Things to consider for "realistic" gunfights in your game


Oh well.
You know, I LOVE Hong Kong, Korean and Bollywood action movies. Great gunfights.
But I don’t want to have them in my cyberpunk games.
In my cyberpunk games, I want dirty.
These are the most important gunfight stats I keep in mind when running cyberpunk shoot-outs:

The average time for someone to draw a gun from a regular friction retention holster level 1 (meaning: the gun is held in place by the holster and can’t be drawn by anyone but the wearer of the holster; it must remain there for at least 5 seconds, even if outside force is applied from all directions) is 1.7 seconds.

World-class shooters can do this in under 0.8 seconds. That’s HALF the time. Just with training, without any cyberware. Imagine what’ll happen when reflex boosters come into play.
The deadliest distance for gunfights is 3 to 6 feet. So the farther away the characters are from the corp soldiers, the bigger their chances of survival.
Experts are only 10% more accurate than novices between 3 and 15 feet. 
That’s a biggie, right there. Experts have more than 10.000 hours of training under their belt. Novices have zero. But the difference is only 10 percent? Mindblowing. So, in close-distance gunfights, forget the skills, except if a character is wearing chrome.
Standing still in a gunfight means an 85% chance of being shot (51% chance of being shot in the torso). So next time one of your player characters is playing it cool in your hardass cyberpunk game, you know what to do.
Moving and shooting simultaneously means a 47% chance of being hit (11% chance of a torso shot). This is why the 2d6 method of my Landshut rules is so good.
Seeking cover and returning fire means a 26% chance of being hit (6% in the torso). So, playing sitting duck in a gunfight IS the best method to not get hit, sure. But it doesn’t help you much. At least, most of the time.

Diceless and randomless combat: Theatrix

(this is, essentially, a repost, but hopefully a better illustrated one)

Theatrix has, besides Amber and Everway, the most comprehensive tips for a diceless game.  One of the ingenious innovations of Theatrix were flowcharts, with which the (beginner) referee could quickly and reliably determine whether actions of player characters succeed or fail.  A while ago I extended this flow chart by the aspect of RANDOMNESS, in case the referee wants to include dice or cards (Everway) in his decision.  

Let’s get started!

The situation:

The player character is in Venice, Italy. It’s lunchtime, the sun is burning from the sky, and people are gathering in the cool shadows, enjoying their coffee. Fruit dealers have put out their small stands, tourists are buzzing around.

The player character turns the corner, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, and suddenly a huge guy in a dark suit and sunglasses is standing in front of him, with clearly hostile intent.  The character turns around and wants to run away, but behind him: a broad-shouldered man with sunglasses, as well.

The player character is ex-special forces. He has no tools (not even a car key) with him that he could use to his advantage. 

The two gangsters represent a roughly equal threat to our character.  They are a clear challenge.  A direct attack against them would not end well for our ex-special forces guy.

I now take a look at the flowchart.

No, I didn’t plan anything like that.

No, I do not want to use random generators for this conflict.

I can now decide whether to treat the conflict as a single, entire scene (and therefore use the flowchart only once), or whether I judge each individual action of the character.  I go for the second variant.

I’m asking my player: So the two guys are in front and behind you.  The whole alley is full of people, all close together.  What are you doing?

Player character (player clutches his heart, gasps, mumbles, laughs, grins, acts all out weird:)  I stagger like this towards one of the thugs.

I notice that my player is roleplaying really well  – that’s one of the criteria in the decision making process:  How well does the player act?  If he acts badly by his own standards, his character’s action is considered a failure.  But with this rule, I have seen many a player transform from wallflower to “amateur actor”.  

This is what  I tell my player: The guy takes a step back, irritated, and perhaps a little disgusted.

Player: Cool!  When I am very close…

Me: Yes, now you are very close to him.

Player: …then I grab his balls and squeeze with all my strength.  (gestures) My other hand grabs his throat and squeezes.

Definitely.  The character is experienced in combat.  Dirty tricks are part of his standard repertoire.

I choose “more tension”.  The corresponding box says

So the victory is not yet in the bag – the other gangster is still around.

I’m acting out the futile resistance of the gangster against the player character’s attack, gasping for air, flailing around with his arms, and finally collapsing onto the ground. 

Then, I tell the player: The guy collapses lifelessly in your arms.  You hear some terrified screams from bystanders.  The other thug is leaping at you.

Player: Oh! Oh! I push the one I just KOed into him, with full force! Let’s get out of here!

Is the player character capable of the action?  Any normal-built adult can shove another normal-built adult anywhere. So, yes. 

Again, I decide to let the player sweat a little more.

Now I could, for instance, add a wild chase through the city, if I wanted to. 

But regardless: our character will be successful because that has already been established. 

Landshut Rules: Alternative combat rules, explained as Troika! combat

The 4th edition of my Landshut Rules have been available for free download for a couple of days now. One of the biggest changes were the “alternative combat rules”:

 This is free kriegsspiel in its purest form. Let’s take a closer look:

“Use common sense and do not roll dice to attack.”

