log in or register to remove this ad


System matters and free kriegsspiel

log in or register to remove this ad

Yeah, fascinating, ah ah!

Btw I guess that was an improvised exchange in a chat, nonetheless...... yeah

That is basically how I handled combat in my Gumshoe game, to be honest. Sometimes asking the player to roll a D6, eventually spending skill points.

“Sometimes roll a d6, eventually spending skill points” is considerably more systemitized than what I read in that blog!

I mean the below sincerely.

If I was going to come up with the douchiest satire of dysfunctional FKR play, it would be much friendlier to they FKR movement than what I read there.

That feels like somebody who hates FKR trolled them with a blog.


“Sometimes roll a d6, eventually spending skill points” is considerably more systemitized than what I read in that blog!

I mean the below sincerely.

If I was going to come up with the douchiest satire of dysfunctional FKR play, it would be much friendlier to they FKR movement than what I read there.

That feels like somebody who hates FKR trolled them with a blog.
Yeah, but the point, to me, is that if you want combat fiction-full, with diegetic, in-fiction harm and consequences, that is the way to go.
FKRers say also: develop rules as you go if you need 'em, or borrow from the tons of existing rulesets.

Yeah, but the point, to me, is that if you want combat fiction-full, with diegetic, in-fiction harm and consequences, that is the way to go.
FKRers say also: develop rules as you go if you need 'em, or borrow from the tons of existing rulesets.

But where is the orienting of the players to the constituent parts of the fiction that should inform their move-space as they navigate decision-points?

I mean…typically that orienting is the synthesis of (a) conversation surrounding the shared imagined space + (b) rules.

In that example, the (a) is outright vetoed by the GM (the player asks orienting questions and gets rebuffed…these orienting questions would be the internal dialogue and automaticity that happens IRL when dealing with obstacles whether they’re people or things or places or self doubt or or emotions or some combination) and (b) doesn’t exist!

That moment of play is the opposite of “tactical infinity.” That moment of play depicted is “tactical nothingness.”

EDIT - If it’s not clear…I’m frustrated. I actually thought I was starting to get my head around conceptually what is happening in the FKR movement. I thought I had a model for play in my head. Reading that excerpt has set me back significantly.
Last edited:

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
But that looks very different from the completely unstructured freeform without descriptor restraint and extremely limited orienting aspects that I just read.

So here's the disconnect, in my opinion.

You have a few people here (mostly @Malmuria @overgeeked @S'mon @Numidius @niklinna and myself ... I apologize if I missed anyone) articulating that we think that there are some interesting ideas in "FKR." Some of us are viewing it in terms of interesting ideas, some are running the rules-lite games that are considered FKR, some are adopting some of the principles for use in their own games (such as stripped down D&D as advocated by some FKR/OSR proponents).

None of us (AFAIK) are "leaders" or "central figures" or "speakers of the orthodoxy" of FKR. Just curious gamers trying stuff out that seems interesting.

From my P.O.V., for the most part (not completely, not totally, but for the most part) the disconnect is coming because we have a group of people trying to share the things that they find interesting and valuable. And the skepticism is coming from people that are trying to "define" it.

We end up close to the wine post!

So it's an endless redux- first, there was an argument over what Free Kriegspiel (not even FKR) is. Then people were uncomfortable because some people (apparently? I'm unclear on this) who mentioned FKR elsewhere also mentioned OSR, or had other opinions that were bad. Now it's an issue that disparate examples of play, or disparate examples of the game itself, have to be justified as being the "one true way" of FKR. Which no one can do, because the term is just an umbrella term that doesn't have a single game, or even a single "style of play" to it.

To give you a few examples-
A. You have the OSR/OD&D/FKR crossover. Darkworm Colt's blog (Norbert Matusch) is an example of this. It's people that use the term to try and re-create a neo-Arnesonian approach to the game. I think it's interesting, but that's not my cup of Mad Hatter tea.
B. Then you have the playing the fiction, DM-adjucation approach. The original "play worlds, not rules" blog post linked to (d66 Classless Kobolds aka Jim Parkin).
C. Next, you have the broader swath of people using "FKR" as an umbrella term for inspiration to create rules-lite systems that are ... well, I want to say fiction-first, but I don't want to accidentally trample over a definition and cause problems. We can say that the narrative concepts matter more than numbers on a character sheet and rules abstractions.

