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. 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 🙂