What's My Armor Class?


A few years ago, I decided I'd try an experiment with my players. We had been playing in the same fantasy campaign for many years, but we'd gotten to the point where we wanted to start fresh. At the time, most members of the group didn't really care if we abandoned our campaign world or not. Everybody seemed to be itching to start fresh with new PC's. Things with the "old world" had gotten, well, old. Time to start over, so to speak.

A few years ago, I decided I'd try an experiment with my players. We had been playing in the same fantasy campaign for many years, but we'd gotten to the point where we wanted to start fresh. At the time, most members of the group didn't really care if we abandoned our campaign world or not. Everybody seemed to be itching to start fresh with new PC's. Things with the "old world" had gotten, well, old. Time to start over, so to speak.

It'd been some time since we started with first level characters. We'd gotten used to fighting demons and dragons and such. We'd been around the block. We knew you needed magical weapons to kill a shadow. Silver is bad news for werewolves, we knew that. We had a problem where the characters were new, but the players were well seasoned.

The question begged to be asked: was it possible for veteran players to have fun with starting level characters?

I was convinced it was possible, but I also wanted to hedge my bet. I did this by taking away my player's character sheets. Oh, the players had character sheets, but I kept them. And I didn't allow them to see their character sheets. What possible reason could I have for doing this? Let me explain.

Rune Reader is a wizard (duh) who started this new campaign as a first level. I allowed Rune Reader to keep a list of items he has. It makes sense the player knows if he has a dagger and a spell book. But, I don't allow Rune Reader to know what his stats are. When I rolled up his stats, Rune Reader asked Intelligence be his highest statistic and his Strength to be his lowest. Aside from that, Rune Reader doesn't know if his Intelligence is 18 or 10. Likewise, he doesn't know if his Strength is 13 or 8. I give a vague notion of "you're smart and moderately athletic" but that's about all he knows. Rune Reader wants to be quick, but he doesn't know if his Dexterity his high enough to give him an Armor Class bonus. In fact, as far as "stats" are concerned, the only thing Rune Reader really knows about his guy is what's in his inventory and the number of spells listed in his spell book (which were very few in number at the beginning).

Rune Reader's player sets off for his first adventure. He does some minor deeds and gains some minor experience points as a reward. What he doesn't know is when/if he goes up a level. He knows he's starting at first level, but that's all he knows.

Rune Reader's first battle involves a doppelganger, a relatively low-level creature. Now, if Rune Reader had his character sheet, he could evaluate his hit points, his to-hit bonuses, and his armor class and could gauge the how deadly his encounter with the doppelganger would be. But Rune Reader doesn't know what his stats are. Does he have 1 hit point or 6? Is one strike from the doppelganger going to put him in the dead book, or can he take a punch or two? Rune Reader doesn't know. So, a player who has been gaming for years suddenly views the low-level doppelganger with much more scrutiny than ever before.

As Rune Reader's adventures continue, he approaches each situation with more caution than a player of his caliber normally would. In time, he knows he's going up in levels because he's able to memorize more spells (how I handled this is a little beyond the scope of this article). But, he's never certain about what his hit points, to-hit bonuses, or what his armor class is. When he gets the ability to cast fireball, he knows he can wipe out a band of kobolds, probably. But, if 4 kobolds survive the blast and attack him, would he be able to survive a rush attack? Rune Reader doesn't really know. And so, even then, he's a little skeptical about trying to take out a kobold band with a fireball blast.

Other players, Tarnac the Dwarf and Urik the assassin, are in the same boat. After a few adventures, they have a vague notion of what they can handle and what they can't.

Urik, a shifty fellow, has been hired to turn stag on the Rune Reader and slit his throat in the night. Urik thinks he's up to the job, but he the guy playing him doesn't have any fancy numbers sitting in front of him to influence his decision. As a general rule of thumb, assassins have more hit points than wizards. But Urik has no confirmation of this. If his assassination attempt turns sour and he's forced to confront Rune Reader in a fight, can Urik prevail? Plus, Urik doesn't know what level he is. If he's 8th level and Rune Reader is 3rd, then he probably has it in the bag.

Meanwhile, Tarnac, a rough n' ready dwarf is exploring other portions of the maze and comes face-to-face with something that might be a trap. Tarnac is a warrior, not a thief. Dismantling traps aren't his forte. Urik cold do it for him, but he's elsewhere worrying about his assassination attempt. Tarnac isn't the most patient fellow, so he goes ahead and tries his luck with the trap. Like everyone else, Tarnac doesn't know what his stats are -- in this case, he doesn't know what his saving throws are. If he misses his throw, he could die. If he had a character sheet, he could figure the odds of taking the risk with the trap. But, he has no sheet. And, Tarnac is a never-say-die type so he goes ahead and tries his luck with the trap. Tarnac fails and gets turned to stone. The player doesn't mind; he's glad he didn't let the number dictate how he played his guy.

I could keep doling out examples, but you get the point. In fact, some of you may have already tried this. For us, this was a fairly novel concept, and it proved to be an effective way of counter-balancing the years of gaming experience my players had.

Taking the character sheets away from the players has a few pitfalls. It gives the GM more stuff to keep up with. Also, there are some folks who just don't like this idea -- some people are over-protective of all those little numbers that "define" their character. This is very much an experiment for those who prefer role-playing over roll-playing. And, I think it's an experiment worth trying. It can help players make their characters more authentic. It can bring an extra layer of reality to your games. It's a way to introduce challenges without introducing new monsters and extra dungeons. And hey. . . it's one way to teach old dogs new tricks.

Interesting idea. I can see some pros and cons.

Think I'll hang fire a few days to let some comments come in.

How did you work magic? Did the players at least know what spells they could cast?

Most of my players gravitate towards the warrior and rogue classes, so this made a lot of the legwork easier.

But, there was one wizard.

The wizard was allowed access to his spell-book, so he always knew what spells were available to him. He always knew he could cast 3 first level spells, or whatever.

The wizard started by going to a wizard school that taught him that his powers / abilities would increase over time. So, they encouraged him from time to time to experiment with memorizing more spells of a certain "rank" (I don't like using the term "level" in my games -- I don't ask fellow programmers at work what "level" they are, after all).

At first, the player would state when he was trying to memorize spells of different ranks / levels and how many he'd try to memorize. At first, this was kinda fun...because it sorta felt like he was really trying to learn how to be a wizard. There were times where he could have memorized a 4th level spell, but didn't know that...and, thereby, passed on the opportunity to cast ice storm.

The ground logic was that you never know till you try...and, to a large extent, this made the game seem more life-like.

Spellcasters as PC's was the most difficult part of the experiment...and some might see this as a con...but, it wasn't that big of an issues and I wouldn't let it steer anybody clear of trying something like this.

You are a cruel, cruel DM. I love it.

Yeah, RG's a heartless bastard. None of us would have it any other way though.

I have to agree especially with his dislike of the word "level" Nobody in-game would realistically walk around talking about their level or how many hit points they had. (well, not without spending all day in the Green Griffon Inn's wine cellar first.) ... though more people should use "THAC0" in everyday conversation. However, that's just me.

As a player, I have to say it's an interesting experiment to take part in. After the first session or two, you don't even notice the sheet's missing, and you avoid having to remind the DM about all your stats throughout the evening.

I'm thinking I might do this some time, just to throw my players, who are all experienced players, for a serious loop.

That spell thing sounds like fun... and a lot more believable than the way spells are typically learned... I think it would only really work for Dnd, though.

That spell thing sounds like fun... and a lot more believable than the way spells are typically learned... I think it would only really work for Dnd, though.

Makes me think... That would be really interesting, specially because I'm a low seasoned player - and would teach me and my fellows how to actually roleplay.

Again, it scares me to death -- hope my DM (who's planning a new campaign right now) won't read this article. :)

Another question:
Are the players allowed to roll up their characters themselves? A lot of players would not have it any other way (including myself, though I'm very intrigued by this approach from the GM-standpoint), but they would know their first level stats pretty well (I've never met an experienced roleplayer who didn't, after creating a new character). From there on they can guess quite well, as they would have to decide for feats, skills etc. (if we assume d20, of course). The only other way (and this is suggested in the article, I think) is to have the GM decide all these... This requires a lot of trust and I don't think too many players would be comfortable with it, as it's even worse than simple pregenerated characters...

Ok Here goes:


(1) Its a good idea for a more realistic game. Yes in real books and real life people don't go about wondering about their level.

(2) You could extend the idea as Rogue Githyaki has said, and Robert Kosten has considered, by keeping exact stats secret. This would be more realistic and also work well against powergaming.

(3) It will add more doubt into a players actions, as he is less sure of the outcomes and levels of difficulty. Again more realistic.


(4) Magic using classes wouldn't fool very experienced players. Me and my friends devoured the books and know them all by heart. Even 25 years later I can remember from 1E that 6/3/2 spells is approx a 6th level mage. You would have to devise some system to give variable spell learning, without losing game balance.

(5) If you take this route, you may have to give players more clues as to the likely outcomes, because otherwise the player will find it difficult to guage the likely result of any encounter. But could you do this by appearance ? Ogres and Trolls are of similar size and class, but trolls are much meaner.

(6) As Robert Kosten says, many players are unwilling to trust the DM to this extent.


I think it could work, but it needs:
(a) a good DM with good game balancing skills.
(b) players who trust the DM
(c) players who are willing to think and try alternative strategies to acertain the level of a challenge, rather than meeting it blind.

Could be fun.

To further your point Mo, I think it would work well if the players both trusted the DM, as you said, but were also up for something different than the norm. I mean I've never played a game where I didn't have my character sheet in front of me.

Robert asks if the players roll their own stats.

Nope...I rolled them myself. I did let them specify which stats they wanted as their highest / lowest. For example...Rune Reader told me he wanted his stats to work in this order...Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Strength.

If 16 is the highest score I rolled...that became his Int. If 10 is the lowest score I rolled...that became his Str.

Some players...such as Tarnac...left the stats completely up to me.

So, yeah, this approach does require a lot of mutual trust. I should state that I tried this with friends that I'd known for 10+ years, so trust wasn't an issue. Nor do I believe in the old-skool Player vs. Dungeon Master mentality -- I design games to be fun / enjoyable, not to be adversarial and invite conflict.

I hear what you guys are saying about trusting the DM...but, that doesn't have much to do with this technique -- if you don't trust your DM, you've already got problems and that's a fault of the DM / group, not the experiment.

Likewise, a DM needs good skills anyway, so I don't really see that as a fault of the technique, just the DM.

I did let players choose skills / feats / proficiencies / whatever at will.

Keep in mind that the DM isn't FORCING anything upon the players...he's just restricting their knowledge. I'm not making Rune Reader favor his CON over his DEX, nor am I forcing him to be a good golfer rather than a good mechanic. Rune Reader gets to choose his stuff (as much as the rules will allow)...he just doesn't have any fancy numbers associated.

