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

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
Whoa, you folks get solo victories? Most of my games are 2-4 way stalemates.

Serious "games" of Diplomacy are like the end of the Tennant era in Doctor Who ...

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Whoa, you folks get solo victories? Most of my games are 2-4 way stalemates.
That's always our hope. More often than not though we don't get there because to get there usually at least 3 of the other players have to have been eliminated and at that point we don't want them twiddling their thumbs or going home while the rest of us try and wrap up. So yeah, we will often go with the 'first alliance to 18 centers combined' approach if necessary.

That being said... a whole bunch of us in my gaming circle have really gotten into Twilight Imperium, which is another 8 -10 hour game. So our tolerance for all-day board game affairs has gone up. ;) Although at least in TI4 nobody ever really gets eliminated from the game entirely (it's possible, but not easy to do) so we all stick around for the full game until someone gains victory. And that's easier to swallow.
 

I guess FKR is kind of my default? I’ve mentioned a little bit about my introductions to D&D, but didn’t really go into them.

My first exposure was on a trip back from Centrifuge. One guy acting as DM, three of us as players. We had basic classes (I was a thief), and there were no dice involved.

Second exposure, though I was already playing TMNT at the time, was a series of campaigns run by a friend of mine and I was the only player. Was in junior high, and it was done over the phone. Again, no dice involved.

In both cases, decisions were made by the DM based upon my own problem solving, creativity, and knowledge of the world and physics, biology, and psychology. They were a blast, and were very fundamental to my approach to RPGs. Whenever I run a game for my group or my family, we make the characters, and then only as many die rolls as possible. I typically have the players describe to me what they’re doing (there’s no “I attack”), and then I may make have a quick attack roll or I may skip it if they have a really good description of what they’re doing and I think it’s reasonable based on how I described the opponent’s last position or action.

Games I run tend to be pretty fast as a result, and the players get really invested in it, giving more and more detailed descriptions of what they do and say.

So, all that is to say, I’m glad I’m not (just) weird, and there are other people who do similar stuff.
 

Bacon Bits

Legend
Maybe I lost the thread here. Is this really about them being "necessary", or just about them being convenient and useful for the job?

I agree they're convenient.

I'm not sure I agree they're all that useful if they're just acting as a coin flip where sometimes you have a discussion. I'd rather start with the discussion, and only if you can't reach concord use randomness as your watershed. To be fair, I think that's sort of where @Snarf Zagyg got to at the end of their post, but the image they posted of the rules suggests you immediately jump to the die roll. Why wouldn't we always negotiate, and then use Go First Dice when we have to break a deadlock?

Really, though, if we're going to eliminate as many rules as we can by challenging their utility and revert to a single die roll... why shouldn't we challenge the utility of the die roll?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Why wouldn't we always negotiate, and then use Go First Dice when we have to break a deadlock?

Because "negotiate" is doing a lot of heavy lifting, and hidden within it is a wide gamut of social dynamics, many of which can be, well, fraught.

The die roll has the benefit of being pre-agreed upon as a resolution, impersonal, and estimable.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Right. So that’s all you really need. A rule to cover concord. What happens when there’s a disagreement about what happens? You roll for it.

“I shot you.”

“No you didn’t.”

Resolve that disagreement by rolling.

Now apply that to any disagreements.

If the outcome isn’t obvious from the fiction, and the players cannot agree on what should happen next, roll. This is a really old idea, as far as RPG ideas are old. See the Perfected images from the OP. That RPG was devised in the late 70s.
But, as has been noted, this process can often feel rather unsatisfying in a few ways. This is a space where my "game-(design-)purposes" taxonomy is useful.

If your interest is solely in "Groundedness and Simulation," then FKR is potentially a godsend. The premise of FKR is that at least 100% of the consistency, functionality, and utility of rules can be replaced with pure GM judgment calls and a simple impass-breaking method (e.g. "negotiate or roll the dice, higher wins.") If you believe this is true, then you can enter into an almost "pure" G&S experience, because the input is whatever makes sense within the described space (Groundedness) and the output is whatever can be reasonably extrapolated from that input, then fed back in as new input (Simulation), a dedicated exercise in naturalistic reasoning.

