All the Rules You Need on One Sheet
When I design a game and playtest it, most of the rules end up on one or two pieces of paper that float around the table. The rules summaries, the cheat sheets, whatever you want to call them. And the rules that don't appear on the cheat sheets more or less don't get used. So increasingly, it has seemed to me that the book isn't really the game… the cheat sheets are.
So naturally the next step after that was making a game that's just a cheat sheet.
Of course, there were a few steps.
The largest part of almost any roleplaying game is character generation–and usually my cheat sheets don't include that information, because once we're playing, we don't need it anymore. So I decided character generation wouldn't go on the single-sheet game. (This led to a different decision, which I'll talk about later, to make the game about a certain set of characters rather than anyone who stumbles into the situation.)
Most games also have subsystems, or special ways to apply their rules to certain situations, for parts of the game that need to be highlighted. Fantasy games have magic systems. Gritty games have combat systems. Drama games have social interaction rules. And so on. But it occurred to me that, not only do different games have different sets of subsystems, but really, different adventures of the same game might do the same thing. I've long been enamored of Burning Wheel's modular rules design, and I thought to myself: what if I did that here? Designed a basic resolution system that can handle anything–fights, chase scenes, magic duels, tense negotiations, everything–and then expansions that gave you extra options for spotlighting what was important then and there.
So by this point, I'd chopped down the challenge to a manageable size: a single sheet to describe a core resolution mechanic. Of course, said mechanic needed to be versatile enough to handle any sort of action you could throw at it, and also be extensible so that expansions could add meaningful new options.
I came at the challenge using the "Die Schtick and Coin Trick" method that Ryan Macklin has posted about on his blog. It's a handy tool for your game design toolbox. The first draft was okay, which is what you expect of first drafts; after some playtesting and editing, it polished up rather well.
This is the result.
…and the big version (that you can actually, you know, read) can be found here.
This was my first challenge in writing the Vicious Crucible. How'd I do?