In real life...I know that I've trained with computers and I have some degree of skill with them. I'm fairly smart. But, I don't know if I'm a 9th level programmer...nor do I know what my INT rating is on the DND scale. At birth, I didn't have much say in what my phsyical make-up is -- I can work out, sure, but to some extent my physical self was forced on me. Unlike RPG's, I didn't get to choose my gender.

I agree that a seasoned D&D player could figure out his level based on how many spells he gets and all that. That's a loophole that I don't currently have a solution for.

yes...I am the Rune Reader in the example...

I have been playing some kind of RPG on and off for about 20 years now...more than 10 of those with Rogue Githyanki.....I can honestly say that taking the “numbers” out of our game has VASTLY improved our fun...

In the past…we had played with a lot of “Rules Lawyers” which is NEVER fun….We have had the excitement and intensity of a battle be completely squashed by sluggish combat rules…we had done a lot of thinking about our characters as a collection of ratings…well… that all stinks…

The Beauty of doing things this way is that the rules are still there….but they are TRANSPARENT to the players…..I don’t care what my car has to go through to get me up the hill…I just want up the hill…The last thing I want to worry about when I am playing is what some stinkin’ modifier or bonus or whatever does to help or not help me….let RG worry about that stuff…it’s what we (don’t) pay him for….

The wizard I am playing in this campaign is EASILY the most developed character I have EVER played….I think the same is true of everyone we play with….I think not focusing on stats and numbers has really given us room to explore the personality of our characters…..It has allowed us to take ownership of our characters and really play them like a “Character”….

It is true that we have probably played things a little too cautiously on occasion …but I think that is GREAT….not knowing EXACTLY how tough my wizard is and not knowing EXACTLY how tough that weird zombie creature is makes it kind of scary…..it makes it fun….It makes you very attached to your character….which makes the times your characters are in real danger more intense….and more fun….If my wizard died it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me…. but I would be sad….just like I might get sad when my favorite character on a T.V. show dies…

Anyway….I would say that making the rules invisible to us has made the experience of RPG’s much more enjoyable…not everybody can pull it off….but if you are interested in making your characters more “real” to you…give it a shot.


Hi! I think this is AWESOME! I'm not a GM, but i've been working on it. I'm currently trying to work a game togheter with the Elements of Magic: Revised Knowledge spellcasting system (with a little Wild Spellcraft spellcasting mishaps thrown in. Trust me, these rules by themselves are FUN! pick your copy at www.rpgnow.com today) and here's how I would set the spellcasting up with my favorite system from E.N. Publishing:

First of all, magic is fluid. The system follows the MP system of the Elements of magic, allowing mages to “draw” any number of MP and anything above “their usual amount for their current spellcasting level” is “tainted mp.” these mp are doomed to mishap. If the mage casts a spell with the last of his/her good mp along with some “tainted” mp, the GM makes a roll (d100) in secret. If s/he rolls less than the % of tainted mp in the concoction, then the spell mishaps. Any purely-tainted mp-spell automatically mishaps. If the spell caster tries to cast a spell beyond the max mp allowed, the GM breaks it down to an allowable amount of MP (although the caster still loses all the mp spent) so the spell fits “the basic idea” of the task the mage wanted to accomplish. (a little work, but try just to hurry by cutting off excessive spell lists, and lower the MP usage, etc.)

Mages are allowed to learn new spells (and spell lists), by declaring their trying to learn them. If they have a greater spellcasting level (which they don’t know), then they succeed, but if their not ready, then they get a mishap. (MILK THESE SCENES FOR ALL THE DRAMA THEY’RE WORTH!) One mishap I’ve made up that seems promising is to have nothing happen, then have each spell list that was used in the signature spell (or that there were trying to learn prematurely.) come back to haunt them. Each spell list will work in some way to hinder the caster and his cause at inconvenient times. (Each bane has a max. mp the same as the mage.)

The above is great because it uses the a highly flexible magic system (Elements of Magic Revised by E.N. Publishing.) which is meant for some creativity to be poured into spellcasting, and takes all the knowledge of the character's limits away from the player (as per this article) Magic is mysterious again because not only the character, but the PLAYER doesn't know what to think. The player can have total access to the rules, remember everything. Digest the book, as it were, and still be puzzled if he should even try to further his power yet. He knows what powers he can manipulate to create a spell on-the-fly (spell lists) but he doesn't know if he can learn more yet. S/he never knows how many spells s/he could cast before they surpass all control (Mp and my special house rule "tainted mp") and cause wacky (but always negative) magical mishaps. And the caster does know if its time to create that cool spell s/he thought up(the mage's own individualized SIGNATURE SPELLS (tm), which take just a standard action to cast, as opposed to two round on-the-fly spells), or if it will be a creation gone wrong! But, he's still a bad ass.

The player is always guessing, but at least he always knows how many MP he has, and what he can do with it.


I take your point that I was going to say that players must be up for it. Some guys who are good players are nonetheless conservative and don't want to change.

I just can't say that its good for all groups. A lot depends on the DM. Theres more work for him too because he's got to keep track of stats etc.

The one thing I am wary of is, will the DM play by the rules, or will he get lax and start dominating the game, treating it more like a story than a game. In a story each character is constrained by the plot. In a game, every character is free to act, within the rules.


Well, I sorta state in the article that this isn't for all groups -- but then, few things...if any...are. In truth, I expected more resistance to this article than what I've gotten so far.

One the one hand, I understand the "fear" that a DM will screw over the players. I've been screwed by DM's in the past.

At the same time...I don't understand it...not at all. Just last night I was talking with one of my players about a similar subject and neither one of us could fathom why a DM would EVER make a game that wasn't enjoyable for the players. I want people to enjoy my games...I don't want them hacked at me because I'm an evil, domineering DM.

This experiment isn't there to give DM's an "edge." It's to enhance role-playing -- it stresses role playing over roll playing. If somebody chooses to abuse the purpose...it's not the fault of the technique, rather it's the fault of the person.

In my experinece...any DM who tries to force the player's hand will do so anyway...rules and character sheets be damned. Some DM's are flat-out jerks and there's not much that can be done about that...aside from severing ties with them and moving on.

Ok, my $0.02...

I find this "technique" or whatever you want to call it to be intriguing. True, in "real life" we wouldn't know our own stats and such, so this idea can go a long way to getting powergamers to role-play more. As several posts have said, it depends on the group. I won't rehash those comments here.

Personally, I would have to think that this would be a tedious and possibly overwhelming task to add to the DMs long list of other burdens. Our group has played long enough to not really rely on the stat sheet during games anymore, although I'm sure that we all "cheat" a little when it comes to combat damage and realizing just how close one is to death. =)

Keep up the great writing and wonderful commentaries!

I am supportive of the idea as presented by RG but I suspect that many of the derived benefits were due to the player's perceptions of the change and the desire for change, as opposed to the players simply not knowing some numbers. I also believe that RG had quite a bit more work to do than he has described in his posts.

My skepticism is driven by my own experiences with D20 D&D as a system, and playing with very experienced gamers. The problem with keeping player character details such as level or stat adjustments hidden is that D&D is so numbers intensive, an experienced player will soon be able to derive the values for themselves. RG stated the wizard didn't know their Int., or that non-spellcasting characters didn't quite know what their level was. From this I have to assume RG modified how skill points and feats were awarded. Otherwise a player will know their level exactly, and a wizard will quickly figure out their Int. based upon bonus skill points. Since characters know their equipment, and how much it weighs, either RG doesn't use encumberance rules or his players willingly chose not to figure out their strength from how quickly they got tired hauling all their junk.
There are plenty of other examples where the D20 rules provide experienced players the ability to figure out some of the numbers RG kept from his players. My point is not that this idea is bad, but that it requires either a "willing conspiracy" of player and DM to keep these numbers hidden, or the DM will have to alter a number of game rules.
I think this article would be more informative if RG shared some details on how he handled various rules situations that might have otherwise revealed these hidden character stats (skill points, new arcane spells each level, familiar powers, stat or level restricted feats, etc.). Also, in RG's group there were no clerics. How might you propose hiding character level or wisdom from a cleric? Why would their diety have any interest in their cleric praying for fewer spells than they are entitled to, as the wizard apparently did (ex. Ice Storm)?


Well, yeah, it has to be a willing conspiracy of both the players and the DM. I don't believe in the DM forcing things upon the players...there might be instances in which its necessary, but this experiment isn't one of them. My logic at the game table is that everybody needs to have fun.

If a player is trying to figure out what his stats are by how many spells he can cast (or whatever), then that player has missed the point of the experiment and there's no hope for him.

Just kidding.

But, seriously, the whole point is to not let the numbers get in the way of how you handle your character. A player who would try to figure out his stats without having the numbers in front of him is probably a power-gamer and is most likely only interested in roll-playing...not role-playing.

I kept the details of how I handeled the rules vague because each system has it's own rule-set. How West End handled stats for Star Wars is different than D20.

I mostly use 2nd edition rules when playing DND, so I don't have to deal with a lot of the points you bring up.

This experiment probably wouldn't be fun to people who like all of the numbers...

...personally, I think the numbers tend to get in the way.

For example...and some may consider this unorthodox...but as a DM I never make my players worry about encumberance. As long as the low-strengthed wizard isn't trying to carry 200 lbs. worth of stuff...I don't sweat it.

I handle clerics in similar fashion as wizards. They pray for spells, and they are rewarded for their faith...as their faith / level increases, their deity gives them more power / spells. During prayer...the cleric has a revelation (or whatever you want to use) that suggests that he can do more than before. I might be missing the point...but I don't see why this would be an issue.

Yeah...the DM has more #'s to keep up with, and this might be more of a hassle if the group has more than 4 players -- I rarely play games where there are more than 4 players...and I like it that way. I prefer smaller, tighter groups -- I find that its easier to focus on character development and its easier to keep the flow of the game going. Now and then, I like doing large group stuff...because it's fun to have variety.

Anyway, the extra work load on the DM is only really a shock at first. Like your job in the real world...you get used to the extra work (without pay) that they give you. And, personally, I don't think it's any more compicated than cross-referencing the DMG, looking up something in Unearthed Arcana, checking a stat in Tome of Magic, etc. I keep a "scorecard" handy for NPC's and their stats -- always have. Adding PC's to the list isn't that big of an issue...especially when there's only 4. So, I'm not sure that I agree that this approach is really that much of a burden on the DM.

I dunno - it seems the effort isn't matched by the benefit.

