Suggestions for a lite RPG?
June 25, 2010 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What's a good lite P'n'P RPG?

I have a group of friends (3-4 inc. me) who usually come by monthly for beer and board games, the favorites being Arkham Horror, Dominion and Battlestar Gallactica. I was thinking of trying to get an RPG session going and picked up recent editions of Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu. When I presented them to the group it was clear that the kind of work that goes into a full scale RPG wasn't something they were interested in. None of us has touched an RPG for more than 20 years.

I'm looking for suggestions for a lite RPG that can be played in a couple of hours. It also needs to support a GM and 2 players minimum. I'd also be a first time GM, having always been a player, so something with easy prep work would be nice. I'm looking for something that we can play through that will either get them more interested in a full-fledged RPG or let me know that this group is better off sticking to our usual board games.
posted by eyeballkid to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
How about a D&D tournament module? I don't know if there's any 4th edition ones, but there are definitely AD&D and 3(.5) ones (conversions and/or originals) floating around the less reputable annals of the Internet.
posted by griphus at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: Mouse Guard! It sounds precious, but check it out.
posted by esoterrica at 11:38 AM on June 25, 2010

Labyrinths and Lycanthropes. Aside from the title, it's a fun, rules-light, quick-playing game.
posted by iwhitney at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just about any RPG can be lightened.

Strip it down to skill checks and basic combat. Everything else can essentially be ignored. The only thing that's hard to totally gen rid of is character generation. Buy some software for that part.

If it were me, I'd use GURPS. Designed to be modular. Vampire: the Masquerade is also pretty rules-light.
posted by Netzapper at 11:45 AM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: GURPS?

May or may not be what you're looking for, but the rules and character creation are appropriately simple, and it goes with just about any setting or scenario.
posted by edguardo at 11:45 AM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: My friends and I love Dread.

The short version: it's a system for one-session horror games. Your character sheet is a list of 10-15 questions about yourself, e.g. "You dropped out of high school and never looked back. What lead you to do that?" or "What's in your purse, and why did you bring it to this concert?"

The whole game is played with a Jenga tower. Any action outside your character's experience or performed under duress requires you to pull a block and place it on the tower. Anyone who knocks over the tower is removed from the game (killed, lost in the woods, etc.) and the tower is rebuilt with 3 blocks pulled for every character gone.

By the end of the night, the tension is high because half the players are dead, the tower is getting harder to touch without breaking so every pull is nerve-wracking, and the story is approaching the climax. It's all roleplaying, the rules are minimal, and the prep time is short. I've run games based on the Shadow Over Innsmouth and other Lovecraft stories with great success.
posted by Lifeson at 11:47 AM on June 25, 2010 [13 favorites]

Best answer: TWERPS! The World's Easiest Role-Playing System. wiki

you can find booklets for sale online here and there, but they may not be the easiest thing in the world to come by. you could probably also torrent them (if'n you were inclined) and print them yourself, as most of the "books" are a sheet of paper or two folded&cut into "pages".

(disclaimer : i used to play this with a small group of friends, and i went to school with a guy who wrote some supplements for them. Norman! if you're reading this, memail me!)
posted by radiosilents at 12:04 PM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My kids and I play rpgKids, which is a super-scaled down RPG for kids (like it says on the tin). But because my kids have a lot of videogame RPG experience, as soon as we started playing they began weighting down the bare bones rpgKids structure with magic items, hidden doors in dungeons, boss monsters, saving throws, etc. The game itself is probably way too simple for a group of adults to play, but having played it for awhile with my kids, it's a really easy game to flesh out, and you could make the surrounding storyline anything at all. Its simplicity might be a bonus if you're drinking.
posted by not that girl at 12:09 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: I'm a big fan of the out-of-print Ghostbusters RPG. It's very light and dedicated to quick, silly action rather than detailed and realistic simulation. Unfortunately it seems to go for quite a bit on eBay, but someone has a rules summary you could check out.
posted by lore at 12:11 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FUDGE - using a pregenerated background - would be my choice. (If I ever get back into PnP, I'll do everything I can to make sure that's what I'm doing, anyway.)
posted by mordax at 12:18 PM on June 25, 2010

Response by poster: Lifeson, what's the minimum number of players for a good game of Dread?
posted by eyeballkid at 12:19 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: RISUS: The Anything RPG is very rules lite (around six pages if I recall), and although geared toward more silly "beer & pretzels" play, it's actually a pretty neat system under the hood, and can be adapted to just about any setting/style of play. Chargen is a snap (unlike other systems, where character generation can pretty much dominate the first few hours of a session).

I also cannot recommend My Life with Master enough for quick, virtually no-setup games. The premise is awesome, and I've had a lot of fun with it.

