This is a really interesting topic that went into some interesting directions. When I started reading I thought I have a lot to say about it, but as I reached this point it looks like a lot of my thoughts were already discussed. But here’s my leftovers
This April Fools I made the Deluxe Kriegsspiel Roleplaying game, and while it was clearly a joke (a take on the free/premium dichotomy) it is also an actual set of “rules” I use for my games. I just add more procedures/toys as needed. Sure, It is nowhere as minimalist as @ozbrowning’s Ultimate, but it is an actual set of written rules I give new players to my games.
The rest is invisible rulebooks.
It’s those invisible rulebooks that really make the game. You can have a 500 page manual of super-crunchy-rules and roll as many dice as you want, but it will still be understood, that if you play a knight in medieval fantasy you can’t simply lift the attacking giant and throw him into space. It’s not a part of the genre/established world, so it’s not a part of the game.
Of course, there might be some loophole in that 500 page book that if you roll all your dice just right you will be able to do it. But, doing so is not in the “spirit” of the original game and I would expect that someone will veto you. If not, you are no longer playing the roleplaying game, you’re just playing the rules. Anyway, I am going on tangent now…
So yeah, that 1-bit-dungeon, Ultimate, my joke ruleset and the diceless example above work on the same invisible rulebook idea. There can be a be a lot left unsaid, because it is ‘understood’ by the players. This makes for a minimalist game text, but the game itself is really infinite.
Honestly, that 500 page book is probably using a smaller infinity than the minimalist ruleset.
I had some clever point here, but it’s getting late and it seems I lost my train of thought few paragraphs ago
I know I wanted to mention Parsley games and text adventure games (which Parsley emulates) as an example of minimalist approach without randomness that can give you a RPG-like game experience, especially if the “genre” fits. Just say what you do, receive yes or no answer with some flavor text. Then I was going to do some comparison between the limits of parser games and the infinite stuff mentioned before I think.
Anyway, RPG games work because we agree on bunch of stuff about the game subconsciously. Even more true for minimalist game texts. As long as there are interesting decisions to be made - we can have fun.
Feel free to ask follow up questions, I will try to remember all of this when I’m awake