Two things have motivated me to make some more hard-copy purchases of RPG rule books. First, the loss of my hard drive and nearly 20 years of collecting interesting things off the internet. Second, a quest to find a balance between simplicity and detail. Enough detail to promote player engagement. And simplicity for ease of running the game. I have a few very simple rule sets that I like but I think many players experience difficulty grasping the idea of them. FATE by Evil Hat is a great narrative game but few people play it. Risus is my favorite for its easy rules and incredible flexibility but it is perhaps even more obscure. Here are two games I collected to try and find that middle ground between what I like and what the players like.
BARBARIC! from Stellagama publishing. Barbaric is a mere 58 pages in A5 format. Based on its larger brother Sword Of Cepheus which in turn is based on an updated Traveller rule-set, for fantasy games. Characters in Barbaric have just two stats Endurance and Lifeblood. There are seven generalized skills to assign points to, and and traits to customize your character. The elimination of stats might put off some players, however I find most players don't role play them. I also find stat checks to be more random than they should. Action resolution is 2D6 vs a target number with skills providing a modifier. Spells, monsters and treasure all read like lists from a D&D book so players will be familiar. Definitely recommended. Available at DrivethruRPG.com
ZENOBIA by Zozer Games Sometime ago I was looking for RPGs with interesting settings that I felt would inspire better role playing in players. Getting away from class and level systems and providing a detailed and realistic world might, I reasoned, discourage murder hoboism so often seen in other games. A historically realistic setting in the eastern Roman Empire region circa 260 AD. Magic is low level and monsters are rare, but there are plenty of adventure hooks. Even shipping trade tables for merchant campaigns. Just five stats define your character MIGHT FATE CRAFT LEARNING and HITS. A past profession can be chosen and provides a selection of starting money and equipment plus a skill or stat bonus. Task resolution is a standard 2D6 vs a target number with stats providing a bonus. Combat however is different, and deadly. Player and opponent roll their Combat score (MIGHT plus weapon) and compare, winner is the higher roll and the difference is the damage done to the loser. Armour grants a dice roll with any 6's negating the attack. If the damage inflicted is 4 or greater a roll on a critical table is made, and the results are nasty. Appendages may be lost and crippling injuries can be suffered. Players must choose their fights wisely. I first ran across this game as a free download of four books, each with a staggering amount of information. A combined total of 649 pages. I didn't think I would ever print out all that. There is an updated version available now. The author Paul Elliot has a deal at Lulu , whereby if you buy a POD copy and email your receipt he will send a link to download a free colour copy of the PDF. I opted for the softcover, still cheaper than I could print. I recommend this one for the role-playing opportunities it can inspire.
So two more books on to the pile. I don't know how I will ever downsize.