What is the least amount of rules you need?

What level of rules density do you need (read first post)

  • Minimalist

    Votes: 21 31.3%
  • Light

    Votes: 23 34.3%
  • Moderate

    Votes: 19 28.4%
  • Heavy

    Votes: 3 4.5%
  • Dense

    Votes: 1 1.5%


B/X Known World
Suitable abstractions: this is very much a setting trope issue.
Let's take Alien (the setting), Alien (the Movie), and compare the current RPG (ALIEN: The Role Playing Game), the older Aliens Adventure Game and it's closest thematic game with official (for the game) stats I'm aware of: Classic Traveller (henceforth, Traveller, or CT).
Alien as a setting is pretty clearly space truckers and marines as protagonists; things we don't know how to do, but the characters do, exist in the setting. We also know there are scientists, and stress leads to lasting traumas. We see two different forms of AI - MU/TH/UR and the Synthetics.
Alien, the Movie, shows us the computer bringing them out of both FTL and Coldsleep with minimal supervision/intervention. We also don't see MU/TH/UR go all HAL-9000 on them, either... it gives them the mission orders, and keeps tabs, but doesn't try to interfere when they decide the "prize" needs to die. We see a synthetic, Ash... He's sympathetic, in both senses - he feels sympathy to a point, and he's a character we can feel sympathy for... We also see the effects of increasing stress on Ripley (Weaver) and Dallas, and even to a point, on Ash. We see people fighting on despite injuries. We see more of this in Aliens.

Traveller has rules for Cryoberths - but they need medical attention to come out safely. Traveller's rules for FTL are plenty workable, but make different assumptions than the indicia released about the setting give, vs the standard ship in Traveller having a parsec range, tho' Traveller's jumps also take less time. Traveller's rules for AI put it at a tech level beyond the rest of the tech we see in the movie or indicia, and aren't particularly robust, either. Oh, and the stats for the Alien? Reticulan Parasite, JTAS issue 4, page 26. In Traveller, it's a nasty parasite, matching the screen... but it's handled as a smart animal. There's no stress rules at all in CT. Traveller's closest thing is Morale - and by the book in core, it's for NPCs only. (Book 4, which is supplementary, adds morale for PCs.) With Book 4, the ACR is a near perfect fit for the Pulse Rifle of Aliens, and by inflicting morale on PCs, can easily replicate the fights from all three core movies... but not the rest of it. Traveller lacks abstractions for social actions. It also lacks descriptive critical injuries. Classic Traveller's interpersonal skills are few: administration, bureaucracy, liaison, steward, and carousing. None of them are "persuasive" in nature. Admin and Bureaucracy are both about getting things done. Steward is how to keep passengers out of the rest of the crew's hair, not convincing them. Carousing allows getting information... but is as much about boozing as info. Liaison is a hybrid of Admin and Bureacracy... so the abstraction is for purposes commercial, rather than actual interpersonal.

Alien: the RPG, (A:TRPG) for its part, makes cryo only need attention when there's injury, tho it does have downsides that CT lacks (MT has them in a magazine article, TNE has them in core). FTL is long and mentally hazardous, plus reduces cargo capacity a lot due to food needs. Travel is usually broken up by a number of stops to perform routine maintenance.
Stress is mechanicalized. Abstracted into mechanics... a little stress lets you exceed your normal limits; a lot breaks the PC in strange ways; further, it has two different stress failure tables, and they're tailored for different regimes of play; I expect another one in the new book, too... The alien from the film is one of several in the core. The Xenomorphs are a clade, not a singular thing. This is different from the movie, but is a known thing in later setting materials. The game can easily also handle all the action in Aliens and Alien³. It can abstract out Ridley getting Newt out from the vents if needed; and the social conflict mechanic can be resolved as a single roll.

The Aliens Adventure Game, (AAG) from Leading Edge back in the early 90's, has excellent (if slow to run sans spreadsheets) gritty combat, but only one flavor of xenomorph; it has other nasty critters to bug hunt, too, but seems to expect importing more from Phoenix Command. Its rule for cryo are more generous than Traveller's or A:TRPG. It has morale rules; I don't recall, and am not going out at 3 in the morning to get the book from the storage, if it has stress rules otherwise. It has a hard 8 LY limit on each jump. It's Xenomorph is almost too hard to kill. It presumes only Marine PCs. It's narrow, it's crunchy as hell, and only combat is handled by mechanical abstraction in any fidelity, but it does have interpersonal skills, and some rules on using them to influence others. Nothing even approaching a full on social combat system.

