A friend of mine has been pushing Unbound by Rowan, Rook, and Decard for a while now. I’m sure its solid and if I actually listened to recommendations, I might really enjoy it. Either way, I was checking out their site when I saw something that jumped right out at me. Drunken Bear Fighter. The DBF rules are a single .jpg that looks to be about a full page, and really explores the idea of a fun, free, micro-RPG.
In DBF you play Russian agents of the RDBFO (Russian Drunken Bear Fighting Organization) who combat the drunken bear menace in the Moscow Underground. It’s a hook that grabs you right away and pitches itself. You know its going to be a comical game, and pretty bombastic and you can sit and play in about 30 seconds. There’s a call to action, bears in the subway, and a clear motivation for the players to get hooked. They are part of the team to fix that.
Being a micro RPG, there’s not a lot of meat to it, and that serves its purpose. This game is intended to be a quick, beer and pretzels game broken out on a whim. There are 4 stats with loose definitions, and its very improv heavy, including a skills list of “Choose whatever you want”. The looseness helps with replay value too. You play the first game straight, a group of drunken bears broke loose, deal with it. But then, the second game, you run with Ninja Bear stats, and move the location to Neo-Moscow, the future high tech cyberpunk city whose metro is infested with ninja bears. The third game breaks out the Bear Kingpins, and is set around prohibition in the 1920’s and the underground bear booze smugglers.
One thing I would argue a micro-RPG has to do, that DBF does really well, is be fun. A longer RPG can be dramatic, emotional, heavy, scary, cathartic, whatever. A micro-RPG though? It’s got to be fun out the gate. Longer games have the luxury of setting tone, and building to emotional payoff. That’s miles harder in a shorter game like this. Just reading the rules to DBF is fun with things like example skills “Drunken Bear Hideouts” or equipment like “cool shades”. Micro-RPGs can are often a gateway to the hobby, played with friends who like Catan, but not D&D. DBF gives them a taste, and a story to remember that they can call back to.
While the author is pretty clear he doesn’t think its a great game, there’s something silly, charming, and direct about it that appeals to me. Is the game a mechanical masterpiece? Not really. Will you have some fun? Almost certainly. Can you save the .jpg on your phone, and break it out when people try to break out board games, and have a good time? For sure.