[+] Rules light RPGs

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Cthulhu Dark is a lot if fun. Are you using it for Cthulhu horror or switching up the genre?
I've used it for a handful of one-shots that are all Mythos-adjacent (pretty straight up all told I suppose). I'd happily use it for just about anything for which it was at least somewhat tone appropriate though. It would probably suck for Anime-pop high school shenanigans for example, at least without some reskinning. It's a marvelous one-shot rules set though, as is Trophy Dark (as you might expect as the latter is at least partially a hack of the former). For rules-light longer-form stuff I tend to hack Trophy Gold.
 

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Jer

Legend
Supporter
For the absolute lightest of rules light my group loves the various Lasers and Feelings hacks. Not good for campaign play, but perfect for one shots on nights when a few folks have to cancel at the last minute. Can't get too much lighter than a single page of rules for players and GMs.

(The original game)

(More hacks than anyone will ever be able to play)

We also quite like Icons as a rules light supers system, and it's basically a FATE hack. My group isn't that big on FATE but they love FATE when it's been tweaked by Steve Kenson into a supers game that uses attributes whose names are legally distinct from Marvel's FASERIP system.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Not good for campaign play, but perfect for one shots on nights when a few folks have to cancel at the last minute.
This is one of those things about rules light games that kinda grates on me. They don't have mechanical support for long-term play, that's true. But that doesn't mean they're limited to one-shots or short campaigns. Most of the advancement in rules light games can easily be handled diegetically, that is with in-fiction rewards and advancement. Things like titles, resources, allies, contacts, land, castles, ships, soldiers, mines, fictional positioning, etc. It's all still up for grabs. These games only lack extra +1s to throw at PCs to show "progress"...while pretending that the math on the monsters' side doesn't also improve.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
This is one of those things about rules light games that kinda grates on me. They don't have mechanical support for long-term play, that's true. But that doesn't mean they're limited to one-shots or short campaigns. Most of the advancement in rules light games can easily be handled diegetically, that is with in-fiction rewards and advancement. Things like titles, resources, allies, contacts, land, castles, ships, soldiers, mines, fictional positioning, etc. It's all still up for grabs. These games only lack extra +1s to throw at PCs to show "progress"...while pretending that the math on the monsters' side doesn't also improve.
I think rules light games without character mechanical improvement can be suitable for long term series play - but you need to have players who buy into the idea that dramatic/narrative rewards are equivalent to character buffs and leveling up. It takes some work to untrain that kind of thinking in players who are into it. But I find that supers games (like Icons, really) are good for that kind of approach - our Icons "campaign" has had no mechanical character advancement but has had subplots, short term goals achieved, recurring villains, etc.

But in our group Lasers and Feelings hacks don't lend themselves to long term play because the way we use them they tend to be really focused around a single scenario that's intended to be a one-off and I'm not actually sure how suitable the game would be beyond that. Even when we go back to our legally distinct from Star Trek crew of L&F characters it's less of what I'd think of as a campaign and more of an episodic "Original Series" vibe where things from previous "episodes" aren't really referenced. But it might work (I actually have the controversial opinion that Lasers and Feelings hacks do what a number of PbtA hacks try to do, but better because they have less jargon and get to the game quickly, so it might work).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
This is one of those things about rules light games that kinda grates on me. They don't have mechanical support for long-term play, that's true. But that doesn't mean they're limited to one-shots or short campaigns. Most of the advancement in rules light games can easily be handled diegetically, that is with in-fiction rewards and advancement. Things like titles, resources, allies, contacts, land, castles, ships, soldiers, mines, fictional positioning, etc. It's all still up for grabs. These games only lack extra +1s to throw at PCs to show "progress"...while pretending that the math on the monsters' side doesn't also improve.
Trophy Gold is my go-to for this. It's still rules light, but it supports campaign play very well. Naturally it might not be what anyone needs in particular, but it's a great example of rules light campaign play generally. All you really need is some kind of meaningful downtime loop and you're probably good to go.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Note this is a [+] thread. Keep it positive or keep out.

I'm a huge fan of rules light RPGs. The lighter the better. But I don't see much talk about rules light RPGs on here, so here's a thread.
Me too! I've written a couple of them.

I would hazard a guess that because discussion round here tends towards the technical, rules light games don't promote the same types of conversations.
 

