by Jacob

The Simplest RPG: The Rules Are The Story

Where Did THAT Come From?

I originally came up with this idea because I wanted to run an adventure that I had read for a couple friends, but I didn’t have time for them to make characters or for me to gather premades to learn. Also, the game time was limited, and I didn’t think we’d be able to complete the game in time if we used the system the adventure was written for, so I decided to use NO system. I had already created a set of dice to assist in GM decision-making that would work great for the non-system (I would later tweak the dice more toward fun gaming, rather than DM decision-making). First, I’ll explain the dice and their original purpose:

GM Assistant Dice

These GM assistant dice were simply three different 6-sided dice. One was designated for hard, another for normal, and the other for easy. Hard had four chances of bad (or ‘no’) and two of good (or ‘yes’); normal had three of each, and easy had four chances of good and two bad.

If an idea was brought up (or simply sprang to mind) that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to happen or not, I would consult the dice. If the idea was highly likely or really fun, I would roll the easy die, for a decent chance that it would happen. If it was middle-of-the-road, I would roll the normal. And if it was not likely or didn’t seem all that fun, I would roll the hard die. The good/yes or bad/no would tell me whether it happened or not.

This could be used to decide whether a random encounter happened, or to see whether or not a bad guy was paying enough attention to notice the noise that the players were making. It works quite nicely as a way to checks for NPCs without having to look up proper DCs (or other difficulty-setting used by your usual game). All you need to know is whether it should have a good, normal, or bad chance of success.

If you don’t bother to play the Simplest RPG, I would still highly suggest using GM Assistance Dice.

The Basic Premise

Using this system is really easy. You either have the three different dice (described below) or you use one six-sided die and a chart to compare against for Easy, Normal, and Hard. Which die is used depends on character skill and the difficulty of what they’re trying to accomplish (depending on the situation).

Picture, if you will (or look at the following image), a spectrum that ranges from Really Easy all the way to Really Hard.

You start at Normal. If something is generally easy or hard for the character, you move one step in the corresponding direction. If the situation itself is easier or harder than normal, you move another step in the corresponding direction. There can be many things in the situation that makes it easier or harder, each one moving you somewhere along the difficulty track. You can go beyond Really Easy and Really Hard, but once you’re done taking stock of all the factors in the situation, anything beyond the ends is simply counted as being Really Easy or Really Hard. Then you simply roll the corresponding die to determine your outcome. (I’ll explain the ‘Really’ options in the next section) Nothing is difficult or easy enough, and no one good or bad enough that it causes a two-step change on the spectrum.

Example: George wants to attack a werewolf. Luckily for him, he’s a werewolf hunter. That shifts the die to Easy. Unfortunately, he’s still shooting a werewolf, which is hard to do, so the die is back to Normal. George was smart, though, and trapped the werewolf in a net, shifting the die back to Easy. He’s also using silver bullets, which makes the shot Really Easy. The GM decides that werewolf is thrashing about enough in the net to make a good shot more difficult, so he drops the die back down to Easy. George then rolls the Easy die to see what happens.

It may not be obvious from the example, but characters can attempt to apply conditions and effects to other characters (or even to the scene) that can be used to make future rolls easier. Be careful, though; sometimes those conditions can be used against you. Conditions can often be removed with a roll as well.

This is very similar to placing Aspects in Fate, using Create Advantage (and removing them is a lot like Overcome Obstacle) with the major difference being that these conditions always provide a boost to your rolls; you don’t need to invoke them with Fate Points or earn free invokes.

One thing must always be kept in mind in this system: since there are no codified actions, intent is very important. Players should always state what they’re attempting to accomplish along with how they’re attempting to do it.

Simplest RPG Dice

When figuring out the values on these dice, I could have stuck with the GM Assistant dice from earlier. Those dice were missing an element to them that has become a staple in many new RPGs, though: success at a cost.

RPGs get much more interesting with the possible outcome of success at a cost. There are two basic ways of dealing with success at a cost; you can either reduce the effectiveness of the success, or you have a normal success, but something bad happens too. Check out my Grim Portents article for some more interesting ideas to do with success at a cost.

Anyway, I changed the dice up a bit to include success at a cost. The Easy die has two sides with success, and the other four sides are success with a cost. The Normal die has one side with success, four sides with success at a cost, and one with failure. The Hard die has four sides with success at a cost and two with failure. When something is Really Easy, you simply roll the Easy die and treat a success as a potent success and a success at a cost as a normal success. For Really Hard, treat failures as potent failures and successes at a cost as normal failures.

Potent successes and failures are exactly what they sound like; something extra (good if it’s a success, bad if it’s a failure) happens when you roll potently. What exactly happens depends on what is happening already or the GM’s whims (though it should often be discussed between players and GM).

