The Simple RPG by Orbital Star Games is a simplified take on the fantasy RPG genre. All you need to play it is 1d6 and a character sheet, making it an accessible option for road trips, camping, or any other scenario where you wouldn’t want to take a lot of supplies on the go.
The system focuses on the storytelling aspect of tabletop RPGs rather than mechanics. The Simple RPG was also designed to be easily accessible to new players
I enlisted the help of a few friends read through the book with me and playtest it. We ran a couple of playtests to get some genuine experience with the system as well. The founder of Orbital Star Games, Zach Renfro, was very receptive to our feedback and answered our questions promptly during this review process.
The sourcebook is just under 140 pages long with about 125 of those containing the rules. This isn’t super lengthy for an RPG sourcebook, but it seems like a lot for a game that’s intended to be a simplified version of traditional RPGs.
The real issue is that a lot of the book’s length comes from restating rules and mechanics. There are plenty of other places that could chop-down the length of the book as well, but we’ll touch on those later.
I was given a PDF version of the sourcebook to review. As of right now, The Simple RPG can be bought in a PDF format or as a paperback book.
The formatting is very basic. For the most part, the content of the book is written in paragraph form. Some mechanics use bullet points to describe them more succinctly, however, these bullet points are usually comprised of 2-3 sentences. They could be trimmed down a bit to improve the readability and lessen the page count.
There are a fair number of pictures and tables to help break-up the text. The chapters within the book are also reasonably-sized. Both factors really help the readability of the book in my opinion.
There were also a ton of examples listed throughout the book. Typically I like having examples, especially when I’m learning new things. However, there were far too many and typically sandwiched inside of the paragraphs in the middle of a rule description. This disrupted the flow of a lot of the book and further increased the page count which I feel to be far too high for this type of game.
Spelling and Grammar
Unfortunately, there are a lot of spelling and grammar issues in the book. I don’t typically search for these types of issues when I read through books, especially from small studios or creators. However, there was a noticeable amount of errors that I felt it lessened the quality of the book by a significant degree.
These spelling and grammar errors will be revised in the editing process for the DriveThruRPG version of The Simple RPG.
Rules and Mechanics of The Simple RPG
Effortless Version vs. Complex Version
There are two different versions of The Simple RPG. The first is Effortless which is the game’s base ruleset. Complex adds a couple of different rules and mechanics into the mix.
The two mechanical differences that Complex brings to the table are an initiative mechanic for combat and a different magic system to choose from. Frankly speaking, this doesn’t seem like enough of a mechanical change to constitute a separate version of the game being created.
We didn’t bother with Complex in our playthroughs. First of all, it didn’t feel quite finished. Second, the first page of the chapter on the basic rules of the game states that Effortless is the creator’s preferred way of playing, so we figured we’d stick with that!
The appeal of The Simple RPG is that it’s a quick and easy game to pick up and play. A complex version of the game seemed out of place.
Character creation is definitely one of the system’s highlights. Even new players can roll up their characters and start playing in less than 10-15 minutes.
There are 6 components of each character that can easily be kept track of on a scrap piece of paper. Character description, stats & health, class, magic, items, and backstory & goals.
There are two magic systems to choose from, but if you’re playing an Effortless game then you’ll be using the Dynamic Magic system.
The game has a recommended set of items for each adventurer to start with. GMs can change this as they wish or give additional items to the players.
Players have free reign for creating their character description, backstory, and their goals. The players should focus on this section of character creation as the game is role-playing focused. Having a solid character to role-play is the most important part of The Simple RPG.
There are 16 classes in The Simple RPG. These classes are divided into 4 different categories: Strength, Agility, Wisdom, and Combined Stat.
Typically I’m all about giving players more options, but classes in this game aren’t super impactful. Each class includes a description of the class’ flavor, an ability to reroll the class’ primary stat once per day, and a unique ability.
Unfortunately, not every class actually gets a unique ability, or in some cases classes get the same ability. This means that the only thing that some classes have in comparison to other classes in their category is a different thematic flavor. Again, this is an area that could use more polish or could be cut entirely to lessen the page count.
Each player rolls 2d6 three times. They can then allocate their rolls into the three main stats. Players can also opt to take 6 for each stat instead of having to roll.
Once that’s done, you’ll then roll 3d6 for your HP. There aren’t any sort of modifiers that can boost the base value of HP which makes it a bit rough. We had one player roll 5 HP total for their first character.
In my opinion, stats aren’t used nearly enough. They’re only used in Actions which are the system’s skill checks.
Since stats don’t impact combat at all, a fighter with 2 Strength will deal the same damage and have the same chance to hit an enemy as a fighter with 12 Strength.
There should be some way for your character’s stats to tie-into combat as well as Actions. For example, both Strength and Agility can aid in attacking with their respective weapons. Strength could give the character some extra HP and Agility could give them some additional armor as well. Stats just aren’t impactful enough.
In an Effortless game, the players always go first unless they are on the receiving end of an ambush. I don’t particularly mind this as it keeps the game moving. It’s not a combat-focused game so
Combat, as the name of the game implies, is extremely simple. Roll 1d6 to hit, and if you hit, roll 1d6 damage. Most classes only get one attack per turn. Magical items and some classes have different mechanics that may change how rolling to hit or deal damage may work.