JohnF

Explorer
Most of the advancement in rules light games can easily be handled diegetically, that is with in-fiction rewards and advancement. Things like titles, resources, allies, contacts, land, castles, ships, soldiers, mines, fictional positioning, etc. It's all still up for grabs.
I can't underscore this enough.

I've lost players on Fate because they can't at all understand that revising their Aspects to reflect the narrative evolution of their PCs' places in the world (thanks to the actions they've taken during sessions) means as much as - if not more than - a mathematical bonus to a stat or stunt (especially considering the permissions Aspects provide to PCs...).

Those who get such a thing fall in love with the most rewarding depths of the "R" in RPG.

My regular group (in which I'm a player) worships spreadsheets, probabilities, and min/maxing, despite the fact that they insist that story matters more. However, any attempt at a rules-light, narrative-driven session bounces hard off of them. I won't even try 5e with them (still "too lite," they believe).

Many of the games mentioned in this awesome thread so far have been those that promote less of the mathematical war-game-y characteristics that are the predominant hallmarks of the hobby (whether players realize it or not) and, instead, have found ways to leverage experiences that are more social/conversational while integrating sporadically randomized resolutions.

I'm thinking that's what "rules lite" has become for me...
 

aia_2

Custom title
I am still wondering whether or not the need of a light set of rules is the answer to:
1. The search of a game where the DM (if good enough) can replace all the holes in the rules (i.e. the fun for the game is safeguarded)
2. The need to set aside tons and tons of pages of detailed rules (if not micro-rules!) because both players and GM are not going to pass an entire night for a fight only...
3. Pure lack of time in this stressful life (or laziness if you live a stressless life!)
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
I've designed a few rules-light RPGs that have been well-received. Of those, my favorite is Yarnmaster, which you can currently grab a community (free) copy of over on Itch thanks to the generosity of somebody who bought one for $100. Cthulhu 476 AD, a Cthulhu Dark hack made with Graham's blessing, is popular enough that another publisher has translated it to French.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I am still wondering whether or not the need of a light set of rules is the answer to:
1. The search of a game where the DM (if good enough) can replace all the holes in the rules (i.e. the fun for the game is safeguarded)
Lighter rules require more work from the referee. They need to make more calls, generally speaking. Most referees are there to facilitate the players all having fun. The number of malicious referees is wildly exaggerated. No rule set can protect players from a bad or malicious referee. They will just ignore the bits of the rules that tell them not to do those things. The only constraints on a referee is what they place on themselves and what the table is willing to put up with. Rules light games don't shy away from that. They accept it and lean into it.
2. The need to set aside tons and tons of pages of detailed rules (if not micro-rules!) because both players and GM are not going to pass an entire night for a fight only...
Rules light game run a lot quicker. Like a lot. Some still have task resolution systems (where one roll is one round worth of actions or one action), while others have conflict resolution systems (where one roll resolves the whole scene). It just depends on what you're after.
3. Pure lack of time in this stressful life (or laziness if you live a stressless life!)
Without dozens of books with hundreds of pages each to worry about you can concentrate more on actually playing and trying to tell whatever story emerges from your play that much better. You also have more time to do whatever, even if that's to read up on history, storytelling, genres, or recreational reading.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Probably my favorite rules light RPG of all is Metagames’ In the Labyrinth/The Fantasy Trip. After Metagames was supplanted by SJG and GURPS, ITL/TFT got shelved.

Dark City Games used a version of the same system to support a wider variety of RPG genres outside of fantasy.

And recently, SJG resurrected TFT. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but…
 



Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Lighter rules require more work from the referee. They need to make more calls, generally speaking. Most referees are there to facilitate the players all having fun. The number of malicious referees is wildly exaggerated. No rule set can protect players from a bad or malicious referee. They will just ignore the bits of the rules that tell them not to do those things. The only constraints on a referee is what they place on themselves and what the table is willing to put up with. Rules light games don't shy away from that. They accept it and lean into it.
This is not true, or rather, not universally true. It's more the general culture the game is supporting. Trad games are already very heavy on GM overhead, so a rules light Trad game will have heavy GM overhead. Other culture approaches to play assign different overheads. Narrative games tend to be much lighter than Trad games, for instance, and offload overhead from the GM significantly.