RPG's are problematic in the first place, in that all the action is negotiated by proxy - through characters that are being wielded by characters, who experience their senses through the DM's description. Even with full access to their own detailed characters sheet, a DM still can't give characters ENOUGH detail about their world to offer them a true representation of what their characters would experience - both of their own abilities and skills, and of the world around them. It's like pushing an elephant through a straw. I see this happen all the time, even with good DMs – in giving room descriptions.

So we accept second best - a numerical equivalent that helps people gauge their ability level in game terms. In real life, people do have some reasonable sense of their ability to win out a scenario based on the skills and the challenge - and they use countless real world clues to do so.

I think it would be tedious for a DM to relate to me enough qualitative information for me to make an informed decision on how “fit” I am feeling, how well I think I might match to a challenge etc. I know, as a human, when I’m physically finished because I feel it. I know my character is near death because it says so on my sheet. Not nearly as immediate, but it is nearly as intuitive.

Relayed to me by a DM though, it’s just yet another layer of proxy – with the added problem of the subjectivity in the DM’s description, and the fact that the DM’s info will be less complete (and will likely miss things that a character would know intuitively). The opponents in these scenarios get an edge because they know – to the hitpoint – just how much they’ve got to give.

In this sense, I think the challenge of the game may be indeed increased - not by making the scenario more difficult, but instead by making the interface more sluggish, less perceptive, more cumbersome – like a bad joystick. It also focuses DM attention in the wrong direction. Players should be leaning in to the table to listen carefully to the DM’s description of the scenario. They shouldn’t be leaning in to also listen to a DM tell them clues as to the status of their own character. A character knows himself – the challenge isn’t supposed to be in “driving” the character, it should be in engaging the scenario.

Given prior knowledge of your prefered style of play, Neph, I can see this not being somthing that you'd go for. Please don't miscostrue this post as an insult, it's not meant to be. If I was back to insulting people I'd probably be a little more witty about it. And....... I dunno. I'm tired.

I'm not insulted by that Eater.

My style has always been to ensure the players are mainly focused on the scenario and their environment, with the least bit of game interface possible getting in the way of that focus. I believe the players get more benefit from winning the scenario than from tricking the game system itself.


Say what you want...but I've found that this approach counters most of the fears you mention. It's less slugish...less cumbersome...it allows people to focus on the scenario, and not some stat on their sheet. One of my players testifies to that fact, a few posts back.

I admit that it does give me a little extra work load...but, as I said before you get used to it and it's only clumsy for the first few sessions -- I've been doing this (or variations thereof) for about 5 years.

Again...this approach puts the emphasis on ROLE-playing. I play with a group of guys that enjoy discussing matters in character -- yes, we enjoy searching for traps, too, but it's character development that we live for.

Neph states that challenge is engaging the scenario. I disagree...a lot...and I think that's what makes this technique / experiment / suggestion so apocryphal to some.

I like to role-play...roll-playing is okay, but I prefer role-playing. I've found that roll-playing often gets in the way of role-playing.

A week ago, one of my players had this character moment where he was tired of "saving the universe" and basically just wanted to go home...he (the character, not the player) was fed up for doing good with no obvious gain. One of the other players was chiding him...not for his lack of faith...but for his sloppy methods...another character tired to offer some spiritual advice from a martial artists POV rather than a religious one...and an NPC tried to give the best advice / comfort he could.

When the conversation was over...we all kind of looked at each other with this smirk...'cause we'd all just pulled off this really great moment when everybody was in character and the game flow was seamless.

Sure, moments like that can exist with numbers in front of you...I've just found that they're not as likely.

I used this approach with Runequest. It vastly improved the fun, but, the workload was increased for me as the dm. Just reading this article makes me want to do it again! Thanks for the inspiration. :)

Says Rogue:
Again...this approach puts the emphasis on ROLE-playing.

Says Neph:
Rogue, my criticism is not at all meant to be couched as some conflict between crunchy rules and acting. If that’s what you’re getting, then I’ve not expressed myself clearly.

My issue is that it adds an extra layer of proxy to the game scenario. They are already playing characters rather than being involved directly, and they are already trying to divine their environment through whatever scraps the DM sends them. At least they knew – intuitively – their characters.

But now you pull those away as well, so they need to constantly look to you to gauge their level of aptitude or health, divining that too, in the same manner as they pull from you enough items about their environment to connect the dots and make the picture. That becomes a challenge in itself – which by definition, is a distraction from the game scenario. And it isn’t role playing. It’s simply a guessing game, usually taking place at a time when actions should be instinctive and immediate.

I know – I’ve tried it as a player with a kick-ass GM in Mage. It didn’t work then either.

Says Rogue:
I play with a group of guys that enjoy discussing matters in character -- yes, we enjoy searching for traps, too, but it's character development that we live for.

Says Neph:
As do we. We like them both, and it’s hard to say what we like more. That’s somewhat beside the point though.

Says Rogue:
Neph states that challenge is engaging the scenario. I disagree...a lot...

Says Neph:
Fine, if you truly disagree with me, then take it to the next step. Roll their characters for them, so they have no idea of what their stats or abilities are, except for what you tell them. March them into the dungeon. I can just see it now…

“Ok, how badly am I bleeding?”
“Really badly, and you are getting tired.”
“Oh, how tired, like nearly dead tired?”
“Umm, supertired, you might faint soon.”
“Oh, how soon. So soon I should be looking for a place to faint, or might I have another couple swings at ‘em?”
“Maybe I should try to pick the lock – how nimble do my fingers look?”

The result is similar to trying to drive a car blindfolded, while listening to your passenger tell you where to go. The game becomes simply surviving the car ride, deciphering your own character, rather than actually participating in the race. The camera is pointing the wrong way.

Says Rogue:
I've found that roll-playing often gets in the way of role-playing.

Says Neph:
Why are we here again? What does this have to do with anything?

Says Rogue:
A week ago, one of my players had this character moment where he was tired of "saving the universe" and basically just wanted to go home...he (the character, not the player) was fed up for doing good with no obvious gain.

Says Neph:
As a DM, I would look at that as a clue that my campaign isn’t providing enough story reward or environmental context to sustain a belief that there is something for characters to save, a world in which the PC’s exist – which is delightful enough to make their sacrifices worth it.

Says Rogue:
Sure, moments like that can exist with numbers in front of you...I've just found that they're not as likely.

Says Neph:
This simply isn’t that argument. Look- you haven’t taken any numbers out of the game. You are referring to them yourself in your descriptions to the players, just translating them into prose, and pushing those descriptions back at them. It’s just as crunchy as it was, but more dangerous now (for the players) because it looks fuzzy. Specific things happen at 0 hit points that don’t happen at 1 hit point. The base structure of the game is entirely intact, and that structure depends on players being aware of the difference between 0 hit points and 1 hit point. It’s possible to play games with much more negotiation in them (theater sports come to mind), but I don’t see this fuzzy appliqué over the same crunchy stats as accomplishing anything but obfuscation.

And who is to say that players couldn’t describe their actions themselves in the same manner – if it’s narrative purity you are after? In our games, there’s some give and take here – the dice land, the stats are consulted, and both players and DMs often chime in on the result in a descriptive manner, playing the role that was assigned.

Neph is right in that it can become confusing for players trying to interpret what information the DM passes on during combat. When you're knee-deep in Gatormen, it's not the time to figure out whether it's worse to be "fatigued" or "winded."

There's so much more to gaming than combat, though. A perfect example is the "character moment" RG related a few posts back. Nobody was buried in their character sheets looking to see if they had any modifiers or feat bonuses for the situation - we were all looking at each other and feeling our characters.
I gaurantee you, it's not for lack of excitement in the campaign that that particular character was tired of saving the world. The guy playing him could barely walk the week before, yet he couldn't be dragged away from a night of gaming. He's just a good roleplayer.

One of the points in the original article that's getting overlooked here is that most of our characters are more than a collection of modifiers and attributes. If you're letting your THAC0 or whatever (hehe, I said it again!) define your character, you're passing up a great opportunity for roleplay.

Remember that the character lives not on the sheet of paper, but in the mind of the player behind that paper. (oooh, that's poetic! I should put that on one of those motivational posters with pictures of mountains and stuff.)

Leveling up (which you will have in most popular RPG....cough cough rampant cough power gaming cough..., unless you want to try writing your own super balanced game system), combined with the abstraction of Hit Points, Health, or what-have-you, will cause some friction with this approach. If you want to have this whole party's level vs. Challenge Rating nonsense (and not spend years searching for a new system), I suggest a hit point perchantage (similar to a "health bar in fighting games). This way you can give a number to help the player know how hurt the character is without abstract prose, while still hiding his actual number of Hit Points. Of course, I'm still open for any critiques, especially from you, Rogue, who's been doing this for five years.

Pro-Portion said:
"There's so much more to gaming than combat, though. A perfect example is the "character moment" RG related a few posts back. Nobody was buried in their character sheets looking to see if they had any modifiers or feat bonuses for the situation - we were all looking at each other and feeling our characters."

Nephandus says:
Right, but surely you aren’t suggesting that somehow forcing players to guess at their stats will somehow enable or enhance this kind of role-playing scenario. I have had the same kind of “role-gasm”, quite often without a hint of combat or ability testing, and sometimes within furious combat – and the fact that we had access to our sheets was simply not a factor.

I guess what I’m saying to Rogue, is that I’m not clear on how obfuscating the data on a character’s vitals will make the role playing experience more sublime. The two don’t appear to have anything to do with one another. Moreover, the constant questioning to ascertain one’s own aptitude or health levels slows the action needlessly, for no clear benefit. I suppose there might be some small gain in narrative purity if numbers never are spoken – but to whose benefit? Every participant in the game is aware that the numbers are there. As far as I can tell, the only person reaping benefit might be an ignorant onlooker who just wanted to listen to the story. Even THAT, though, is still possible, using the data on the sheet and the dice.

“A spray of sweat flicks across the room as Kervin swings his mighty axe…”
[rolls a twenty, factors attributes- DM checks health of critter, puts it at negative 12]
“The head is cloven from the body, and bounces wetly off the wall.”

Most of the data is silent in a game anyway. The descriptions tend to take front seat – at least in my games.


Look...I honestly don't care if you don't like this idea. I tend to insert text in my articles that suggests these techniques aren't meant for all people. Nor do I mind discussing these matters with people who disagree with me.

I gave up, a long time ago, on trying to convince everybody to listen to Bruce Springsteen.

I do, however, get annoyed when people try to tell me that nobody will like listening to the Boss just because they don't like listening to the Boss.

Some people have voiced an interest in this technique. Others have noted that it has potential pitfalls -- I agree...it's not a perfect system and there are some wrinkles I still haven't figured out...but then, I don't think D20, 2nd Edition, GURPS, or any of the other systems are perfect, either.

The reason I keep saying that "roll-playing gets in the way of role-playing" ties into your reply to Pro-Portion.

