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: https://darkwormcolt.wordpress.com/the-landshut-rules-free-kriegsspiel-rules/

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.





Free Kriegsspiel: Bloodstone Redux



A while ago, I posted my “Bloodstone” rules. Today, I’m presenting the Bloodstone Redux rules. What are these? They are what’s left of the Bloodstone rules when we’re playing them. Bloodstone Redux is, in a way, the best practices of Bloodstone. Let’s start. Comments are in orange.

Character Creation, how we actually, really play it
  1. Title (name, career/class/race – either come up with that stuff by yourself, or use your favorite  game rules)
  2. Three-detail Description
  3. Five-detail Bio (personal details, alignment, god(s), etc.)
  4. Good Stuff: all the things that are advantageous to you (skills, stats, talents, special equipment)
  5. Bad Stuff: all the things that are disadvantageous to you
  6. Hit Points (also called “hits”; three strikes and you’re out, give or take a few if you’re exceptionally fragile or tough)(Monsters may be able to take anywhere between 1 and A LOT of hits; I’d recommend notable monsters to be about as durable as player characters – don’t worry about this point too much, there are still entire groups running their games without hit points, simply by using rough estimates or the Rule of Fun: “Is it fun for everyone at the table?”)
Procedures of Play
  1. Trying Something Risky (Skilled) : referee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6, usually 7+
  2. Trying Something Risky (Unskilled) : referee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6, usually 9+
  3. Saving Throwreferee tells you what number (or more) to roll on 2d6
  4. Luck Roll: d6, high = good, low = bad
  5. Using dice specified by the referee, Roll either equal to, lower or higher than a number the referee tells you, 
  6. OR try to roll as high or as low as possible (referee tells you).
 
Fights
Opponents roll 2d6 against each other. Add +1 to +3 for Good Things, and subtract 1 to 3 for Bad Things. For instance, an “agile” tax collector with “saber-fencing” skill would add +2 to the roll, while a “ridiculously weak” rat-catcher would subtract 2 points.

Simple mnemonic: you add or subtract as many points as the skill or attribute has words to describe it – so, “longsword” adds 1 point, “very quick” adds 2 points, “terrible constitution” subtracts 2 points, “fucking weak clown” subtracts 3, and so on.


The side with the higher sum hits. Ties mean both sides hit each other simultaneously. A combatant with zero Hit Points left dies.


Weapon damage is 1 for small, 2 or more for big weapons. If you roll doubles, damage doubles, as well.

Fights work exactly like other Procedures of Play, described above,
OR: roll dice against each other, higher result hits.

And this leaves us with exactly the way we’ve been freeforming/free kriegsspieling for years: Play worlds, not rules. Read all about our take on the earliest forms of roleplaying in the following posts:

Play worlds, not rules, part 1: Juggling ideas for stone-age rpg sessions
Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience levels
Play worlds, not rules, part 3: Playing around with dice
Play worlds, not rules, part 4: Short example of true Blackmoor gaming
Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll
 

Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience Levels

Yesterday, I wrote about the stone age of roleplaying games. Today, I’d like to share with you how I’m handling experience in my games.

A few days ago, I asked my fellow Google+ gamers: How do you level up in your game? And: why? A whopping 76 percent answered “XP”, while the rest said they used a milestone rule of some sort. I think this is interesting and telling at the same time. For the majority of players, Experience Points seem to be inextricably intertwined with roleplaying. But in the early days, XP didn’t exist.

How did Dave Arneson referee Blackmoor (at least, at one point in time)?

  • Here’s XP. If you survive an adventure, you gain a level. BAM. The world is strange, random and dangerous so power was there for those who dared, but so was death.” (1)
  • “Roleplaying was just that. You were judged based how well you played your role of elf, dwarf, cleric, mage, fighter or thief. It was like, we all know about Hamlet so show us your Hamlet interpretation. The goal was to work within the cliche.” (2)
  • “Dave gives out “roleplaying points” in game that you can trade in for re-rolls.” (3)

And Chirine ba Kal says:

  • (Question: Experience points… From your descriptions of game play you often talked your way out of situations. How was experience points determined then? The printed rule (Empire of the Petal Throne) specify looting and killing. Even so much as “the killing blow”. Was experience based on “value of service rendered” more often then just killing and looting?”): Answer: “I don’t know. We never really counted experience points in my time with Phil. We just got on with the job and got it done, and we’d get promotions and stuff like that. Sorry. We just didn’t play that way.” (4)
  • “We never paid much attention to ‘experience points’, as we played with some very tough and very clever GMs who rated us on simple survival more then anything else.” (5)

How I’m handling experience levels:

I was never good at giving out xp. Or maybe more correct, I never bothered. It always seemed not worth the effort, and so I pretty soon switched to giving out experience levels when it felt right to all of us. Then, in the early 90s, along came Theatrix, a fantastic diceless rpg that still makes my spine tingle. Theatrix favored a solution called “dramatical appropriateness”. When it was dramatically appropriate, characters gained a new experience level. This is how we’re handling experience to this day.

