Minified vs Minimalist Rules
D&D got a way with a lot of bad habits, because it was the only game in town. People are expected to read the core rules, then the Dungeon Master's Guide, then an adventure. I've copied their style, and only now realized the error of front-loading MAXIMUM RULES.
The order of books in this case is:
- Core Rules (Players Handbook)
- Dungeon Master's Guide
- Adventure/ Campaign
By contrast, Mörk Borg introduces a brief (but punchy) setting, dishes out a minimalist ruleset, and then immediately starts the adventure.
The barrier to entry is low. The images bludgeon you in the face, the writing is short and mysterious, and the adventure suddenly switches styles to be as intelligible and clear as possible.
So Mörk Borg has done well, in some part due to minimalist rules.
The order of books here is:
- Mörk Borg
...which is much easier to digest, but it seems like a shame to lose so much.
Mörk Borg rules rely on two things to maintain minimalism:
- Only print rules for combat and lists of items; no skills, nor systems for skills, social resolution, or any actions outside of combat.
- Rely on GM fiat to fill in everything outside these two.
I've rewritten Escape from the Horde to contain BIND's basic rules. They seem surprisingly small, given the 100-page rulebook.
So far, the decisions have gone as so:
On the character sheets:
- Place the basic scores required for combat, e.g. just '2D6+4', instead of asking people to calculate '2D6 + Dexterity (2) + Combat (2)'.
- Place players' spells on their character sheets, so the player is responsible for knowing how it works (with the GM making rulings, as usual).
And in the module's introduction:
- Present the basic 2D6 + Attribute + Skill Mechanic
- Present basic combat: Attack, Damage, Spend 1 action point.
Then throughout the module, scene by scene:
- In BIND you only make 1 roll. (The extra rules for unarmed combat have been ditched)
- Rules for regenerating resources at the end of each scene.
- Resisted actions.
- End of scene rules are repeated, just to remind the GM.
- The party find weapons in a kitchen: cooking knives, a broom, and a frying pan.
- Stats are given for just those weapons.
- When the party find a prison where allies might potentially exist, rules are given for spending Story Points to introduce allies (who can then replace dead PCs)
A one-page rules overview is introduced in a handout.
I call these rules 'minified' rather than 'minimalist', because the full ruleset still exists. In fact, the adventure module references exactly where to find full rules in the core book.
The natural order of the books now starts with the adventure module, and then goes onto the rules. If I could start this project again, I might leave out the setting book entirely, and instead maintain a wiki about Fenestra, purely for the sake of consistency.
Instead of describing an area, and then making adventures for it, I would make adventures to introduce the world.
- Instead of having readers read about the Night Guard, there could be a module which involves working for the Night Guard, or being a member of the Night Guard.
- Instead of dumping a bunch of monster statblocks in a bestiary, adventure modules would introduce those monsters, one at a time.
- Instead of describing Guilds at war, a module might be made to introduce towns, along with a massive list of items and prices.
- Instead of writing about the College of Alchemy, a module would make the PCs into apprentices, and provide the extended rules for magic.
A problem looms - if all modules introduce the rules, this sounds rather banal. It sounds like riding a bike with training wheels, forever.
Well I don't think this will be a real problem. White Wolf introduced all their books with the same ruleset every time. I suspect that most people simply skimmed the rules sections after they picked up a second White Wolf book, making sure they already knew those sections, and moving on to the new stuff.
And of course, as ever, LaTeX came in to ensure the rules need not repeat. I've placed all the commentary about rules into an environment which makes it optional.
If you compile the book for new people, it presents the rules and then a short adventure. If you compile the book for those who already know the rules, it compiles to a longer adventure without presenting any rules.
It's early days, but it feels like a friendlier way to write for an unknown RPG system.