A tRPG "manifesto" that came to me in a dream.


Wot it says on the tin.

It was called "Maximalism" or "High Trad" though I am unaware of what these terms might mean at large or (gasp) in the RPG Theory Circles, so just call it Halloween's New Trad or something.

The core idea was to have granularity of fluff wherever possible. Think hardcore simulationism but for non-mechanized elements. Every NPC has a name, a detailed description, an agenda, a voice. Every single interaction that involves PCs talking to someone, be it other PCs or NPCs, should be played out in first person. Any time you would go "I tell him about X", you don't get to just say that, you have to actually say the things how your character would say it. You won't be penalized for being a bad actor in so much as the table isn't judging your artistic merit or acting ability, but it certainly helps to get comfortable with the degree of involvement and immersion this leads to.

Similarly, player-characters ought to be detailed in nitty-gritty fashion. Height, weight, sex, skin color, eyes, haircut, fashion choices, any noteworthy quirks, voice, what their life story's been until the point play began, what gods they worship, what their ideological framework is, etc. Give me a four-page character sheet with no directly mechanized bit on it, nothing has abstract stats if we can avoid it but there is a ton of Things that are known pre-game about the character.

In play, it's acceptable and encouraged to suggest princess play scenes for the sole purpose of establishing character, although strict player/referee authority and responsibilities still prevail. So a player might go all Julien Sorel and ask for a scene about describing the emotional state of her character in detail without "advancing" the game materially speaking, but if they want to climb a mountain to have said Moment, we're back to granular material shit and so the mountain must be ascended in detail, with whatever difficulties and obstacles that may entail. They might die trying.

Despite this degree of granularity in characters, the game world itself remains devoid of idealism. Things work the way they do in real life unless they do not exist in real life, in which case they work according to an in-fiction logic that relies on imaginary but cohesive rules. No rule of cool, no Heroes, etc. Julien Sorel skips town to climb a mountain and sprains an ankle getting back down. I'd use Veins of the Earth's mechanics for climbing, sans ability scores.

Speaking of ability scores: this wouldn't be against any abstraction, but against mechanized abstractions acting as a buffer through which context is filtered. 18 STR is a passive Thing about the world we can think about actively and the Ref can use it as any other contextual element, so it's fine. "+3 to damage" implies "damage rolls" and the value of "+3" in relationship to other number crunching that abstracts things too far for this style of play. Still with me? Good.

Because of this, I would probably avoid numbers entirely to hammer it home that we're not dealing in mechanized elements, and I would also not call stuff "aspects" or "traits" or whatnot, just in case the players brains were trying to grasp at storygames to fill in the gaps. It's still very much an off-shoot of adventure gaming, referee is an FKR referee with absolute authority over the game world and blackbox is probably in effect. OSR style problem-solving is still essential to achieving material objectives. We just give as much space to these as we do the drama of princess play, by reinforcing immersion and bleed via the intense 1st person + granular characters and environment outside of "directly gameable".

Oh yeah, and you track Stuff too. You have a set number of torches. Your lighter is in your jean's right pocket. Your backpack holds about thirty kilograms tops, while you physically and comfortably carry about fifteen: a water canteen, your laptop, three bigass tomes on the occult, a Colt 1911 with two spare clips and a plastic tupperware with another clip's worth of bullets. It's February 8, 2019, you're wearing a long sleeved white cotton shirt and re-dyed blue jeans plus a pair of faux-Nikes muddy sneakers, your pink hair is tied in a braid, you have a broken rib from when we fought that werewolf, you're feeling kinda depressed and anxious, your older sister is 34 and currently abroad in Siberia, and we're playing out that awkward exchange you have with the cashier at the night shift supermarket cause you're buying way too much gasoline and clearly came in on foot.

Resolution mechanics? I dunno, blackbox FKR that shit. As long as the character sheets don't have stuff on them that the players will think about to tell themselves it's a Game - it's not, it's real, I'm talking satanic panic "this is real and not in your head, you're dead blackleaf, dead!" bullshit except if a character dies you do get to make another and rejoin, probably next session considering how in-depth they are though sorry. Or you play an NPC after the ref hands you over their elaborate sheet that also has no gamey numbers on it. I would probably use something like 24XX, sans skills tied to dice. I'd just ask the players to roll dX based on context (are they skilled, are they hindered, would they be extra good at pulling this off?) and possibly ignore "setback" in favor of a binary pass/fail when needed. I'd let them know the risk beforehand and so on, but it's mostly that this is my favorite example of a way to resolve violent stuff without HP, so you'd also be tracking things like "limping, broken leg" and so on.

Like I said, just had this idea in a dream, probably been done before or better explained elsewhere.


  1. I love this. I've been making the sicko "yes... hahaha... yes!" face as I read it


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