**addition: Other stone-age things I’m inlcuding:

  1. Dave’s “Roleplaying Points”. Play well, get points, use them for rerolls. Dirty, dirty, dirty narrative rpg trick, shame on you!
  2. The more clichéd my group plays their characters, the better. I don’t want Deep Drama™ and Real Acting™ in the precious few hours away from my family and job. I want cheap thrills, constant action, involved-but-not-super-complex plots, and cheesy but lovable characters. Because I love Bollywood and Hong Kong/Korean flicks a lot more than arthouse cinema.
Play worlds, not rules, part 1: Juggling ideas for stone-age rpg sessions
Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience levels
Play worlds, not rules, part 3: Playing around with dice
Play worlds, not rules, part 4: Short example of true Blackmoor gaming
Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll

Footnotes:
(1) https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?286043-Dave-Arneson-Blackmoor-and-Me!&p=6302273#post6302273
(2) https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?286043-Dave-Arneson-Blackmoor-and-Me!&p=6302273#post6302273
(3) https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?286043-Dave-Arneson-Blackmoor-and-Me!&p=6302273#post6302273
(4) https://www.therpgsite.com/showthread.php?32577-Questioning-chirine-ba-kal&s=e9c3eaf1b818171cb94bc91f18b0b482&p=850838&viewfull=1#post850838
(5) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/02/ahhh-whats-thaco-some-notes-for.html

Play worlds, not rules: Juggling ideas for stone age rpg sessions

… and I don’t mean The Flintstones here. What really is driving my interest these days (in terms of roleplaying games) is to go as far back as possible with the rules. And since it’s been established by amazing researchers in the field that Original D&D was not the first rpg (not by a long shot even), I’m slowly (hex) crawling my way to The Origin of Our Hobby (TOOH, ha!, I like that).

We know that Dave Arneson didn’t have a single “true system”, but he changed and switched and tried and created on the fly, before and after his sessions. We know that Dave Wesely did the same with his Braunsteins, a game with no “official” rules that were available for the players. We also know that Phil Barker, eternally renowned for the beauty that is Tekumel, used a very freeform set of rules that didn’t care about the typical D&D-isms like hit points and stats or saves, but ruled them on the fly.

It’s also a given that neither Dave Arneson, nor Gary Gygax, nor Phil Barker used the rules they published (except Prof. Barker when it came to military simulation). Jeff Berry (also known as Chirine baKal), one of the old-time grognards who played with Arneson, Gygax, and Wesely, and was a regular, trusted member of Phil Barker’s rpg group has this to say about the rules the founding fathers of roleplaying games used at their private tables:

  • “Doing it by the book” was impossible; the book – and the game rules – hadn’t been written yet. (1)
  • “I mentioned that I’ve never really ‘played D&D’; I’ve played “something called Blackmoor with Dave, something called Greyhawk with Gary, and something called Tekumel with Phil” (2)
  • “And we didn’t have much worry about our roots in what’s now called ‘wargaming’; we moved from one to the other seamlessly, with games being ‘sized’ as needed by the events as they unfolded.” (3)
  • regarding the “you roll-I roll-higher roll wins-close rolls negotiate” system they used: “Since this is a mostly D&D-oriented crowd (note: Chirine played a demo game at the Free RPG Day at The Source Comics and Games shop in Roseville, MN), I used Dave and Gary’s 3d6 to make folks feel more at home. All I had to do was run the variant probability curves in my head on the fly, which is something I find pretty easy to do. The players caught on very quickly, and were able to evaluate their own dice roll in real time in about a half-hour of play. (4)
  • (regarding hit points): “I don’t know; the players might have put something down on their sheets, but I didn’t see it. If they got hit and took damage, I’d tell them, and they’d have to role-play the results of getting a spear through the guts.” (5)
  • “I think that the biggest difference between our ‘pre-school’ gaming and today’s hobby is the shift in reading habits I’ve seen in gamers. People don’t read books; they read games. Now, this does sell a lot of game books, and does keep game stores in business, but the ‘books’ section of my FLGS is noted for what I’d call ‘a lack of turnover’ in the stock.” (6)
  • “(…) the players for a game session would pick the world-setting, and I’ then run the game in my usual Arnesonian / Gygaxian / Barkerian style. No modules, no adventure paths, no safety net; this was Chirine and his imagination, in the purest form of ‘Free Kriegspiel’ / ‘Open Sandbox Play'” (7)
  • “Now, I can hear you all ask “How do they have characters, if they haven’t got a set of rules?” Well, we did have rules – Phil’s ‘Perfected RPG rules‘ – and I had the players take notes; so, when somebody rolled to see what happened, this became their ‘stats’ as needed. I’m sure that some would call this – to quote – “too handwavy, too loosy-goosy”, which may be true; but, the players all had fun, and so did I.” (8)
  • “Back in the day, we didn’t have much of a sharp dividing line between what seems to be considered ‘role-playing’ these days and what I think is meant by ‘wargames’; we floated back and forth between modes of play” (10)
  • “We were not ‘rules heavy’; quite the opposite, in fact. We just moved the troops as needed, and didn’t worry too much about ‘accuracy’ and ‘realism’; if it looked good, and was fun, we did it – there was lots of swashbuckling and derring-do in our miniatures games.” (11)
  • “We played using whatever tools we needed at that point in the campaign – RPGs, Braunsteins, miniatures, boardgames, poker, you name it.” (12)
  • “I ran a Star Wars campaign, for example, long before there were any rules for such a thing. I ‘winged’ it…” (13)
  • “What we looked for in both Phil’s and my game groups were people who were interested in the world-setting, and not so much in the rules mechanics. Phil’s original group, which kept going as the Monday night group after we split up, tended to be much more interested in the ‘game aspects’ and less in the ‘cultural aspects’ of Phil’s world. This is very well documented in Fine’s book, “Shared Fantasy”; we’re ‘the geek group’. We wanted to explore Tekumel, and have adventures along the way. I did the same thing in my two Tekumel campaigns, and ‘screened’ players for this attitude / viewpoint.” (14)
  • “There’s a lot of nonsense about the way Dave played and organized Blackmoor floating about; a lot of people are assuming that he was working to A Great Master Plan when he wasn’t. He loved to simply play, and he whipped up the game mechanics and ‘history’ / ‘timeline’ to suit the game in progress. I guess that the best way to ‘play like Dave’ is to not over-think the thing – don’t worry about how it all has to make sense somehow. Add in The Great Feud, with the very nasty and very rude people on both sides of the debate, and you get kind of a toxic situation. From my point of view, this feud has really come to obscure what Dave and Gary did in their games. There’s a perception that Dave played the rules all the time; he didn’t, in my experience, and was a master of ‘faking it’ on the game table. Yes, Dave was good at game mechanics – we all were, at that time – but he never let them get in the way of a good game.” (15)
  • Question for Robert the Bald, a character of one of Dave’s Blackmoor players: “What is the sourcebook or rules that give us the best snapshot of Blackmore,?, I am more interest in the setting and not the rules. I am tryiing to figure out which is the one to get”.
    Answer: “Blackmoor is a different philosophy from any of the games with rulebooks. When David started the game, and for some years afterwards, David (Arneson) did not share the rules with us as we adventured in his new world. The idea was that rules are too restrictive, and he wanted us to play as if we were actually in his world. We just did whatever we wanted to do, and David would tell us the results of our actions. Rare was the time that he told us we could not do anything we tried; we learned what would work, and what was a very bad idea.
    What I am trying to tell you is that the rules are not as important as the gamemaster, and the way he runs games.” (17)
  • “Back in the day, we didn’t play rules sets; we played worlds, and game scenarios set in those worlds. We did this both for what has become the ‘RPG genre’ and the ‘wargaming genre’, as all of us being so young and inexperienced (I have also been called ‘unsophisticated’, about this now vital and very important difference in genres) we simply did know any better some forty years ago.” (19)

Phil Barker, the man himself, about rules:

  • “After a while, I began using the simplest possible system with my own gaming groups. As my old friend, Dave Arneson, and I agreed, one simple die roll is all that one needs: failure or success. The players don’t really care, as long as the roll is honest. Who cares if I hit with the flat of my shield, with the edge of my shield, or whatever? The story’s the thing! A low score on a D100 roll denotes success; a high score signifies failure. A middling score results in no effect, or an event that is inconclusive. Thus, an 01 denotes the best possible result for the character, with perhaps more goodies than he/she bargained for: the foe goes down with one blow, the spell hits the exact target, the character easily swings up onto the mountain ledge. A 100 (i.e. 00), is a total, horrible flop, perhaps death or destruction: e.g. the opponent cuts our hero down, the poison works, the climber falls screaming off the cliff. A 45-65 = a natural result; the fight continues, the struggle to climb the peak goes on, and the like. A sliding scale from 01 to 100 gives all sorts of interesting ranges of success/failure.” (9)

