This is a review of Swordfin Games' Simplicity RPG by Dave Zajac.
Simplicity is a 48 page PDF rules document available for free download. In the introduction Dave states that Simplicity draws from every RPG that he has ever played. Simplicity's greatest influence is certainly D&D and although I haven't played it yet, I envision Simplicity performing very much like pre-3.x D&D at the tabletop.
That said, Simplicity draws heavily on the 3.x innovation of "feats." Simplicity refers to its version of feats as Abilities. It refers to Strength, Intelligence, etc. as Attributes, but doesn't use the standard 6, opting instead for a simplified Tri-Stat inspired, Body, Mind, and Spirit. Everything special that your character can do is defined as an Ability. There are no character classes or skills or proficiencies.
Abilities may have prerequisite Ability or character level requirements to control character evolution, but there are no classes to restrict the manner in which your character evolves. This modular approach to character creation is incredibly dynamic and anything the game design might sacrifice by stepping away from the character class model is more than made up for by the versatility of this system. Amazingly, Simplicity is simple without being simplistic. The choices here are vast and are Simplicity's greatest strength.
At the table, combat looks to be decided old-school. Roll Initiative to establish turn order. Roll a d20 to hit your target, try to roll high. Damage dice vary depending on the weapon in question, d4 for a dagger, d6 for a mace, d8 for a sword. Everything nice and friendly and familiar.
Except there is no Armor Class. All tasks are roll + modifier and try to roll 10 or higher. This applies to climbing a tree or striking an enemy. Armor acts as damage reduction reducing the amount of injury inflicted by a weapon. It's quick. It's easy. And, although it's not old school it's close enough that I think most could make the leap with minimal grumbling.
I like Simplicity a lot. It looks eminently playable, versatile and house-rule-able. It's 48 pages includes character creation and advancement, and a GM section that includes sample monsters and advice on world building and running the game. I love bringing concise rules documents to my gaming table. I plan to try Simplicity soon.
I don't know the current state of the RPG industry. But I know that for myself as a reader and lover of RPG games as both rules of play and works of prose, this feels like a golden age. I have access to more tabletop RPG related materials then I ever imagined possible, and a large portion of that material is available for free.
Simplicity uses a model that I plan for Five by Five which is a free PDF with the option to purchase a print version. I downloaded and read the Simplicity PDF right after I read Super Hero Fun. A link to Simplicity is also found at the Compendium of free RPG's right under Five by Five. I did purchase the print edition of Simplicity and just received my copy from LuLu. If I like an RPG, I like to support the game's creators and I really like paper books. I prefer reading paper books to reading electronic books on my iPad.
The print version is stapled (saddle stitched?) rather than perfect bound, and I worry about its durability. There are no spot illustrations, but the type is laid out well and the document is easy to read. I spotted a few typos but nothing glaring. All in all, Simplicity is a solid product and well worth the purchase. It's certainly worth your time to download and preview the free PDF.