D&D General FKR: How Fewer Rules Can Make D&D Better

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The referee is the arbiter of the game. Nothing prevents them to interiorize the whole PHB, DMG, MM to adjudicate an FKR D&D game.
Then at the table those books become invisible.
That's very explicitly the opposite of what "invisible rulebooks" means. Or, at least, how every source I've ever seen for the term has defined it, at great length, with specific examples.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Look at D&D 5E. It's got hard mechanics, right?
What?

5e has some hard mechanics, but there are a ton of DM options in a lot of core book rules areas instead of hard mechanics. 5e is huge on DMs running the game how they want. How to run any skill usage for example is up to the DM, not prescribed by rules for the game.

Combat has the most hard mechanics in 5e, but even there what effect flanking has is up to a DM call, how to handle diagonal lines on a grid is up to the DM with different options, whether to use a grid, etc.

5e is explicitly open to DMs running many things different ways with different mechanics, not just rule zero, or providing a default with some alternative options, but simply providing options with no default.

Rulings not rules was the slogan for this edition and it allows big tent D&D with a lot of different DM play styles.

3e style roll for skill success with DCs is an option in the DMG.

OSR style player skill with no rolls DM adjudication is an explicit 5e option in the DMG.

Neither is privileged as a default for 5e.
Okay, so then, according to you, all D&D 5E gamers must all be on the same page in regards to how their games are played and run. Even a bad reading of the forum (and other forums) shows that's false. Despite the hard mechanics, D&D 5E games vary wildly from table to table.
By design 5e games vary wildly from table to table.

5e is designed to allow more divergent play experiences and rules applications than most editions of D&D even though it has a few hard mechanics in some places because it does not have a lot of hard mechanics in a lot of game areas.
 

Numidius

Adventurer
That's very explicitly the opposite of what "invisible rulebooks" means. Or, at least, how every source I've ever seen for the term has defined it, at great length, with specific examples.
Well, maybe. I'm not gonna argue about that. As you say, an FKR gameplay falls into the rules-light to no-rules spectrum, at the table.
Prep-wise, it depends...
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Some fairly basic D&D 5E questions.
Most of your questions are flat out written or are at the DM's options to implement or not. Let me tackle them;

How does stealth work?
Stealth works with an action when not seen clearly or enemy is otherwise distracted. and it's a contest of Dexterity (Stealth) check vs Wisdom (Perception) check

How long does it take to pick a lock?
Using Thieve's Tools to pick a lock takes an action, which is taken in a round lasting about 6 seconds when everyone takes a turn.

What interrupts a long rest?
A long rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity - at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity .

What do hit points represent in the fiction?
Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.

Are coffeelocks legal?
Coffeelock may be legal if the DM allows the option of Multiclassing for Warlock/Sorcerer.

How about multiclassing?
Multiclassing and feat is allowed at the DM's option.

What races, classes, subclasses, and spells are allowed?
DM decides what races, classes, subclasses and spells is allowed in his or her campaign.

Is 3PP content allowed?
DM decides what 3PP material if any is allowed in his or her campaign.

How strictly or loosely will the rules be applied?
How strictly rules are followed or the ammount of houserule or homebrew is up to DM.

What’s the theme or tone of the game?
The theme and tone of the campaign is up to DM.
 
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Numidius

Adventurer
That sounds, again, rather different from how it's usually described, where it very specifically needs to be low or no rules. How does this comport with things like the "invisible rulebooks" that are so frequently referenced (where it is, explicitly, the GM's notions about how various topics work, NOT any formal rules, which shape adjudication and thus all of play), or the explicit statements in several of Snarf's references to treating literally any fiction book as the campaign setting with zero or near-zero need for rules?
So, here is a 2021 post from a blog I haven't seen mentioned in the opening post list by @Snarf Zagyg

Aboleth Overlords

FKR: It’s not the amount of rules

A bit of a preamble for anyone not familiar with the acronym – there’s a movement or set of movements known as the FKR, standing for Free Kriegsspiel Revolution, a (mostly) joke term intended to contrast with the OSR to focus purely on a relationship to rules in gaming – namely that the referee is the interface between the fictional world and the player characters.

