Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Minimalist Gaming Doesn't Exist!

Every so often, the topic of minimalist gaming arises, and we've concluded that it doesn't exist!  Now this might seem strange coming from the creators of Barons of Braunstein and Blood of Pangea, two games that put the light in rules-lite gaming...

But we can explain ourselves!

Yes, there's such a thing as minimalist RULES.  We've been writing them for several years now and playing them for much longer.

But we do this to INCREASE COMPLEXITY, not diminish it.

Again, let us explain.  Complex systems almost invariably offer mechanics for any number of skills and abilities, often to the point that a good percentage of what players do is governed by what's written on their character sheets instead of what they think to do and/or try in the course of an adventure.

At PretzCon 2013, we ran a demo of Pits & Perils for an ambitious group of young people.  I'm pretty sure none of them were older than maybe 17 tops, and over half were girls, which was cool because it brought a different perspective...

So at one point, the group defeated some orcs and subdued their panther (which had clearly been abused).  The elf had a Calm spell and the players decided to adopt it and keep it as a pet!

They even went as far as to put together special armor from the slaughtered orcs to protect the big cat.  Now in more complex games, this would only be possible with animal handling skills or charm enchantments.  And the armor could only be made by someone with the armorer skill or something along those lines.

I made the decision that since the elf DID initially use a Calm spell and the cat WAS abused that adoption WAS possible, and I went on to reason that anyone could strap on pieces of metal from a butchered enemy with little effort.  In this way, the players were rewarded for their ingenuity and enjoyed a unique experience without invoking complex rulesets that do strategy for them.  

It's not anything goes.  Some things I'd flatly deny them on the grounds of sheer impossibility.  But in this case, I decided it was in the realm of the doable and let it happen!

But what REALLY happened here?

Complexity was SHIFTED from the RULES to the actual PLAYERS!   

Think of all the richly detailed backstories, settings, and supporting characters present in YOUR campaign.  How much of this gets its depth from the narrative and NOT from any particular ruleset?  And you players out there, try to recall your favorite adventure and what you did in it.  Chances are, your finest choices had less to do with rules and more with decision-making.

Minimalist games aren't really minimalist.  They merely shift complexity to the players and result in potentially more complicated gameplay situations.  Characters have potentially MORE options, while GMS become more than just the guy (or gal) who rolls dice for the monsters, which makes the game infinitely more complex and enjoyable for them as well.  And their world(s) are better for it...


  1. More true words have never been uttered.

  2. Also, adopted panther! How cool is THAT?

  3. Sounds like these kids had a great introduction to old-school gaming. How awesome!

    And excellent points all the way down. The player-DM interactions make for the best feedback loops vis-a-vis the rules/setting/flavor. If you just have a great rules-set in a great campaign, you can get the same results from a boardgame (not to disparage board games). If you have great player-DM interaction, though, you transcend the mere rules, especially if you are playing "theater of the mind," which necessitates the use of the imagination. Anyway, long-winded way of saying "you're right"!

  4. I disagree. In the above example you haven’t shifted any complexity to the players, you have given them the freedom to act without the constraints of a more complex system that codifies and gate-keeps doing things that are not consider core activities of the system, I.e. killing things and collecting loot. In a less minimalist system, your players would have jumped through a lot more hoops to pull this off, or more likely just failed. Hey didn’t have to face that complexity.

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