“what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”

I continued to be a big fan of RM/SM until 1989. I could see ways to do just about every gaming setting, and several non-gaming settings (Aliens, Dune, etc.) using those rules. But, something happened over the summer of 1989. I was at DragonCon, and a naval war gamer challenged me that if I need more than 1 sheet of paper (4 pages) for rules, for a war game, then that was too many. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t get away from the idea of minimalism.

Though, he was an extreme-minimalist. Minimalism isn’t “the least”. It’s “what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less”.

The quote above comes from the Stargazer’s World site in a comment on Michael Wolf’s review of RMU. The comment was by a regular contributor called Johnkzin.

It is an interesting idea, what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less.

I have had that going around my head all week. They are talking about wargames and RPGs are not wargames. What that means to me is that to play the game at the table the monster stats are not part of that 4 page limit. Monsters and their stats are easily condensed down to what the GM needs at the table but the monster book is a resource and not ‘rules’.

I think spells and spell lists are part of the PC or NPC. You can give your players a copy of their own lists, I think that is pretty much common practice, and the same for NPCs. The rest of spell law is just reference material and not rules needed at the gaming table.

I also think that character creation is not needed at the table and does not need to count towards our 4 page limit.

That removes a lot of bulk.

So what do we need? Arms Law for one and skill resolution for a second. Base Spells and resistance rolls for third. One is relatively big and the other relatively small and spell casting is just a simple look up. So how low can we go?

The following two documents are a single page (2 sides) super condensed combat and skills resolution version of Rolemaster. This is really not intended to challenge Arms Law in any way and it is not meant to be historically accurate. You will also notice that it draws on bits of MERP, bits of RMU and everything in between.

What you get is a single attack table that is generic but below it are modifications for each weapon so to all intents and purposes each weapon is differentiated.

You get a hit location system using the units dice to give a 1-0 result.

The critical is then rolled for that location and the bonus damage, stun and bleeding scales with the critical severity. The GM also has to insert descriptive words like blow/strike/hit to vary things a little. Each critical does come in two parts for armoured and unarmoured so what looks like just 16 possible criticals is actually nearer to 100 possible outcomes.

Why would anyone ever want to use this?

One of the best roleplaying sessions I ever played in took place on bicycles riding though country lanes. We used the stop watch function on digital watches (this was the early 80s) for dice and we knew our characters and the rules of D&D well enough to not need any books. That sort of game session is almost impossible with Rolemaster because of its table dependence. On the other hand if you had a dice roller app on your phone and just these two pdfs you could pretty much run an impromptu game session with nothing else.

I would go so far as to say that you could run an entire game session using this and most of your players would not notice the difference unless a particular favourite critical should have come up.

This is a bit too minimalist even for me but it was an interesting experiment.

Does anyone think they could do a 2 page character creation? I suspect I could, but then I have had a week’s head start.

7 Replies to ““what is necessary, but nothing more AND nothing less””

  1. The philosophical principle known as Occam’s Razor states essentially that entities ought not to be multiplied beyond necessity. The kicker is that for me, necessity demands a lot of entities 🙂

    1. I am not enrirely sure Occam’s Razor should apply to games which are almost entirely made of non-essential parts.

      If you and one of your regular players were trapped in an airport departure lounge for 12hrs could you run an impromptu session using those two pages?

      1. No, I don’t think we could run an impromptu adventure using two pages… nor would I want to. I think the standards for a game you can play in an airport lounge should be different than the standards for a game I sit down with 5 friends and play on a Saturday night.

        I have some games I like that I can play on my mobile phone, and I’ll play that when I’m in the airport lounge. But when I have a couple of hours to do something at the end of the day, I’d rather play a more complex and deeper game on my PC than go back to my mobile phone game.

        I guess this is just my way of saying that there are different standards and expectations for different types of games, and I wouldn’t want the benchmark for a true, sit-down RPG to be ‘can play it while riding a bike’ 🙂

  2. I think the philosophy should be more along the lines of “As much as is desired.” I can appreciate the idea that elements should be reduced to the minimum, but I think it really depends on what people want. The success of OSR systems and more stripped back ones like the Black Hack (and its many adaptations) show that some people want less complicated games. The success of Pathfinder shows that some want really complex systems. Sometimes these are the same people.

    1. I originally thought that more complex systems like RMSS or RM2 with a full set of bells and whistles lent themselves to PBP as there would be no noticeable slowdown regardless of the weight of rules.

      These days I find my self running more games just off of my phone or a cheap tablet so I can respond anywhere at any time still feeds my desire for brevity in my rules.

      1. I think that as technology continues to improve tablets and phones are going to become increasingly useful – as long as there’s an internet connection anyway. Complex games can have the rules and software stored elsewhere, and then accessed remotely. Such as ERA of Fantasy Grounds could be run on a remote server then accessed through the internet (as FG already is for players), or even an app. Still complex games, but the rules are easier to deal with, use or look up.

  3. Conventions for wargame rules vary depending on the level of activity being modeled. If you want to get into that, I’d suggest grabbing a copy of Phil Sabin’s book on the subject. He’s got some great observations and points, many of which can carry over to RPGs.

    In the end it all comes down to your objectives for gaming. I tend to find minimalist rules games deadly dull and lacking the detail and depth I prefer both for my characters and for running adventures. Clearly my idea of minimum and others’ ideas of minimum are going to be quite different. And that’s fine. Frankly I find the desire to condense RPGs into four pages disturbing, but it’s great for some groups and their needs. Just not mine.

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