You ask if he's suggesting that removing the stats enhances the role-playing scenario.

I won't speak for Pro-Portion, but in my mind...yes, removing the stats allows a fellow to focus more on his character, his motivations, his purpose in life, and so forth.

I'm confused by this notion that one is constantly questioning the DM about his stats (or whatever). If you're worried about the numbers...then, yeah, I guess maybe you'd be asking a lot of questions. If you're worried about just playing your guy the way you want to play your guy, then I don't think you'll be asking that many questions.

An example...the guy that plays Tarnac the dwarf charged into the fray against a squad of undead. He had already been bitten by a wight and had lost X number of hit points. Rather than look at his sheet to decide what he should do...he did what he thought his dwarven warrior would do...he charged the undead, devil-may-care.

I've seen too many players who would have worried about loosing their beloved character because their hit point total was at 3. So, rather than do what their guy would have done, they take a back-door because they're afraid of loosing some silly number on their sheet.

Tarnac never knew what level he was...so the player never sat around and bemoaned the fact that he lost a level when the wight bit him. Tarnac is fearless...almost to the point of insanity...and I honestly feel that the guy player him had a better shot at pulling that off without his hit point total was...or what the bonus on his axe was, etc.

Neph...you can "theorize" all you want about how my games sessions play out (and, admit it...you're poking fun, too). I've tried to give you an example of what I'm talking about...and rather than trust me, you suggest that my campaign isn't giving the player(s) his just rewards.

I don't know where you come from, but when that guy walks out of my door at night with more enegry than when he came in...give me the thumbs up and sez with total honesty..."great game," I count that as the player getting his just reward. And no, he wasn't just saying that to be polite -- I've also been told, by the same person, when the game wasn't so good...or when it was missing some elements.

Neph...if you feel that this adds an extra proxy, then so be it. I simply can't agree with that. I've played a number of games in the past 2 years, with and without the sheets in front of me...as a player and as a GM. More often than not...the games without the sheets were the ones that the group enjoyed the most...they were less clunky and more engaging than the ones with the sheets.

I could go on quoting examples, but I don't want to sit around and force everyone to listen to tales of our gaming sessions.

For the unbelievers and the unwashed, look me up if you're in NW Arkansas some day and ask if you can play with us -- don't worry if you don't have your character sheet with you...you won't need it.


I like the HP percentage approach, too.

I've always been a little put off that a swipe from a blue slaad is more deadly to a first level guy than a 10th level guy -- the guy at 10th level, of course, has more hit points (or should). But, the claws on the slaad should be deadly and lethal, no matter what level you are.

I think this is one arena in which a system like Shadowrun fares better -- the sacred "hit point" total is more up in the air...you're lightly wounded, moderately wounded, or badly wounded.

I look at a player's hit points...and to keep the math simple, let's say he has 100. If he goes a round with some kobolds and gets taken down to 66, I tell the player that he's moderately wounded and running at 2/3 steam...or something like that (my descriptions vary according to mood, of course).

As Pro Portion pointed out earlier, there are times when even this approach doesn't quite cut the mustard.

But, I stand by the statement that no system is without it's pitfalls and I'd rather risk this particular pitfall than some of the other ones offered.

For example...while I like how Shadowrun handles damage...I'm always befuddled by the rules for magic and have spent literally 20 minutes in a game trying to figure out how much damange a firebolt did -- I wasn't alone...I had an expert Shadowrun Rules Lawyer with me and even he agreed that all of the involved modifiers were making things way too complicated.

But, I digress...

RG said:
Look...I honestly don't care if you don't like this idea. […]I do, however, get annoyed when people try to tell me that nobody will like listening to the Boss just because they don't like listening to the Boss.

You’ve posted an “experiment in role-playing” on a public BBS, with the intention of people commenting on it. Some have supported it. I don’t – based on what you’ve written, and based on my own considerable experience with the same. I’ve laid out my specific objections in detail so people can refute them easily if they are inclined to do so. If laying out such an argument hurts your feelings, then I am sorry for that. I have no idea what that means in terms of your Springsteen metaphor.

RG said:
I won't speak for Pro-Portion, but in my mind...yes, removing the stats allows a fellow to focus more on his character, his motivations, his purpose in life, and so forth.

All those things are still in the game whether or not they have a character sheet in front of them. I’ve heard a million angles on this line of reasoning and I cannot get my head around why some people think that if they see a number on the table, that their creativity will shrivel. None of my games ever sounded like the dialog from THX-1188. Can’t anyone walk and chew gum at the same time? I didn’t think we were especially brilliant before, but I’m beginning to think that the ability to comprehend a character stat while also thinking about character and story is something that just BLOWS away mere mortal role-players.

RG said:
I'm confused by this notion that one is constantly questioning the DM about his stats (or whatever). If you're worried about the numbers...then, yeah, I guess maybe you'd be asking a lot of questions. If you're worried about just playing your guy the way you want to play your guy, then I don't think you'll be asking that many questions.

My concern is not so much about the numbers. We both know they are there, since you are reading them from your DM’s chair. So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is more loosey goosey than it is.

No, my concern is specifically about knowing my character. Items of backstory and motivation account for a fraction of the “day-to-day” gaming, and even regular plain old story writing. The bulk of game play is based on what you think NOW, what you do NEXT, what’s happening at this moment. And for that, I want to know my character, directly, intuitively. Nothing is really served by obfuscating this information, or parleying that information to me from the DM’s chair, when it’s a simple matter just to see it for myself.

RG said:
An example...the guy that plays Tarnac the dwarf charged into the fray against a squad of undead. He had already been bitten by a wight and had lost X number of hit points. Rather than look at his sheet to decide what he should do...he did what he thought his dwarven warrior would do...he charged the undead, devil-may-care.

Again, this is not a choice that is removed by having a character sheet in front of you - unless you are suggesting that you misled him about the status of his health (but I don’t think you are). The same thing could happen with the informed player, and does all the time. In fact, I knowingly sacrificed my own beloved character once to save the party, using a spectacular fireball/otiluke combo (2nd e).

RG said:
I've seen too many players who would have worried about loosing their beloved character because their hit point total was at 3. So, rather than do what their guy would have done, they take a back-door because they're afraid of losing some silly number on their sheet.

Let me rephrase that for you. “So rather than doing *what you think* their guy would have done.” I catch a whiff of DM despotism here, especially because the “creativity” enhancement argument just isn’t adding up.

That number represents their character – in your method or in mine. They have a right to know it, and to make decisions based on it. I don’t understand how you think your justifications of suicide runs, which are just as likely without your method, are better role-playing than characters that have some regard for their own preservation. Hit points are generally already an abstraction, since most PCs tend to operate at full ability at 1 hit point, and die at 0. It’s reasonable then, to allow players to back off as they get close to running out of juice. Even zealots will do so when they are mostly dead. It isn’t necessarily “better roleplaying”

Tarnac never knew what level he was...so the player never sat around and bemoaned the fact that he lost a level when the wight bit him. Tarnac is fearless...almost to the point of insanity...and I honestly feel that the guy player him had a better shot at pulling that off without his hit point total was...or what the bonus on his axe was, etc.

Even with bonuses in front of me – I rarely get bogged in them. I know that a certain weapon tends to work best, and so I use that weapon and roll. But regardless of how you feel, Tarnac had the same chance of pulling off his trick, whether or not he was aware of his character data. That’s because the character data was always there.

Neph...you can "theorize" all you want about how my games sessions play out (and, admit it...you're poking fun, too). I've tried to give you an example of what I'm talking about...and rather than trust me, you suggest that my campaign isn't giving the player(s) his just rewards.

Trust you? You aren’t the first person to try this method. I’ve done it too, as I said.
And none of your examples have shown how not knowing the stats have improved the game. I’ve discussed each one of them in detail.

I don't know where you come from, but when that guy walks out of my door at night with more enegry than when he came in...give me the thumbs up and sez with total honesty..."great game," I count that as the player getting his just reward. And no, he wasn't just saying that to be polite -- I've also been told, by the same person, when the game wasn't so good...or when it was missing some elements.

Your assumption then, is that it was a great game because you used this particular method. Don’t sell yourself short – I’m sure your game is fine in other areas. In fact, I enjoyed the day I blew my own character up too.

Neph...if you feel that this adds an extra proxy, then so be it. I simply can't agree with that.

Huh? By definition – objectively – your translation of their ability stats, where formerly they could view them directly, is adding another layer of proxy – with all the interference that entails. That part isn’t even debatable – what IS debatable is the supposed benefit or detriment that adding this extra step brings to the experience.

I've played a number of games in the past 2 years, with and without the sheets in front of me...as a player and as a GM. More often than not...the games without the sheets were the ones that the group enjoyed the most...they were less clunky and more engaging than the ones with the sheets.

Sure – I’ve often found that at least in the early stages – games where the DM routinely fudged often seemed to flow more smoothly at the beginning as well. The price was paid down the road though, as people stopped trusting the dm.

I am genuinely curious – I imagine you are mega-tasking anyway due to the extra workload. How often do you fudge rolls, just to make it simple? How often do characters die in your campaigns?


Don't worry about hurting my feelings. Even though I don't have my character sheet in front of me, I know that my Saving Throw is pretty high in that regard.

All I can say is that I've tried this and have had more successes than failures -- if that went the other way for you, I'm sorry...but I don't necessarily think that means the experiment is flawed.

This experiment depends on other things that haven't been mentioned in detail. Group dynamic is one of them...and maybe I just happen to play with a group of guys that makes this possible -- I am by no means suggesting that my group is "better", but after everything that's been posted I think I can safely conclude that my group is "different."

I also know that, all nay saying aside, this experiment seems to have giving me and my group more gains than losses. When I said "trust me"...that's what I meant.

I'll meet you halfway, though...I'm also willing to accept that maybe the people I play (myself included) with are more prone to let the stats keep us from being better role-players -- maybe we can't walk and chew gum at the same time. I won't say that I BELIEVE this...nor will I even admit that it's probable...but I will admit that it's a possibility.

Most of the nay-saying that I've seen regarding this experiment / technique tends to tie back to trusting the DM....or DM depotism...or whatever.

Another thing you guys are just going to have to trust me on is that I don't do anything to screw over my players -- I do what I do to maximize the fun for everybody...me, and them. Can this technique be abused by a power-hungry DM? Sure, it can. But so can anything else.

The more I read, the more I sense that people are afraid of giving the DM too much "power." If that's the case...that's just a whole different ball of wax and doesn't directly tie into this topic. Players either need to find a trustworthy DM...or work out issues with their current one...before trying anything "new."

Regarding character death...that's another ball of wax, which has little to do with me fudging roles or taking away character sheets. Maybe material for a different article.

