[Runequest] Drastically simplifying RuneQuest

Tomas Björklund tomas.g.bjorklund at gmail.com
Wed Oct 17 09:05:09 EST 2012

Pete, remind me never to argue with you again. I was exhausted by the
time I reached the end of that wall of text.

No. Just kidding. You wrote a well thought out and thorough reply in my opinion.

Instead of sprinkling my comments throughout the text, I'll just
collect them here, in one place.

>From reading the original article I gathered that what you are
striving for is to strengthen the narrative part of the experience, an
impression strengthened by your post, and to me "sheetless" is just
one tool of many to accomplish that. Hence my suggestion you find a
system designed for that purpose and use that with Glorantha instead.
But if you and your group are fine with your simplified RQ then, of
course, there is no reason to change anything.

Immersion can come from many directions, it all depends on what you or
a player wants to get out of a role playing session. For some its the
game, they find pleasure in the rules and mechanics and using them to
the best of their ability, others are into it because they want the
simulation, realism and logical consistency, while other want the
drama of a unfolding story and character actions driven by motivations
and narrative rules. Or a combination of all these. I think it is
important to understand these different drivers for players since,
like in your example of the player who did not enjoy your style, they
will otherwise become frustrated.

There is no right or wrong, or refined versus unsophisticated, here in
my book. Just different ways of playing them a role playing game. All
equally valid.

In our group we really enjoy the narrative asoects, so much so that we
hardly ever roll the dice, even when playing with RQ rules, or look up
anything in the rules during play. Lately we have used the FATE system
for our gaming in Glorantha, since it really helps with developing
story and characters and driving that improvisation which we find so
important, bothg for GM and players.

Talking about trust and fairness, we expect and trust the GM to be
fair to the needs and consistency of the story, as we do the players.
We do roll dice on occasion, as we go by the "Say yes or roll" rule,
which means the GM either agrees to whatever the player suggests, or
makes him roll for it. Mostly it is yes. In combat we roll whenever
the fight is important, but if it isn't and there is nothing
interesting to be gained from the players failing they just win, we
describe what happened and move on to the next scene.

This works for us, even though it may not be everyones cup of tea.


On Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 7:43 PM, Peter Maranci <pmaranci at gmail.com> wrote:
> I didn't expect so many responses! I guess it's better to do one LONG
> response, rather than many individual ones?
> Gary Sturgess wrote:
>>It really comes down to what you want to play. Some players, in some
>>games, treat RPGs as a tactical exercise - and there's nothing
>>actually wrong with that (as the success of D&D4e demonstrates, this
>>is hardly a tiny market).
> Oh, sure. I wasn't calling for a jihad against the wargaming style of
> gaming, or anything like that. But from my experience with relatively
> younger gamers in the last few years, it does seem that the hack and slash
> style of roleplaying is still dominant. And many younger gamers haven't been
> introduced to other styles of gaming.
> Alban de ROSTOLAN wrote:
>>Do players know their initial characteristics and skills ?
> Not in terms of numbers. They do know their character in terms of personal
> history (assuming they don't have amnesia, of course!), abilities, and
> personality - but only in descriptive terms.
>>In my view, numbers are not only statistics, but also a mean through which
>> players can have a better understanding of their character.
> But they are not the ONLY means by which a player can understand their
> character. Words are often less precise, yes. But numbers do often have a
> distancing effect between the player and character. I'm speaking from
> personal experience, and I'm not saying that this necessarily applies to
> every gamer or every game. But in the six sheetless campaigns I've played in
> or run, the results have *always* been games of surprising intensity and
> involvement.
> Tomas Björklund wrote:
>>It sounds to me that you are trying to design a new game, a narrative
>>roleplaying system, and what you call sheetless RPG is to my ears
>>another word for narrative, possibly freeform rpg play.
> Actually this style was developed back in the 1980s. I've played in two
> campaigns of this style (a friend of mine developed in in college), and have
> run four in the years since. They're not casual campaigns; they usually take
> at least two or three years. The article is my attempt to explain how it's
> done. Unfortunately it does seem as if I didn't entirely succeed!
>>I would recommend you go in that direction instead of trying to adapt
>>RQ into a role I think it ill suited to fill.
> Actually it worked quite well in my campaigns. Of course, it's such a
> minimalistic version of RQ that it's arguably not RuneQuest at all -
> although it still falls within the BRP family of systems, of course.
> Greg <grogthing> wrote:
>>I don't see this as an attempt at narrative roleplaying, a detailed
>> simulation can still go on behind the curtain, out of sight of the players.
> Very true. I tried using the full RQIII system for my first sheetless
> campaign. The game went well, but it was a LOT of work. That's why I
> progressively simplified the system for later sheetless campaigns.
>>Players looking at hard numbers to crunch their odds, is not how real life
>> decision making works.
> Exactly! Well, unless they're professional gamblers or scientists...or
> possibly professional athletes. But nobody sane goes around thinking of
> themselves as a primarily a collection of statistics.
> Okay, I suppose most roleplayers have tried representing themselves in game
> terms for fun. But the point I was trying to make is that *in my
> experience*, when the system is removed from the awareness of the players,
> they are invariably amazed to discover how much more involved they become in
> the personalities of their characters, and in the game itself.
> It does seem likely that this also depends on the personal qualities and
> strengths of the individual gamemaster. But I've known two GMs who've done
> sheetless games (the originator of the style, and myself); we had very
> different approaches to GMing, but the effect on the players were much the
> same for both of us. Fascination, and in some cases virtual obsession.
>>Only the gm would see the hard numbers, the players could still roll, but
>> with no knowledge of what number they need to hit, the player just makes
>> decisions on character knowledge and observable data.
> That's right. And it does work. As a player, I never felt deprived of
> information.
> In fairness, though, I will admit that I did encounter one player who did
> seem to have a problem with it. He tried to derive his skills from
> observations of his success and failure results on rolls, and then started
> *arguing* with me about his imagined numbers. But he was seriously messed
> up, to the point that he not only tried to kill all the other PCs in the
> game, but actually took his anger out on us all outside of the game as well.
> Ultimately, I had to boot him out of the campaign.
> As I've said before, the intensity of the style does seem to put more
> psychological pressure on many players. And some of them just can't take
> that pressure.
> Tomas Björklund wrote:
>>Indeed the GM could toss the entire system out the window and
>>only make rolls now and then behind the screen, and make things up as
>>he goes, and it would be all the same to the players.
> Yes, but that would take great skill on the part of the GM, AND great trust
> from the players. Personally I've never gone that far. A minimalistic
> RQ-based system helps keep things neat and consistent, both for the players
> and the GM.
> Phil <snarks at gmail.com> wrote:
>>The player is not the character. I see this extra knowledge as part of the
>> balancing for the extreme sensory depravation that players necessarily
>> suffer in a roleplaying game.
> Yes, but it's a different KIND of knowledge - and that has implications for
> how the player experiences their character. All I'm saying is that going
> sheetless DOES make a difference, and that difference was mostly very
> positive.
> Perhaps this article was a futile attempt on my part; or perhaps I'm just
> not skilled enough to impart the experience on paper. All I can say is that
> I have yet to meet a player who wasn't extremely impressed by the impact
> that playing sheetless had on their game experience. I'm not saying that
> everyone should do it, nor that it's necessarily better. I wouldn't use that
