What is the minimal set of rules that suffices to define a character and establish a random mechanism for adjudicating risk?
“Decide what your character is like before playing. When you want to do something risky, flip a coin to decide what happens.”
There, I wrote the rules for you. Probably, a strict editor could shave off a few words, but it’s close enough.
The problem is that we’ve constructed a tautology here.
You’ve asserted that a game requires rules, risk, and randomness, and that an RPG requires character definition, without really establishing that any of those things are true.
I’ve written terse rules that fulfill those requirements, so if you’re correct, you could say I’ve just written the most minimalist RPG possible. I doubt that I have.
Remember, “big” and “small,” “minimal” and “complex” are always relative. What Gygax and co. called a “dungeon”—multiple floors with dozens of rooms—is now something we would recognize as a “megadungeon.”
I can tell you that one of my most treasured RPG experiences was played without randomness, and with very little risk or character definition. Crucially, it was played without rules.
I’ll quote from what I wrote about it on my blog:
My favorite memory from around this time is going on a long walk around my neighborhood with Max, during which we improvised an entire duet game without any rules or dice.
He simply asked me, “What is your character’s main goal?” I said the first random thing that came to mind: “To have the world’s best tomato garden.”
Max said, “A thunderstorm comes along and the flooding kills all your tomatoes. What do you do?”
From there, I resolved to seek out the highest mountain in the land, climb it, and kill the sky.
To get to the mountain, I had to enter a forest of bioengineered flesh trees, avoiding government security helicopters that seemed to want to defend the forest from entry. I encountered some sort of flesh-tree baby, who initially followed me around like a child before trying to kill me. Finally, I climbed the mountain, screamed at the sky, and got struck by lightning. I descended the mountain and returned home feeling that I had discovered, in some fashion or other, true wisdom and humility.