Back to really simple roleplaying

Professor MAR Barker started it. He started creating his world Tekumel in the 1940s and kept adding things and adventures to it till he died in 2012. That’s A LOT. Probably there’s no other work of imagination as developed as Mr. Barker’s world.

When original D&D was published, Mr. Barker tried to adapt the game to Tekumel, so other peoplecould go on adventures in this fantastic world. It was a mediocre success. So he developed his own set of rules, which is still in use today, played by people like Chirine ba Kal and Bob Meyer, to name just two. Chirine has told us again and again that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson used these rules (or very similar ones) as well.

What you’re about to see is NOT the cover of the rulebook. It IS the rulebook. These rules have been in use for at least 30 years.


Yep. That’s it. 

The interest in the rpg community in super-simple, super-lite rules seems at an all-time high at the moment, and personally, I think that’s good, very good indeed.

As you might have guessed, my favorite taste of rules-lite is Perfected, or to be more exact: opposed rolls. Using opposed rolls cut out two things that I don’t like in rpgs: math. Checking stats to see if I rolled high or low enough.

My most downloaded rpg, with thousands of downloads, is Landshut, a Free Kriegsspiel Revolution game on one page. You can grab it for free here:

Another rpg system using this method is the brilliant Sword&Backpack, written by Gabe Soria. Check it out here. The rules? Player character tries something, referee tells him what to roll with a d20, or rolls against them. Done.

Cecil Howe, he of Hex Kit fame, made a booklet version of Sword&Backpack, and it’s a beauty to behold. The booklet version adds a rule: Whenever a character is trying something that is appropriate for their background or profession, add 5 to the d20 roll.

Cecil also published a zine for Sword&Backpack (unfortunately only one), called Peril, and yes, it’s good! In Peril, Cecil also introduced a new concept he calls “Difficulty”. To quote: “This is the number of combat rounds a monster can lose before it is defeated, think of the D as standing for difficulty. The number can be any number, not just one. Really tough monsters will have a high number, and really flimsy monsters will have a low number. “

Bob Alberti is the treasurer of the Tekumel Foundation. He played in Prof. Barker’s game for over 20 years. His ruleset is, as you might have suspected, similarly simple. To quote: “You have dice to resolve any questions (01-10 good, 90-00 bad, use common sense). (…) All the other crap – character stats, encumbrances, combat rules, etc., are the tools of the rules-lawyer, and not worth the attention of dignified persons.”

Today, Claytonian published his one-page rpg “The Party“. And lo and behold, it uses opposed rolls to solve everything. Check it out here.

9 thoughts on “Back to really simple roleplaying

  1. These pre-school blog posts have really been setting my brain on fire. I'm always hemming and hawing about what to include and not include rules-wise in my OSR games, I really need to sit down and play some more freeform sessions.


  2. Why roll two dice when one would do?Red d6 vs Green d6, negotiate on tie has the exact same probs as:let's say a d12. 1–5 your view of reality, 8–12 my view of reality, 6–7 negotiate.


  3. Hi Idiomqueen :)It's not so much the difference between rolling, let's say, a d6 or a d12. Rolling one die will always result in the same chance for every side to occur: every side on the d6 has the same probability to be rolled, and every side on the d12 has the same probability.Now, TWO dice change this, significantly so. 2d(x) will always result in a bell curve, meaning that middling results will be rolled most often. Again, it doesn't matter what type of dice you roll. As long as you roll two dice, the majority of results will be somewhere in the middle.That's the reason, why in my Landshut Rules, I use 2 dice for more \”realistic\” games (because most rolls will be middling), but only 1 die for more action-heavy games, and games that should be more \”swingy\”.This was the reason why the Professor always used 2 dice in his games: there are less upsets than when rolling one.All the best,Norbert


  4. In Idiomdrottning's method, there is a 1/6 (16.7%) chance of a tie where you negotiate, and a 5/12 (41.7%) chance of either side winning.In the d6 vs d6 method, there is a 1/6 chance of a tie, otherwise each side has a 5/12 chance of rolling higher, so the probabilities do end up the same.2d6 and 1d12 may have different distributions, but if you're collapsing them to 3 outcomes with identical probabilities, then it doesn't matter which one you choose. Obviously this all changes when you start adding bonuses, but Idiomdrottning was correct!


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