As for #3? short term injuries, long term injuries, death, and/or insanities are the suitable ones for the Alien setting. Traveller has only 2 of the 4, AAG has 3 of the four. A:TRPG has all four...

In A:TRPG, in one campaign, one PC, entirely without ever facing any xenoform, drove herself to a nervous breakdown. As in, total catatonia. Replacement character followed. For that character, life as a ship's mechanic was too much, and she pushed on until she broke. (The player completely forgot to, or perhaps decided to see what would happen if she didn't, take those rest times to destress.)
Cool. Thanks for the detailed replay. I can see why you have trouble finding lighter systems you enjoy. It seems like your minimum amount of rules is somewhere in the medium to medium-heavy range.

ETA: Thinking about it more, Fate Accelerated would fit all your criteria.
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"Note: for the purposes of this discussion, I think the G part is important."

What gets ruled out here? Dread? For the Queen? Neither?

Because their are plenty of people who would consider these wonderful RPGs for one shots. So, if they are out of scope, my answer would probably be "these plus whatever the smallest possible unit of 'game' needs to be added to make them relevant"

aramis erak

Cool. Thanks for the detailed replay. I can see why you have trouble finding lighter systems you enjoy. It seems like your minimum amount of rules is somewhere in the medium to medium-heavy range.

ETA: Thinking about it more, Fate Accelerated would fit all your criteria.
Except that Fate Accelerated rubs raw against other preferences. Like discrete skills that I can relate to. I can't really grasp a character from just aspects and approaches; the approaches part of L5R 5e's design is the hardest part for me, but at least it's a lot more specific than Fate Accelerated Edition.

I picked Alien because (1) I'm deeply invested in both Traveller and Alien emotionally. And both games scratch the same itches for Space Opera other than Trek... (noting I don't count Star Wars as SO, but Space Fantasy... and love them both.) (2) the range of games show various levels of abstraction.

My minimum is actually light, but its a thin slice of light. Judge Dredd. Starships & Spacemen. Tunnels and Trolls. (Noting that T&T has few lasting consequences in the core, but many in the solos, which set the tone. It's also long been Ken's and Liz's encouragement in both the rules and online to play it fiction first...) Pendragon (especially by using Book of Knights - the minimalist 20 pages of in-play rules and 20 of character gen, tightly worded... The missing rules elements from the 4.0 core, in the same size and face, would take another 9 to 10 pages... but are NOT needed for the feel of the game. (that's another 1.5 pages of critters, 4 of magic, and half a page on expanding out the timeline effects, two pages of war, a page of additional shopping list. What the big book does better is the lore. And it's mostly lore. The Core mechanic pervades play thoroughly, excepting player spellcasters, for whom it's a whole 'nother layer of mechanics.)

EDIT: I added a poll.

I am planning to run Lazers and Feelings soon, and it got me to thinking about how little/few rules one might need in order to effectively play a TTRPG. So I am curious what others thing.

Note: for the purposes of this discussion, I think the G part is important. That is, it should still be a game (as opposed to a simple storytelling exercise) so there must SOME rules and something that looks like success or failure (although those concepts are fuzzy in RPGs). But with that in mind, what is the bare minimum level of rules you need to feel like you are playing a TTRPG?
To feel like I'm playing a TTRPG? Minimalist. To be glad I'm playing this specific RPG? Enough well-crafted and asymmetrical rules to be interesting (probably "heavy", although those heavy rules might come from spells and magic items a la BECMI instead of being core) PLUS enough structured content to force me to make interesting decisions. E.g. the GM is good at running dungeon crawls or relationship-driven scenarios or urban mysteries, planting treasure, inventing interesting curses, etc.

(Games like 5E are rules-heavy but not in a way that appeals to me. Like Aramis Erak says, the sheer amount of rules is not the only criteria that matters.)

In theory I could enjoy a game with a good ref and almost no rules at all (Mafia is very popular at my family reunions), but it feels pretty different because I have essentially no power over what happens in the gameworld--only the power over what dialogue occurs. I haven't really enjoyed FKR-style play--it's too unpredictable for me to be able to get into the character's head and roleplay. (I guess it could work if I'm roleplaying someone relatively ignorant of his own capabilities though, like a common salesman in a cosmic horror scenario. Haven't tried that but it might work.)
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