What is the Bare Minimum?

A question for RPG designers (pro and amateur, whatever):

What is the bare minimum core rule set required to get a game off the ground?


  • Characters are already created (half a dozen pregen).
  • Character-specific rules are attached to the character sheet and don’t need to be repeated, spells and feats and skills and stuff count for this, as does character advancement.
  • Truly introductory stuff (what is an RPG?) is irrelevant, at this point this isn’t going to be picked up by someone who doesn’t already play.

Additional Context:

  • Probably focus on D&D-trope play.  Maybe have the seven iconic classes (fighter, cleric, wizard, thief, elf, dwarf, halfling) as sample characters.  Oh, and ‘bear’ because I’d goofed on the original version of this post (“the bear minimum core rule set”) and got caught… and decided why not go for it?
  • There would be a simple adventure or something (because this does not provide the rules or guidelines for constructing one) with the information needed to run them.  “This room has a fire trap, so roll a Reflex save to avoid when someone triggers it by stepping on the red square.  A character with the Trapfinder ability can roll a Spot check to notice it before anyone steps on it” sort of thing.  Probably five rooms or so, to exercise more than move, kill, loot.

I see:

  • common game elements (ability scores — what each one does; does not need ability score modifier tables because those are on the character sheets already).
  • task resolution (including basic combat and skill/ability checks).
  • game processes (like ‘how a fight works’).
  • … I’m out.

This is not for a rule set to be built upon, nothing about character design or construction, nothing about writing adventures, no monster or spell selection or design considerations.  These things should be known in order to build this package, but I’m looking for the bare bones get-to-the-table content.


  1. An example of play actually in progress is just about indispensable in my opinion. Even if the rules are explained in detail, sometimes you just need an example to see what the author meant.
    Perhaps you might want to add a note on advancing the sample characters after the adventure is complete, to give that sense of accomplishment that comes with levelling up. This is a bit of a borderline case mind you.

  2. I’ve recently picked up an old game concept I was working on, for a ‘one-shot’ game. Something to do on an evening when you’re not in the middle of a campaign, or a different mix of people are around. I was asking myself exactly the same questions and came up with the conclusion that a card based system would work well in the “simpler is better” category. I like the 6d6 system of Chris Tregenza, and I liked the concept of Dragon Storm (still have 3 decks), but I still think they could be simplified.

    I’m leaning towards, as you say, all the character defining information on the character sheet (or a small selection of cards, to enable you to flex the character definitions a little), combined with a very simple comparative success definition (i.e. your ‘ability’ score versus the test success score). The adventures could easily be on cards too, shuffle/include/exclude for variation.

    It’s a work in progress, but I’m definitely leaning towards simple to pick up, no real rules to ‘learn’ and nothing to slow the play down (you want to complete a session in 2-4 hours gaming).

  3. I have developed a system for gamebooks and I have tried to managed to squeeze what you said above plus a price list and examples onto 10 pages. The only rules that looks superfluous is the critical success rule where you get 1xp if you roll a double 6 on an ability test (which I added so that people would still think its worth rolling for ability tests even when they are easy) and terrain types for areas (which I haven’t done anything with, but I thought having some kind of system for them might be useful in the future when thinking of encounters and what people can do between adventures)

    Here is the rulebook https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw3nCQKxLG5_N19tN0J4Z3JRMWM/view?usp=sharing

    Another short RPG system is the Unbelievably Simple Role Playing system by Scott Malthouse.


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