As I start to embark on a review and analysis of Microlite20, I have the overwhelming feeling that my review will end up longer than the game itself. Is this good or bad?
I can look at a lot of the existing reviews and comments about Microlite 20...
or this interview on Stargazer's Blog
Between these and the dozens of other comments scattered across the web, it's great to see a little project that really seems to have hit home with a wide spectrum of gamers. Old school renaissance gamers have taken it as a symbol of the way things used to be before they got all complicated. Story Gamers have praised its ideals of minimal system interference. Numerous gamers have added a page to twist the basics and hack the rule-set to match their favourite settings. I've seen most of the old D&D settings and some of the new D&D or other d20 settings given the Microlite 20 treatment...Dark Sun, Eberron, Spycraft...and addenda to cover things like Psionics.
It's elegant. It's the kind of thing lots of designers are aspiring to create, but without a lot of the pretense. It doesn't claim to be anything it isn't, it's just a stripped down d20 system...the barest of what is necessary to run a game.
I'm not going to say it's perfect, but what game is?
The game by itself is a rough skeleton, a bit like Ghost/Echo. there are some ligaments and sinews connecting the skeleton and giving it an implied range of movement, but a familiarity with the tropes and rituals of roleplaying makes it a complete game. An experienced player can use it as a tool to teach a newcomer, but I think a group of newcomers wouldn't be able to make head-or-tail of it.
It might be simple, but is it too simple? Has it stripped away too much of the meat to really be a complete system? I like it, but I know gaming and know how to fill in the blanks (and this seems to be the caes with most of the people who are playing it).
One of the things I do admire about Microlite 20 is the same kind of spirit that infused the first printings of Big Eyes Small Mouth. The game's simplicity cries out for someone to jury rig some new rules. There's a do-it-yourself attitude that entices a prospective designer to get off their arse and actually do some designing. It makes you feel like you don't need a team or artists, proofreaders, editors and researchers to write a game. Just get a pen, some paper, dice and some friends. The essence of old-school gaming that we remember when we first played all those years ago. If we didn't know the rules, or didn't understand bits of them we either ignored them or made them up on the fly.
For this reason, the Microlite concept is a good metagame, perhaps even moreso than it is a good game. This is evidenced by the dedicate following of designers creating new hacks for it, and the numerous appearances it is making across the web.
Certainly far more has been written about Microlite20 than the actual word count of the rules themselves.
That's enough of my perspective for the moment. Perhaps some more later.