"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?"
Elizabethan England, or rather pseudo-fantasy Elizabethan England, is a great time frame and location to use as the setting for a D&D or D&D-esque campaign, for the following reasons:
1. It's culturally familiar for English-speakers. Obviously, it's most culturally familiar for English people and secondarily to non-English Brits, but anybody from an Anglo environment gets the language and basic cultural gist of things.
2. The geography already exists.
3. Many of the asssumptions D&D makes about the economy and society are more fitting for the Elizabethan age than the medieval.
4. The cultural artefacts are more readily accessible: Early Modern English sounds a bit weird sometimes, but it's understandable to the modern day ear. There are thus plenty of sources to plunder for ideas.
At the same time, the game Hazard, used as the basis for Revels & Rhymes' dice mechanic, is really interesting. It is a little complicated to understand at first, but if you play around with it a bit it's simply to pick up. It revolves around the following table:
Basically, there is a number between 5 and 9 called the Main. You then roll 2d6 against it. On a 'Nick' you win, on an 'Out' you lose, and on a 'Chance' (4, 10, or anything which isn't a Nick or an Out) you roll again: if you get that number again you win, if you get the Main you lose, and you keep rolling until one or the other happens.
The creator of Revels & Rhymes has aleteredthis slightly: rolling a 'Chance' simply indicates a draw or partial success - presumably because the author thinks rolling 2d6 again and again may get annoying at an RPG table.
He has also changed it by the use of modifiers. Essentially, you are able to use modifiers to either your own, or your opponent's, dice roll, to try to push it away from Nicks and towards Outs, and these arise from your PC's stats.
I played around with this a bit last night, and came to the conclusion that this is a nice idea, but may be missing something: Hazard is a game that was created for gambling, so what makes it interesting is really bidding on the results of the roll, just as an Elizabethan gambler would stake a bag of silver or whatever on the results. So I started wondering whether you could revamp it into a more rules-lite, namby-pamby, obscenely pretentious, new fangled high-falutin' story-gamish GHOST/ECHO or MAR Barker's Perfected Game Rules esque decision-making mechanism for negotiated results, based around bids or stakes.
Picture the scene:
The players are brought before the King. They need to pursuade him that they're not spies for a rival. The players announce what they're saying and what they aim to do. The Master of Revels then tells them to make their bid, and he will then make a bid in return.
The players discuss between themselves briefly and then announce that their bid is as follows: if they succeed, they manage to pursuade the King. If not, they get thrown in prison. The Master of Revels thinks this is acceptable, so he tells them to go for it.
The players roll a 6 initially to establish the Main. They then roll a 10, which is a Chance. (This means rolling again until they get the Main, indicating a failure, or the Chance - a succees.) They roll a 7, and then another 10, indicating they succeed and win their bid. They have persuaded the King they are not spies.
But now it is time for the Master of Revels to make his bid. He can't now directly alter what has been established, but he can tweak it. He announces that if he succeeds, the King is persuaded they are not spies, but remains suspicious they are thieves or ne'er-do-wells and will have them followed by a spy of his own. If he fails, he not only is persuaded they are not spies, but will attempt to recruit them to spy on his rival.
The Master of Revels rolls 11, discarding it, and then 9, establishing the Main. He rolls a 5, which is a Chance. He then rolls a 9 - failure! Not only is the King persuaded the PCs are not spies, he likes the cuts of their jibs and attempts to recruit them.
The structure is formalised as follows:
-Whenever a player wants to do something that requires adjudication, the MoR announces he has to make a bid and roll on it. The player must moot an outcome for success or failure amenable to the MoR.
-After the outcome has been established, the MoR then has an opportunity to make his own bid and roll on it, affecting the outcome but never outright reversing it.
-The MoR must endeavour to come up with outcomes that will move things along, rather than simply kibosh or detail things. Failure meaning the King attempts to recruit the players is a million times better than Failure simply being that the King decides he likes them, or whatever.