Day 20 -- What RPG Does the Most with the Least Words?
I've played a lot of role playing games over the years and am always on the lookout for a game that can combine setting, rules, and accessibility in a manner that can be picked up and played within 10 minutes of starting to read the game. It's one of the great curses of some excellent role playing games that they require hours of homework, if not weeks, before one can fully understand the setting and rules sufficiently to play a game.
Take Runequest for example. The game's basic mechanic is very intuitive. Ray Turney and Steve Perrin were quite smart to have basic skill and combat rolls be based on percentile rolls. While it may take a moment to describe how to read percentile dice, most people understand the sentence "You have a 78% chance to hit it." It means what it means and it's very clear. The Battle Magic, Rune Magic, Rank/Intiative system, and the Glorantha setting, take a little bit longer to understand. Add to that the fact that your 78% chance to hit isn't really a 78% chance to hit, it's a 78% to hit them if they fail their parry or dodge roll, and you add some non-intuitive elements to the system. Though those elements can add to the realism of game play.
On the other end of the spectrum is Champions. While it uses six-sided dice for its randomizer, the system isn't intuitive. To hit someone, you have to know your Offensive Combat Value (determined by dividing your DEX by 3 and adding modifiers for maneuvers and "combat levels") and add that number to 11. You then subtract your opponent's Defensive Combat Value (determined by their DEX divided by 3 and modified by past combat maneuvers and "combat levels"). You then need to roll this number or less on a roll of 3 six-sided dice. Never mind the complicated system, though it elegantly incorporates the "parry" and "dodge" rolls of a Runequest style game into one roll, what's not intuitive here is that most people don't know what the odds of rolling a 14 or less are off the top of their head (it's about 90.72%). Add to this a character creation system that is a tremendous amount of fun, but takes a lot of homework and practice to get familiar with, and you don't have a pick up and play game.
jim pinto (he uses lower case) has designed a number of games intended to be pick up and play in his GMZero and Protocol series of games. There are some great entries in this series, and I almost picked them as my selection for today's post. I highly recommend The Death of Ulfstater and Home. These games provide enough background detail to launch a rich and interesting game and have a pretty quick to learn system that is easy enough that it expects everyone to take a "director" moment in game play.
But my pick for this week is John Harper's very interesting proto-game The Wildlings. In very few words John Harper perfectly captures the setting:
You Have Been ChosenYou know exactly what is going on and what your supposed to do. It's three short paragraphs, but it frames a society and and adventure. Very elegant. The rules are also equally easy to learn and adapt and are narrative in form. The more successful you are, the more positive adjectives you get to add to your action.
The men and women warriors of your clan are far away
across the dark sea, raiding. You are a young warrior—a
Wildling—not yet tested in the Trials.
Two nights ago, a foul thing crept from the ruins beyond
the old forest into the village and carried away two sheep,
a barrel of lard, and a small child: Rylka, daughter of Yuri
The wise women have met in council and decreed that
something must be done. The People of the Stone Spire are
not to be preyed upon. Though the child might be eaten
by now, a rescue must nevertheless be undertaken.
You have been chosen for this task. Take up your arms and
steel your courage. The time has come to do your duty.
But...there is one problem. Without StupidGremlin's expansion of the rules, it isn't quite playable out of the box. An experienced GM can run it out of Harper's player's kit pdf, but an inexperienced one is left with no aid on how to resolve conflicts other than the adjectives. How much must a player succeed by to "win" at a conflict. With the tightness of the earlier prose, I'm pretty sure that John could have done it in two pages or less, and with great graphic design.