

      Erm… on second thought, I do recognize that playing those games, even as one-offs, can be pretty time-consuming and very expensive.

    • Cyrus says:

      Ben, I told you NOT to go look at Wraeththu! Wasn’t my terribly enticing language that suggested danger and intrigue sufficient enough to quell your curiosity?! I swear, you are as bad as my little geeks and their consistent track record of trespassing into my Forbidden Closet of Mystery!

      Speaking of my little geeks, they are getting more and more into role-playing games, but time is a factor (as it is in everything else, really). We are very open to and plan on talking more about RPG game systems, be they one-shots or longer campaign styles of play.

      Until then, feel free to send us any questions you might have using the Contribute form. We’ll put our writers on it and answer your questions with as much detail as we can muster!

  4. Pingback: Fiasco Role Playing Game Review » Father Geek

  5. Pingback: Council of Verona Game Review - Father Geek

Leave a Reply