Rules Light RPGs
Cover Images and graphics of various rules light RPG's. Cover Images and graphics of various rules light RPG's.

Rules Light RPGs

There has been a recent proliferation of rules light RPG’s. Initially, the OSR was partly about getting back to the original role playing game and the less complex rules. Many clones focused on a more organized or easy to follow presentation of rules. Some RPG’s are more focused on role playing and strive for minimal and flexible rules that are basically built on the fly, for example FATE, USR, RISUS and others that need the barest of frameworks.

Swords & Wizardry has White Box to appeal to the original three books of the original role playing game. Labrynth Lord and other early clones did the same. A more recent clone, Delving Deeper version 4 has one small booklet that distills the three books into a single volume. Swords & Wizardry has become a sort of barometer and led to a plethora of genre specific games based on it, such as White Star for Science Fiction. Others for western, spy, horror, and many others exist. I am sure there is a person or website keeping track of them all.

This spring, The Black Hack and its numerous clones hit the RPG community and it’s proliferation of similarly named clones, or new games built on a cord of Black Hack, such as The Front have gained a lot of traction. There is an active community for the Black Hack on G+. One of the members of that community, , has a running list of all the various games and products based on or compatible with TBH. The Black Hack had s successful Kickstarter that helped fuel its adoption. Unlike other RPG’s that emulate the original role playing game, TBH uses low for success so 1 is good and 20 is bad. Other than flipping the d20 on its head, and a few other innovations/simplifications, the majority of its core is recognizable as the original RPG.

Following on the rules light idea, +Erik Tenkar, over at Tenkar’s Tavern, is working on a four page presentation of the Swords & Wizardry rules as an introduction to the game with character generation, classes, gear, spells, and monsters. It is an interesting exercise to see just how minimal one can be in presenting the rules of a game so many know an love. [Update on this effort.]

The key to such efforts is determining what is essential and ignoring the rest. It is totally the opposite of rule systems that strive to mimic as much of reality and/or the game universe as possible with a rule for everything and yet one more book or add-on. The genius of the original game was that it was a framework with a common point of reference that all recognize as role playing. In the days of yore, GM’s created their own rules, tables, rulings, and so forth to fill in as needed. One didn’t need a rule for everything to limit what one can do by saying you can’t do X if it isn’t in your list of abilities or know how. Dice rolls are only used when there is a chance of failure, and weighted for the difficulty of any given challenge. The value of rules light RPG’s is that one is limited by one’s imagination. If the genre is fantasy, one might not find space aliens, unless that is the type of game the group expects. One can define any genre and with minimal tweaks have a foundation that will carry the group into untold realms of imagination and fun.

I look forward to seeing the results of all the boundary pushing thought experiments to hone the rules to the true core to make it as modular and flexible as possible. Each new game’s presentation is not so much a new game on it’s own, but builds on what goes before and finds a new way of presenting things that others see and go, “That makes sense, why didn’t I think of that?” An excellent example of this is how White Star simplified vehicle combat by a simple variation on regular combat. Using existing parts of the rules to minimize the need to understand a less used or even esoteric rules add-on makes a lot of sense.

I am sure the micro-print that younger eyes can easily read can get things down to a single page front and back. When I explain RPG’s to people, I describe them as “Make believe with rules.” In our groups of friends growing up, we developed our own canon of how to know you got shot when playing cops & robbers. The genius of rules light RPG’s is that they enable the large number of experienced role players to bring in new people of all ages. Just a couple of pages of rules, or a thin booklet and an experience player can soon be showing newbies the ropes and expanding the hobby and helping to ensure that one can always find someone to play.

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