A pair of gold winged sneakers.

Flying Shoes by Paul VanDerWerf used under CC BY 2.0

Roll for Shoes (RFS) is a tiny little roleplaying system. Yet despite its size, it offers worlds bursting with possibilities, allowing far more freedom than 5E D&D (the only other system I’ve played) in its breathtaking simplicity. It’s not for everyone, but lots of players love it, and you should try it too! If you need more convincing, let me tell you all about it.

It’s Quick to Learn and Quick to Play

As a micro system, RFS requires little time investment before getting the first game up and running. It accomplishes this mainly by having few rules. No eldritch math or searching though endless lists of feats for character generation; all that’s required is stating a name and pronouns.* My “character sheet” was just a name, a list of skills, and a running XP counter.

Let me teach you the entirety of RFS’s single mechanic: the skill system. You start with Do Anything, a level-1 skill. The level of the skill corresponds to the number of d6s to roll; beating the GM’s roll of d6s means your success. Failures give 1 XP. A roll of all 6s gives you a new skill, which is based on whatever you were doing and one level higher than the old one. If you don’t get all 6s but want a new skill anyway, you can make up the difference for 1XP per die. A short example:

Mira tries to sneak around the villain while they monologue. She rolls for her Soft Slippers (2) and gets 2+6=8. The GM decides that the villain will be watchful and rolls two dice against Mira, for a challenging task.* They get 4+5=9, beating Mira. She narrates that she slips and falls into some metal tools, raising a racket. Mira’s player spends the XP from the failed roll, compensating for the 2, to get a new skill: Sudden Loud Noises (3). Whether that will help when the villain’s minions come after her is a different problem…

It might sound complicated, but since those are literally all the rules, it can all be picked up naturally during play.

The Skill System Encourages Creativity

The difference between D&D and RFS can be boiled down to this: one game says you can do anything, while the other gives you a skill called Do Anything. I found that having that on my character sheet was a useful reminder that I could interact with the world however I wanted. No need to check with the GM for what skill to use or figure out advantage or whatnot. If no skill seems to fit, you can always default to Do Anything.

Freed of the need to interact with the world only through the hazy curtain of predetermined skills, my group did whatever random things we wanted. One friend particularly liked to make up spells that his character was attempting and simply roll to see if he could pull it off; once, we summoned the Monsters from the Grand Beyond. While these actions are technically possible in D&D, they’d likely prompt a stop as we checked to see if the rules allowed it, if it was overpowered, what mechanics to use, and so on and so on.

In general, Roll for Shoes encourages improv (do a thing, roll a thing!) and stories that get progressively weirder as the game goes on. Characters accumulate increasingly powerful skills, which also tend to get progressively more and more specifically odd/wonderful/specialized. GMs should be careful to make sure that higher-level skills are specialized, anyway, to prevent characters from spamming a single skill over and over – that’s no fun. All these wonderfully specific skills encourage creative thinking as players maneuver their characters into situations where their skills are applicable.

Abstract Rules Encourage Roleplaying

In D&D, a lot of rules center around combat. There are detailed descriptions of how to resolve actions within combat, how to determine everyone’s status, order of turns, etc. Many skills, bonuses, abilities, and items also are most useful in combat. While it’s possible to do other things, the game doesn’t support that style of play as much. Every creative roleplaying scene requires effort from the players to figure out how it should happen and how to rule what is possible.

RFS, on the other hand, is perfectly happy if all your skills lean toward roleplaying your way out of situations instead of hacking out of them. As an example, one friend gave himself some variant of Pose Dramatically as a skill over multiple games. He would endeavor to find situations where he could pose. Once, his character posed so dramatically that the roomful of enemies he had walked into were terrified and ran. Of course, he could have narrated his way into getting a combat skill – Sucker Punch is one I remember a friend using – but the noncombat resolution was equally valid and supported by the rules.

Because you only gain skills that are relevant to what you do, and you get to make up the specifics of the skills as you please, the skills define your character. Having a skill like Pose Dramatically says something about your character: that they’re the kind of person who would and does pose dramatically. Having Sucker Punch, on the other hand, suggests a character who is more physical and, well, sucker punches their way around. And at the end of a session, the list of skills your character has is a precious artifact all by itself.

Finding situations where you can apply the skills that you have is also a creative act, and the sky (and GM fiat) really is the limit here. Of course, this happens to some extent in D&D as well, and arguing that your higher-bonus skills are applicable in extra situations is a time-honored tradition. It’s just far more fun to do this with skills that you make up that are specific to your characters.

It’s Simple and Easy to Run

Disclaimer: I’ve only ever GMed RFS, so I can’t use my experience to compare it with D&D in this regard.

I found RFS to be a smooth entry into running a game, even though the first time I did so was also the first time playing for both me and my players. Because of the lack of stats, extensive preparation wasn’t needed. In the moment, I simply decided how many d6s to roll against my players as dramatically appropriate. I pulled off several successful games with just a bare sketch of the initial situation and some lines I was interested in exploring further, relying on my players to drive the plot with their random actions.

One of my friends, who does have extensive DMing experience, also expressed how quick the game was to run compared with D&D. While he would actually plan scenarios, he would typically take only about 15-20 minutes to come up with some ideas on the spot based on our genre/theme requests and then be able to jump in.

A minor downside is that RFS isn’t particularly interested in giving you support or structure for GMing.* To help you, though, the person who pointed me to the game in the first place suggested that players should be encouraged to describe how they failed or succeeded. While my players had variable ability and comfort with pulling this off, it was one less thing I had to do and one more way for them to have creative freedom. As an example: That player who liked making up spells attempted to turn the monster attacking the party into a cuddly fluffball. When he failed, he proposed that it instead got giant spikes all over it and gave himself the skill Create Spikes; both developments I was happy to take and roll with.

RFS is simply a blast to run, easy to learn from both sides of the table, and guarantees a game night with lots of laughter with its freeform skill system (if your group is anything like mine, that is). If you want a break from the usual, or suddenly find time and need a game that doesn’t require hours of prep, I encourage you to try it!

Treat your friends to an evening of ritual murder – in a fictional RPG scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and escape a supernatural menace in our one-shot adventure, The Voyage.

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