One other big point: this is a narrative system. The rules are super light so that the players and GM get to decide whether a roll should even be taken. For instance, in a Gundam-esque world, a person attacking the mecha with a knife wouldn’t do anything, no matter what you roll. If the GM and players decide that the player should roll the Really Hard die, that works too, since the die can decide if something bad happens in addition the knife failing.

That’s the entirety of the actual system, but there are still a few more things to consider.

Character Creation

Character creation is extra simple in this system; you simply need to come up with the ideas of the character and write them down. I suggest doing so with a bulleted list of short points to make them easier to spot.

The things that should be written down should be very similar to Aspects from the Fate RPG. Unlike Fate, though, these items are essentially a limitless (GM and players should discuss the number of items, though I suggest at least 7 due to a lack of a skill list, per se) list of things the character can roll well with no matter what; you don’t need to spend a Fate Point. Make certain that the player writes down things that the character is NOT good at, too. Many games are made fun by a character either failing awesomely or by overcoming a nearly impossible task.

Lastly, write down some of the really cool things the character can do (in a non-mechanics way). This is the simplest way to have a magic system; the player writes what the character can and cannot do with said magic. It can also be used to define special powers the character has, as well as awesome skills. Want a raging barbarian type? Simply write down what your rage does and use that as a guide while you play.

All of what you write down should be OKed with your gaming group, or at least the GM.

Highly Customizable

It’s amazing how customizable this system is considering how little there is to it. It works, literally, for ANY setting. You don’t need to come up with convoluted rulesets for magic or mechs, you simply decide what happens through the narrative and maybe the roll of a die.

The few things that actually exist in this system are easily customizable too.

The dice can have different numbers of the different outcomes on them; heck, you can even use other kinds of dice, such as a d8, if you want some more or less equal numbers of each outcome. You could even have it so that the Easy die still has a chance of failure, and the Hard die has a chance at a proper success. It’s totally up to you – it’s not like the dice are manufactured for you to buy.

The character description items could be a mile long, if it suits you and your campaign. You could even have the players come up with only bad things for the characters.

Open to Extension

Due to the simplicity of the system, you can add mechanics on top of it very easily (despite that actually being against the point of the system). You could add the mechanics of Aspects and Fate Points to the character descriptions, if you like. You could put in mechanics for magic, martial arts, mecha, whatever. But remember this: with a narrative roleplaying system, less really is more. Mechanics can easily get in the way of the story. That’s why Fate has their Golden and Silver Rules.

The system is quite open – do what you want.

Combat/Damage System

The system doesn’t require a codified system for combat and damage; it can be decided narratively whether someone dies from a blow or not. Especially since codified systems are really only a pacing mechanism for zooming in on the action. But people really love a good concrete combat system, so here’s a simple one.

You run combat similarly to how Dungeon World does, where the players do all the rolling and their failures end up being when they get hurt. Also, the initiative is narrative-driven instead of codified.

Players will generally have 3 hit points, whereas monsters and bad guys average out to about 3 hit points, going anywhere between 1 and 5 or 6, depending on the overall toughness of the creature. There are two codified actions: Attack and Defend.


  • Potent Success = You deal 2 damage
  • Success = You deal 1 damage
  • Success at a Cost = You deal 1 damage, and someone on your team takes 1 damage (depending on if you’re attacking from range or not, and what is possible). If there’s no way any of the monsters can hurt you or your party members, narrate some other way that someone gets hurt, or cause something really bad to happen.
  • Failure = Someone on your team takes 1 damage (or the other bad stuff)
  • Potent Failure = Someone on your team takes 2 damage (or really bad other stuff)


  • Potent Success = Attacker takes 2 damage (or other really good stuff)
  • Success = Attacker takes 1 damage (or other good stuff)
  • Success at a Cost = You take 1 damage and the attacker takes 1 damage (or other good stuff)
  • Failure = You take 1 damage
  • Potent Failure = You take 2 damage

Whenever someone deals damage, they can choose to reduce it by one to instead apply a certain effect against the one taking the damage. That can be used later (so long as the narrative still allows it) to make a roll easier or harder.

This Sounds a Lot Like…

You probably noticed a lot of similarities to Fate and Dungeon World in this system. That’s because, obviously, I like them. I feel Fate was extremely close to getting the game to pure story with the least amount of mechanics, and Dungeon World’s system just makes everything really fun. I took what I needed and made the game as simple as possible.

What do you think? Are there any concerns with the system (it’s difficult to balance, I’d imagine, but that’s not really a problem, since it can always be narrated as going one way or another; ah the power of story over mechanics)? Let me know in the comments below


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