The thing is, other than a shared interest in rules-lite systems (which I believe @pemerton would say are incomplete systems, and knowingly so!), there's little to connect a lot of them. Does an FKR game provide for little, some, or significant amount of player authorship of the narrative? Yes! Does an FKR game allow a player to override the referee? Maybe! Does an FKR game depend on actual experience, genre knowledge, or just willingness to move the narrative along? You betcha!

I get that it's frustrating trying to pin this down. In a way, it would be like someone saying that D&D in general is cool, and then the problem being that you get multiple people arguing about OD&D, 4e, 2e, 5e, 1e, 3e, and pointing to all the different ways people play them and what other people say about it. And, of course, someone will then say, "Hey, y'all BASIC!" It's not just a single thing- and people can (and do) have multiple interpretations.

To the extent you keep asking about the rules or the method of play, you are going to get frustrated. What I am taking from FKR, and the "FKR" (really, a philosophy regarding rules-lite games) is different than what others might take. And that's okay! IMO.


One reason why I find both Story/Narrativist and OSR games appealing is how they represent two divergent responses (if not conscientiously so) to the issue of GM-curated Force, as broadly represented by Traditional gaming. But from what I can tell - even by reading the old play stories of Ur-gaming with Arneson, M.A.R. Barker, et al. - there aren't exactly any safeguards against GM Force that are part of FKR. So how does FKR handle the issue of GM Force?


I wrote the OP in this thread. It was not any sort of criticism of free kriegsspiel; it was an analysis.

And someone else turned this into a thread about FKR. Which is fine by me.

I think I would find it helpful if someone who thinks they "get" FKR better than me would identify some of the rules-heavy systems that are the objects of its critique. As I've said, 3E D&D seems to me to be the core of it; but are there other systems that are also being had in mind?

Not far upthread @Numidius suggested that D&D-style spells are compatible with FKR. Can RQ be played in a FKR-adjacent fashion?

Anyway, it seems time to mention Vincent Baker on cubes and clouds: a list of those blogs is here, and here's the one I know best: anyway: 3 Resolution Systems.

Obviously FKR is very hostile to cubes-to-cubes resolution (D&D hit points; WotC D&D stop-motion initiative; at least some interpretations of the action economy and PC abilities that affect it more generally; damage-on-a-miss, which tends to undercut Baker's treatment of "I hit" as a cubes-to-cloud relationship; etc). They love cloud-to-cloud.

It's the attitude towards cubes-to-cloud that I'm unclear about, because it is sometimes called for but there is a least an intermittent hostility to systematisation, though not a uniform hostility. (The AW-flavoured FKR clearly has a systematic mechanical framework, of rolling dice whose size reflects fictional likelihoods of prevailing in a given sort of contest.)

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It's the attitude towards cubes-to-cloud that I'm unclear about, because it is sometimes called for but there is a least an intermittent hostility to systematisation, though not a uniform hostility. (The AW-flavoured FKR clearly has a systematic mechanical framework, of rolling dice whose size reflects fictional likelihoods of prevailing in a given sort of contest.)

Again, it's not just one thing.

Let's make this exceedingly easy using a system you are familiar with. Cthulhu Dark (lite). Go to the section marked UNANSWERED QUESTIONS.

Now, imagine the following based upon that:
A. "Standard model." Keeper decides everything.
B. "Shared model." There is a Keeper, but decisions are collaborative.
-There can be different, agreed-to, collaborative frameworks.
C. "Fiasco model." No Keeper.

Same game. Same ruleset. Very different approaches.

This gets even trickier when you introduce different games under the same banner.

1. GM applying "FKR" by using a genre source (Star Trek: TOS or Brideshead Revisited or whatever) with an invisible rulebook and GM decides.

2. Group playing FKR with ruleset allowing players to override GM narration.

3. Group playing FKR with ruleset allowing players to "rewind" scenes or have genre-appropriate narrative devices (flashbacks, montages).

Because FKR is not a single thing, game, or set of rules, asking about "the" method of resolution doesn't work. This is the repeated disconnect- it's not one thing, so you can't expect one answer, or have it fit into one box (or, um, one cube).

