Dead Simple Design

For the longest time I had been thinking of creating my own roleplaying game engine. Indeed since the advent of D&D 3.0 I had decided that this had to be done as I saw that this edition, despite its enormous success, was the death knell of real roleplaying. The hundreds of pages of rules had reduced it to a single figure skirmish wargame.ย  Although I continued to play it with my friends it was not what I was looking for.

I wrote dozens of drafts and most were complex messes. I have CDs full of them. I read Fudge and Fate, and many other independent systems always looking for that magic ingredient that would spark my imagination. I dabbled with cards, action point and no dice systems. Nothing, though, really caught.

I was writing FUBAR, a set of single page SF/Modern skirmish rules, when it hit me. All this time I had been trying to rewrite complexity. I was trying to recreate AD&D2 but with more modern mechanics. What a fool I had been! The keyboard marks on my forehead took weeks to fade.

So I set myself the target of writing a complete set of roleplaying rules on a single side of A4 paper, in three columns of no smaller than 8pt script. My first draft was six pages, the second four and the seventh was one. This took six months as it takes that amount of time to boil everything down to its essence, and longer to make it work.

Only by reducing everything down to this level can you once more connect with the narrative, story-telling heart of roleplaying. For all their famous authors, lush background books and other supporting material the big RPG companies had reduced all story elements to dice rolls.

For example I encourage a player to barter with a merchant in a marketplace for some trinket or other. I want him to engage with the man and if the player can impress him the player may get more information relevant to the party’s current quest. The player pulls out his character sheet, opens the rulebook at the relevant page and rolls a die to show he is using his Bargaining skill. I sigh and try again asking the player to describe what he is doing in term of the interaction with the merchant. “Why?” he asks, “will it get me a modifier to my die roll?”.

As a player I also see this from the other side as well. For example, I spend five minutes explaining how my elven scout carefully worms her way forwards to the edge of the Orc Camp. I describe how all her equipment is midnight blue, that she has shaded her face and blackened her blade, and how she has crawled on her belly slowly to the camp. The DM says “Roll for your move silently and hide in cover skills. You can have a +2 bonus to both”. I roll a 1 and a 3 and she is instantly discovered… so heroic.

By having so many rules and relating nearly all of them to dice rolls we have turned a narrative experience into a mechanical one. Now if you are running a competitive tournament I can see the point of that, but most roleplaying games are played on people’s kitchen tables with friends.

By boiling down the rules to the minimum you force both players and DMs to actually talk to each other about what, how and why they are doing things because not everything can be described or solved by a die roll.

Dead Simple is not a complete game, nor is it finished. It is a template for roleplaying that I shall continue to support and improve because I believe there are many gamers out there who feel as I do.

So where next? Well I am working on a new roleplaying game where most of a character’s attributes are described by attributes that have absolutely no connection to dice or modifiers. Where needed the random element may come from a Fate/Destiny/Karma mechanic rather than a skill or ability dice roll. So watch this space ๐Ÿ™‚


About Craig

For those who need to know these things: - I'll never see 50 again. - I'm tall enough to see well in crowds and fat enough to leave a wake. - I'm well married to a woman with twice my smarts, three delightful and challenging children (er-hem), and one cat overlord. - I am Welsh. - I have to work for a living, but do nothing that makes me perspire.
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5 Responses to Dead Simple Design

  1. Scribbler says:

    Thank you, @Craig, you made me smile several times today.

    I wanted to search for B-movie gfx to assemble some counters in Cyberboard for a Pz8-Sologame called ‘The Giant Spider From Outer Space’, which fits on 1 page, like your FUBAR/DSRPG systems do. But I found some pics of WW2 Airfix conflict in a jungle, pretty built by a Wargame Veteran – and he used and linked to … FUBAR. So I followed the White Rabbit and smiled in confusion, that ALL the UNIVERSES of Imagination would fit on 1 single page. With a blink of my eye Arthurian Knights, Spaceork Titans and Clockwork Serpents passed by … . Then I discovered, that you have written a RPG version of the Wargame (smiling again). And I have seen Alchemists, Rangers and Merchants since then … going onboard a vessel, or overboard … . This stuff makes me wanna PLAY so badly.

    I am old enough to honour BECMI/Mentzer D&D, BRP and WEG D6, also MegaTraveller. And I am wise enough to follow the advice of alot of folks in the Interwebs who say: for Sandboxing Style choose a very, very SIMPLE system – or face crippled fun & flow otherwise. I am aware of quite a few simple RPG systems out there (‘Mini6’, ‘Barbarians of Lemuria’, ‘Tales of Blades and Heroes’, ‘Dungeon World’ and the ‘MicroLite d20’-family mostly), but they rarely would fit on 1 single page. Well, their Core Mechanics would.

    So, I am quite intrigued by your concepts and goals, @Craig.

    Maybe I will get around to test those simple RPGs I know with a sample adventure, statting and playing it through by the different rules – and compare, how they FEEL.

  2. Craig says:

    Let us know how you get on mate ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Scribbler says:

      I will, @Craig, but do not count on me … :P.

      This would be a lengthy adventure, a blog-worthy thing, which gets me into the trouble of blogging. But I try to get into testing different simple RPGs for myself – and protocol the results (with Cyberboard). I am a (more or less) Solo-Gamer though, searching for the right tools to get something started for my own pleasure. By the way, your BronzeAge-flavored campaign material (Busiris and this Runequest-DSRPG) helps my Dunsanian mood. I have something similar mapped out – with Vampire Pirates, drug-addicted Metropoles and Swarms of Kra filling a broken cliff temple.

  3. Craig says:

    Sounds quite insane… and fun ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Scribbler says:

    Well, I have to see, if this will make me happy in the long run. I have read some of your Busiris-material and like this Alexandria-Lankhmar-crossover. Ghuls in the Sewers always make me shudder. The Priests of Busiris should be glad to be unburdened of any harming side-effects of Kif. I guess, some of my Metropoles are a bit more ‘unhealthy’.

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