These movements tend to primarily focus on very small rulesets – often stuff like “d6 roll for low” or contested 2d6 rolls, just because these kinds of rulesets allow the referee to really focus in on rulings. I think there’s also a bit of fondness for how Bob Meyer runs Blackmoor.

So from the outside lots of people are starting to assume the FKR means nearly no-rules roleplaying games. But if you look at Kriegsspiel itself, or even the kind of rulesets Arneson seemed fond of writing – sometimes there are a lot of rules. And this to me is an important thing to note. It’s not the amount of rules.

FKR to me is purely a relationship to rules. If your table is composed of a referee who portrays the world opting to use rules as a tool whenever they wish, and players portraying characters responding with what they would do if they were in whatever fictional situation the ref is describing – that to me is FKR. It doesn’t matter if the ref is using a single coin flip, or if they decide to sometimes opt into Mythras, or their own hack of ASL, or anything else. The amount of crunch doesn’t impact the FKRishness, its if the table is focusing more on the fiction over the mechanics. This is obviously easier with light systems, but if the ref feels using something heftier “behind the screen”, that’s a perfectly valid approach.

That’s just me though.

 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
@Numidius

I wanted to come back in briefly- thank you for the interesting post! One of the difficulties in discussing this particular issue is that it is, somewhat, formless. As I tried to explain in the OP, there isn't even a single 100% agreed-to definition as to the R in FKR stands for. I think of it best as an umbrella term to describe a certain approach to RPGs. Given that it is usually "indie" gamers, there will be differences in approach and opinion between them! While not a perfect analogy, you can compare it to "alternative" music, or, for that matter, "independent" cinema.

When I think of FKR, and what it means to me, I think primarily of the usage of rules-lite systems- the concepts that go with "play the world, not the rules," and "invisible rulebooks," that inspired me to run multiple different types of rules-lite games and that also gave me inspiration to start creating my own ... rather demented ones (what other kind would I make!). In a way, this harkens back to the very original Braunstein-style games, such as the one Revolution-style game I excerpted in my post.

That said, there are certainly other voices in the community. One of the things that I specifically discussed is that, in my opinion, FKR does not work as well for longer campaigns ... it lacks the scaffolding for that. Another word for scaffolding is, of course, rules. I think it is a common observation - I know I've made it in the past - that the difference between OD&D / early AD&D and later D&D is that early D&D wasn't designed; instead, the rules were simply the accumulated bespoke rulings over time. This, of course, is the standard trajectory in most systems- you start "rules lite," you accumulate more rules, eventually you have a lot of rules, and then you tear them down and start over. The process keeps on, keepin' on.

What the post you are referring to is talking about is something different- referred to in both the 1e DMG and the OD&D LBBs. It's about ensuring that the DM is responsible for the rules- I think of it as a meta version of a really tall DM's screen! There are certainly advantages to this way of playing; it's very easy, for example, to on-board new players when they don't have to know the rules (this is how I first learned to play, back in the prehistory of the game). Players also tend to concentrate more on the fiction when they don't worry so much about the rules. From a certain perspective, the issue of whether it's an "invisible rulebook" because it's a DM heuristic or an "invisible rulebook" because the players don't know the rules you are using is somewhat academic.

While I think people can (and do!) say that this falls under the "FKR" banner, to me this is much more about creating an OSR experience. Which is great! But, for example, there is little to differentiate "Play OSE, but don't let the players know any of the rule," as opposed to what this is describing.

So while I support people finding their fun in whatever way they want (always!) I also think that it is helpful to understand that not everyone approaches this the same way- viewing this as only the relationship of the referee to the rules removes a lot of the interesting ideas that are percolating within the overall FKR-umbrella.

If anything, I would argue that aspects of FKR as largely a reaction to the idea that, um rules matter. Yes, rules matter for many people ... but the concentration of first-order design leaves out the importance of second-order design, and FKR, if anything, is about the idea that play matters.
 