If a character wields a shield they can also block which lessens the damage dealt by monsters for the rest of the combat round.
Characters can also do maneuvers in combat such as climbing a tree to gain a better vantage point of the enemy.
Every weapon in The Simple RPG deals the same damage. While this is certainly easy to remember it quickly becomes problematic.
The first issue that came to mind in our playthroughs was that a dagger now deals the same damage as a two-handed sword. While this is certainly unrealistic, realism isn’t the problem here.
The issue is that using a one-handed weapon is strictly better than ever choosing to wield a two-handed weapon. One-handed weapons can still deal the full amount of damage while wielding a shield so that they can block incoming attacks. There is no benefit to using a two-handed weapon.
Armor is in the game. It’s actually one of the most expensive pieces of equipment to purchase in The Simple RPG.
But there’s just one problem. There are no rules for wearing armor. There’s no mechanical benefit to wear a full suit of plate armor as opposed to being stark naked.
Each class’ flavor text includes what types of armor the class uses. It seems like there should be mechanics for this with how often it’s mentioned, but there isn’t.
If anything, this makes being able to wield a shield that much more important since it’s the only way in the game to have some defense against incoming attacks.
Everyone can cast magic. This was hit-or-miss at our tables, but I was personally a big fan of it. It felt like a unique mechanic to have even a barbarian be able to cast powerful magic that in most games only a seasoned wizard could cast.
The Dynamic Magic system works by having each player roll 1d6. The result is the number of spells they can cast each day. There is a whole list of spells for the players to choose from, or they can make up their own and the GM can create rules or use mechanics from a similar spell.
The one problem we had with the Dynamic Magic system was that there’s always a chance that a wizard could have only a single spell to cast the entire day. The rules state that characters with only 1-2 spells cast much more powerful spells (it didn’t mention how powerful so I just doubled the damage dice), but it doesn’t feel great in that scenario.
The Cost Magic system gives everyone mana based on their Wisdom stat and a select list of spells for them to use. It removes a lot of the variance that the Dynamic Magic system has, but it’s only able to be used in a Complex game.
There were no additional death mechanics in the game. The gist of it is that if you drop to 0 HP you are dead. This was surprisingly easy to manage so we ended up killing a few characters throughout our playthroughs.
I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it wasn’t a bad thing. The Simple RPG is geared towards shorter play sessions and campaigns. It’s also easy enough to roll up a new character. You’re not going to get super invested in your character anyways.
Role-playing is straightforward. The GM plays all of the monsters and NPCs while the players play as their character.
Wisdom is the stat you’ll use to speak with others or recall information. It’s very much a catch-all stat for any sort of ability check in the system.
However, you won’t be rolling a ton of these checks. There’s much more of a focus on role-playing than rolling dice in The Simple RPG. Checks are more of a way to supplement role-playing rather than games like D&D 5e where they heavily influence how the role-playing will be played out.
Actions are straight-forward to run. The GM calls out the difficulty of the check and the players will roll 1d6 and add the relevant stat to the roll.
Due to the system’s roll 2d6 to determine your stats rule, your stats can be between 2-12. This can wind-up really inflating the rolls when you compare them to the simple “roll 1d6” mechanic used for the rest of the game. It’s not a huge problem and it’s balanced, but it feels a little odd to use.
Running a Game with The Simple RPG
Prepping and running a session are the two strong points of The Simple RPG in my opinion. For example, the session that I ran consisted of about 15 minutes of prep time for a 2-hour session. Which is an exceptional prep time to playtime ratio compared to other systems that I run.
We played the game on Roll20. I made a few simplistic maps using the drawing tools, gave the players handouts to track their character sheets, and wrote out a simple story with a couple of characters.
The players rolled up their characters within 10 minutes or so and we were good to go. For the record, only one of the players had looked at the rules before the session.
The rules were easy to memorize. Simply role-play until either an Action happens or combat breaks-out. I rarely had to reference the rules during my playtest.
There’s a whole chapter devoted to pregenerated monsters to use. However, it’s very easy to create your own if so desired.
Using the Monsters from the Book
In general, the monsters were easy to comprehend. Each creature has xd6 hit points and can deal xd6 damage. A basic description may be included as well depending on how unique the creature is.
The creatures are categorized by their difficulty. More challenging creatures may have additional attacks or unique properties such as flying that can change the intensity of combat dramatically.
Since there are no levels you can throw a dragon at your players in the first combat of the game. The GM will have to use their discretion to determine if their players are up to a specific challenge.
All in all, The Simple RPG clearly has a lot of effort and time put into its creation. There are some cool ideas and a decent foundation for an RPG System. It was easy to work with Orbital Star Games from a reviewer perspective as well.
However, as a consumer, I would recommend waiting for the 2nd edition of the book which Orbital Star Games stated will address the spelling, grammar, and rules issues that surfaced throughout our review of the game. This revised edition is expected to release between 6 months and 1 year from now.
There’s a lot of appeal for simpler RPGs that require less in-depth mechanics and fewer dice and supplies to run compared to a typical game of D&D. I’m interested to see where Orbital Games takes The Simple RPG and other RPG products in this direction.