For many roleplayers, this is heresy. After all, part of the fun is rolling dice, right? Yes, indeed. But still, playing free kriegsspiel-style is interesting because it forces players to act tactically in combat. All-out attacks are rarely a sensible thing to do, except when you find yourself in a vastly superior position.

“Damage is dealt without rolling against each other”

Now we’re talking. So, we have decided to not roll to hit – but we can, of course (if we want to) roll for damage. This brings back a degree of uncertainty, and I like that.

“(damage) happens simultaneously – the referee judges the players’ narration and interprets it accordingly and fairly.”

Now this is interesting. Instead of rolling initiative or drawing cards, narration decides who hits when, but all damage happens in one “round”. Last man standing.

Of course, if you want to keep initiative rolls, you can always do that.
For Troika! combat, keeping the initiative cards is key!

How do I incorporate this rule in my Troika! games?

Let’s say there is a Troika! Chaos Champion (Skill 6, Stamina 20, 3 Maul Fighting) fighting against a Man-Beast (Skill 8, Stamina 11, Armor 1, Modest Beast damage)

Turn 1: I draw Chaos Champion’s card. He hits with damage 1 (rolled a 2 on the damage table, but Man-Beast’s armor reduces it to 1). Man-Beast’s STA is now 10.

Turn 2: It’s Man-Beast’s turn. It rolls a 2 on the damage table: 6. Chaos Champion now has STA 14.

Turn 3: End of Round.

Turn 4: Man-Beast hits with 4 points damage. Chaos Champion now has STA 10. Man-Beast has 10, as well.

Turn 5: End of Round

Turn 6: Chaos Champion hits with 3 damage. Man-Beast is down to STA 7.

Turn 7: Chaos Champion again, with 2 damage. Man-Beast is now at ST 5.

Turn 8: Man-Beast hits with 8 damage. Chaos Champion now has STA 2 left.

Turn 9: Man-Beast hits again, with 6 points damage. Chaos Champion is dead.

What would I do if the involved parties have a huge Skill disparity?

Simple enough. I’d roll the Luck Die, and adjust the rolls according to the skill gap between the combatants. For instance:

An unlucky Thaumaturge (Skill 4, Stamina 20, no fighting skill, with a sword) fighting against a Man-Beast (Skill 8, Stamina 11, Armor 1, Modest Beast damage). My ruling would be: there’s a 4 in 6 chance that the Thaumaturge really hits when his initiative card is drawn.

Let’s shuffle the cards and go!

Turn 1: Man-Beast hits with 8. Thaumaturge’s STA is now 12.

Turn 2: Thaumaturge’s card turns up, I roll a 3: yes, he hits! 4 damage. Man-Beast’s STA is down to 7.

Turn 3: Man-Beast hits with 8 again. Thaumaturge’s STA is 4.

Turn 4: End of Round.

Turn 5: Thaumaturge hits (rolled 3) with 6 damage. Man-Beast now has STA 1 left.

Turn 6: Man-Beast hits with 8. Thaumaturge now has STA 4.

Turn 7: Thaumaturge MISSES (rolled a 5).

Turn 8: Man-Beast hits again, with 6 damage. Thaumaturge is dead.

Initiative has to be crazy

Not only OSR games suffer from the same old, same old problem with initiative rules. Essentially, those rules boil down to two alternatives: the whole group gains initiative and the individual members can determine in which order they act, or the rules determine who acts when.

It works, of course.
(And personally, I like group initiative a lot.)

But I think the single best twist on these age-old rules are Dan Sell’s Troika! initiative rules. You can use them in every roleplaying game. Speaking from a professional standpoint (I’m a certified intructor for reality-based self-defense and instructor-in-training for a Russian martial art), Dan’s initiative rules are realistic. Realistic, as in yes, it really works like that in melee, it’s all a huge fucking mess, and things happen you just don’t want to happen and everything is going in all directions all at once.

So, yes. Do yourself a favor and use Dan’s rules. They’re that good. AND they’re fun.

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).
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 5: How we roll

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.
In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.
In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.
In part 4, we looked at a short example of how old grognards are playing Blackmoor.

Today, I’m sharing the method we use – the way we roll (quite literally).

Let’s say you’re playing the Gray Mouser, one of Fritz Leiber’s beloved heroes:
Small (about five feet), thief, very good swordfighter, former wizard’s apprentice with basic magic skills.

You’re rolling 2d6, just like the Blackmoor crowd did back in the days (and still does today). 

Let’s say you want to climb a wall. Roll 2d6. Roll below average (under 7), and your achievement is below average. Roll really low, and something happens you won’t like. Roll around average, and nothing really changes, your climb is still not finished. Roll above average, and you move the situation into territory that’s advantageous to you: You climb the wall successfully.
Oh, and because you’re so light, I’ll add +1 to your roll without telling you.

Let’s say you’re caught in the middle of a deadly silent horde of skeleton warriors that are attacking you. This is what modern games would call an “opposed roll” – my skeletons against your Mouser. Because there are so many skeletons, I add +3 to my roll. 
Because you are such a good sword fighter, I secretly add +2 to your roll.
Higher roll wins. If I want to have a longer fight, this means you defeat a few skeletons. If it’s something I want to be over quickly, that roll determines the outcome of the entire fight. If it’s completely unimportant, I simply determine the outcome, probably slightly in your favor.