Numidius

Adventurer
@Snarf Zagyg thanks for your reply.
Yes, I agree my post is a bit of a hyperbole in response to the issue about the amount of rules.
Between Chainmail, 0D&D -...- 5e, PbtA, FitD, percentiles, dice pools, etc., there is a plethora of resolution systems, oracles, randomizers, a referee can implement as they see fit in a FKR game,
 

Pedantic

Legend
What the post you are referring to is talking about is something different- referred to in both the 1e DMG and the OD&D LBBs. It's about ensuring that the DM is responsible for the rules- I think of it as a meta version of a really tall DM's screen! There are certainly advantages to this way of playing; it's very easy, for example, to on-board new players when they don't have to know the rules (this is how I first learned to play, back in the prehistory of the game). Players also tend to concentrate more on the fiction when they don't worry so much about the rules. From a certain perspective, the issue of whether it's an "invisible rulebook" because it's a DM heuristic or an "invisible rulebook" because the players don't know the rules you are using is somewhat academic.

While I think people can (and do!) say that this falls under the "FKR" banner, to me this is much more about creating an OSR experience. Which is great! But, for example, there is little to differentiate "Play OSE, but don't let the players know any of the rule," as opposed to what this is describing.

So while I support people finding their fun in whatever way they want (always!) I also think that it is helpful to understand that not everyone approaches this the same way- viewing this as only the relationship of the referee to the rules removes a lot of the interesting ideas that are percolating within the overall FKR-umbrella.

If anything, I would argue that aspects of FKR as largely a reaction to the idea that, um rules matter. Yes, rules matter for many people ... but the concentration of first-order design leaves out the importance of second-order design, and FKR, if anything, is about the idea that play matters.
This is an interesting perspective that gives me a little more insight into why this might be desirable. I really don't like the idea of trying to play a game that I don't know the rules to. In fact, I'd argue constraining the world down to a system of rules that every actually follows is the primary appeal of games as an activity for me. Most descriptions of FKR I've run across do read quite a lot like "I really wish my players didn't know the rules and would stop asking me about them," which honestly sounds less like a fun time and more like a No Exit style of hell purpose built for me. "Play the world, not the rules" is less a freeing motto, and more a reminder that the actual world is a frustrating place.

What I find interesting though is that I generally want to solve the same problems that I think FKR is aimed at. I'd like players to achieve, as @EzekielRaiden is putting it, "Groundedness & Simulation" where the events of the game more or less make naturalistic (or perhaps more precisely "mechanical") sense, follow from causes, and results are determined procedurally. The difference is that I've always viewed resolving that as a design question, something that should sit inside the rules, and from which failures should be hunted down and pruned away. What interests me is how much that ultimately seems to rely on design by accumulation; I'd rather like to see a bunch of rules documents worked up over years of playing games as starting places.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
This is an interesting perspective that gives me a little more insight into why this might be desirable. I really don't like the idea of trying to play a game that I don't know the rules to. In fact, I'd argue constraining the world down to a system of rules that every actually follows is the primary appeal of games as an activity for me. Most descriptions of FKR I've run across do read quite a lot like "I really wish my players didn't know the rules and would stop asking me about them," which honestly sounds less like a fun time and more like a No Exit style of hell purpose built for me. "Play the world, not the rules" is less a freeing motto, and more a reminder that the actual world is a frustrating place.

What I find interesting though is that I generally want to solve the same problems that I think FKR is aimed at. I'd like players to achieve, as @EzekielRaiden is putting it, "Groundedness & Simulation" where the events of the game more or less make naturalistic (or perhaps more precisely "mechanical") sense, follow from causes, and results are determined procedurally. The difference is that I've always viewed resolving that as a design question, something that should sit inside the rules, and from which failures should be hunted down and pruned away. What interests me is how much that ultimately seems to rely on design by accumulation; I'd rather like to see a bunch of rules documents worked up over years of playing games as starting places.

And that's certainly a valid way to look at it!

I think too often we get caught up in these binary choices- the beauty of all of this is that we can try different games, different ideas, different philosophies, and see what works for us- and, tbh, I think that most people will probably migrate to different approaches at different times.

Rules aren't just a source of complexity- there's a very good reason that so many people put forth so much effort into rule design.

Again, if I have but one recommendation, it's that people try one of the various games ... you learn a lot more by doing than by talking about it, and many of them run best as one-shots. But there's a lot of people who will try it ... and they won't like it. And that's okay- not everything has to be for everyone, all the time.
 


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