The Free Kriegsspiel Revival (FKR) is all about putting the world before the rules. The idea is that you play out the events of your game and refer to rules only when (and indeed if) needed.
I’m deliberately using the term ‘games’ as it is not specific, but typically we are talking about roleplaying games and wargames.
An FKR game can be contrasted with games where you use rules as a matter of course and then transition into free-play only when the rules do not cover the interaction.
This all leads to the big mantra of the FKR:
Play Worlds, Not Rules
What is a world?
Contrast Game of Thrones with the 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale (both of which star Mark Addy).
The Game of Thrones setting is a very gritty and grim place. Protagonists have all sorts of vile and cruel punishments laid upon them. Noble houses vie with each other for dominance, whilst backstabbing, assassinations and familicide are all par for the course. Heroic and noble intentions count for nothing. Realpolitik, and chance, will determine your fate.
A Knight’s Tale is set in a light-hearted and anachronistic version of 1300s France and England. Protagonists are injured whilst jousting, socially embarrassed and, at worst, put in a pillory. Nobles vie with each other for reputation, whilst dancing, flirtations and jousting are all par for the course. Our protagonist succeeds through his honour, sportsmanship and his hopefulness. The friends he made along the way determine his fate.
Both of these are worlds. Both worlds could use the same ruleset if they were run as a roleplaying game, just as many, many groups play D&D 5e and have wildly different experiences.
Playing the World
To make either of the worlds work, (regardless of the rules) the GM would have to make decisions so that the game have the desired feeling.
That is playing the world. Every single time the GM makes up a PC, or a quest, or a location. Every time they speak in character. Even when they describe the weather, they are playing the world.
The GM does it every time they make a decision (conscious or unconscious) so that the game has the desired feeling.
Whenever the GM puts that desired feeling before the rules-as-written (or even the rules-as-intended) they are playing the world, not the rules.
The non-GM players are also playing the world all the time. Every character decision, piece of dialogue, throwaway action. Every puzzle, problem or conflict that is solved is (or should be) done in a way that fits the world.
Further examples of different worlds
The world is not just a planet – games set in Earth’s medieval period, and in the present day, are in different worlds.
The world is not just a time period – games set in 1944 New York and 1944 Berlin, are in different worlds.
The world is not just an approximate location – two games set in King Arthur’s court, but where one focuses on the intrigue and romancing of the nobility, whilst the other focuses on an elaborate heist by some near-do-wells to steal Excalibur, are in different worlds.
The world is all-encompassing. It is genre, tone, location, character traits, aesthetics, story beats: It is everything that makes a fiction.
The world can even change from session to session.
Season 7 Episode 4 of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (Take Me Out To The Holosuite) sees the protagonists take on the crew of a Vulcan starship in a game of baseball. It’s a classic sporting underdog story. The previous episode sees the crew’s therapist help a turncoat former(?) spy manage his panic attacks. Episode 8 of the series (The Siege of AR-558) centers on a gritty battle to hold the line in a war against an overwhelming foe.
These episodes follow the same characters in the same time frame, but vary wildly. They are all in Star Trek, but they are in different worlds.
Sometimes, worlds overlap within a given installment.
The Star Wars original trilogy has three main worlds. I’m not talking about Tatooine, Dagobah and Bespin.
- World 1 = The Rebellion against The Empire – it’s the world of the Death Star, hidden rebel bases, secret plans and dogfights
- World 2 = The Criminal Underworld – it’s the world of Jabba’s Palace, bounty hunters, cargo smuggling and greasy alien bars
- World 3 = The Force – it’s the world of Ben Kenobi, lightsabers, Darth Vader and searching your feelings
This is something that Fantasy Flight seemed to understood – they made different core rule books for each world, designed at supporting that world, so that the world and the rules were in less conflict.
The three worlds overlap often. A great example is during the first Death Star run, which puts the rebels vs empire conflict at the front. Luke can only succeed because of help from the criminal world (via Han Solo) and the Force (via Ben Kenobi).
The story has masterful command of the three worlds that define Star Wars.
As a GM, and as a player, (or as a wargamer) the FKR tells you to strive for understanding of the world of your game. Put the world first, and use the rules only when it feels right.
Play Worlds, Not Rules.
All of the above is my interpretation of ‘Play Worlds, Not Rules’. Some other folks have views, and some of those are below.
- Underground Adventures explains Free Kriegsspiel to various types of players
- A primer on the FKR by d66 Classless Kobolds and a demonstration of one way to run an ultra-light game
- A well researched collection detailing how the origins of the RPG hobby were very world-focused
- Some history on rules-light Prussian wargaming in the 1800s (the original Free Kriegsspiel that is being ‘revived’
- In this video, Matt Colville discusses how the rules can be useful, and how they can also get in the way
- Questing Beasts video simply titled Does DnD Need Rules?
- I’ve also written two posts previously about kids playing the world not the rules.
- There are FKR discords out there, if you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.