Back to basics: take your Sword and your Backpack, young adventurer

It probably comes with the territory that thinking about games, FKR in particular, sooner or later results in thinking about rules. Interestingly enough, even my bare-bones approach to rules is an invitation (to myself) to tinker with them, again and again.

So, periodically, I find myself weighing the pros and cons of opposed rolls this and target numbers that, ad infinitum. This happens reliably when I’m not refereeing or playing – which I am at the moment, both.

Also periodically, I remind myself to get back to basics. My basics are very simple: Play worlds, not rules. The rules are tools to get the players and me in the mood, to help us paint a picture. And still, the simplest rule of all is: roll a d20.

And I tell you if you need to roll on or over a certain number.
Or under.
Or between two numbers.
Or against my d20.

The situation at the table (the mood, the players, the season, the food, the alcohol and other drinks, maybe even the position of the stars) dictates the exact method. This is how Dave Arneson played. How Gary Gygax played in his private sessions. How – to this day – thousands of referees are playing (including me). No shame in that, is there?

The epitome of a game that does this right is Sword & Backpack. I have written about Gabe Soria’s little gem before, but it’s worth mentioning it more often because it deserves way more credit.

Sword&Backpack is designed as single pages you can cut out and stick in your moleskine notebook. This way, you create a personal “character book”, a living document instead of a stale character sheet. That idea alone is genius.

But let’s see what Sword&Backpack has to say about conflicts and combat:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Everything you’ll ever need is built into these two paragraphs. And it doesn’t stop there:

Yes, I’ll admit it: I am a Sword&Backpack fanboy still, after all these years. It’s perfect because it does more than just serve you a method of conflict resolution. It draws you in, wraps you in a warm blanket of adventure and awesomeness.

There are “excerpts” from in-gameworld books, for instance:
Grimoire Samizdat: The First Spell
Grimoire Samizdat: New Introduction

There are mixtapes for background music:

tape 1
tape 2
tape 3
tape 4
tape 5
tape 6

Here’s the First Magic Supplement for the game.
And here are Adventure Supplement number One and Two.

Every good fantasy game needs an interesting adventure locale: Lanternport, for instance.

Lots of atmospheric background information is to be found in The Young Adventurer’s Almanac.

If you want to honor Gabe’s efforts and creativity: He sells the rules (download) for 5 $US on itch. If you’re in a tight spot, you can always download the rules for free on his tumblr.
(BTW, here’s the correct way to assemble your S&B book)

To get a quick game of S&B going if you’re out of ideas, use the ROTHBARD & GAZPUS STORYTELLER’S AID #1: The Drunken Spacemen Phantom Fiction Editor.

By the way: If you intend to introduce students and/or kids to roleplaying, you can’t go wrong with Cecil Howe’s (of Hexkit fame) version: Sword & Backpack, booklet edition.

Cecil also made a beautiful zine for S&B: Peril.

4 thoughts on “Back to basics: take your Sword and your Backpack, young adventurer

  1. Hi, Norbert! It’s me, Yori, once again, commenting. It’s really satisfying to play with an extremely simple rule of thumb. There are people who are content with little. I am one of those people. In my case it is “roll a d6, and roll under, low is good”. I managed to do a lot with just this, a lot really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yori, my friend! I know ours is a niche within a niche within a niche… and still, our tastes are wildly differing. Cool 🙂


  2. I myself have played and written a lot of hacks and stuff, but I honestly think that Sword & Backpack is the best game ever written, because of its very own minimalist-d20-magic. The booklet edition is all I need to dive down into imagination. And peril is pure gold.

    Liked by 1 person

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