Most of my players are members of my regular Pathfinder group, and seem to like that system for it's crunchiness. My favorite editions of D&D are much older though, and even grabbing a copy of Basic Fantasy Role Playing or Swords & Wizardry could get everyone up and running for an "old-school" dungeon crawl much quicker than the current iterations of the system.
posted by ktrey at 12:20 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The old West End Games d6 system was extremely easy to play. The aforementioned Ghostbusters RPG was part of this system. In college, my friends and I played the hell out of the WEG Star Wars RPG.

Alternate suggestion: For less RP and more G, try one of the Munchkin games in the theme of your choice.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:35 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: Munchkin
posted by Fleebnork at 12:36 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: Do you like the Coen Brothers' films? Do you not like lots of rules and dice-rolling?

You would like Jason Morningstar's Fiasco very, very much.

In a totally different vein, it's billed as a kids' game, but my adult story-gamer pals love it, too: Happy Birthday, Robot! by Daniel Solis.

Super high-concept, can be really dark and twisted, open-ended with minimal mechanics: A Penny For My Thoughts by Chad Underkoffler.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:42 PM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lady Blackbird: Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder.

Five pre-gen characters, with game rules printed on the lower half of each PC page: 2 pages each
World description: 1 page.
Adventure description: 1 page.
GM's section: 2 pages.
Ship description: 1 page
Price: free
Genre: Steampunk, written specifically to introduce novices to roleplaying games.

I defy you to find a better introductory, rule-light roleplaying game. I've GM'd it for both novices and veteran RPGers, and it is ridiculously easy to run in a matter of minutes. You can hear my podcast's full review of it here.

Lady Blackbird uses a light(er) version of the system Clinton R Nixon designed for The Shadow of Yesterday, known as The Solar System. If your players get excited and are interested in additional rules, you can buy the full system here.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

The thing about the games I listed-- sometimes billed as "story games" or "indie RPGs"-- is that they shunt a lot of the holding-up-the-plot duty off the GM and onto the players. The plots you derive are collaborations that don't require specialized setting knowledge. You're basically making up a narrative inside a set of minimal rules constraints.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2010

The Pool is great for a quick game with little prep time. To make it really work, the players have to be willing to take some narrative control. And it's free.

Lady Blackbird is pretty great, too.
posted by maurice at 12:48 PM on June 25, 2010

For a game that is more oriented towards narrative than simulation, try Universalis. Players collaboratively build the setting; everyone shares GM power. Simple conflicts are resolved (and story elements created) by players spending "chips" in favor of the outcome they desire; chips are replenished when larger conflicts are resolved.
posted by Jpfed at 12:51 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: (OB reason for joining: I just had to try to bring some old-school RPGers back to the fold. :-)

My pack of gamers prefers "rules light" as well. No dishonor in wanting something that focuses more on the role play and less on the flippin' rules.


Fate-based systems (Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files), Awesome Adventures!; Fudge, Storyboard, Savage Worlds or Risus.

All of these are pretty generic and should work for any setting though Awesome Adventures! (AA) is a little more "pulp leaning." I've played all of them but Risus, and for folks who don't want to get wrapped up in rules at all, Storyboard, or Risus are probably your best bets. People may struggle with character creation though, since you're basically going to be building from scratch and it's sometimes difficult to get people in the right mindset to describe their character's defining attributes without the crutch of dice and tables. We've found it helpful to talk about a well-known "hero" (Indiana Jones, Superman, etc), and describe him/her as applies to the character sheet.

The full blown Fate systems, AA, Fudge, and Savage world have some rules, but they are not anything near as heavy as AD&D, Warhammer FRP, Hero System, or even GURPS. These might be a happy medium if you want a bit more structure.

On the GM side of the equation, a common tactic amongst us is to build a checklist of possible scenes, and as the players start figuring out where they are going, work in the scenes. One of our GMs has a deck of personality cards he uses to generate NPCs on the fly, but I cannot recall the blasted name of it at the moment. I'll add a comment if I track it down.

Good luck and happy gaming!

p.s. @Lifeson: thanks for the link to Dread. Looks like good fun for our game days here in Vegas and for quick one-offs at conventions and the like.
posted by unixgeek at 12:56 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: If you want to mainly hack-and-slash, Descent is a lot of fun.
posted by ikaruga at 12:58 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Feng Shui. Instead of being derived from sword and sorcery, it's derived from Hong Kong action movies. You play an archetype ("RENEGADE COP!" or "SCRAPPY KID") and you start off badassed.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2010

There is another Dread rpg that's also rules-light and excellent for smaller groups. I ran with 2-4 players and we had a blast. (That was 1st edition; there's a 2nd edition that I have not yet read or played.)
posted by maurice at 1:06 PM on June 25, 2010

Huh, yeah, Feng Shui might work too. Man, I haven't played that in 14 years, and the last time I did, I got to say "Let's see... hang on, I have to find something in my pockets to shove up his ass... yeah, I'm going to stab him in the ass with my Swiss Army corkscrew."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:14 PM on June 25, 2010

