My Favorite Local Watering Hole (Bar) is sometimes my second office. It’s a bit of a retreat for me when the four walls of my home office start to bubble up, when the hobo presses his face against my window, when the cats, in their endless plotting, start yowling show tunes until I feed them, I may snatch a small notebook and pen, race to the bar, and plant my ass on a barstool. I’ve had some great ideas at this place. I’ve also had some terrible ones. I’ll leave it to you to decide what this one is.
The evening started when I followed through on an invitation to talk to some local teens about writing, game design, and so on. I arrived at the library ahead of schedule. Sat in an office until it was time to start. And then was introduced to the audience. It was an interesting time, but I was a bit disheartened that the kids didn’t know anything about RPGs, and the lion’s share of the questions came from three adults, one of whom is a good friend from all the way back to the days of High School. After the talk, I wandered out of the library, down the steps to the garage below, and drove on over to 2 Public Square.
My fellow beer-slayers were there and we swapped the usual lies, traded offensive stories, raged about the troubles with nouns (people, places, things), and settled into the usual evening of bar banter. It was a bit into the night when I started talking about system complexity as a barrier to entry (I’m super-fun to drink with; in my defense, I was asked. I’m just as happy to talk movies, TV, sports, the gubment, whatever), something that’s been defecating in my brain pain for these last few months. What brought this up was how none of the kids had ever played a Pen & Paper RPG before and every time I used the word, I could see their minds latching onto Mass Effect or some other video game. Anyway, I spent a few minutes talking about how the various editions of The Game handled grabbing, grappling, and wrestling, and how the various efforts ranged from absurdly complex to overly simple, all to illustrate my point that simulation can and does get in the way of having a good time. This was not the interesting part of the conversation.
The interesting part came when my buddy Dustin asked why such games needed to be so complex. Rather than give a short answer—you have to understand that for every 1d2 beers I drink, my stories get 1d6 minutes longer—I said let’s make up a game. Right now. Well, right then. I wanted to show just how simple an RPG could be (both to him and myself). Here’s what I came up with.
You have three attributes, Killing Stuff and Doing Stuff and Hits.
Killing Stuff describes how well you murder things. My inclination is to say a character should murder things about half the time he or she tries. Others disagree and want to murder things all the time. So I will compromise and say 2 out of 3 times.
Doing Stuff describes how well you do things associated with your character concept. If you’re a warrior, the stuff you do probably involves breaking things and people. If you’re a wizard, the stuff you do is Book Learning, being pompous, and having all the answers. In this case, when a character has to roll the dice, I want him or her to succeed 1 out of 2 times.
Finally, Hits describes how many times you can be hit before you die. I decided on 4 times. It felt fair to me. Sorry if you disagree.
This is a simple game and so it only uses one 6-sided die. Since I know my accuracy rates are 66% to kill stuff and 50% to do stuff, I can easily model this on the die roll. You Kill Stuff when you roll a 3 or better and Do Stuff when you roll a 4 or better. Done.
What about the bad guys?
All bad guys have Kill Stuff, Do Stuff, and Hits too. We want these guys to be worse, so they Kill Stuff on a 4 or better and Do Stuff on a 5 or better. We also want bad guys to die quick, so a standard Bad Guy has 1 hit, tough Bad Guy has 2 hits, and a Bad Guy you fight all by himself has 4 or 5 hits.
In a fight, each group rolls a d6. Side with the highest result goes first. We don’t care about moving around. We only care about Killing Stuff in a fight. Each combatant uses Kill Stuff (strike with a sword, shoot an arrow from a bow, blast a monster with magic) by rolling a d6. If the character gets a result equal to the score or higher, he deals 1 hit to the target.
And that’s it.
I could of course make this more complicated. Some monsters might be harder or easier to hit, which would increase or decrease the chance of Killing Stuff. I could also layer in improved Killing Stuff options. These options would let characters spike their damage at different frequency rates.
1/Fight: A character can use the 1/Fight benefit once in a fight before rolling to Kill Stuff. On a success, the character deals 1 extra hit.
1/Game: A character can use the 1/Game benefit once in a fight before rolling to Kill Stuff. On a success, the character deals 2 extra hits. On a failure, the character deals 1 hit.
If I wanted to layer in levels, I could increase the number of 1/Fight and 1/Game benefits and also increase the number of extra hits as the characters gain experience.
If I wanted to layer in multi-target Killing Stuff options, I could just tax a 1/Fight, 1/Game benefit 1 Hit to affect one extra target.
And, you know, it doesn’t really matter what these pieces are, right? These elements can be whatever the player wants. A hit is a hit is a hit. If a player decides he or she attacks monsters using a sentient and giant pink teddy bear, that’s fine. If another player wants to suck souls with Stormbringer, that’s fine too. The system doesn’t change no matter how you dress it up. The stories players and GMs tell can. Space Opera, Western, Fantasy, whatever flavor of escape you want, this can do it.
I wonder if this isn’t all you really need. Sure it’s crude, ultra simple and unpolished. Sure, the quality of game play would vary based on the GM and players’ imagination. And at the core, there’s no improvement, no growth, no development beyond what you start with. But really, when you get right down to it, and I’m sure I’m wrong (16 years of marriage has made me comfortable with being wrong [I kid!]), isn’t your favorite game basically this anyway?