Microlite Interview with Robin Stacey

This interview originally appeared on Polyhedral Dreams, my old RPG blog, on January 17th, 2010.

For my first interview dealing with microlite games, I went straight to the root. Robin Stacey, also widely known as Greywulf, is the creator of Microlite20, a condensation of the 3.5 edition d20 SRD into an easily-manageable, pocket-size game.

When Robin graciously offered to answer my questions, I immediately proceeded to pester him with the following.

What should a microlite game be able to do?

Robin: As a minimum – and we’re talking bare minimum here – any rpg system should do two things: provide a method character generation and supply rules to help resolve conflicts. Anything else is icing on the cake, really.

Utramicrolite20 (http://microlite20.net/node/85) is one pretty extreme example – it’s Microlite20 stripped even further, but the price is that is loses a degree of d20 compliance. It’s six lines long but is fully usable as a game engine.

How do you decide what to include in a microlite game?

Robin: For Microlite20 itself I wanted to make sure that the bases were covered, but also wanted it to remain play-compatible with d20/SRD. This meant it needed Skills and a Magic system, as well as some way of being able to use D&D game stats as-is. I didn’t want M20 gamers to have to do any stat conversion at the table – just pick out the elements which Microlite20 uses (Hit dice, hp, attack bonus and damage) and you were free to ignore rest – or use it, if you wanted.

When I worked on M20 I took a magnifying glass to every part of d20/D&D and decided whether it was really necessary. The entire Feats system vanished overnight, for example – I realized that if you built a handful of common Feats into the combat engine itself then the entire subsystem can go without losing much functionality. For example, if a Fighter or Rogue uses a light weapon they can use their DEX bonus instead of STR to make a melee attack, and either class can
wield two weapons for a -2 penalty. That replaces a while chunk of Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting rules in a single sentence – a big win when you’re after a minimal system.

If you’re uncertain about whether to include an element, how do
you resolve that uncertainty?

Robin: There’s no hard and fast guidelines, but I guess it comes down to whether that element will be used by most players of the game, and
whether it’s easy enough to add back in for those gamers who do want it.

I thought about having no skill system at all in Microlite20, but the different classes needed something to differentiate them outside combat, and Skills are such an intrinsic part of Third Edition D&D that (unlike Feats) it was hard to ignore them. Taking Skills entirely out of the game would would have meant a lot of work to add them back using House Rules for those gamers who needed them, and I figured that would be the majority of players. So, some form of Skill engine was required, and I’m very proud of the way Microlite20’s skill system works 😀

Do you feel there is a distinct line that, if a game crosses it, means the game is no longer “microlite”?

If the basic rules take up more than a single sheet of paper and take longer than 15 minutes to understand, then it’s not microlite 😀

For example, Savage Worlds is a brilliant system that has a simple mechanic at it’s core, but there’s hidden layers of complexity inside the system which make for a compelling and fun game – but take it out of the realms of what I’d call a “real” microlite system.

Do you feel that more common or “big name” systems should be given the microlite treatment? If so, are there any you would specifically like to see?

I’d love to see a microlite version of Savage Worlds with character generation and the game engine somehow squeezed down to a single sheet of paper. It already a pretty light system, but just how light could we make it? I’d love to find out.

Folks have already asked me about microlit’ing Fourth Edition D&D and I don’t think it’s necessary. Remove the Powers system entirely so PCs can only use Basic Attacks, give spellcasters Ritual-only magic and you’ve turned 4e into a far grittier, simpler game – if that’s what you want, of course!

Do you prefer using microlite system variants to the full versions?

Robin: I know it’s lame to say “it depends” but… it depends. Where a microlite system shines is that it provides a solid foundation on which to build a custom system for your campaign. Microlite systems (and M20 in particular) are wonderfully hackable engines.

For example, if I wanted to run a unique science-fantasy campaign (a world populated by nature-loving blue aliens, perhaps) I’d start with Microlite20 as the base and add campaign-specific elements on from there. It’s far easier than having to take things away before you can start to build.

Do you have any preferences, comparing microlites to retroclones?

Robin: I think there’s a degree of overlap between microlite systems and retroclones in that they both provide a simpler gaming experience than newer rules systems. Retroclones are a terrific way to get into the old school gaming experience and provide an excellent alternative if you’re not a fan of 4e’s way of doing things. I’m lucky enough (and old enough!) to have original copies of Classic D&D (several editions) that I bought back when they were first released and prefer to use the real thing that a more recent clone. I rate the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as the best edition of D&D ever made, by a mile – with Fourth Edition coming in at second place. I have high hopes to be running a full-blown Classic D&D campaign later in the year, taking my players from 1st level all the way to… well, the sky’s the limit.

You’re selling the rights to Microlite20. Anything you’d like to say about that?

There’s been a lot of interest in the sale of the rights to Microlite20 but I have decided nothing yet. I’m positive I’ll be able to find it a good home so that it gets the support and creative input it deserves. Stay tuned!

How does it feel to have started a gaming trend?

Robin: Oh I don’t know about that 😀 Microlite20 was born out of a long thread complaining about the increasing complexity of Third Edition
D&D. A number of gamers (me included) were beginning to feel the weight of all those supplements and splatbooks on their shoulders (both figuratively and literally – those things are heavy!) and discussing whether there was a lighter, better way to play d20/D&D. I created and offered Microlite20 as one possible solution, and it just took off from there. I think it was a case of right time, right
system, and I’m happy to say it’s still very much alive and well several years later.

Would you like to remain in the consciousness of the gaming public as “the Microlite20 guy” or would you prefer to fade into the background?

Robin: I think I’ll be “that Microlite20 guy” for a long time yet, whether I want to be or no 😀 Whatever happens to M20, rather than fade into the background I’ve a whole ton of new projects and ideas planned for the future. Watch this space!

So there you have it, straight from the guy who started the whole thing.

Robin can be found on the Role Play Media Network and also at the Microlite20 Forums among other gaming-related sites.