I just discovered Frayed Knights today, and I'm interested in its mix of old-fashioned RPG gameplay and humor. I love when RPGs pull off humor well (Baldur's Gate II's crazy warrior Minsc and his miniature giant space hamster still makes me chortle), so I'm interested in seeing how it works with this decidedly old-school game.
"I missed the kind of first-person, party-based, turn-based RPGs that were popular back in the '80s and early '90s. Can you believe the market was actually over-saturated with them once upon a time?" says Jay Barnson of the developer Rampant Games (it's mostly a one-man operation). "Those are extremely rare today, even amongst the indies, and I feel strongly that this is an area where there are still lots of potential for innovation in both story and mechanics."
Like a number of RPG gamers today, Barnson is frustrated by the move of some developers and publishers from traditional RPG mechanics to more action-oriented gameplay."While I do enjoy action-RPGs, I'm frustrated with the mainstream publisher's trend to rebrand the RPG genre as plain-old action-games with story and player decisions. There is a lot more that can be done there! So in a way, Frayed Knights is my tiny little effort to add some variety to the RPG landscape and bring back some elements of RPG style and gameplay that was prematurely retired."
Barnson says Frayed Knights is coming out soon. "We're shooting for the end of the month or the beginning of October. Well before Skyrim ships," Barnson says.
I haven't played it, but based off the trailer, my chief concern is that your party's characters are premade (I love making my own). But its hard to write dialogue for random characters, and based on what he says about stories derived from tabletop RPG gaming, I can see why Barnson took this direction. "When I decided to make the first-person, party-based game, I wanted to do a lot more than just clone some old classics. I wanted to do something fun and interesting with it. One of the weaknesses of that style of game is that with an entire party of characters, they often didn't feel like much more than a names assigned to stats and abilities. They were deliberately pretty interchangeable. I thought it would be interesting to experiment with making pre-generated characters with personalities and stories that were already integrated into the world."
"From there, I only had to think about the kind of table-talk we have in our pen-and-paper D&D games, and the humor, snarkiness, and character-driven stories really came from there."
Barnson's also trying to add to the genre with a new system he calls "drama stars." You earn "drama stars" when "dramatic things" happen to your character, and the rewards can be so great that they even revive your party when characters are "incapacitated" (you don't die in Frayed Knights unless the entire party is KO'd). But drama stars don't carry over with every save -- Barnson says that they only carry over if "you continue exactly where you quit in a previous session." The idea is to keep you from "save-scumming," as he terms it, reloading when a die roll or encounter goes against you.
The game could be especially satisfying for fans of magic. According to the game's FAQ, Frayed Knights has a "great googley-moogley" amount of spells. "Base spells, just under 120 (last count). Plus many of them can be altered with certain feats, bringing the total to something like 600 spells and variations."
Barnson is also attempting to make lockpicking and disarming traps more interested than a die roll. Although it's still a skill-based system, it's more like a "miniature combat" where the player must weigh the risk of attempting to pick the lock or disarm the trap with what they might gain from it.