Anyway, like I said, I don't really care if you don't like this idea. I'm just not sure why you've gone to this length to argue against it. Surely you're not suggesting that your experiences are the benchmark by which role-playing can be gauged as fun and successful, are you?

I mean...I'm not saying this is the ONLY way to have fun in RPG's...if I were, then I might would understand these reactions.

So, Neph, what was your reaction when they introduced Diet Coke with Lime?

Heh, did they do that already? Vanilla diet coke tastes like watery cream soda. Love cherry coke though – but lately I’ve been partial to Jamaican ginger beer and patties from the Carribean bakery around the corner. Best in NYC, they say.

I've overstated my basic resistance to your idea in my desire to be thorough and specific, so that we can talk nuts and bolts, rather than getting into "my way is better" discussions.

Usually my criticisms are rooted my negative reaction against taking relatively simple RPG’s and make them complicated – instead of trying to make the story and characters more compelling. I don’t understand why people do this as soon as they get a new character book and then immediately reach for the “Ultimate Guide” supplement, which they will combine with the Monster Manual and a magazine article to finally create their character. I know – you don’t do this – but it all boils down to making simple things more complicated – without a clear payoff – and then calling it “creativity”.

It’s hard to argue with success – and I’ll take it at face value that this is what your group is enjoying if you say its working for them. I doubt I would enjoy it, in that group – but there is a wide enough spectrum of players here that people could see where they fit.
DMhoward wrote a great article that’s up here somewhere – about “winning” RPGs. The basic rant was that he was a bit sick of his players attempting to do “good role-playing” by doing things that were deliberately suicidal (rather than sacrificial), tactically unsound, deliberately obtuse or otherwise detrimental to the party’s success in the immediate goal. He (and I) agreed that in an RPG under nearly all circumstances – it is better to first play the game, and with whatever is left over, play the character (but not in a way that sabotages the game). It’s quite possible to do good role-
It’s all in fun right? This is the reasoning all DMs use when introducing changes that ruin everybody’s fun, as well. I’ve expounded at length in other threads on this. While those efforts by those DMs may appear obviously foolish – deliberately trying to screw us, I assure you that the DMs in question felt they were justified in doing it because it would be more fun. Not that yours can’t be fun – it’s just that I DM assurances about changes to the game don’t wash very well. I’d want an ironclad argument for a change of that level.

Are people afraid of giving the DM too much "power?" yes, and it’s a subtext here, but not the main point. The main point is about the difference between coming to the table to engage an interface, or coming to engage the scenario. It seems people put more effort on remaking the interface than they do on the stories themselves.

I've found the article and the ensuing discussion intriguing. Especially I don't see any attack on RG's stance by Neph (except to get to the nitty-gritty of the issue, which is a good thing). I think I can see it from both sides, and would choose depending on what's best for my particular group.

In some ways, the stats, numbers and rules act like a "bar" (or handhold) that players can always fall back on when they try to focus on their character, when they are tired or confused, or just don't seem to get a grip on a particular game-situation (although some of that might be the DM's fault, I think these circumstances arise without being anyone's fault). Rather than make a move that afterwards will seem crude and unfitting, they can relax a bit and let the rules take over for a moment, coming back into focus and into character. This 'safety' is what RG takes away.

Then again, if your group is feeling too secure behind their stats, intrinsic knowledge of the rules etc., and taking undue advantage of that you might actually gain a good deal of spontaneity by taking it away from them. I do think though that a DM can do the same in-game by creating unusual and unexpected situations (tactical or otherwise).

I guess the main point would be: do the game stats represent a "good bar" for the roleplaying you expect of your group? Have characters been created according to the specifics of the game world? I was always intrigued about the idea of removing stats as much as possible from character creation, instead giving the player in-character choices fitting to the setting (upbringing, interests, experiences), and then hand them the stats when the whole process is done (although I never completed any attempts at such a system to my satisfaction). Taking the number-crunching decisions out of character creation (and levelling) is possibly the most important step for this issue, and I think it could be done by the DM and player talking about the character and the DM then making the fitting choices.

To get out of the "role-playing" vs "roll-playing": "rolle-playing", anyone?

RG & Neph,

Well argued debate.

On the whole I tend to go with Neph because, although I think that it is possible to have a good game while hiding the numbers, the only real benefit is to add a level of uncertainty/realism to the players knowledge. All other effects seem to be detrimental:

(1) More workload for DM.

(2) Less control of their character (knowledge is power).

(3) Less transparency to the game and hence tendency to corrupt the DM. Let me explain.

Both RG & Neph have mentioned players fear of giving the DM too much power. Neph believes this is possible but RG feels that as long as the DM is "good" "N/G by preference =)" then there should be no problem. On the whole, I again agree with Neph, because Corrupt behaviour is only partly the fault of the DM. The system is also inportant. The more transparent the system, the less likely the DM is to make a corrupt decision. Unfortunately, in RPG's, the Executive, Legal, and Enforcement functions are already in the DM's hands with no seperation of powers. This already puts too much power in his hands, so we shouldn't reduce the power of oversight for the players .

Last point. My observations are based on long experience of roleplaying under different DM's. ALL DMs are capable of interfering unfairly on occasion. I do not exclude myself or even the best DMs I've played with. Its extraordinarily difficult for a DM to retain objectivity and fairness because they care about the campaign and the outcomes of events in the campaign.

I just wanted to say that this article gave me a lot to chaw on. Thanks, RG.

Mo mentions something that has gotten overlooked by the on-going conversations regarding better role-playing...

...and that's adding a different kind of challenge for the players.

I've stated that I've seen more successes than failures with this experiment...but, I'll admit that some of that may also involve the increased challenge faced by the players.

Here's the thing...we'd been playing D&D for 10+ years. We know you gotta burn trolls to kill 'em, otherwise they'll regenerate. We wanted to focus on character development, yes....but we also wanted an edge that would make the game more challenging. We wanted to face new creatures (aside: I used some new ones from newer / obscure monster manuals) without already knowing how to fight them.

See...we wanted to play D&D from a fresh start...but we didn't want years of gaming to keep us from enjoying the wonder and excitement that we all felt the first time we played.

This was an experiment to improve role-playing, yes...but it was also an effort to re-vitalize our interest in DND.

Someone else stated that our success was probably only a result from our desire for success...and had little to do with the mechanics of what we were doing. I'll certainly grant that as a possibility...but, it also seems to me that would be true for a lot of other things. Do people enjoy playing DND because the rules are good...or because they're jazzed about fighting dragons. Dunno.

I agree with Ravanrooke...you gotta do what's good for your group. And...I kinda like the term rolle-playing. Good one.

I'll let you guys in on a secret...

Earlier this year...after 5 years of going without sheets, I gave the everybody a copy of their guy. Yes, with stats, saving throw #'s, THAC0, etc.


Well, one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is that this experiment can finally run its course. After 5 years of playing, all of the players had high-level characters again. The characters were already well developed...so, there was no fear of letting the stats get in the way. The PC's were now fairly powerful...so, they could tackle new creatures and either win...or teleport (or whatever) away if they started to get their butts kicks.

Another thought,

I'm also willing to admit that this was a success for us simply because it was something different. I got burnt out on hamburgers in 1993...and didn't eat one for over a year. Then, in winter of 95, I ate a burger and MAN it tasted good.

For those who are still suspicious of this experiment...maybe you should just try for a few games to give you a better appreciation of the way you're doing things now. Maybe my group had to get away from the numbers in order to finally get back to the numbers and still enjoy the game -- maybe that's part of why it worked.

Just a thought.

Is the basis of your successful campaign and developed characters founded on a lack of character sheets? Five years is a long stretch by any account, and in all of the campaigns I’ve played in, we’ve always had a rich world and characters after that amount of playtime has elapsed. It’s no surprise, but no less commendable to all of you. I do think your character sheets are somewhat beside the point though, based on what I’ve seen.

I totally get you though, on wanting to freshen it up a bit. Typically, and Gamegrene is no exception, for all the talk of refreshing the role-playing experience, the solution offered is usually some minor twist on mechanics. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket. Part of my frustration is based on other conversations aside from gamegrene with another friend who is also fooling with the wires to increase his enjoyment. I just get frustrated with what I see as an expenditure of effort in less productive areas. The reason offered is always to enhance the RP enjoyment, but the solution is always some gimmicky mechanical novelty. It’s like going with someone who never orders anything from the menu. If you really wanted the best food, well – wouldn’t that be what the chef would put on the menu? I get the sense that it’s more about ego sometimes than it is about actual role-playing. Like a Duncan Hines cake mix, somehow it doesn’t feel like baking a cake unless you crack your own eggs into the mix (even though the mix can certainly be made with egg powder incorporated).

If role-playing and story writing, particularly in this format – is king, why do all the articles focus on mechanics as a solution (or curtailing or merely obfuscating the mechanics, without offering a viable alternative). You don’t teach a horse to fly by hobbling its legs, you know?

If these things are so sublime, I don’t understand why there are so few articles about how to write a story, screenwriting, hypertext writing, game theory, open structure writing, characters etc. And I get especially frustrated with the irony in getting dismissed as a number cruncher as I grump about what I see as misdirection in tinkering with rule structures and forms under the pretense of enhancing creativity in a story format.

What makes horror horrible? What makes suspense suspenseful? What keeps readers turning pages? What is the engine of the plot? There’s a lot of good story and drama craft that can be taught – but it’s almost never seen in gaming articles.

I’m not saying this now to point attention specifically at you RG, especially because if your games are successful (especially in light of the disadvantage of not having character sheets :^) ) then you must know a lot about these things already. This discussion, and my stance within it, is rooted in the context I’ve just described though.

I found this site on a post under the article "Disillusioned with MMORPGs" on gamegenre. Good stuff, but it takes a while to read.


Check out the sub-section: The No-Numbers concept!

And as for all the articles focusing on the mechanics, here's the problem. First of all, I'll say that I understand Neph's stance. WTF do stats have to do with role-playing? None. But rules affect the game world. Namely, it affects the SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF! Ever change to the game rules are trying to make stuff "real" so people might have a "real" world to try to live "real" lives.

