Several years ago, I was roped into GMing a campaign for a small group of actors and theater geeks who'd begun playing rpgs as a way to practice their improv skills. It was a new experience for me, this borderline LARPing, where the players wore costumes and props, and some pulled Stanislavsky stunts by never breaking character, ever. Led to some great friendships and some truly epic role-playing sessions, and forever changed the way I approached my favorite hobby.
During that time, I began to wonder: what would the world's first roleplaying game look like if it had been invented by a Shakespearean theater troupe instead of a wargaming club?
After a few months of mulling the idea over, I sat down and brainstormed an alternate-universe "old school fantasy game" that used some familiar concepts like level-based advancement, six randomly-generated ability scores, and character classes; but used a rules mechanic modeled on Hazard, an Elizabethan-era dice game that was extremely popular in The Bard's day, and is the ancestor of craps.
Thus was born Revels & Rhymes: First Folio -- The Original Shakespearean Fantasy Roleplaying Game. The following notes have been languishing in my computer for about five years. I've committed myself to another project for the foreseeable future and probably won't be developing R&R any further for a long time to come, but I figured it was worth sharing.
These rules are nowhere close to complete, and have never been playtested, so I have no idea if they're broken or not. Hope you enjoy what's here.
The rules are here. What a mad genius. Like all the best things, I wish I'd come up with myself. Things like this are what makes the internet worthwhile to me, despite all the terrible, awful nonsense out there and the malignant presence the checking of emails has in my life.
I think what I love most about it, despite the simple ingenuity of it, is that it is novel rather than new. What do I mean by this?
A good while ago Geek's Guide to the Galaxy (in the days before it was Geek's Guide to Politics) interviewed Orson Scott Card. It's one of my favourite interviews. Card, whatever you may think of his politics, comes across incredibly well. And he makes a point which has stuck with me for a long time, which is that very few fantasy writers have really taken on the message of William Gibson's work, which is this: you can do whatever the hell you want to do. There was a genre that existed, science fiction, and William Gibson saw this genre and decided to do Something Else with it. And people loved it, but most of them responded not by copying William Gibson's approach (doing Something Else) but by doing what he was doing - grim, gritty, cyberpunk-style sci-fi. His imitators took precisely the wrong message (imitate the furniture of Gibson) when what they should have done was imitate his initial creative impulse (do Something Else). They did things that were new - new books, new films, etc. - but they didn't do much that was novel.
Revels & Rhymes is novel. It doesn't just do something new with D&D. It does Something Else. I don't want to overegg the pudding by calling it something more than it is (it's a few pages of a PDF after all), but at the same time the importance of doing Something Else is not to be downplayed. It's not a masterpiece or anything remotely resembling polished, but there's a kernel of something there which nobody has ever really done before. Unless you count Mazes & Minotaurs, which has something of the same nature.
Most OSR materials (and oh boy do I include Yoon-Suin in this) tend to be new rather than novel. Many of them are excellent, better in many ways than what TSR was doing at the height of its powers in my view, but it's rare that they do Something Else in the manner in which Revels & Rhymes does. And I hope some of its novel-ness rubs off on me. Not in the sense of imitating its furniture, but in the sense of imitating the manner in which it is unique.