Let’s hear Tekumel Foundation’s treasurer Bob Alberti’s opinion:

  • “What You Need: 1) a game map 2) two ten sided dice 3) the novels 4) any sort of game book – from Adventures in Tékumel to the original Sourcebooks – in order to get lists of the Temples and their spells, and maybe the names of some of the most important people just in case you need to rescue them from certain doom. 5) a lick of 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. You have dice to resolve any questions (01-10 good, 90-00 bad, use common sense).” (16)

Bob Meyer, one of Dave Arneson’s longtime players and traditional referee of the Annual Blackmoor Game:

  • Rhetorical question: “What set of rules do you use for Braunstein?” – “What set of rules do you use for life?” (18)

13 years ago, W.D. Robertson wrote “Fast, Easy D100Narrative Adventures for Empire of the Petal Throne“. Check this pdf out, it’s worth it.

All of this makes it really easy to come up with ideas for a (as Chirine ba kal called it) “pre-school” (as opposed to “old school”) session:

  1. Read books instead of roleplaying rulebooks.
  2. Pick a setting you like and write down stuff for it. It’s even easier if you happen to have an e-book: simply copy and paste things into your setting file.
  3. Do yourself a favor and use miniatures. Because it’s really fun.
  4. Give military conflict simulation rules a try. For free and simple rulesets, allow me to point you in this direction: Toy Wargames.  Or maybe you have a veteran in your group who could assist you in playing free kriegsspiel. Of course, nobody is stopping you from tackling heavyweight rules.
  5. Grab some dice, establish simple ground rules (“low is good, high is bad”, or turn this on its head), create characters (either taking clues/advice/hints from an rpg book or a real book), and start playing. Wing it, and you’ll see rulings emerging. If you’re so inclined, you can write them down and use them as rules. Allow me to point you in Phil Barker’s direction for his rules: Perfected RPG rules
  6. You don’t need professional modules, adventures and stuff. Come up with an interesting situation, introduce a twist or two, get players, minis and dice (and snacks and alcohol), and have a very good time.
  7. Again, because it’s so important: Play worlds, not rules.
Play worlds, not rules, part 1: Juggling ideas for stone-age rpg sessions
Play worlds, not rules, part 2: Experience levels
Play worlds, not rules, part 3: Playing around with dice
Play worlds, not rules, part 4: Short example of true Blackmoor gaming
Play worlds, not rules, part 5: How we roll

Footnotes:
(1)  http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/05/pre-school-gaming-before-old-school-and.html
(2)  http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/05/pre-school-gaming-before-old-school-and.html
(3)  http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/05/pre-school-gaming-before-old-school-and.html
(4) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/06/free-rpg-day-at-source-comics-games.html
(5) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/06/free-rpg-day-at-source-comics-games.html
(6) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2018/05/pre-school-gaming-before-old-school-and.html
(7) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-weekly-update-sunday-june-18th-2017.html
(8) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-weekly-update-sunday-june-18th-2017.html
(9) http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2010/10/mar-barker-on-rules-lite.html
(10) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2014/11/about-phils-play-style-and-all-that-lead.html
(11) http://chirinesworkbench.blogspot.com/2014/11/about-phils-play-style-and-all-that-lead.html

Professor MAR Barker’s rpg rules, in full: Perfected

Modify to taste. Introduce hit points, if you want. Play it RAW. But, in a nutshell: This is all you need to play like the founding fathers of our hobby did.
To quote Chirine ba Kal: 

“Doing it by the book” was impossible; the book – and the game rules – hadn’t been written yet. The GMs of the day came up with adventures and worlds that they were set in, and we played our Faferds, Grey Mousers, Conans, and Belits in these new worlds with all the gusto and swashbuckling vigor that we could. It was, as I’ve suggested, ‘lighting in a bottle’. We learned to run our own campaigns by being apprentices, and we in turn had our own students.

I will say this: I made the same experience with this style of play. One of the best rpg campaigns we ever played (it lasted five years) used similar rulings.

The image you’re seeing IS the entirety of the rules. Have fun.