Why does death matter in a world with Ressurection magic, if there's at least one cleric in each temple who knows at least "Raise Dead?" What ARE levels and experience points anyway? Is a 20th level Barbarian's ONLY difference from a 1st level that he spent more time getting beat up and going into exhausting fits of murderous rage that his body had to adapt to his extreme lifestyle? Did he just EVOLVE into something else entirely, IN HIS OWN LIFESPAN!? What about Prestige class requirements? HOW do they know you have 10 ranks in Bluff, when your a Bard that knows GLIBNESS (+20 or 30, can't remember, bonus to Bluff) and if they detect that your using magic, you can just "super lie about," Or cast suggestion! "You're using magic enhancements." "No I'm not." "....I guess your not. But the orb is blinking anyway" (waves hands) "No, its not" "...............um, sorry, I forgot, what are we talking about?" "You where just about to include me into the Order of the Silver tounge" "Oh, right! Step this way, oh, qualified individual!"
If the rules don't make sense, and therefore the world doesn't, two things can be expected to happen:

1) The players lose their suspension of disbelief and can only clung to their suspension of disgust. THEY WILL KNOW THEIR JUST PLAYING A STUPID "GAME"

2) The game will probably cause game imbalance, where one class is "better" than the others. I mean, just look at the 3rd edition (and 3.5) Monk! He gets a new class ability EVERY LEVEL and those are the things people OVERLOOK when they make their Monk TWINKS.

I feel like most people who try to make new mechanics are hoping to give World Balance (see Uncle Figgy's guides at www.dragondogpress.com) and suspend disbelief in their games. D&D's not bad, but sometimes it leaves at lot to be disired. I mean, why is ANYONE afraid of their character dying when any reasonably power patron (in some campaigns, the GODS themselves) would just call for a "True Ressurection?" DAMN, We can go over everything discussed all over gamegenre on this one post, but I gotta go.

In conclusion, the no-sheet function doesn't solve the basics, but it helps a little bit. I'm actually kinda into the idea of not having to care about anything besides my stuff (and my spells), it can only help role playing in so far as to not provide a distraction.

Oh, yeah, that above post was me

No - as I've said several times already, the "no-sheet" function keeps the existing rules intact. It's not like there are "less rules". There are just as many as before, and they mean exactly the same thing. The players and the DM also know this. The only difference is that players need to defer to the DM for information about their character, in the same way they defer to the DM for information on their environment, and on the results of their actions.

If you truly want to put your money where your mouth is, then forget this sham of "no-sheet" and create something different. It's not a game anymore, but maybe it is simply communal storytelling of some kind (nothing simple about that though). No dice. No rules. Perhaps a moderator.

The examples you've cited above - including resurrection, are all EASILY addressed in both game and narrative structure. One method that works for me is to have two, for lack of a better word, gaming "voices".

When something happens and we take care of business, rolling dice, adding mods, invoking abilities etc, we take care of this as fast as possible. When the result is complete, usually I (but sometimes the player) immediately describes what just happened - what it looked like - using prose.

I goes like this:

1. Player states the desired action.
2. Data considered, dice rolled, action outcome resolved.
3. Action and result is described in narrative prose (ie there's no "Kerwin uses glibness +3 to sweet talk the guard").

The narrative is adapted to correspond with the game result - but it remains a narrative.

I'm another player in RG's games, and while I don't want to drag this debate any further (I think everyone's made their points a few times over), I did want to mention that in our long history of role-playing we've explored about every scenario and system imaginable. We've played games with no dice (tons of games, actually) and with no system of rules. We've done games where we woke up and had no memory of who we were, and had to piece together our surroundings, our identities, and how we got there (with minimal direction from the GM). We've done pure narratives. You could definitely say we've been around the block. Our D&D campaign was partly created as a way to get back to old-fashioned fun with dice, but at the same time utilize the tricks we'd learned from the different games before. We don't plan on always using this particular style (as RG stated, he recently reintroduced character sheets in his campaign), but the experiment itself was worth it. Experiments often are.

I think the best example of why RG's style of gaming can work is the fact that three players from his group have come on this site and posted in his defense. There's no power games going on behind the scenes, just a group of old friends who trust one another. The system worked for us--it certainly isn't intended for everybody. People should use whatever works best for their own games, obviously.


No...my barometer of success isn't based solely on absent character sheets. There are other things.

All of the articles that I've posted, thus far, involve things that make our games better than they were 5 years ago. I can't discuss everything in one article...so I break them out, topically. I've discussed things such as how to make more interesting NPC's and I've offered ideas for what makes an arch-enemy more interesting. I intend to cover a lot of other things...some mechanical, some not.

In the grand scheme of time, RPG's are the youngsters of entertainment. They came after music, TV, movies, etc. They're still being developed. It wasn't really until the late 80's that the variety of RPG's really opened up. Hence, I think that's why a lot of people focus on the mechanics...they're looking for a rule set that fits their needs...or, maybe they're just looking for some modifications they can make to an existing rule-set that will suit their needs.

For example...around 1995, I came up with a Conan game...but, wasn't sure which rules system I wanted to use. 2nd Edition wasn't going to work...so, I used the GURPS system as my guideline. But, I'd been playing GURPS based games for 5+ years at that point...so, one I was a little tired of that rule set and, two, there were still some opportunities for improvement that I wasn't sure how to handle.

However, I certainly didn't need any help in developing a story -- I had, in my mind, a great story and, at that time, it was the most developed game I'd ever designed in terms of plot, character development, etc.

What I needed, then, was help with mechanics.

Again, I certainly don't mind offering up tips on how to handle the story & character end of role-playing...but, in my experience, most people don't warm to this.

When I read articles on "how to be a better writer," I look for tips on writing mechanics...because I'm an arrogant guy and I don't think that I need help with my IDEAS...I just need help on how to get them across. It's the same way with RPG's...I never have problems coming up with story and character elements...but, after 15+ years of playing, I often have trouble with the rules...they tend to get in the way of the story.

And, in all honestly, I'd rather sacrifice the rules over the story.

This isn't a novel concept. I've read books by Gygax, Jackson, and others where they clearly state if a rule doesn't work for your group, get rid of it -- they emphasize the aspect of fun. I've taken that advice to heart...but have also come to realize that you don't necessarily have to drop a rule...sometimes you can modify it...you can tinker with the mechanics.

I think this is why RPG's are superior forms of entertainment. I can tweak RPG's to suit my needs...but if the new Star Wars film sucks, there's not a blessed thing I can do about it. But an RPG...well, I can do just about anything I want with it.


I hear ya - and please don't think I'm picking on you specifically about the whole mechanics thing.

I don't pay a lot of heed to Gygax and the rest. I doubt the designers of the Atari 2600 would really have a lot of insight into today's games (at least not more than anyone else).

I think the "how to be a better writer or RPG adventure creator" articles wouldn't really be about ideas so much. Not so much as they are about learning the nuts and bolts of scene creation, and any number of "nuts and bolts" structural narrative elements that go into creating a scene - which aren't covered by "rules supplements".

I'm a writer and I've studied these things, so they appear more obvious to me. I suspect that most game players haven't though, and instead focus on tinkering with rules and forms as a route towards creative expression - because thats what they know (or more often, it's what they think they know).

Kensai, thanks for your elaboration. Do realize though, that I'm not trying to tell you your game isn't fun. Clearly it is. I'm just somewhat skeptical that the reason it is fun is what we are discussing here, based on what I've seen. Even in your specific examples - these are mainly due to high concept creative ideas - not so much changes in the playing form (though I can see some sense in never giving a character sheet to someone if their own identity is a mystery - the mystery is somewhat superfluous if the player created the character in the first place).

I should've elaborated on that bit more--the players didn't create the characters in that particular game. Using small clues, such as body type and a few items included with us, we determined who was the strongest, the more scientific-minded, etc, and adapted accordingly. But even in the end our knowledge was limited to such superficial facts, not names, histories, etc.

Hey gang, sorry I am late to the party, but I have had a busy couple of weeks.

Very interesting article. Sort of a neat experiment, and it seems to have worked out great for you guys. Cool. I really like the idea (as a character) of not knowing how likely I am to die from an attack, I think it would ratchet up the tension a bit, which I like. I know when I have the sheet in front of me I naturally take it's contents into account when I decide what to do, and I wonder if the decision-making process would be very different without it. I get the impression that in your game it was, which is kinda cool.

I wish I'd gotten here sooner so you and I could once again trade really long posts about an interesting article, but since I was late, and the long posts have already happened, I'll try to keep it short.

It appears to me (and I could certainly be mistaken) that RG thought this experiment might be fun, and might increase the expected fun quotient of his game. Also, it would appear that a significant part of the fun would come from an increase in the expected level of in-character role play. And it appears that he was correct, given that a majority of the games participants have so testified. A successful experiment all around.

Neph points out, that from a strict "between the lines" game perspective, the experiment would likely make the play more unweildy, by making the player interface less direct. While there has been no participant testimony on this point, it does seem like a reasonable inference. And given Neph's predilection for the gamey components of gaming it further seems reasonable that such an indirect interface might adversely effect his enjoyment of the game. (Neph, Naturally I mean gamey in a good way, not in the "Yikes, those sneakers are smelling mighty gamey" sense of the word :-))

Different people want different things out of their games.

If I might interject a softball analogy: My friend Jeff is a better ballplayer than I, he hits for more power, has a better arm, and is faster than me, and is more intense to boot. So anyone wanting a tactical advantage "in game" would do well to choose him ahead of me. I on the other hand have a real gift for chatter (hey no batter. no batter, etc) and baseball lore, and am fairly laid back, so anyone looking to improve the dugout experience, while sacraficing some gaming precision, would do well to choose me ahead of him. Both reasonable decisions, made for different reasons, to enhance different aspects of the gaming experience.

OK, so I did not in fact keep it short, I just wanted to say that both the article and the ensuing discussion were very interesting, and really fun to read, but once I get started on Gamegrene I just can't stop the stream of consciousness typing.


John, glad to have you join us. A couple things:

There has indeed been some testimony of other players having poor experiences with it - and that's with a good dm. Me- I was one of those players, and the game was Mage. None of us enjoyed it.

Also, while I don't thumb my nose at the gamey aspect of RPGs, unlike many players who do (and yet constantly tweak the game rather than the story), please don't let this fact cause you to overlook the fact that the bulk of my argument here is about how this method affects the story itself, without actually trimming any rules.

In this particular case, it's been revealed in discussion that the hook of at least one campaign was built around amnesiac characters - and if that's the case, then this high concept premise fits the form of play. No arguments there, since the discovery of one's own identity is integral to the story in that scenario.

I see that many people in this thread want to try to make it about game precision vs role-playing, but this just isn't about that. Again, the rules haven't been changed - they still mean the same thing whether or not the character sheets are dispensed. So you still are playing a precision game- but you are doing so from a farther distance (when I presume the goal is to bring you closer to the moment). Unless anyone is actually going to posit an argument to counter this point, maybe we can drop the whole tight rules vs loose rules angle?

An "experiment" is successful if you learn something from it - whether or not your hypothesis is confirmed by the results.

Jesus guys I think we're gonna have to start with the cliff notes again.

For the unbelievers...

Stan plays warriors. Always has. He likes them big and strong...with 18 on strength and swords that have a +5 bonus. His dude is a hack-master and he solves his problems with the sword. Always has.