Oh, and what about Hit Points. On most days, I can’t be bothered. If I can, I use the old rule “three hits and you’re out”, plus/minus a few for especially tough or fragile characters. Unimportant opponents die after one hit – this includes groups of unimportant monsters. 

There you have it. The system I’m using at the table. This is not the system in a nutshell – it’s the entire, complete system.

Play worlds, not rules, part 4: short example of true Blackmoor gaming

In part 1, I took a look into how people played roleplaying games before any “official rules set” was published.

In part 2, I shared how we handle experience at our table.

In part 3, I  wrote about the dice rulings I use at the table.

Today, I hope you’ll enjoy the following video clip. Bob Meyer (2nd from left) was one of Dave Arneson’s first players – he truly witnessed the birth of our great hobby. This is a short clip from this year’s Gary Con, where Bob refereed a Blackmoor game. What’s of special interest to me is the “game system” Bob uses: opposing forces roll 2d6. Compare numbers. Higher side gets their way. This is as pure as it gets. I love it.

Video URL:

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

OSR Alternative Combat Rules, final version

  • Each combatant rolls (Level)d6. 
  • Estimate the power of monsters and npcs: What Level equivalent do they have? 
  • If you’re a melee fighter, add 3d6 in melee.
  • If you’re ambushing someone, add 3d6 for your first round of combat.
  • If you’re a ranged fighter, add 3d6 in ranged combat.
  • If you’re using magic in melee, add 3d6 in melee.
  • If you’re using magic from a distance, add 3d6 in ranged combat.
  • Aggressive monsters do so, as well.
  • Add 1d6 for any other advantage you can directly use in combat.
Roll your dice against the opponent’s dice. Look for the single highest die. Compare with the opponent. If you’re higher, the opponent loses 1d6. If there’s a draw, look for the next higher die and follow the above steps. The GM might decide the loss is higher than one die if the opponent has rolled a lot of high numbers.
The side with zero dice left is defeated. The winner decided what happens to the loser.
Optional Critical Hit Rule: Add the highest die and multiples (e.g., if you roll 3 sixes, add them together). If your number is at least 3 times as high as your opponent’s, they lose 1d6 dice.
When two or more characters are fighting as a team, combine all of their dice and roll them. Huge piles of dice! Yay!

Standing at the Black Gates
When you’re dying you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom (the DM will describe it). Then roll (just roll, +nothing—yeah, Death doesn’t care how tough or cool you are). On a 10+, you’ve cheated Death—you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive. On a 7–9, Death himself will offer you a bargain. Take it and stabilize or refuse and pass beyond the Black Gates into whatever fate awaits you. On 6-, your fate is sealed. You’re marked as Death’s own and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when.

Combat example:
Yasuo, a 4thlevel crabman barbarian, strong as an ox, charismatic but dull. In a seedy tavern in a backwater town, one of the local brawlers has challenged him to a fight. 
Yasuo: 4thlevel = 4d6; he’s a fighter, so +3d6 = 7d6. He is strong as an ox, that’s an advantage in combat, so he gets an additional d6 = 8d6. His shell is roughly the equivalent of plate armor, that’s another advantage, for a total of 9d6. Crab-men can only use their claws, but they’re enormously powerful: +1d6. Yasuo rolls 10d6.

The brawler: I give him the experience of a third-level being, so 3d6. This guy knows his way around a good tavern brawl, so he’ll get an additional d6, for a total of 4d6. He’s wielding a huge dagger, that’s worth another d6. The brawler rolls 5d6. Poor boy.

I decide to use the optional critical hit rule, as well.
Yasuo rolls: 2,2,2,3,3,3,5,6,6,6. Total of highest dice = 3×6 = 18.
Brawler rolls: 3,4,4,6,6. Total of highest dice = 2×6 = 12.
Brawler loses 1d6 and now has only 4d6 left.

Yasuo rolls: 1,1,2,3,3,3,4,4,5,5. Total of highest dice = 2×5 = 10.
Brawler rolls: 3,4,4,5. Total of highest dice = 2×5 = 10. 
A draw.

Yasuo rolls: 1,1,2,2,3,4,5,5,6,6. Total of highest dice = 2×6 = 12.
Brawler rolls: 3,4,4,5. Total of highest dice = 1×5 = 5.
Brawler loses 1d6 and now has 3d6 left. 

Yasuo rolls: 2,2,2,2,3,4,5,6,6. Total of highest dice = 2×6 = 12.
Brawler rolls: 1,2,2. Total of highest dice = 2×2 = 4.
Yasuo’s total is at least 3 times as high as Brawler’s, so Yasuo lands a critical hit. Yasuo rolls 1d6 to determine how many dice Brawler loses: 2. Brawler has only 1d6 left. I think it’s safe to say he surrenders before Yasuo might kill him.

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


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