That bit where the GM says “If you ask ‘can I do it’, you can’t; but if you just do it, then you might do it” sums up the area of criticism I have about what seem to be some elements of FKR; namely, reliance on GM interpretation of the fiction combined lack of player facing rules and seemingly total GM fiat on how things go.

There are games that were linked on itch.io that I absolutely would play. There are others I’d like to try if the opportunity came up. Those don’t appear to be anything like what was described in that blog.

If I found myself playing in such a game, I’d have to politely bow out. There’s nothing appealing to me about that example of play.


This from Vincent Baker - the precursor to cubes-and-clouds, I think - also seems relevant: anyway: post a comment

And this from the comments is interesting too (it's still Baker):

When I design a set of rules, I'm trying to change the way that people relate to one another, within the confines of the game. I'm trying to force, trick, or provoke them into treating one another in particular, possibly unnatural ways. I'm f****n' around with their working creative relationships.

Beyond apportioning credibility, rules create permission and expectation. Permission and expectation are the real building blocks of social contract; cunningly designed rules have access to human interactions at a deep level.

So, sure, there are no complete RPGs; as you say, the complete RPG is playerless. It may work better to think of RPG rules as strong or weak, flexible or brittle: a strong RPG draws the players into its particular play, where a weak one allows them to play however comes naturally. A flexible RPG can survive or redirect a broad range of preexisting social dynamics, where a brittle one requires a particular social dynamic to already be in place, or the game crashes.​

This is also pretty good:

In my imagination, a rule is like if you take a nail and scratch a line in dry dirt, and what people actually do is like where the water actually runs. Some water will run down the line you scratched, because you scratched it. Other water will run down the line you scratched but would have run there even if you hadn't. Other water will go wherever it goes. And (and here this picture breaks down, now I'm talking about bizarro-world water) some water will respond perversely to your line, bouncing off of it or testing its limits or sliding around it or flowing in the opposite direction out of plain orneriness.​

And this seems directly on point re FKR ("cues" means cubes, ie the material tokens used to mediate decisions about the shared fiction):

[Imagine a picture of two arrows, one running out of the cloud (ie shared fiction) back into itself, one running rightward to the cubes]

In play, this highlighted moment is a moment of judgment. Of interpretation. Someone has to read the game's fiction and draw conclusions about it.

Brother Benjamin is laying his hand on Sister Coral's hand. Does this count as escalation? Sister Coral's shaken by his touch, and relents. Her player's taken the blow, but does it count as a social blow or a physical blow?

Bobnar (tx Ben) is standing on a tree stump when the wood-trolls attack. Does this count as the high ground?

Ned McCubbins is breaking from cover and running like hell across the beach, in plain view of a boatful of His Majesty's marines. Does this count as going into danger? . . .

The convenience of cue-to-fiction or cue-to-cue is that nobody has to read anything, or that the reading is trivially easy, if you prefer. I say "Morton casts 'good for having back at your ungrateful relations,'" and I erase 2 evil from my character sheet. It's a triviality to judge whether this counts as my having spent 2 evil. There's one solution to the problem of biased judgment: commoditize it. Create a cue; create something undeniable or trivial to read. Coordinate mechanical advantages with mechanical costs or mechanical risks. . . .

Commoditization is Fate's solution to the problem of biased judgment (and the solution of dozens upon dozens of games). Your character has the high ground in a fight. Is it to your advantage? If you pay for it to be, yes. Later on, your character's enemy has the high ground. Is it to the other player's advantage too? If she pays for it too, yes. Otherwise, nope. Having the high ground doesn't give you the advantage - that would require a moment of judgment, vulnerable to bias - it gives you the opportunity to buy the advantage.

It's a fine solution. However, it's not the only solution, and it's not the best solution for every game. It's the heart of Frank Tarcikowski's complaint from that Forge thread:

...I'm saying that one should invest in the SIS, and specifically, in Situation, moment-by-moment. Who's there, what's going on, what does it look like, sound like, feel like? In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS, people may tend to rush the story and their imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry. Such games still sound great in a write-up but to me, they're leaving a bad taste, like reading a good book way too fast.​

My experience matches Frank's.

Another solution, equally good, equally not-always-suitable: give the moment of judgment to a player who's strongly invested in getting it right, not in one character or another coming out on top.

