I've been thinking of posting an article about "freeform mechanics" in RPGs, and I still might. But the basic idea is "resolving stuff in the game using your imagination and judgement rather than actual rules or mechanics," but, like, to the extreme. Like, say, maybe you want to run a war between two armies. On one end of the spectrum, you'd have a military simulation board game that defines each of your assets and unit types and whatever kinds of fictional resources you spend like "action points" or something, and it has a list of moves you can take and blablabla. Nothing freeform about it. On the other end of the spectrum, you'd ask the players to describe what they command their army to do. Just, like, from their creative thinking skills. Intimidating, right? But liberating. Exciting.
[EDIT: I was provided the source for this story so I'm re-writing this chunk to be accurate]
I've been reading a truly ridiculous amount of literature on the subject and I want to share this anecdote from Gundobad Games:
My favorite example so far: from Tony Bath's old Hyboria campaign - one player was concerned about a potential rival's construction of a naval fleet, but didn't want to openly provoke hostilities. So he asked Bath whether he could arrange an 'accident' - merchant ships sinking [scuttling!] right at the mouth of the rival's harbor, blocking their port for the near future! Bath agreed, came up with a range of likely results, and then rolled the dice...
I love that. I love the freeform potential of RPGs and I keep finding myself drawn to that direction of design. But it's a double-edged sword. Because of the "tyranny of the blank canvas," many players find freeform gaming to be really unintuitive. When you ask them what they want to do, they don't have an answer. They're more comfortable if you give them options to pick from.
So here's something I've found in the middle that I'm working with and I'd like to share. I'm going to give three examples that illustrative something like what I'm approaching. These are all examples of "freeform but with a little bit of structure, just, like, for help."