Stan and his bud, Bob, come to the Tomb of Bones and Stan stands in the shadows. Waits to fight gargoyles. There's a riddle on the wall, but Stan doesn't care about that. He's a killer.

Bob asks Stan to help decipher the code -- Bob can't make heads or tails out of it. Stan refuses, because it's not his thing. His guy isn't as smart as Bob's...is Intelligence rating is 4 points lower than Bob's. Stan concludes, from the numbers, that the best thing to do is not try...besides, it's not becoming of warriors to be smart.

The riddle goes unsolved.

Later, Stan and Bob come face-to-face with the arch-lich. Stan is confident that his +5 weapon will be enough to win the day. He charges in with the intent of hacking down the arch-lich...but, because they didn't decipher the riddle, they don't know that the arch-lich can't be hurt by corporeal means. Stan is befuddled when his super-weapon doesn't work...and gets his soul sucked out of his body in Round 2.

Stan isn't a good role-player...in any sense of the word. He's too reliant on his ST 18 and his Long Sword +5. His INT rating is 12, but since a INT of 12 doesn't give him a "bonus" Stan concludes that his guy "isn't that smart." The Player's Handbook states that 12 makes him smarter than the average bear, but Stan is a PLAYER CHARACTER and has this stead-fast belief that a stat is no-good unless it gives him a bonus.

Stan is actually a smart guy, but isn't really getting the picture.

Bob, btw, also dies because he didn't have Stan to cover his back when the arch-lich summoned a dozen gibberlings to fight for the cause.

So...Bob and Stan...the "experienced" players, want to make new guys and try their luck again.

This time...though...we don't hand out character sheets.

Stan wants to make a strong warrior with a nifty sword. Okay...done. Bob makes a elf-dwarf wizard-cleric.

They go and adventure in the Tomb of Greater Horrors. Again, they find writing on the wall. Bob can't figure it out and asks Stan to try.

"I'm a warrior," says Stan.

"So?" I ask.

"I'm not smart enough," says Stan.

"How do you know?" I ask.

Stan gets to thinking about it. Maybe he is. He makes a perception role and tells me that his result is RT78#. I check the table...RT78# indicates a success.

Stan gets a weird look on his face. In his mind...warriors are like Thundarr the Barbarian...they fight, drink, and make merry...they don't go around and figure stuff out. Yet...his guy just did. Stan starts to wonder what other avenues his guy is capable of. Sure, he's strong and has the +5 sword...but maybe there are other things that his guy is capable of...things that he wasn't thinking about.

The joke, by the way, is on Stan. Is INT rating is still 12.

They press on. They fight some kobolds that tried to pelt them with arrows. But, Bob and Stan are too tough for the kobolds.

Finally, they come to the center of the maze and see the Greater Minotaur that they seek to slay. The minotaur's armor is glowing with a silvery hue.

Bob concludes that the armor is magical.

Stan asks if his sword is powerful enough to hack the minotaur down.

Stan doesn't know it...but his ST is 14 and his bonus on the sword is +1. This makes Stan stronger than most humans -- he's proven this to himself by arm-wrestling in the tavern the night before...he went the entire night without a loss. But, with ST 14, there's no bonus to hit nor to damage.

Stan charges in and hacks at the minotaur. After 5 rounds, Stan has only scored 3 hits...and, though the minotaur is bleeding from a thigh wound...his attacks aren't really doing that much damage.

"We need a new plan," Bob shouts.

Stan and Bob retreat. They find a safe place and think up a new plan. They know what the Boss of the Maze is now...it's a greater minotaur. They don't know what the stats for the minotaur are...so, they're not sure what to do.

Stan has been on a roll of another kind, though, and starts to think outside of his old box. He thinks his guy is smart...so, it doesn't bother him to play his guy with more of an intellectual edge than before.

They decide to make a pit...and lure the minotaur into the pit. Bob's cleric-wizard makes the digging & pit concealment easier. Stan is the bait.

Stan finds the minotaur and taunts him to follow him...again, this is a new technique for Stan. The minotaur is lured to the pit...and falls in. Stan then takes a bow from the dead kobolds and uses their arrows to nail their old boss. 40 arrows later (with only 17 hits...but enough to win the day), Stan finally kills the minotaur.

Stan was always a smart guy. He could have played a smarter guy before. He chose not too, because he let the rules foul him up. Rather, he let his perception of what the rules meant screw him up. He honestly didn't think a guy with low stats could beat a Greater Minotaur. Also, he let the lack of INT bonuses dumb his guy way down. Stan, a smart guy, overlooked the fact that intelligence and cunning don't always go hand-in-hand. Stan learned that warriors who utilize the bow over the sword can kick butt too -- just because the arrow does 1D6 versus the 1D8+5 of his old sword doesn't mean that arrows don't have their place in the gaming world. Stan's new approach also improved things between him and Bob. Stan started carrying more of the team's weight by not being such a lame role-player.

Is this a contrived example? Sure it is -- and no matter what lenghts I go to...I'm sure there will be some stubborn nay-sayers who'd rather look for points to nick-pick at rather than try to understand the potential benefits of this experiment.

Stan, of course, is a made-up guy...but I've seen a lot of Stan in a lot of players...some have a greater degree of it than others, sure. And, some of you may not have any Stans in your group -- that's great. But, I've seen Stan rear his ugly head all over the place...and some people can't cure their inner Stan. That's the way of things.

I hate to admit it...but I still have aspects of Stan in me. I rely to much on those high bonus numbers and I let them convince me of what I can pull off before I even try it.

5 years ago...I would have been reluctant to play a gnome illusionist with stats of 13 down the line. But, having done this experiment for as long as I have...I can honestly say that I'm more compelled to try playing such a character and see what I can pull off with him.

Regarding the tight rules versus loose rules angle...I'm not even sure how that got started. The original article states that this is an experiment to improve role-playing skills and to remove mis-conceptions about stats n' such. This post is just an elaboration on the original article. I'm not talking about inadequate rules and, again, I'm not sure how we got spun off on that.

So...to clarify...this experiment is meant to improve role-playing skills...some of you may not need / want that...and your mileage may vary.

I may have found the answer to your question, Neph.

The problem isn't getting rid of the rules or hiding them or whatever. It's trying to get players to do stuff without thinking "a +1 in climbing? Scale a 20 ft. slippery cliff? I, the player, KNOW my character won't make it! Even if he might not know, I still will just rule" I think it would be cool to have the POSSIBLITY to be surprised by my Character. I would let me role play him surprising himself better. (or herself)

Well, Will - you've boiled it down to a reasonable estimation of what this is about - at least a part of it. The thing is, with all RPG's I know, nothing is cut and dried about your chances fo success. Like in real life, you tend to know the "ballpark", but there is always a chance of failure.

It's important to note, Rogue, that in real life, most people do have a sense of their skills and abilities in certain areas. I'm an excellent cook, for example, and I know I have a more than reasonable chance of succeeding with a recipe that would likely be a disaster for a cooking newbie. I also know that I have a semi-decent chance of inventing my own dishes - something that most cooking noobs really couldn't do. And obviously, since this is just me - there are no points involved.

As in real life (and it suits for gaming as well), people or characters tend to have some sense of their abilities, and can gauge them against a task with some degree of ease.

Perhaps I've been gifted with players throughout my 20+ years of gaming that were mostly all excellent players. Rogeue, in your example - you seem to be suggesting that your example is suited to helping people who are terrible role players - people who just don't get it. I dunno if that will really help them, but I'm open to the idea.

Hi RG,
(And Neph, long time, no see...hope you are keeping well)

A question - related to my own experience. Context first: I've done various martial arts for 20+years now (about the sme time as RPG'ing). Once I was young , fast....then a little while later I wasn't so fast, but experienced. Now I am ultra experienced but to be honest young and fast is too much for me!.
So the question, do you make your PC's go down in level as they age. Most RPG's arrange for level drainig. I never played one yet where getting older was addressed realistically. Do you have plans with your 'stat-blind' system to do something like this?
Would your players find getting older fun?

I can't imagine players in games where they see their sheets seeing 2 levels and 3 points of dex go as they hit forty plus, but perhaps it might work with the set up as you have it?
- Greyshirakwa

On May 29, 2004 11:41 PM, Nephandus said:
... in real life, most people do have a sense of their skills and abilities in certain areas. I'm an excellent cook, for example, and I know I have a more than reasonable chance of succeeding with a recipe ...

Neph, your knowledge is likely based on your experience so far. A new cook, might be able to pull it off as well, but he would not know with the certainty that you do. I think that experience is the key.
Discussed above is an example of characters with no memories, and that this style of play seemed like a good fit for a game of that nature.
RG says he gave th sheets back at 5th level, since by then the characters have a good sense of what they can do. They have enough experience to determine wether they can do X or not, Just like you do with cooking.

At 1st level, without that experience, every encounter is like a new recipe, they don't know wether they can succeed. But after a couple of levels they should know better.

I think your point is MUCH stronger about hit points though, I think most people would not have to ask "How hurt am I" before determining wether or not to give chase, even at low levels, and for that matter even with memory loss.


On May 31, 2004 12:00 PM, Greyshirakwa said:
...So the question, do you make your PC's go down in level as they age. Most RPG's arrange for level drainig. I never played one yet where getting older was addressed realistically. ...

I don't play a level based system at the moment, but the old sytem I use (TFT) is attribute based, and calls for attribute loss as you age. Dex is naturally the first to go. I only had one character last that long, and I was the player. I hated the physical effects of Aging. Now that I am aging in real life, I am still not that happy about the impact of aging.

But I think I'd be even less happy to see hard earned levels go away with age.

As a GM I expect to just ignore the effects of aging most of the time.


Hi Grey – nice to hear from you too. Things haven’t been going that well so I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately.

Do I change my PC’s attributes as they age? No- not unless it is in the form of some kind of “age attack” which has the end result of causing some kind of infirmity. Otherwise, it seems a bit obsessive. The world changes, as do their fortunes, but they don’t really change that much over time themselves. I accept this artifice in the same way I accept that Batman isn’t a wizened old man.

But so far, it really hasn’t come up.

As for “level draining” attacks – this assumes the game I’m playing uses levels rather than an attribute/skill point buy. I’ve played several kinds. I think we tend to use the “leveling up” in a similar manner to the Star Trek universal translator (ie, don’t ever think too hard about it). In 3e we wanted money and experience points to count, so we started keeping meticulous track of it – easy to do on a spreadsheet. Characters pay money and experience to level up, and they don’t level up unless they train. From a narrative standpoint, if it came up, it was always considered to be something akin to stepped martial arts, where you earn a new coloured “belt” for learning a set of techniques. In kung fu and Star Wars movies, it sometimes includes special secrets.