> style for a casual pick-up game, nor for an inexperienced group, nor if I
> wasn't willing to devote more time and effort to the game than I would for a
> normal RPG campaign. I was just trying to post a description of the style
> and enable others to try it - if they want to.
> Greg <grogthing> wrote:
>>Instead of looking at numbers on the sheet, you ask the gm questions about
>> what you observe and sense, filling in the sensory deprivation you speak of.
> Yes! That's exactly right. And the GM also lets players know how the task
> looks to them up-front. For example: "The lock is bigger than you're used to
> dealing with, which makes it easier. But it seems well-made, and you're not
> familiar with the manufacturer. Go ahead and roll."
> When running a game like this, you soon get into the habit of presenting a
> skill-use situation with context and impressions. Before long it's second
> nature. It gives the game more flavor than just saying "Roll your devise
> skill to pick the lock." Believe me, that personalized element helps make
> the game more involving!
>>Prior to any actual attempt at a skill .. a skill roll should be made to
>> analyse the situation to see how accurately you judge the situation, giving
>> you a good guesstimate at weather the goal is within your range.
> That would work. Personally as GM I wouldn't roll before EVERY skill use;
> only for the ones that had some *reason* to have a misleading appearance to
> the player. Minimizing the amount of work in the game becomes pretty
> important for the GM. Otherwise, you risk burning out.
>>In real life I am familiar with my abilities and limitations .. within
>> broad strokes .. when given a task to accomplish .. my first step is to
>> analyse the task .. have I done this before successfully? Do I have all the
>> >required tools? The necessary time? Can it be broken into smaller pieces?
>> Do I have access to research material, for unfamiliar aspects of the task?
> Yes, yes, yes. All of these elements give MORE information than the raw
> numbers, and far more depth.
>>The character is presented a task .. he should roll to analyse .. ask the
>> gm what he sees and what his experience tells him his chances are .. the
>> player should make his choice to attempt the task based on the >input he is
>> then given by the gm.
> That's one approach, but a GM would probably want to reduce the number of
> rolls and simply present the initial task as the character observed it. It's
> a step towards a narrative approach, but the underlying system allows a
> greater sense of balance; it makes the experience more of a game, rather
> than a collaborative story.
> Lawrence Whitaker wrote:
>>1. It imposed a helluva lot of work on me as GM, even though the
>>system was relatively simple. In the end, it ceased being fun; it was
>>taking far too long in terms of upkeep and in-game book-keeping and
> It definitely can be a lot of work, no question about it. That's why my goal
> has always been to try to simplify the system while retaining enough of the
> core mechanics to make the game work.
>>2. The players were mature and accepting, but they missed having a
>>character sheet and some interaction with the mechanics. For them this
>> was what made the game the most fun; the transparency and direct
>> interaction with the rule system.
> We missed sheets a little bit initially in the first sheetless game. But
> soon we were so involved in the personalities of the characters and the
> various adventures we were having that characteristics and numbers didn't
> seem to matter. I should probably have noted in the article that players are
> welcome to keep detailed notes, and to write down (for example) their
> inventory and such - along with anything else that they want to record.
>>3. They especially missed skill advancement. Being told they'd 'got
>>better' in one skill or another simply led to the question 'Well, how
>>much? How can I tell?'
> Hmm...interesting point. This wasn't particularly a problem in any of the
> games I've witnessed, but it's probably a matter of different GMing styles.
> We generally knew that we were getting better from a combination of our
> experiences and direct feedback from the GM. Not the same as having solid
> numerical data, true...but apart from standardized testing, grades in
> school, and weightlifting, none of US get numerical data on our improvements
> in skills and abilities in the real world.
>>One point in Peter's article that made my eyebrows raise was the
>>recommendation to take weeks to create the characters ...
> If anything I understated this - really. And again, this is based on my
> observations, not theory. When players lack numbers for their characters,
> their personal narrative, history, personality, etc. become far more
> detailed and important to them. Call it the "Slow Food" approach to
> roleplaying; the extended creation time and the breaks between discussion
> almost always lead to interesting and surprising developments in character
> design. The initial concept and the final character are almost never exactly
> the same, and the changes that develop over the extended conversation are
> usually substantial improvements. They also are a HUGE help to the GM in
> creating a campaign that feels far more personal and immediate to the
> players, because their personal backgrounds tend to be far more interwoven
> into the game.
> I don't know if this is true for everyone, of course. Maybe it worked out
> that way for the two GMs I know who've taken this approach because that's
> just how we were. But there does seem to be logic behind it. When you take
> more time to work on ANYTHING, it often turns out better. And when you've
> invested more time and effort into something, it becomes more important to
> you.
>>... It seems to me that whilst
>>weeks spent in one-on-one discussions might be fun for one or two
>>players, take that up to five or six and the GM already has an
>>absolute ton of work to do before the game even starts.
> Yes. Absolutely. You're right. A sheetless campaign is a huge commitment
> (which is why I personally am reluctant to start another one at this time).
> It's a lot of fun, but the players get more out of it than the GM does. I
> find them more fun to run than a normal campaign, but that's purely because
