A couple of listeners/readers have suggested that my focus on Worlds and Characters in tabletop roleplaying games looks a lot like FKR – the Free Kriegspiel Revolution (or Renaissance), itself a development of the OSR (Old School Renaissance) that came before it.
Putting aside my natural dislike of acronyms and labels, the question is a reasonable one and yesterday I gave it some serious thought. Opening up my Daybook notes, I thought it might be worth sharing what I discovered.
What is FKR?
Free Kriegspiel Revolution. Thanks to maendil for their comments and the links to a couple of great resources, which I’ll just quote from and reshare:
…free kriegsspiel (FK) is shorthand for “ancient school” RPG theory. That is, how were role-playing games played before role-playing games were published and “official”? What did they look like before D&D etc showed up in the early 1970s? In a very modest nutshell, tabletop wargames in the 1800s (“kriegsspiel,” in German) slowly evolved to a point where military strategists realized that a neutral referee (the “umpire”) could help arbitrate fog of war and interpretation of rules, making the game/simulation far more flexible and realistic. These umpires translated hard rules into “free” rulings, hence “free kriegsspiel.”D66 Classless Kobolds, “Free Kriegsspiel: Worlds, Not Rules, Etc.“
See these other useful resources:
“You play worlds, not rules.“
The idea that we play Worlds and not rules is very much in my ballpark… at least on first reading. I like this quotation from the D66 Classless Kobolds article cited above:
At its heart, FKR suggests that the world is a real place, the players/characters can act in any way which reasonably interacts with the fictional environment, and that narrative concepts reign over and above numbers and abstraction. John Ross sums this up wonderfully with the term “Tactical Infinity”
My issue arises with the claims of FKR around the rejection of rules.
I like rules in my games. When the OSR became all about “rules lite” games, I lost interest. The equally appealing OSR mantra of “rulings not rules” didn’t stand up to scrutiny because I could see how, as rulings get made, there is a need to codify them into a rulebook. The alternative is to rely on the incredibly poor memory of most humans to establish any kind of consistency in how the game is played.
Interestingly, maendil provided me with a further link to a blog talking about using “heftier” rules behind the screen. Here’s a quotation:
So from the outside lots of people are starting to assume the FKR means nearly no-rules roleplaying games. But if you look at Kriegsspiel itself, or even the kind of rulesets Arneson seemed fond of writing – sometimes there are a lot of rules. And this to me is an important thing to note. It’s not the amount of rules.
FKR to me is purely a relationship to rules…
The amount of crunch doesn’t impact the FKRishness, its if the table is focusing more on the fiction over the mechanics.aboleth-overlords.com, “FKR: It’s not the amount of rules“
That quoted, this article does appear to be more of an outlier from the general sense that FKR is really about a minimalist “ultra rules lite” approach:
These movements tend to primarily focus on very small rulesets – often stuff like “d6 roll for low” or contested 2d6 rolls, just because these kinds of rulesets allow the referee to really focus in on rulings. I think there’s also a bit of fondness for how Bob Meyer runs Blackmoor.
What has proven useful to me has been the question of what it means to strive for minimal rules. It’s also been good to consider how my relationship to the rules has shifted, dramatically really, over the past year or so. In Season 9, Episode 19 I said that:
- I want to play a game for the purpose of continuing the play.
- A game which is focused on exploring the World or Universe as a sandbox.
- Playing with immersion into character and immersion into the Otherworld as key outcomes.
- A game where characters are grounded and actions lead to results founded on realism instead of cinema.
- A game that has a developing methodology – a system focused on delivering the experience sought.
- Playing with as few rules visible to the players as possible.
- But also playing with rules that are robust enough to facilitate consistency.
- And rules that are flexible enough to be changed when the fluidity is required to keep the game alive.
- Playing with dice.
- And, of course, playing regularly.
My hesitation in aligning myself with the tenets of FKR – of accepting that label – have to do with the same reasons I ultimately felt outside of the OSR: my tastes require a solid rules system that is robust enough to facilitate consistency.
In a recent episode, responding to the question of how my ideas are different to FKR, I spoke about my sense of being not Free Kriegspiel but rather Semi-free Kriegspiel. I like the original (as in the wargame from Prussia) Kriegspiel’s use of dice and rules behind the screen (rather than the wargaming Free Kreigspiel innovation of giving the dice to players), but I also see the appeal of reducing the rules to being just what I need to remain consistent.
What’s my conclusion? I share some of the goals of FKR for sure – most notably wanting to put Character-immersion and Otherworld-immersion front and centre for the player’s experience. But I don’t want to limit myself to 2d6 and making things up completely on the fly – that approach is way too much effort for my brain to handle at the table. I like a robust set of game rules. My preference is to keep them out of the sight of players.
All that said, I am very grateful for the generous questions and helpful comments from readers and listeners alike. Especially maendil. Thank you.
You don’t need to reject rules. Rules are helpful. The point is that rules serve you, not the other way around.
You are welcome!
I see where you are coming from with your dislike for labels. For quite some time I was quite fond of the OSR label (mostly I still am), but while I still share most of its principles, some of the I really don’t. The FKR has been illuminating and refreshing to me, and gave me the final push to delineate and pursue exactly the kind of games that I like to play.
So I’m developing my own homebrew ruleset and I’m currently playtesting it. It’s (not ultra) rules lite and intended to support an OSR-ish play experience, with some differences. You could see it as a [NuOSR](https://osrsimulacrum.blogspot.com/2021/12/a-historical-look-at-osr-part-v.html)/FKR thing… other labels, oh well. The point is that I don’t try anymore to fit into a label but to create exactly the kind of game that I like to play. If it fits perfectly and existing label all the better! But that would be a coincidence, not a design consideration.
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NuOSR -> OSR-adjacent (sorry, I can’t figure out how to edit my comment).
I think we share that spirit of running what we really want to play. Thanks for joining me in my ramblings and encouraging this spirit to grow. Labels aren’t necessary for that. Game on!
As a player in the game in question and having read Jon Peterson’s “The Elusive Shift” book, I am led to classify the experience as semi-FKR. You are showing (like players and DMs did in the early to mid 70’s) that players don’t need the rules to play in a RPG. However, the rules allow the DM to be consistent and that has been my experience so far.