I played every week in the same campaign by Dungeons & Dragons . Well, my friends and I have problems arranging a game every few months. At some point I tried to make it work with another group. We've created a six-month doodle calendar to find a date to meet. We met, discussed the character creation and never met again. A campaign requires so much building, homework, planning and planning and rescheduling that it's hard to keep up the momentum. Meanwhile I found more friends who wanted to play but did not know the rules. How would I ever find time to introduce them to the game if I could not even find time for experienced players?
I wanted to play outside the house with minimal replenishment, planning or engagement. So I had to change my approach. I was looking for games that fit my needs: mechanics everyone could learn in one sitting were still strong enough to build up structure and prevent it from becoming credible. Scenarios that we could enter without planning or character creation additional sessions; no dice pile or sheaves of paper or GM screen; No commitment after the first session.
I've found out how to play RPGs in any environment, with minimal effort, planning or commitment. I played RPGs for the first time in months. I've done two sessions with zero emails or doodles in two weeks. A session with my seasoned friends and one with four Lifehacker employees who had never played a role play. Both games were a hit. So you can run yourself.
Play one shot
If you and your friends are too busy to carry out an advanced campaign, you've probably already run a one-shot attempt. Because they are all less invested, they can cast the characters faster and start in the middle of the action. Everyone, including the GM who runs the game, is motivated to anticipate side quests, negotiations or visions. As you start from scratch each time, you do not have to track the possessions, levels, and skills.
This style is great for occasional games when you have no fixed dates for games and when you play outside. You could begin a three-year campaign with deep character development, but I would recommend starting with a few shots until you feel funny enough to keep playing.
Many RPGs Overwhelmed One Shot – If you have to complete the story in two hours, every minute you look for weapon damage feels wasted. However, if you are already familiar with a rule set, you can only consider the basics. Dungeon Crawl Classics has built one of them: A DCC campaign traditionally begins with a "zero-level funnel," in which each player controls several unskilled pawns, most of whom die in the end. This is a great one shot for yourself. Character creation is minimal, players have few stats, and all characters are equally suited to the task. (The GM still has many characters to keep track of, and many dice to roll.)
Game developer John Harper, creator of the popular one-sided RPG Lasers & Feelings and three-sided Dungeon World Spinoff World of Dungeons loves complex games. His favorite game, he tells me in an interview, is The Burning Wheel. "It's one of those rare games where the more work you do as a player, the more you get away from it." How much work? He says he really started sitting around the thirtieth or fortieth game session. But his usual group of games also liked to play in a bar. "It felt weird to be at the bar and have a very intense RPG scene." So they would rather play "punchy, adventurous things", often pausing the game, to chat and to switch back and forth. It helped to have a focused mission instead of a big conspiracy. One of his favorite games for this type of game is the 48-page Into the Odd a gothic game in which each character has only three values and a session can take about two hours. The group also played Dungeon World and Apocalypse World .
Use a One-Page RPG
In a casual environment, you want a game that is mentally and physically smaller. In the spirit, you want to learn fewer rules, choose fewer details for your character before you start playing. They want to make quick decisions and want the GM to keep up. The more you can rely on imagination and cooperation, the less you have to rely on a source book.
Physically, you do not want to use all fabrics that are in a typical RPG: source books, specialized cubes (or funky cubes), hard copies, maps, a GM screen, pencils and paper, or figures chips. It's all cool and fun to get involved in a campaign with a group: a person releases their source book, the Major General retains all the character sheets between games, and everyone loves to collect bags of weird dice. But you can not enjoy all that in a small cafe or picnic. And you can not count on the one person with the extra dice if they do not turn up every time they play.
What you want is a lightweight, portable role-playing game. Super light weight. Ideally a single page. Fortunately, there are dozens of popular microRPGs online, with rule sets that fit one or two pages, and are provided by their creators for free. Most require only a few six-sided dice (D6s, in groups of players), though some use the typical set of special RPG dice, especially the famous D20.
You can see dozens of these games in the one-sided RPG subreddit or by browsing the general RPG subreddit. Some highlights:
You'll find that many of these games are stupid, and the rules may be vague. They are not meant for long campaigns that will comprehensively explore your character's backstory as you become more powerful. Not until you hack them.
All games listed above and below are free, and many of them carry a Creative Commons license that allows others to remix and redistribute them. Some players have collected their favorites in PDF compilations, such as: For example, this four-sided package with 12 games.