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks. A lot of these look great. I'm at work at the moment and looking at what I can. Looks like I've got some reading to do tonight.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:26 PM on June 25, 2010

always one to toot my own horn buzz my own vuvuzela, I humbly suggest F# if you're looking for something light yet pulpy.
posted by luvcraft at 1:39 PM on June 25, 2010

I also highly recommend The Crunchometer as a good scale of how crunchy a game you're looking for, and also a solid list of games at various levels of crunchiness.
posted by luvcraft at 1:43 PM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: Seconding GURPS, specifically GURPSLite (available for free in PDF here). Mix that with the winners (PDF) of this year's One Page Dungeon contest, and you have a whole bunch of quick & easy games that can be played in one night, across several genre's (Fantasy, SF, Horror, Steampunk, etc). 2010 One Page Dungeon on Metafilter (Previously)
posted by KingEdRa at 2:58 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Finally found a source link for the "Sins and Virtues" NPC generation cards (free!): Some other cool looking stuff there, too.
posted by unixgeek at 4:07 PM on June 25, 2010

I'm surprised nobody's brought up the old classic Marvel Superheroes FASERIP RPG.

All the old books are available online. The success system LOOKS complicated until you figure it out.

It's generally more roleplaying based than combat. It's also pretty easy to get into the universe, since you practically have to have lived under a rock your entire life to not know at least a LITTLE bit about the Marvelverse.

One game session of MSH, and I was completely hooked.
posted by Heretical at 6:01 PM on June 25, 2010

Response by poster: Again, thanks everyone. I've marked best answers for the rulesets I've had a chance to take a look at. I did manage to track down a copy of TWERPs and Ghostbusters, which look great (as do Risus and Dread). By more nefarious means I've tracked down some of the others with the idea that if I like them and decide to play them, I'll make the purchase.

However, after reading through the sample rules, I think I'm going to start with Fiasco because:

Do you like the Coen Brothers' films? Do you not like lots of rules and dice-rolling?

is a hell of a selling point. I've bought the PDF + Book set and it sounds like something my group would love. (And because it was in the same comment form fairytale of los angeles and pretty cheap on Indie Press Revolution AND looks like a total mind fuck, I also picked up A Penny For My Thoughts. I don't know if this group will play it, but the joy of reading the rulebook thus far has been worth the price of admission.)

This is not to say I'm done with this thread. If anyone had more suggestions I'd love to hear them.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:20 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding some FATE based games - Spirit of the Century is great pulpy fun. Feng Shui (not FATE-based) is also pretty quick and dirty - the only thing in both systems that can get slightly more complex is specialized stuff like martial arts or stunts.

Along the lines of indie games that off-load some of the narrative duties to the players, you might also check out:
Mortal Coil - token based game where the group defines the world (now revised)

Don't Rest Your Head - you're so insomniac that you break through to another reality where you have a superhuman ability, but if you sleep... you die.

Shadow of Yesterday - fantasy gaming in a post-apocalyptic world!

for crazy fun if it's a non-serious crowd, you might also check out octaNe - pulpy bad-ass post-apocalyptic trashy gaming, InSpectres and Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot! - how could you go wrong with a name like that?
posted by canine epigram at 10:51 AM on June 26, 2010

Best answer: A little late to reply-

I've never run Dread with less than 3 players, though you could tailor it to a group of any size and a time frame of any size. The complication lies in the fact that a Jenga tower takes time to destabilize, and a good Dread game expects at least half the players to be dead before the game is over.

For example, if you want a short, tense game for 2, start with 9 blocks already pulled. Or, if you want a longer game where part of the dramatic tension is finding out who (if anyone) will survive the night, you can use the full tower with the expectation that one character is eventually going to die, and you can rebuild the tower after that with either the standard 3 blocks pulled, or more to make the final part faster and more intense.

I'm glad to spread the word about an awesome game. I highly recommend actually buying a copy of the book for anyone interested, as it's mostly tips on how to write a good Dread story, and the other logistics of running the game since the rules can be summarized in the 3-sentence paragraph I wrote above.
posted by Lifeson at 8:25 AM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: depending on how much you want to pay out, Hero Games has a stripped-down version of the Hero System in the PS238 RPG, based on the Aaron Williams comic (concept: super-powered elementary school kids). It's quick, simple, you can get as complex in the RP as you want.

Pretty much anything by Chad Underkoffler is good - his "Truth and Justice" is another as simple or complex as you want to go (click the link and read the flavor text at the top, just to get where he's coming from).
posted by mephron at 9:35 AM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: The Fiasco Resources page includes:
* Disposing of Corpses
So, um, full circle, I guess.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I just received a copy of Descent. I think I'm going to start with that and whet the appetite for more role-playing geared games.

Thanks everyone.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:38 PM on July 15, 2010

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