Tuesday, April 30, 2019

One rule to rule them all... Or not?

Do I need any rules? That's the question I ask myself everytime i run the game. And now, when my gaming group is no more, I ask it when it comes to write down the ideas for something new, be it Perilous Frontiers, whY or something else. I ask myself even if I know the answer.

Please note that I speak for myself and everything depends on multitude of different aspects.

I do NOT need any rules. In fact, I ran game sessions for years (and we had them on a daily basis, back in the late 90s) without a single dice roll. Character sheets were used to track PCs belongings - and nothing else.

Did it worked? Yes. But you must remember one extremely important thing.


When there are no dice and no stats, you - the GM - are the only arbiter of any actions. And I guarantee you that it will work out for almost any GM/DM in 99% cases - except combat. During combat, things may get ugly really quickly. And they will get ugly if you are an asshole. And - most likely - no one would participate in your diceless / rules-less games anymore.

This is how I determined the results of combat:
  • PCs are stronger than ordinary mortals. They are not ubermenschen but they are significantly stronger, faster, more agile and/or more skilled.
  • Description of the actions means everything. It was the most important factor.
  • Wounds were the most difficult part of the game, as descriptive nature of all damage caused many problems, such as bleeding, broken bones etc. It was extremely gritty but we liked it.
  • As we were gaming in the more or less Sword & Sorcery setting, PCs were healing pretty fast - although there were portions of the game that were fast-forwarded (or railroaded, heh), when all the player characters were so fucked up that players decided to let it go for two or three weeks to let them heal their wounds. Also, even though there were little spellcasters, healing potions and/or healing items were relatively common.
These things caused my players to be pretty skilled in descriptive combat and the overall survivability of their characters was really good, maybe except the fact that we were teenagers and peeps tended to slaughter each other on a daily basis, over slightest argument :D

Now - if I will be lucky enough to assemble a new group of players - I plan to go back to similar method of running games, except some addidtional features:
  • Most likely, Diamond Diceless will be my weapon of choice, too keep track of the stats and abilities...
  • ...but I will use the dice. Solely for the random content - I love random tables! I always add some randomness to the story / module, so I need the dice.
  • I'm also considering to give players something in the shape of Fate Points from WFRP/40K RPGs, to allow them to cheat death - or, in some cases, my decisions.
Of course, I'm not sure if it will work - it all depends on the players. Some people prefer this kind of "storytelling", some prefer dice chucking. We will see (or not!).


  1. I strongly disagree. Perhaps it is possible to internalise a game so much that rules fade into the background - but that requires a very strong common understanding between the GM and the players. And sure, you can run a game without dice. Setting logic and GM fiat can fill in for a lot of things. But at what cost?

    I have found (by personal experience and learning from others) that this kind of "freeform" or "story mode" approach tends to produce a fairly flat game without the misfortunes, sudden reversals and unexpected victories of a game where the dice play a strong role. It subordinates everything to the will of one person, and suppresses the variety and random element which makes a game lifelike (not necessarily realistic!). Every GM has routines, and ideas on how a set of events would unfold - what would be neat, what would make sense, etc. This is an unconscious bias, but it is omnipresent. And sure, I also "knew better" in my mid-1990s games, when, in hindsight, I should have trusted the game mechanics and random chance more.

    Returning to a game where rules and dice rolls were respected and followed (within the boundaries of reason) was a revelation: suddenly, things were much more vivid and risky, and there were stronger game stakes. The GM would not fudge. The dice would not fudge. There were no do-overs and rerolls - fate could be cheated (by being clever and avoiding risky dice rolls) but not entirely taken out of the equation. In the end, this felt more "real" than the "directed" campaigns we had played before. More messy, too.

    Like a lot of 1990s game design wisdom, "no rules, no dice" is, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of role-playing games, and an evolutionary dead end.

    1. Thanks for posting it here as well! In fact, I wanted to ask you to do it :)
      There was more than one interesting comment about this matter on MeWe but I'll post my conclusion here.
      I love the fact that everyone has a different view on this topic. That's one of the multitude of things that make our hobby great :)

  2. That describes where we have arrived. We use a kind of barter system. The player states what they want to do, and why it will work. I point out possible risks, the player might modify their actions based on that, and I respond. We repeat this quickly until the player feels satisfied, and then I describe what happens.