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Old 07-19-2016, 10:50 AM   #1
Johan Larson
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
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Default experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

If you remove all the formal rules from role-playing, the experience becomes interactive story-telling. If you have some rules, just a few, the experience is similar but you now have ways to resolve disputes about what is and is not possible. But since the rules are slim the GM still has to eyeball a lot of tests and modifiers.

I'd be interested in hearing from someone who has actually tried gaming this way. How well did it work?
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Old 07-19-2016, 01:10 PM   #2
ericthered
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

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Originally Posted by Johan Larson View Post
If you remove all the formal rules from role-playing, the experience becomes interactive story-telling. If you have some rules, just a few, the experience is similar but you now have ways to resolve disputes about what is and is not possible. But since the rules are slim the GM still has to eyeball a lot of tests and modifiers.

I'd be interested in hearing from someone who has actually tried gaming this way. How well did it work?
I think I've really done this twice (both PbP).

The first time was a world building game where the various characters were Gods and could spend points to do various mythic things: create countries, peoples, artifacts, and so forth. It fell apart because after the GM-like player disappeared some of the folks didn't want to ever let their character loose a fight between gods. The fight between the characters was just fine, but the player of the god with a smaller power rating and not using the mystic artifact weapon thought that "I reform and nothing has changed hahaha!" was valid play.

The second time was a supers game with a proper GM. It lasted for a while before Real Life happened, and was actually one of the better games I've played in. This was due to a good GM, well thought out characters, and everyone understanding the unspoken rules of the type of story we were telling. There was no rolling, just tries and failures. It was still quite engaging.
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Old 07-19-2016, 01:21 PM   #3
trooper6
 
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

First off, I don't actually like rules-free games, I want some rules. But while I generally like heavier (but elegant) rules sets, I have enjoyed rules light games.

I think there are two different types of games here that fall under rules-light/free here...there are probably more, but I'll mention two types.

Rules light that still gives an experience of a standard RPG, with GM the world and Players the characters.
Rules light that focuses on interactive story-telling where no one is really the GM and Players are not focused primarily on embodying a character.

For the former, I recommend the WARP system which comes out of Over the Edge. That has insanely fast character creation, is very light, but still has rules that allow for the tension and uncertainty I like in a traditional RPG (hit points, rolling dice for contested outcomes, etc).

For the latter, I have really enjoyed Fiasco--which you play as a one off and has no GM. Players have characters...but they also jump in to play other characters and it is more fluid. I haven't yet played Downfall or Microscope, those are world level story-telling games, but they seem really fun and I'm excited to try them out. None of these games have GMs, and Downfall and Microscope don't revolve around players identifying with a specific character they have ownership over.

You can try those things out if you still want some rules.
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Old 07-19-2016, 01:33 PM   #4
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

I ran rules light campaigns a lot back in the day. Didn't call it that. But it was the typical way it would go. We'd start out the campaign in AD&D or Traveller or whatever, and eventually it would evolve into a storytelling RPG of our own on-the-fly creation, with no formal rules besides what seemed useful at any given moment. We'd go sessions without rolling any dice.

But, that was a tightly-knit group of teenagers who'd played together a lot and who trusted each other.

In most cases, using something like Lasers and Feelings is probably a better choice. It's an elegant game that works well and can be adapted to most genres, if you're looking for a rules light system.
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Old 07-19-2016, 03:40 PM   #5
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

I've done rules-light (Toon, Teenagers from Outer Space, Skool Rools) and essentially rules-free*. My impression is that low-rules, especially if it's low-combat, is more demanding of the GM to keep things happening, since they can't rely on rules-controlled activity to take up time.

*As he finished explaining the setting, the GM said "Oh, and decide among yourselves what the stats for people are, and their average value. Then take enough point for average in everything and shuffle them how you like." We got the idea, and didn't bother.
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Old 07-19-2016, 04:14 PM   #6
Johan Larson
 
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

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Originally Posted by GM Joe View Post

In most cases, using something like Lasers and Feelings is probably a better choice. It's an elegant game that works well and can be adapted to most genres, if you're looking for a rules light system.
Wow. That's awesome. Simple, but awesome.
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Old 07-19-2016, 10:18 PM   #7
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

It's the majority of the gaming I do anymore. I find it's a very different community, which is fine with me. I also find that people who enjoy both heavy-rules and light-rules games are uncommon, so that there's a lot less cross-pollination than you might think or expect.

The biggest problems for heavy-rules players moving to light-rules systems, I find, is that they have a thing about boundaries and roles that has to go away for this to work. Player X has total control over Character A, Player Y has total control over Character B, and the GM (which tends not to be the term used in rules-light games) has total control over the setting, forever and ever, amen. Players will not declaim anything about the setting or NPCs because that would be interfering with the GM's prerogative; I have one player who sulks and pouts dramatically any time mind control actually works, but even if other people are less open about it, mind control is one of the things that will break a table of heavy-rules gamers. I've also seen shouting matches erupt over something as simple as putting words in another character's mouth.

That attitude will bog a rules-light game down into dysfunction. Nothing will be resolved in a timely manner, useful details and interactions will not emerge, etc. If the player needs the environment or another character to react in a certain way, then just say it and move on. If your character is 'required' to do or say certain things for the sake of a subplot that isn't yours, then that happens too. A rules-light game cannot be carved up into tiny pieces of private property and still work. In my experience.
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Old 07-20-2016, 05:16 AM   #8
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

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Originally Posted by patchwork View Post
A rules-light game cannot be carved up into tiny pieces of private property and still work. In my experience.
That is not my experience at all. Not all rules light games are narrative games (and not all narrative games are rules light). And I have certainly run rules light games with the traditional GM:World::Player:Charater boundaries. And things don't get bogged down or dysfunctional at all. Because I play with good players. And honestly, a person can play GURPS in a rules light way...though I don't tend to.

WARP is not Fiasco. But they are both rules light.

I play heavy and light in different situations. I like light for shorter experiences, heavy for longer experiences. If the game I'm running will last fewer than 6 sessions and will not continue past that, then I prefer rules light. If I plan on running the campaign for six sessions and longer then I go for a heavier rules system. But this has nothing to do with players taking meta narrative control. I can have heavy games where they have meta narrative control, I can have light games where they don't.
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Old 07-20-2016, 06:51 AM   #9
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

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Originally Posted by trooper6 View Post
That is not my experience at all. Not all rules light games are narrative games (and not all narrative games are rules light)
Even "rules light" can be confusing. I know people who refer to FATE that way, because it doesn't have a big list of skills and powers… but the FATE Core book is still 90 pages, over 70 of which you pretty much have to read and more-or-less internalise to run the system effectively.

One of the lesser-lauded aspects of GURPS is its modularity - not just alternative rules to wjat's in the Basic Set, but the way that I can drop whole sections without breaking the game. (Contrast Pathfinder, where for example it's assumed that a party of level X will have Y amount of magic items. Or FATE, where if you pull out one stick it feels as though the whole thing is tottering.)
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Old 07-20-2016, 11:10 AM   #10
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Default Re: experience with rules-light/rules-free rpgs?

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Originally Posted by Johan Larson View Post
Wow. That's awesome. Simple, but awesome.
It is pretty darned clever. :)

Also great fun at parties, while camping, etc....
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