If you want to watch someone playing a game, the series Tempting Fate (from the game channel Saving Throw) is for microRPGs
Actually, just use Laser & Feelings
I immediately became Laser & Feelings using a simple two-valued system: lasers and emotions. The better you are on one side, the worse you are on the other side.
Technically, it's a number – a number from 2 to 5. If you're trying something difficult, decide whether it requires "laser" skills (logic, science, research) or "emotions" (passion, seduction , Morality). Then you roll a six-sided die. You want to roll higher than your only stat to succeed in emotions, lower than your stat to succeed at lasers. There are no modifiers, though you can throw an extra die to show preparation or expertise.
Similar to the Powered by the Apocalypse system, you can achieve other results than success and failure: Critical success that can ask you a question about the GM and mixed success that comes with a cost or a caveat.
Similar to PbtA, GM spends most of its time introducing the next complication or twist and asking players, "What are you going to do next?". The fight is treated like other actions, with no hit point or damage systems.
To play, all you need is a copy of the rules and at least one die. Character creation takes about five minutes (in addition to statistics, there are some class and flavor options), and the GM can choose a scenario from the specified options or choose a random dice.
The game only works if you can do it, or can purposely grasp the way through things in general. The whole noise, the number of players, the game mechanics has shrunk to a cube and a cube, so everything in the game depends on the interpretation. Everyone must be willing to agree, as arguing over the rules would be absurd. The players have to be flexible, the GM has to be reasonably consistent and everyone has to be creative. That's why you chose an RPG and no board game.
John Harper wrote Lasers & Feelings in four hours in 2013 and updated it the next day after a game play. He took over the sub-sub-system of Trollbabe 2002 game with an underground comic flair of the 70s. Above all, he built L & F for experienced players who could use their knowledge of role-playing conventions to interpret his precise rules. "There are still some pretty unclear rules that people are still asking me about," he says. But he likes to leave it ambiguous.
The Lasers & Feelings system is so sturdy that the game quickly spawned dozens of "hacks" that would adapt the control system to different genres. These games still use six-sided dice and one or two rules pages, but they change settings, character classes, stats, and possible scenarios. Blog Writing Alchemy has collected over 40 of these hacks, including:
You can customize or hack them without having to create a new sheet. You can name just a few character classes, describe your environment, and invent an adventure. For one of my gaming tests, I tried a medieval palace intrigue called Swords and Sorcery. It was very poorly thought out and worked great.
Most L & F hacks are based on an existing genre or specific media properties. There is no room for a compendium of original monsters or extensive information about the setting and characters. You have to pull from existing tropics and understand the details.
Everybody Play Nice
The less written material a game has, the more players and GM have to deal with each other. The lawyer in your group might hate that. So also the GM, who likes to rule as a small tyrant. In a traditional game at home, says Harper, the GM tends to have a high status. When you play in the world, you can create the same conditions. Lightweight games do not support an antagonistic relationship between GM and players.
Almost anything is possible in these games. So you need to bring your social skills with you if you're not into a game of "Oh yes? Well, I'm wearing an infinity suit. "The GM must also orient the players to determine their contribution. In L & F, Harper says it's helpful that the GM asks the whole table, "What are you doing?" Rather than just one player.
In a casual game, you have to ignore (or enjoy) many details. As a player, your items have no statistics. It does not matter if you're wearing a leather armor or a chain mail, unless you want to make it out for some creative reason. When you play RPGs like a video game, you have to think differently.
As GM you have to improvise a lot more. You have to know how to have fun and keep things moving, but also how to avoid "crazy city" – an impromptu term for a situation in which there is nothing normal to hold on to. However, this is a fantastic compromise because you do not have to plan. Ever. You can literally throw a dice to find out what adventure you will be telling.
You owe your players an end. Do not let the casual nature of the game make you hiss. In most cases, you want your players to be successful unless it's in the nature of the game (as with Lovecraft role models) that the likelihood of failure is high. But even if you want to spend half an hour just hanging out, you'll feel better when you have a closure.
Although microRPGs may be good for new players, I would not recommend them first. Time GMs. If you want to run a microRPG, you'll find it a lot easier if you've run or at least played multiple RPG sessions (traditional or micro).