John – your examples refer to encounters. Mine refer to abilities, attributes, and skills. You have an intuitive general sense of them, whether or not you apply them in the field in specific scenarios. In my cooking example, it doesn’t matter whether I’m making spring garlic soup or chopping onions for a burger – the knife technique is similar enough, and exists independently of the meal.

Just to mention the Traveller game system. Positively.

This was a sci fi based system that I played a lot in the 1980's. Don't know if its still popular.

Anyway, it had neither levels nor much character skill progression. And interestingly it did have realistic ageing.

This made for a really good game. Let me explain.

the first part of the game was character creation. But this was a more comprehensive proces than most rpg's. When you came out of it you had , effectively, all your skills for the game, and they would get better very slowly, if at all. So, for example, you might join a marine company at age 17 and leave after three 4 year tems at age 29 during which you would have developed skills acording to your assignments and rank. You would still be young and have all your physical attributes. However, if you were able to stay for 7 terms and leave at rank "General" then you would have a lot more admin and command skills but you would be age 45 and your physical attributes would have deteriorated significantly. You would leave the service with benefits and pensions accrued over the terms you served. Very realistic.

so a typical "Traveller" party would consist of a group of ex-military types banded together to engage in exploration/adventure:

ex-scout with scoutship with exploration pilot and nav skill,
ex-navy officer with pilot nav and and engineering skills,
two or 3 ex grunts from space marines or ground armies with fighting and maybe command skills,

later on the game developed to include the whole range of characters you might meet, barbarians, gamblers, etc.

Anyway my point is, that when you don't have to worry about character progression, you are forced to go for more realistic goals (money, power, knowledge, fun) and also you are more free to role play and set your own goals.

Last thing, "traveller" was also realistic about lethal combat. This tended to make you avoid it as much as possible. Or get others to do your fighting for you. Another bit of realism.

If anybody is assuming that I play with a bunch of leatherheads, they're missing the point.

I don't believe in the perfect gamer -- I think everybody can improve their gaming skills. This experiment is something we did to improve our skills...and our overall game quality. It worked for us...it didn't work for others...derive what you will from that.

I'd recommend that you don't let the vocalized success or lack-of-success be the factor in deciding if you want to try this or not. Rather, go for the fun factor...if it sounds like it's up your alley, then that should be the determining factor.


Grey...I don't really deal with aging in my games. Our current DND "campaign" has taken 5 years of human time, but not quite a year of "game" time. I've done other games where the "game time" advanced more quickly than "real time."

One of the reasons I don't use aging rules is because they're not absolute. I've seen people grow stronger with age...and more stupid. I've seen the opposite. I've seen a mix. Do all elves get smarter with age, probably not. It's a good rule for NPC's, maybe, but it's not something I'd want to restrict PC's with.

But...it might be something I'd experiment with, if I had the time to do so.


Thanks for the response. Sounds like no-one does this very much under d20 or DnD3+ system. The reason I was curious was 2 of our longer campaigns ran at about 1 for 1 timewise. One campaign at 12+ years the other at 6+ (now entering 'Next Generation' phase, with a 25 year to in-game gap to allow progeny to grow up)

The bulk of the characters started at from 17 - 30 years of age, mostly human. Highest level achieeved was 9th. With 30'/40s looking up, I wondered about clipping power levels. It sounded like a game where the players don't know their stats might be easier to do something along these lines.
I think my group would be fairly open to the methods you have used. The only difference there would be that would be taking the sheets offthem post-creation time.
However, most of the opinion above seemed to be anti- aging treatment!
I think I need to take that on-board.
Question: Did you impose this tactic and then ask them to go along with it for awhile to try it, or negotiate it first?

My £0.02 worth: (bear with me, it relates to sheetless play) the 2 best games I ever enjoyed were my first 6 weeks of rune quest and Call of Cthulu. Reason: Although I had a sheet and rolled my own stats, I had no context to know what it meant in the meta-game. The result was that all the experienced players spent lots of time calculating if any action was at worst a zero-sum for them - they were all nearing runelord or rune priest level - whilst I just got on with doing stuff they thought I (statistically) shouldn't.
Now this doesn't reduce any of the rule set, it just means that the GM is the only person who needs to know them.
My group has just gone back to Bushido after a 10 year break. Great fun! We've forgotten all the intricacies of the rules so we can't do the calculations.
My solution to gaming enjoyment - don't throw away the sheets, just turn 40 and lose chunks of your memory!



We...being the initial players and I...came up with the ground rules before we started playing. I think this experiment works best if everybody is on-board with it rather than it being something the DM forces.

Over time...new players arrived as others left (such is life). I made the new players adhere to the standing ground rules...that seemed only fair to the existing players.

Regarding, aging, I always let a player start at whatever age he / she wants -- that may be why I've never bothered with aging rules...we always sorta took care of that anyway.

Regarding your Bushido comment...you know, after going 5 years without sheets, most of my players don't remember how the rules work for DND...not exactly, anyway. There may be quite a bit of truth to your "chunks of memory" statement.

Our Shadowrun games sound like your Bushido games. We took nearly 10 years off from Shadowrun...but, we have a lot of fun roaming around Seattle (or wherever), but very few of us can remember how to adjust for all the $@#$ modifiers.

Our catch phrase: "I'll wing it."

I've done this style of play before. It's generally great but I don't like the extra dm workload.

First of all, it's silly to say that this means you have to trust the dm more; if you don't trust your dm, leave the game. The DM has so much power to destroy characters (Oh, another freak boulder storm) that, in DM vs. players format, the DM always wins.

I see two big improvements:
1) players stop over analyzing the dice rolls and stats. They must deal with outcomes just they would in the real world. If their opponent puts an arrow in the bullseye, they have to infer whether it was a lucky shot or if he's just that good. There's also no more "I rolled poorly on my search, I'd better try again." It's always felt unreal to me when a character gets ripped open and lies bleeding and the players go "Eh, he's only at -2, we can wait a bit." If they only know that the character is dying, they must make a more gutsy decision.

2)Once they get into their characters, they think outside the box more. They don't roll to hit, they describe what they're doing and are more likely to try more unorthodox methods. The whole game becomes more cinematic.

One time, I started a new gaming system and told the players not to waste money on the books so that they wouldn't know the details of the mechanics, just impressions of what they and others were like.

On the whole though, I find the tedium of doing all calculations and knowing all the character sheets too much more often than not. However, in pbp games where the pace of dice rolling is much slower, I prefer to go with something along these lines.

Hi all, I just wanted to say that the success of this style of play depends largely on the skills of the DM.

I enjoyed many years of rpg fun as DM and player. Until the DM of the time took similar if not identical action to that first mentioned. I can honestly say that it ruined the game for me completely.

We had always felt that this DM was a bit of a power tripper, but to be told simply of ones failure and death is simply not good enough for me. If nothing else, I want to see the dice roll. That is the physical reality that is easiest for me to accept. The roll of the dice may as well be the clang of the weapons for me.

How is the player supposed to gauge how tired or ready they are?... or the urgency of a situation? The facts and figures that rpg is built on represent the means by which a character weighs up his best options. I found that the additional load on our DM was too much, I rarely had perspective on what was happening from then on in. I complained, but persevered, until I just wasn't enjoying the time spent gaming anymore.

It's sad, the issue caused a fall out, and I find it hard to believe I will find another group to play with or the time to do it now. so in this case, It looks to have ended the career of a few more players. I don't dig it. :(

You are correct. To a large extent, the skills of a GM will determine whether this approach works or not. I don't recommend this approach for power-tripping GM's -- any GM who sees this as an excuse to harness more power is missing the point. This approach requires trust between the players and GM...a willingness to cooperate.

Aside from all that...the importance of numbers in your campaign is also relevant. I'm a rule-lite GM. I never both with gauging how tired the players are. The PC's in my game are always on the go and if I worried about fatigue, we'd wouldn't have come half as far as we have.

Since this approach is an attempt to down-play the numbers...it probably won't work well for players who enjoy the numbers.

You're not the first to mention how things like this cause fall-out within a group. That's unfortunate...but, I'm always left to wonder if the fault of the technique...or if there were other factors that would have eventually led to the same end result.

I've had games ruined by folks who roll too much dice and depend too much on the rules. But...I've also come to learn that the real issue was that I didn't like that player or GM...their technique was just a by-product and the direct cause of the tension. I'm thinking of a case where we healed a guy pierced by an arrow...and the GM assumed that we, the stupid players, healed him with the arrow still inside his body because we hadn't stated that we'd take it out -- this GM wanted everything spelled out and left no room for common sense...because the rules didn't state anything about common sense.

Anyway and at any rate, this is a group effort thing...but then, so is playing with dice.

I have to laugh at your example of placing too much emphasis on stats/rules, re: the GM and the guy with the arrow wound, RG. I've heard a couple of similar stories. One gaming buddy of mine got really angry with a GM who ruled that his dwarf couldn't behave stubbornly because he hadn't bought "stubborn" as a disadvantage.

A player of my acquaintance once wanted to know if his PC could throw a staff with a rope tied to it 30 ft. straight up, while the PC was floating in water. Well, his sheet said the PC was strong enough to throw the staff that far, and the rules didn't apply a penalty for being immersed in water...

Still, putting the GM in charge of the character sheets seems like an awful lot of work for the GM.

It's a bit of work with ups and downs.

One think a lot of folks don't take into account is that there are players out there that aren't well versed in the rules. A GM keeping up with everything is cumbersome...true. But, for me, it's just as cumbersome...if not more so...than to constantly explain the rules to the gamers.

Some folks just want to show up to Game Night and tackle orcs n' trolls and not worry about the mechanics -- some folks like the mechanics. This is just a route to take for the former groop.

I live in NW Arkansas and have been hoping to find a group of experienced people to game with.

Rogue contact me hlessi71@aol.com about possibly joining you.

Hmm. I see your point, but for me, the thinking is sorta bass ackwards. Admittedly, my preferred systems make use of open ended dice, wich has tendency to muck up any attempts to calculate odds with any accuracy.

Anyways, playing by the numbers isn't really a bad thing in my opinion, actually it's why they're there in the first play, to gauge just how good a character is. Rolling against them comes in second.

So, in short, I wouldn't want to not know my numbers, as this deprives me of one of the formost aids in playing my character.

But then again it makes more sense in a game of D&D where rules are more abstract. Kinda why I prefer other systems.


Knowledge of what your odds are in a roleplaying game is a very action-oriented theme. People who like the "game" aspect of roleplaying games will have a problem with this technique.

People who are more story-intered will probably find it rewarding.

People who are more character-oriented may want to make sure that they can retain control over how their characters grow.

"I just wanted to say that this article gave me a lot to chaw on. Thanks, RG."

Me too. Good topic. Thanks