Player 1 wants the game to have a reliable-but-interesting internal consistency, but STRONGLY wants Bobnar to have the high-ground advantage.

Player 2 wants the game to have a reliable-but-interesting internal consistency, but STRONGLY wants Bobnar to NOT have the high-ground advantage.

Player 3 STRONGLY wants the game to have a reliable-but-interesting internal consistency, and doesn't care a bit whether Bobnar has the high-ground advantage.

Which player should get to judge Bobnar's position? (Hint: Player 3 should.)

This solution has a hell of a lot to recommend it, when it's suitable. It works directly counter to Frank's complaint.

And I'm certain there are more solutions to the problem of biased judgment than just these two.​

EDIT: I think this helps us see why Look through crosshairs, as a principle in Apocalypse World, is doing more than simply establishing genre. It is also telling the GM that they are not an advocate for the NPCs they control, any more than they are an advocate for the weather or for the petrol mileage on the Chopper's motorcycle.


If we're not talking about a distinct approach why are we talking about FKR then? Why not just have a discussion about minimalism in RPG design? If the category has no real meaning what does the manifesto or label add to the conversation? What are we actually talking about? What's interesting here? What specific sort of fun are we talking about? It's obvious to me that some types of fun are not on the table when we start talking about minimalist designs.

On my posting style:

Gaining a cohesive understanding of things is fun for me. It's why I participate in these discussions. To question things, interrogate them, learn more, and alter my internal model of the way things work. I have zero real interest in convincing anyone of anything on these boards. Every question I ask is part of an attempt to understand more. When I speak I'm saying how I see things, although I am not always the best at moderating my words to phrase things in more palatable ways.

@S'mon I wanted to thank you for being so clear and to the point. The way you talk about FKR seems cohesive, consistent, and like something I could enjoy playing. I wish I got the same sense from the FKR blogs.


I wanted to clarify some of the comments I made upthread. When I said I think you need a cohesive model of play I don't think you need the books to define that. I think most of the folks playing do have a fairly cohesive model of play worked out. I just do not think it's the only model of play or even the most natural to run/play an RPG.

Like if I sit down to run a game with no specific game in mind what generally ends up happening is that I end up grabbing an existing mental model off the shelf from games I have experience with. I will run basically Apocalypse World, basically Blades, basically Sorcerer, basically Burning Wheel or basically B/X. This is also true for games I run that lack a cohesive model of play. I pretty much run Exalted like Burning Wheel. I pretty much run L5R like Sorcerer. Dune is like a mixture of Blades and Burning Wheel.


@S'mon I wanted to thank you for being so clear and to the point. The way you talk about FKR seems cohesive, consistent, and like something I could enjoy playing. I wish I got the same sense from the FKR blogs.

Heh, I'm not even familiar with the FKR movement! I'd never heard of it before this thread. Everything I know about Free Kriegsspiel is from my own research and practice.


@S'mon, which bit stunned you?

(Very hard day at work, sorry if incoherent) I guess the way your play example exemplifies a really hardcore 'author stance' approach. It just feels so alien to what I do. Alien rather as in

It feels pretty scary!

Here's an example of play from late in my Wilderlands campaign, where the empire of Hakeem Godslayer (chris107) is falling apart - Sensitive Content Warning (blog nsfw, but nothing nsfw in that link). The NPCs like Namelin Bronze are just being played according to my sense of their character; Namelin has a rep as 'greedy and ruthless'. When Hakeem had earlier 'retired' and left Namelin co-ruler of the empire, Namelin & his sister Llanet didn't think that made much sense - Sensitive Content Warning


B/X Known World
So, for instance, in the former the procedure of play would be the following:

* GM performs internal credibility test when framing a situation/obstacle (is this genre appropriate)? GM then interacts with whatever rules come into play for mechanizing the conflict so players can manage the cognitive workspace of their characters and navigate the decision-space.

* Player then makes an action declaration informed by genre logic, whatever thematic/dramatic/tactical/strategic trappings that are inherent to system/character, and interacts with the system architecture to see how it resolves.

