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Rules Light Role Playing Games

Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall

I first started role playing with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, more years ago than I care to remember. I loved reading the rules book and mentally crunching all the numbers, figuring out when a thief would have the best chance of scaling walls, and in what situations you'd want to touch a Deck of Wonder with a ten-foot pole.

As I aged, I moved from high school to college, and from college to the first of many jobs. I found myself with less and less time to devote to my hobby. I gravitated toward rules light role playing games to maximize the amount of time I could spend playing, versus reading the rules.

The actual definition of rules light games is a bit vague, but I like to classify a system as rules light if the mechanics don't get in the way of role playing, including character creation.

A rules light role playing game makes it each to create a character and get right into the action. You don't need scads of dice to play, and your non-gaming friends can comprehend the rules with only a few minutes explanation.

Here are some of my favorite rules light games, and why I love them.

Quick Ass Game System

This great game with the unfortunate name is normally referred to as QAGS. QAGS character creation is so easy, the instructions for it are written right on the character sheet. It's flexible enough to allow you to create a speedster superhero or a gnome illusionist, and to play them both in the same setting.

QAGS' flexibility flows from its use of free form descriptors for a character's Job (the set of professional skills they're good at), Gimmick (the really cool thing they can do that most people cannot), and Weakness (the thing that really sucks about being them).

Since you define these with a free form phrase, you're not limited to any particular genre. Want a speedster hero? Make Speedster her Gimmick. Vulnerable to Kryptonite? Make that a weakness. Great at picking pockets? Give her “Master Thief” as a Job.

Character creation is typically finished in minutes, as quickly as you can come up with your character concept. There are some dice to roll, and some numbers to assign, but just a few.

Every conflict resolution happens with a single d20 rolled against an appropriate stat or descriptor. Trying to do something that relates to your Job? Roll against whatever number you assigned there, and you succeed if you get that number or less (20 always fails).

Using a single method of conflict resolution contributes to the system “getting out of the way” during play, and making it rules light.

Risus

Picture QAGS without anything but the free form descriptors, and you'll have a pretty close idea of what Risus is.

You define your character by coming up with several free form phrases called “clichés”. These are roughly analogous to character classes, but can also include character background, motivation, quirks, weaknesses, special powers, etc. Each cliché is a set of skills and abilities the character can use.

For example, “Two-gun bandit with a heart of gold” tells you this character is good with two-guns, knows how to rob a bank and stop a payroll train, and also that she'll probably give her money away to a needy widow.

Risus is harder for most role players to get into because of the totally free form nature of character creation. QAGS at least gives a structure to everything, while Risus leaves it totally up to you. Both work well and don't get in the way of role playing.

Other Games

I used to include Fudge in my list of rules light role playing games, but have dropped it after seeing games like QAGS and Risus. Fudge doesn't get out of the way nearly enough to be rated as rules light these days.

I'd also love to include Call of Cthulhu in this list, because during play the system really does get out of the way. But character creation is a bit involved, requiring some math, allocating points to numerous skills, etc. If you get a chance to play Call of Cthulhu with pregenerated characters, you're in for a treat!

What about you? Are there rules light games you love that I've neglected? Let us know in the forum!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Jay Shaffstall. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jay Shaffstall. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Leif Sutter for details.

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