TL;DR - Forged Facets use levers to model character motivations and key elements in the story. Levers are pushed and pulled during play and can be seen as descriptive statements, formatted as powerful cues for roleplaying and character motivation. They are also designed to create player agency and ties into the experience system.
Lack of Focus
Have you ever played a game where characters run around trying to find a common thread to cling onto? Or a game where the players struggle with creating engaging motivations that matter over time? Or have you gamemastered a group with a very unevenly spread narration experience - or knowledge? If so, you know how much time and energy you could spend to align and get everyone going in the same direction.
In Forged Facets, this natural, but quite tedious lack of focus, is addressed by introducing levers. A lever is a descriptive narration cue attached to characters, the storyline, and the world around them, obvious for everyone around the table to 'hit,' which creates a clear goal or aim for everyone to roleplay towards.
Before the beginning of gameplay, the collaborative world-building process invites everyone to think big about upcoming problems and challenges the characters will face. The Gamemaster then funnel down a few ideas from that into a handful of levers. Most should be known, but some aren't, but through play they can all be discovered - or remain hidden. These levers should be formatted like a suggestion, like 'Find and retrieve X,' 'Change Y's mind,' or 'Stop Z at any cost,' so everyone understands what must be done.
For the player, each playbook has a set of suggestions, but everyone is free to create their own, making their character unique.
Why Use Levers?
The purpose of the lever is to formalize a description about the character, an object, or the world that players can understand, integrate into their thinking, and align their narration around. Without forcing the players on a railroading journey, levers make it fun to create characters and explore their motivations and to have them interact with the surroundings during play. But what also makes them super-useful, is that they are tied to the character improvement cycle, which makes them so much more than just a suggestion; they align with character experience, insights, and learning.
Characters have three to begin with; a yearning that describes the character's ambitions, a homage which represents a debt or tribute, and finally an optional burden, which is a powerful negative drive, that affects or control a large part of the character's life. They are created during character creation, by the player, and can be formatted as an ending to I want to / I need to / I have to / I must. But as the game focus on collaborative world-building, it is highly recommended to open up for discussions, even though the player has final say over what the character ends up with. During development and testing, I've come to realize they really come to life when players synchronize and integrate them with one another.
The Gamemaster's add context to the story and locations in it, and possibly a few secret ones, waiting to be unlocked during play. They should entice the players to act accordingly, but as actions aligned with levers reward the characters, they become both interesting to work with, and a tool to drive the narrative.
At the start of a session, and during play, everyone can address levers, and discuss them openly, so they become an integral part of the conversation and the narrative.
Levers and Experience
Besides being powerful cues for how a character can interact with the world, the lever mechanics are also tightly integrated with the experience system and long-term character development. Every time the player narrates the character's actions, and the attempt is aligned with a lever (regardless of failure or success), the player marks one of six experience conditions. Once all six are marked, the character earns an insight. With insights, the character advances and develops over time.
For example, Anna plays the grim human mystic Ciurwen the Pale, who she imagines has lost everything she holds dear. Not yet a necromancer, but definitely a dabbler in dark, forbidden arts, Anna wants Ciurwen to aspire for hidden arcane secrets to save her lost loved ones. So for her levers, she writes down;
- I Must Master the Secrets of Resurrection (yearning)
- I Have to Adhere to the Laws of the Crone (homage)
- I Am Known as a Sorceress (burden)
All her levers tell Anna something about what is important to Ciurwen, besides the adventure that gameplay offer. Whenever she acts in a way that promotes her levers (also referred to as 'hit levers') fulfilling the experience conditions, she may mark experience.
Lars is Gamemaster for Anna and her friends and prepares for a few sessions of a sandbox adventure, based on a play-to-find-out approach (a thing in running a game of Forged Facets). For the world-building phase, which is a collaborative thing, they detail a bit more around the big issues, looming threats, and dire consequences. They have come out with the following; the setting revolves around the wild marches north of the Granite Kingdoms, a frosty swamp region of great mystery. The prince asks the characters to help him find the lost Scepter of the Hero King Merron, to unite the unruly dukes and sorcerer-barons of the kingdom, otherwise, they will all plunge into an age of darkness. Lars prepares a few levers from that to work from. He writes down;
- Locate the Trade Post
- Find the Ancient Troll Temple
- Explore the Death Barrows
- Return the Merron's Scepter to the King
He also adds three hidden ones that can be discovered by exploring the known levers;
- Find the Fey Queen's Lost Mirror
- Do Not Disturb the Dead Tribes
- Explore the Labyrinthine Burial Mound of Lor-Gor
After the world-building, Anna along with the other players start to discuss Lars outlines for the adventure. They look at the levers (all, except the hidden ones which Lars will reveal in the game when it suits the narrative and context of play), and can see quite clearly what they will be tasked with. Each time Ciurwen hit any of the levers Lars has described, she may mark experience, just as she does when hitting her own levers.
Would you find this a useful tool?