The problems come in if either you don't accept the premise to some degree, or you want something other than G&S design. Unfortunately, most promotion of FKR has a tendency to be incredibly reductive about responses to the former, and blithely ignores (or, worse, insults) the latter.

For the former, the blithe, reductive dismissal essentially always takes the following form (in many different phrases, but the concept is nearly uniform):

Promoter: "FKR is just as good as rules, if not better! You get all the benefits rules give you, with none of the hassle or problems."
Critic: "I'm not convinced that you actually do get the level of consistency that actually having rules provides, and I think rules offer utility that ad hoc adjudications can't."
P: "Oh, so you don't trust your GM? Well you should play with people you trust. Really, you shouldn't even be playing regular games with people you don't trust!"

This response misses the point, and yet it comes up all the damn time. It is not a matter of "trust," in the sense of reliance on the integrity of another. I certainly wouldn't game with someone that I believed was doing things I consider untrustworthy! It's why I speak out so strongly against GMing techniques I consider...well, exactly that, untrustworthy. But just because I consider someone trustworthy does not mean that I believe they will always exercise sound judgment, remember and abide by past precedent, have sufficient knowledge of all potential topics, be unbiased and impartial in their decisions, communicate effectively (that's a big one), and fully and soberly consider all of the possible consequences of their actions well in advance. Indeed, even for people I trust a great deal, I expect that most of these things won't be true a significant portion of the time, because humans are really bad at consistency, rigor, and impartiality...unless they have something to guide them.

And guess what? That's exactly what rules are for. It also seems to me one of the things that gets overlooked in drawing the connection between actual "free Kriegsspiel" and the "Free Kriegsspiel <insert R word of choice>" concept. The umpire in this new version did not simply dispense with rules entirely and have referees do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Indeed, to be a referee, you needed to already be an extremely well-educated officer with excellent battlefield intuition, communication skills, and an internalized understanding of exactly why "original" Kriegsspiel had all the fiddly modifiers and rules and such. In other words, you DID NOT simply need the so-called invisible rulebook of "stuff I've thought about regarding combat." You needed significant exposure to the theory and practice of a difficult field and the skills to demonstrate that knowledge and back up your decisions, so others could follow and agree with your reasoning.

Now, a few people describing this have admitted that "FKR" as a name is fundamentally a little misleading, in that it isn't really trying to do what "free Kriegsspiel" did for regular Kriegsspiel just on the table top. Instead, the goal is (in theory) to draw inspiration from FK for the purpose of roleplaying. But even in that light, I find there's a painfully dismissive attitude toward rules of any kind whatsoever, even though the only reason FK worked is because you had folks who had studied rules well enough that the visible rulebooks had become etched in their minds as invisible ones. Which just gets right back to a more general criticism I have of many claims in TTRPG stuff: what is familiar, what a person has used for decades and thus never needs to consult a book to know the process, gets all of its ills dismissed, excused, or even justified as somehow necessary, while anything unfamiliar or different gets held to task for even the smallest issues and mistakes and even genuinely good choices that are simply not obviously and directly beneficial.

As noted above, however, the other issue is that FKR is surprisingly narrow in what game-(design-)purposes it supports. As others said above, it's consciously, even aggressively un-"game-y." In my taxonomy, it rejects the very idea that you can have a semi-objective Score (measure of performance, in whatever sense is relevant), and thus rejects the possibility of pursuing the Achievements (tested performance: were you able to "Step On Up" as the Forge puts it, did you have thr mojo, etc.) Note that this is Achievement with a capital A, meaning something specific. Obviously, people can achieve their goals in any game, that's not what Achievement means here. "We completed the Tomb of Horrors and nobody died" is a statement about Achievement; "we eventually destroyed Acererak, though it was a pyrrhic victory, we all died in the doing" is clearly an achievement, but the flawed and tarnished "win" lessens the impact of the Achievement involved.