* GM adjudicates action/conflict resolution results, performs the necessary internal credibility test (what is the most compelling and appropriate consequence for the game in question that hews to genre logic?), and changes the gamestate and orientation of the relevant component parts of the shared imagined space.
Wow. That's a lot of jargon. If I understand all that, then yes, that looks right to me, save the bolded and italicized bit. Compelling implies deference to story, FKR doesn't do that. Emergant story rather than pushing for story structure, acts, etc. It goes for internal consistency according to genre expectations. So what makes for the most compelling story isn't a factor. Unless it is. Because, again, it's a playstyle not a singular game or system. So it will be different depending on the actual game played and the actual Referee running it. Along with the genre emulated and the players at the table.
What is, in your mind, the concrete difference between the and and the not here?
And implies that the rules are on par with the world. Equal stature. As relevant as. They're not. The rules are at the end of the list of things that are important, if that. The goal is to get to character immersion and world immersion. Every time you engage mechanics that breaks immersion, takes you out of the shared delusion of the fiction, etc. So a push for the simplest rules possible, while still having rules, so you can deal with the rules as quickly as possible (minimizing breaking immersion), and move back to actual play (i.e. immersion in character and world).
I mean...if I'm a person in real life, I don't do this genre appropriate/logic step.
But you do. Your entire life has trained you to expect and accept certain things from a wide but limited list. In real life you wouldn't shrug off seeing a person lift off from the ground, unaided, and simply fly away. Nor would you be blasé about a person breaking off part of a building and throwing it. The "real world" is just as much a genre with genre rules and tropes and expectations as any other.
But I certainly make intense observations about the situation before me and then orient myself to the relevant parameters before deciding how to approach it (if I'm climbing, I'm measuring distance/examining holds/considering routes/evaluating moveset/measuring and rationing the various aspects of my gastank...if I'm running, I'm evaluating pace/heart rate/topography/gas tank...if I'm trying to settle a dispute or lower the temperature in the room I'm considering the audience/how we got here/what makes each of these people tick/will humor disarm or is another manner of de-escalation required/how do they feel about me and my various approaches socially/how much do I even want to get involved...etc).
Right. But in real life you don't have an omniscient observer (Referee) to ask questions and no expectation of objective answers. Take the gastank. You can ask the Referee about how much gas is in the tank. You can ask the Referee about how far you'd estimate that car could go with about that much gas. This simulates you looking at your gas gauge and estimating how much gas is there and estimating how far you can go with what you have in the tank. But to gamers, that would drive them up the wall. "Why can't I know exactly how much gas is in the tank?" "Do you stop the car and precisely measure the amount of gas in the tank or are you eyeballing it and guessing?" "Why can't I know exactly how far I can go with what's left in the tank?" "Because you haven't driven it yet. You're estimating distance based on an estimate of gas. And there could be trouble ahead. There's no precision to be had." But that's exactly how it goes in real life. At best you can estimate based on past experience and your list of genre expectations. At no point is there an omniscient observer to tell you precise probabilities. It's an affect/conceit of gaming.
I don't need rules for that in real life that regulates my cognitive workspace and encodes my observation > orientation > decision process. I'm there. But in a game, I have to have something...
And that's the disconnect. In ultralight games, like most FKR games, there's already more rules than you'd expect in real life. There's already "something" there in FKR and ultralight games. It's just not enough for some. Because as gamers, we want more. More widgets to poke at and more buttons to press. Because it's a game. It has rules. But one of the goals of FKR is to shift the focus from game rules onto immersion and verisimilitude by pushing game play towards the "play loop" we use in real life.
so we come up with means to regulate and encode that stuff.
But we don't need to do that. We don't need to regulate and encode anything beyond the genre expectations and if we can't decide based on the fiction, roll 2d6. If something needs to be encoded, like say the quantity of food a horse eats in a day, instead of looking in a rule book for the answer (D&D5E says it's four pounds, btw) you look to real life as much as possible and then only if it's relevant. Does it matter right now, in this moment, exactly how much food a horse eats? If not, then it doesn't matter. Horses need to eat 1-2% of their body weight in roughage a day, for what it's worth. Unless you're talking about really small breeds of horses, they need more than four pounds of food a day. And that's part of the problem. As gamers we default to the rules rather than reality...when we have objective reality all around us to default back to. (When/if objective reality is a valid reference point, it might not always be...such as space opera, etc.) That creates cognitive dissonance with people who know more about a particular subject than the writers of the rules. It breaks their immersion. So rather than codify a quick but wrong answer in the rules, don't. If it matters enough that you would want to stop the game and take time to look it up in the rule book...take the time to look it up for real. Especially now. Hello internet. If it's about genre, reference the genre. If it's mechanical, roll 2d6. I've been doing this hobby for about 37 years. I have played a lot of games with a lot of gamers across the country in various environments, and I've yet to come across a single rule in any game that is justified in being more complicated than "roll 2d6, higher is better." Genre emulating rules are a bit different. Like Doctor Who's pitch perfect initiative rules. Actions occur in the following order: talkers, movers, doers, fighters. Or Cthulhu Dark's "if you fight monsters, you die."
So we use rules (FKR does the same, they're just iterated in real time at the table rather than digested and assimilated prior).