Take, for example, Cthulhu Dark. If you approach this from a Trad way, as a simplified, GM-driven engine to resolve play, GM overhead will be high. If, on the other hand, you take the game and go for a Story Now approach, then GM overhead is reduced significantly.
Rules light game run a lot quicker. Like a lot. Some still have task resolution systems (where one roll is one round worth of actions or one action), while others have conflict resolution systems (where one roll resolves the whole scene). It just depends on what you're after.
Eh. Quicker is not a universal good. This is true, but not really, independently, a measure of any quality or utility. RPGs are not about speed of play.
Without dozens of books with hundreds of pages each to worry about you can concentrate more on actually playing and trying to tell whatever story emerges from your play that much better. You also have more time to do whatever, even if that's to read up on history, storytelling, genres, or recreational reading.
Here I'll disagree, again. Given you're statement for 1), this means that the GM isn't constrained and can do what they want to do with their story or setting without having to check to see if it aligns with the rules. The problem here is predictability. The rules of an RPG give the players that ability to successfully judge the stakes for the play. If you take that away, especially if you replace it with the GM, then its harder to predict those stakes and make good decisions. Again, this really comes down to a culture of play issue -- if you're Trad or Neotrad, this is less of a burden because play is still focused on exploration of the GM's setting or story so stakes are communicated as needed for those moments. It's anathema to gamist play, which is why you don't see gamist rules-light systems very often (and I can't immediately bring one to mind). Story now play deals with stakes as an ongoing discussion anyway, so little changes on rules density.

There's a good reason what the vast majority of rules-light efforts are Trad or Story Now approaches. Most of those are still Trad, because that's what the current market gorilla does.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
Probably my favorite rules light RPG of all is Metagames’ In the Labyrinth/The Fantasy Trip. After Metagames was supplanted by SJG and GURPS, ITL/TFT got shelved.

Dark City Games used a version of the same system to support a wider variety of RPG genres outside of fantasy.

And recently, SJG resurrected TFT. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but…
I played the original back in the day and backed the KS for the Legacy edition a couple years ago. The core mechanic is pretty simple, but I'd rate it on the high end of "rules-light" games, as in "yeah, it's pretty simple, but some of this stuff is getting kinda crunchy..."

To me it's similar to Savage Worlds, which I place solidly as "medium crunch"... the rules are easy to grasp, but you find there's a lot of nuance and hidden complexity once the rules start interacting with certain situations and each other.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
Yeah. Definitely lighter.

I keep hearing good stuff about Mork Borg. What’s the draw for you, besides the lighter rules?

In a similar vein is Viking Death Squad. I have that and am reading through it. Runehammer does some good stuff.
Mork Borg not only has lighter rules, but a lighter setting. The half dozen or so regions in the book get only a couple paragraphs each, and they're more for giving a feel for the areas than Forgotten Realms level of history and lore. Specifics about the world are left open for GM interpretation and improvisation. Just enough evocative description and detail for the GM to use as a creative springboard. Even the map of the continent is an impressionistic piece of art rather than a precise cartography artifact.

Also, the tone is great. It's almost a parody of OSR games where PCs can die like flies in comical ways. It's grimdark but doesn't take itself seriously at all. Like if the PCs were natives of the world in Army of Darkness.

And because the rules are so open, it's easy to tweak things. As is, a long-term campaign might be a little unsustainable, but I'm going to throw in a couple of simple house rules regarding death and dying that should help that.

Those rules are from the massive library of community created content for Mork Borg, which is also another huge draw. Most if not all of it is curated on the site Ex Libris Mork Borg

Lastly, the art. It's not to everyone's taste, but I guarantee you you've never seen an RPG rules book like this before.
 

Andvari

Explorer
I’m currently DMing a Pathfinder 2nd edition campaign, so most RPGs are rules light to me. :)

I have a feeling I would enjoy a rules light system. Unfortunately, with most RPGs there are a bunch of things I really like and a bunch of things I really don’t like. I may end up making some weird Frankenstein homebrew of BECMI and some other systems. I do like thinking about these things.

Though that is well in the future as I don’t want to switch systems on a group when they are happy with the current one. But perhaps one day after a campaign or two when their characters grow old/high level and retire.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Risus is the simplest RPG I know of.
May I present Perfected:

8fe2b-perfected.jpg
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Don't laugh @Mezuka, that's basically how Dave Arneson ran games, MAR Barker ran games (not the most ringing endorsement of late, to be sure), and Bob Meyer continues to run Blackmoor games.

 

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