FKR can...sort of...work with Conceit and Emulation, but there are likely to be problems. Much as with the fourth of my non-comprehensive game-(design-)purposes, C&E is built around doing what you need to do in order to realize some narrative end. Unlike V&I, however, C&E is about a narrative theme or premise to be explored: the titular Conceit. Superheroes is the go-to here, since it's a neat, clean package with a lot of obvious and known thematic commitments. But others work too; Trek-style technobabble in an overall positive and heroic universe, Star Wars science fantasy, Teen Wolf sexy monster drama, etc. And the problem is...a lot of the time, genre conventions don't play nice with the naturalistic reasoning that FKR prizes so highly. Everyone at the table will be feeling pressure to break the genre conventions because it would be easier, or more effective, or faster, etc. Having rules that enforce those conventions is actually pretty important for getting people in the mood, so to speak. Again, it isn't that this combo is totally antithetical, but they are often going to be at cross-purposes unless the whole group is really on board for sticking with the core Conceit.

Finally, we have Values and Issues, which is related to "story now" if that term is useful to you. Unfortunately, FKR is about as opposed to this as it is to S&A. That is, Values are about defining what truly matters to a character (not just principles, but people, places, objects, organizatios, etc.), and Issues are those things being threatened with loss, damage, or even destruction. V&I tends to have several rules because it is often highly charged play, driving at core values of both characters and players and potentially getting very transgressive in the process. The (intended) freewheeling nature of FKR is not quite completely incompatible, but strongly opposed to the kinds of structures that V&I usually relies upon in order to avoid having conflicts over what is happening, what is reasonable, etc. The irony, of course, is that conceptually FKR is actually the most similar to V&I; but it is that very similarity which causes the issues, like two people who are too similar, and as a result can't stand one another's presence.
 

Bacon Bits

Legend
Because "negotiate" is doing a lot of heavy lifting, and hidden within it is a wide gamut of social dynamics, many of which can be, well, fraught.

The die roll has the benefit of being pre-agreed upon as a resolution, impersonal, and estimable.

Except the FKR as presented in OP still relies on negotiation.

If negotiation doesn't work, why wouldn't you eliminate it entirely?

If you're using it and it works, what's the die for?
 

damiller

Adventurer
I hope this isn't completely off topic because I dont really know much about FKR. But I have been interested more and more as I age, in less and less rules. I find myself interested in ways to structure play without them, and I find the concept of FKR interesting. On that note, a couple of years ago I found a set of "non mechanical resolution" tools that I want to share.

1) Say Yes. The character succeeds. Keep play moving
2) Offer a precondition: “You can try but first you’ll need to…”
3) Offer at a cost: “You can do it, but it will cost you this…”
4) Impossible: “It’s too hard, but maybe you can…(offer other ideas)”

The full blog post can be found here

I've enjoyed this, and deployed it, in almost any game I play. I've even toyed with the idea of just playing with these rules. But I haven't gone off that cliff yet. Because I like rules. I like being able to lean into mechanical resolution as a way to structure the game. To pace the session. And honestly its just plain nice to let the rules do the work. But these bridge for me the divide between no rules and lots of rules. They are easy to use, and require no mastery.

And to bring it to the current heading of the dialogue here: it minimizes negotiation. As a GM I want as little of that in the game as possible, unless it IS the game. And most of the time my RPGs are not about negotiating.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Except the FKR as presented in OP still relies on negotiation.

If negotiation doesn't work, why wouldn't you eliminate it entirely?

If you're using it and it works, what's the die for?

Because nothing works all the time. Neither negotiation nor dice are perfect. So, you keep 'em both around to use for their strengths, with a path around their weaknesses.

Mechanical teamwork, so to speak.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Because nothing works all the time. Neither negotiation nor dice are perfect. So, you keep 'em both around to use for their strengths, with a path around their weaknesses.

Mechanical teamwork, so to speak.
As much as I may be a skeptic of FKR, yeah, exactly this. You keep multiple tools in the toolbox because they broaden your range. Where one might fall short, the other may do well. Hammers are great, but don't do anything for screws, and screwdrivers are mostly worthless for pounding nails. And then nuts and bolts need wrenches, which make terrible hammers and worse screwdrivers.
 

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