> the players get so involved and excited. Proportionately, a sheetless
> campaign is more fun for the players than for the GM.
>>Furthermore, if you have to vet your players as part of the
>>process, you run the risk of ending up with... [snip]
> That depends on how many players you have to draw on, and your relationship
> with them. But players who enjoy spending a lot of time arguing about the
> rules, or who show signs of treating the GM as an antagonist rather than the
> *gamemaster*, are poison for a sheetless campaign. I wouldn't wish that on
> anyone.
> Ravi Desai <rdesai at chartermi.net> wrote:
> [Many good points, actually.]
>>1. Nobody ever remembers how much money they have.
> LOL. True. On the other hand, I normally let the players deal with that
> themselves. Since their characters would be able to count their money, it's
> up to them (the players) to track it. Hiding the system only applies to
> information that the characters themselves would actually know. Or rather,
> not know.
>>2. If some encounter requires the players to make a decision about who
>> should perform some task, they invariably want to know which player would be
>> best at it.
> I usually try to build some degree of specialization into characters for
> this sort of a game; not classes, as such, but it's a good idea for each
> character to have something that they are better at than anyone else in the
> group. That helps each of them to play an important role in the party. That
> said, the GM can compare skills for them in conceptual terms, as in "he's a
> bit better at singing than you are, but you're a much better dancer".
>>5. This style of gameplay cries out for an iOS (or android) app to manage
>> the character sheets.
> Oooh...I hadn't thought of that. Yes, good software could be a huge help in
> such a campaign. I'm not familiar with any gaming apps or programs, however.
> I will say that players in my current campaign are making heavy use of
> texting. It replaces physical notes to the gamemaster, and two of the
> players who have a permanent telepathic link use it to talk to each other
> without letting the other players in on their conversations. But that's not
> a sheetless campaign; I'm using RQIII adapted to a multi-genre setting. I
> also use Google Drive to access various game data and reference material
> (such as Wikipedia, for example). I'd love to see a unified tool for dealing
> with all these elements. It would take quite a redesign to create a
> RuneQuest character sheet that would be legible on a smartphone display,
> however, even on my 4.65" screen.
> All that said, I wish I could demo the sheetless style for everybody on the
> list (well, those who'd want to try it). I considered demoing it at the
> upcoming Arisia convention in Boston next January. But it's not well-suited
> for a one-shot. I may run a RuneQuest one-shot, if an interesting plot comes
> to mind.
> Oh, and that reminds me: the simplified RQ I started sketching out might
> also be a good starter system for children and newbies. I used such a system
> (slightly more complex) in a one-shot I ran about ten years ago. People
> seemed to like it.
> ->Peter
> On Sun, Oct 14, 2012 at 10:58 PM, Peter Maranci <pmaranci at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I recently posted an article on my website about sheetless roleplaying -
>> that is, running a roleplaying campaign in which the players don't interact
>> with the game system directly, but instead play their characters as people
>> rather than statistics while the gamemaster handles all the numbers. It's a
>> pretty advanced and hardcore approach; it does seem to carry a greater risk
>> of psychological breakdown for some players, but the games are incredibly
>> intense.
>> Any system can theoretically be used for a sheetless game, but RuneQuest
>> is particularly well-suited to it because it maps so well to the real world.
>> You don't want to have to justify limitations on action which are based
>> solely on issues of system design or game balance during such a campaign -
>> it ruins the suspension of disbelief! And with RuneQuest, such limitations
>> are rare or nonexistent.
>> That said, since the gamemaster handles ALL the paperwork in a sheetless
>> campaign (including the paperwork which would be handled by players in a
>> normal game), it helps a lot to reduce that paperwork as much as possible.
>> I've tried to do this by using a greatly simplified version of the RuneQuest
>> system for such games. Since the players aren't aware of mechanics, and in
>> fact are encouraged NOT to think about the game in terms of numbers and
>> rules, the GM has much more latitude for handling issues by fiat and
>> off-the-cuff decisions - as long as they can do so in a reasonable-seeming
>> manner, so as not to strike a false note for the players.
>> Skills are collapsed into the seven skill categories, with the possibility
>> of breakouts for skills which are defined during character creation or play
>> as being exceptionally bad or good. A single combat skill replaces the usual
>> attack/parry skills (for all weapons); players get a compensatory degree of
>> control over their actions in combat by intelligent use (or not) of terrain
>> and other tactics, along with a set of five differing approaches to combat
>> which can be changed every "round": all-out attack (attack skill doubled, no
>> defensive actions possible), aggressive stance (50% bonus to attack chance,
>> defensive chance halved), neutral stance (obvious), defensive stance (attack
>> skill halved, defensive skill +50%), and all-out defense (defense skill
>> doubled, no attack possible).
>> Just curious, has anyone else experimented with anything like this? Here's
>> a link to the full article. I'm pretty sure that I'll continue to revise and
>> expand it now and then. If anyone has feedback on it, I'd quite interested
>> to hear it!
>> http://www.runequest.org/sheetlessrpg.htm
>> ->Peter
>> --
>> Peter Maranci - pmaranci at gmail.com
>> Pete's RuneQuest & Roleplaying! http://www.runequest.org/rq.htm
>> The Diary of A Simple Man: http://bobquasit.livejournal.com/
> --
> Peter Maranci - pmaranci at gmail.com
> Pete's RuneQuest & Roleplaying! http://www.runequest.org/rq.htm
> The Diary of A Simple Man: http://bobquasit.livejournal.com/
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