Thoughts on the Free Kriegsspiel Revolution?

So, I’ve been hearing about the FKR scene (and, sometimes, about how it’s “OSR turned to 11”) for some months now, and, just today, I found this zine from the FKR scene which also goes to some depth in trying to define the FKR. This notwithstanding, I have exactly zero clues about what the FKR scene is, how it works and how it relates with the OSR scene. Does any of you have something to share about this?

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To be honest I’m not super familiar with the FKR scene. From what I can gather, FKR gets at playing RPGs the way they were played prior to DnD’s release in the 70’s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe part of the appeal is in making up entire rules of the game as you go along.

“expertise and judgment of the referee takes the place of rules for determining the outcomes of player actions.”

Here’s an interesting BGG thread about it: BoardGameGeek

There’s a lot of interesting stuff about FKR out on the internet, it’s become much more popular than I had thought.

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Just leafing through the two Zines put out has my interest peaked and something I’ll be examining in the future when I get the chance to read both more deeply.

FKR rules with an OSR approach/philosophy to running a game is probably the objectively best way to TTRPG.

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I also find FKR intriguing but have not had the time or mental bandwidth to properly look into it and am not as active in most rpg communities as I used to be where I would have learned more of the particulars of these things. I wish this had started a couple years ago when I was more engaged in that way. I’m in an fkr discord server but my relationship with discord in general is begrudging, I just don’t find it a great medium of communication at scale for me, and none of the blogs I follow have talked about it too much. It would be cool if more people either here or on their blogs tried to give it an efficient but comprehensive overview.

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I’ve dipped my toes in the kiddie pool, and it seems like it includes retroactively OSR or NSR stuff like Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland, Maze Rats, 24XX, and other things in that vein, but maybe also rules light wargames and rules light “indie / narrative” games as well. So it’s more about a set of values (rules light, rulings over rules, make it as you go) than some specific design approach or engine (OSR, PbtA, etc.). “Values” and “design approaches” probably aren’t good terms, but for lack of better terms offhand.

I just talked to several FKR aficionados a few days ago, and I got some answers, so I’m happy to share what I learned.

First, though, you should know that Kriegsspiel (German for wargame) was table-top miniatures wargaming in 19th-century Germany for the training of military officers. This was a war simulation in which participants played the part of military commanders who would silently pass their orders to an umpire, who would use rules to compute the outcomes of their strategies. “Free” Kriegsspiel was a reaction to this that said the rules did not make for an adequate simulation of wars and that the umpire of the game therefore should just decide outcomes: a very early instance of “rulings not rules.” See this guy, who is remembered as a big proponent of “[rules-]free wargaming.” Basically, it was wargaming but the umpire decided all outcomes with his own judgment and wits.

Now, the FKR, or “Free Kriesgsspiel Renaissance,” I’m told, has really nothing to do with wargames of that old kind not directly at least. The idea is rather to get back to an imagined Dave Arneson-like pre-D&D game with fewer rules.

The participants of FKR who told me about it basically said that the name “FKR” is not really meaningful, but it just sort of got stuck on to the game philosophy, and that nobody should take the Kriegsspiel connection too seriously. FKR is an acronym that doesn’t tell you anything by itself.

Okay, so what’s FKR about? It’s basically what my friends and I used to call freeform role-playing games (something that the FKR folks I talked to all agreed about). The Referee/GM decides outcomes based on what everybody know should happen, or on the basis of his or her own judgment calls. You don’t need numbers and you don’t need dice. People know what should happen when they’re on the same page about genre, tropes, and other expectations. The thief can pick pockets, the barbarian can roll that boulder. Unless the GM says it’s too hard, which can happen. The idea is that you don’t need numbers and dice to work all that out. People know what makes sense in RPGs.

The FKR folks I talked to agreed, when I asked them, that this way of play requires trust in the GM. They agreed that it’s probably not for everybody, but they think it’s a lot of fun.

It was unlike “OSR” in that it was not prescriptive, at least from the folks I talked to, but just a sort of play movement that they wanted to advocate.

They noted that it’s not a commercial thing, because you won’t be able to buy FKR games (no rules required), but that also means that all game materials, all fiction, all media, can become FKR materials. Whatever inspires you, you can emulate that in a freeform game. One of them was running Shadowrun without actually using Shadowrun rules, for example.

I don’t represent FKR, but I am just passing on what I was told in a forum, and I hope that it answers your question. In short, it’s a tongue-in-cheek name applied to freeform role-playing games inspired by or in league with post-OSR/NSR indie games and their play priorities.

Does that help?

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I love this style of gaming and am always happy to chat about it. Unless my table agrees to play in a different style, this is my default mode of play, regardless of the ruleset or system involved.

I have a series on my blog (that is still WIP despite me having not finished the most recent draft of a post) that I try to elaborate on how someone playing in an OSR style might include FKRish attitudes by removing rules rather than adding when trying to address a table need: https://aboleth-overlords.com/tag/less-rules-to-do-more/

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I add an insight I had speaking about FKR with the Italian OSR community: it is fundamental to have a shared world know to all the participants at the table. This may come from a book series, a TV serial, comics and whatsoever.
I read around the net that Tekumel was not only a Barker creation but a shared setting of his players. Every one knew a generous bit of that world.
In this perspective we can really state that the world are the rules and it is less necessary to have a large corpus of system rules/mechanics to handle the game! In the case all you suffice is a simple tasks resolution mechanics and the trust in the referee.

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Yes, I think that’s a good way to state it. This is basically what the FKR folks that I spoke with had to say, too.

From my point of view, a potential drawback is that genre expectations and tropes may be the rules, too. The line between role-playing games and performed fan fiction is always a blurry one (as with, for example, Middle Earth games), but if the shared setting is the rules, that may be even more so. For gamers like me, who like startling and the unexpected elements that blur genre boundaries, that could be a problem. As long as there is trust in and acquiescence to the Referee, it should be okay.

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Ya I didn’t totally understand this tenet of FKR and I also don’t like to conform strictly to genre. As you say I don’t think I agree that it’s totally necessary as long as there is communication and trust. In some ways, and again speaking not in terms of FKR since I don’t have experience, but more generally, I actually think the lack of hard rules can make the genre bending easier. Rules make hard expectations and even systems that we think of as generic or genre-orthogonal have various kinds of assumptions, so unless your rules account for this thoroughly, it can make violations of expectations more abrasive. If you don’t overly define these terms, I could imagine it provides more freedom in what the game and world can even be. Although this is contingent on trust, communication, and an understanding of the expectations or lack thereof.

Rules are just resolution mechanics. Most of the time they get in the way. All a player ever wants to know is if they are successful at attempting something. I think the FKR approach is a very good way of dealing with resolution. I still roll dice but my system at the moment is pretty much, can the PC attempt the thing? If yes, roll a d6, if high result they do the thing very well, if low the fail or don’t do it very well. You can get a lot of game out of that. A referee/GM has a pretty good understanding of reality, they know what happens when an axe hits an arm or a person tries to climb a cliff. Overy specific rules can just get in the way of that. I mostly still roll the dice because I love the surprise and the randomness.

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