So...what am I missing...what am I wrong about here (if anything)?
You're not wrong. It's a misalignment of expectations. You expect a lot of mechanical rules you can read prior to play. That's simply not what FKR wants to deliver. FKR points to genre tropes and particular pieces of fiction as the rules to use. If you want to assimilate rules prior to play, find out what the genre or piece of fiction, fact, or history you're playing is...and binge some stuff. So questions like "how do I climb a wall?" aren't answered with "on page 25 you'll find the DCs for climbing various surfaces" instead you'll get "it depends on the genre and circumstances in play at the time you want to climb a wall." How do you climb a wall? You tell the Referee that you climb the wall. They will make a decision based on the relevant circumstances in the moment if it's an automatic success, automatic failure, or you need to roll. If their decision sounds off to you, ask them. They'll explain their reasoning. It's a feature, not a bug.


B/X Known World
Ok. I don’t mean to be a jerk…but holy mother of god. I can’t imagine playing that? I’m struggling to distinguish what I just read from some kind of Calvinball Conch Passing hybrid. That is not what I anticipated from engaging in this thread nor from reading a few systems/blogs.
For what it's worth, a lot of that sounds atrocious to me as well.
GM: If you ask me stuff, you can’t do it. Just DO it. Maybe it’ll work.
Yeah, that's a jerk Referee. For me a better response is "you can try". I'm not a fan players asking permission. Don't do that. If you're asking clarifying questions, that's great. You can do whatever a person with your character's capabilities could do in this situation. If you're asking if you can poke someone in the eye, I'll assume you mean "am I physically capable of performing this action" rather than "mother may I". I've found that players try to guess what they assume the Referee wants them to do by asking the permission questions. Like hoping the Referee will reveal what the "right answer" is based on response to the permission question.


B/X Known World
The thing I don't get/don't like about some of the examples in the blog posts I linked to is how the verbal descriptors turn into mechanical bonuses, to wit at the discretion of the GM. One of the purposes of mechanical bonuses is to replace or model the certainty of the character vis a vis skill X for the player.
Think of it like Fate's aspects only instead of the player having to spend a Fate point to get a benefit, the benefit is persistent. If you describe your character in a way that suggests they can climb, then they can climb. If you describe your character as an office drone who's a shut in couch potato, not so much.
So, the character would climb a given wall because they think they have the skills, but the player doesn't have access to that, they have stats and whatnot. So, sure, in a FKR game I have the descriptor 'climby' or somesuch, but that doesn't really tell me anything about the wall in question...
Why would it? What about describing your character as 'climby' involves defining the characteristics of a wall you might climb?
just about my character relative to other characters.
Exactly like most games with mechanical weight to how climby your character is. If you have STR18/+4 and expertise in athletics that only tells you about your character...relative to other characters...but tells you exactly zero about the difficulty of climbing walls.
Which leaves me to ask the GM - does this wall look like one I can climb without too much trouble or do I think I'm likely to fall to my death? I find having to ask those questions intensely annoying. So how does FKR not end up feeling like that? I haven't played FKR, so that's an honest question, not a baited trap.
Exactly like most games with mechanical weight to how climby your character is. You still have to ask the D&D DM those questions. The only difference is you have the rulebook to look at to estimate what you assume your DCs will be. But you still have to ask in the moment how difficult this wall is at this time in the fiction.

Level Up!

An Advertisement