Always ready to play  You can play most micro-RPGs conveniently with your phone only: View a PDF file to see the character types or scenarios. Dice from Google and Google dices a six-sided dice for you.
If you prefer real dice, you should keep a pair of dice in your pocket or bag. Or see if your local bar or coffee shop has some board games in the corner and borrow it.
When you play a particular system for the first time, it may be helpful to print out the rules, maybe even an extra copy for the players. But even the first time, you can get by with cell phones when you need them. If the phone is too distracting, ask everyone to switch to airplane mode.
After the first one or two sessions, you should know how to start a game anywhere. You only need a few friends who have gathered for at least an hour, in a room where you can all hear each other comfortably: at barbecues, at nightly dinners, even in the car during a ride. It is a great activity for the end of a party or for entertaining children.
Case Study 1
My first game was with three members of my usual group, Tim, Molly and Jason. We met in our local bar, High Dive – good beer, free popcorn, pinball in the back – and after some whispering and flirting we started with some printouts from Lasers & Feelings . Everyone chose their role in the crew of the SS Raptor and their style – a sexy engineer, an alien doctor and a hot-shot pilot.
I have uncovered a secret threat: (1) brainworms trying to (2) protect empty crystals to (3) fix everything. No big threat – unless I make it an existential threat to the crew. Who would have no more problems to solve the galaxy once the brainworms have satisfied the universe. So I had to infect the crew with these worms. I, a creative genius, looked at the takeaway coffee I brought with me. And I told my players that the ship was out of coffee.
We spent two hours on a ridiculous search on a coffee planet. At a certain point, I searched coffee plants and discovered that they looked (at least on a phone) like various poisonous red berries seen in a forest. We are going to solve a problem. At another point, Jason mentioned that sci-fi book he had read, where the kite came out of nowhere and practically winked at the camera and how inappropriate it felt to the story. So I threw in a fire-breathing kite to protect the coffee grounds.
I planned to bring the brainworms in after a few minutes, but I did not screw them in until the end – they had dug themselves into the coffee beans. "The coffee mug turns your beans into delicious coffee, and you're all full of energy. But in the middle of the night Zapf Dingbat wakes up. Zapf, something whispers from your brain: "Destroy the ship!" Oh no! What will happen next time on ? Laser & Feelings: I think of these beans !? "The End.
We were just a little more grounded than an episode of the Comedy Bang Bang joke and it went well, it was now canon. The people spontaneously introduced ridiculous backgrounds. The extraterrestrial always received new mediocre powers. And because we only had to keep the story for two hours, we were able to replenish it.
And yet it somehow remained a game and not an improvisation scene. We were still worried about whether the team had fulfilled their mission. Because characters were constantly trying to get things done, we diced more often than our usual D & D games. I hardly read the one-sheet before we started, since I am very lazy . A few others had skimmed it off. But we quickly picked up the mechanics, even though we got drunk, we had a little trouble remembering the sub-rule.
It was a relief to play without all the usual games, literally and metaphorically. And because we were out in the bar, everyone could stay after that – not a host who threw everyone out. We'll meet next week to play a Hack of Lasers & Feelings . Currently, they are arguing whether to address Indiana Jones or Boss Baby .
Case Study 2
So it was easy enough to play a game with experienced players. But as Harper tells me with such a barebones system, "you do not have much stuff left behind". That's why I tested the L & F system on four people who had never played an RPG on the table before. And it worked great .
I gathered four Lifehacker employees – EIC Melissa Kirsch, writers Alicia Adamczyk and Josh Ocampo, and senior video producer Joel Kahn – for a happy hour game at the bar. They had asked for a medieval setting, so during my lunch break I hacked Swords & Sorcery and inserted some medieval tropics into the rules of Laser & Feelings .
Alicia became Princess Peach, Melissa played a barber shop, Josh a mysterious dwarf grid, Joel a scheming wizard. Instead of offering character goals, I borrowed a trick from the Powered by the Apocalypse system and asked everyone to describe their relationship to the character to their left. It turned out they were all involved in the palace-and most of them were related.
They do not say no to the players. Instead of a dungeon search or a quest, I gave them a game of palace intrigues: the king and queen gathered all the important people into the throne room to name their successor, but before they could make their announcement, all the torches and the king and Queen were murdered. Now our players had to fight for the throne.
I've never played a player-versus-player game. It seems harder to maintain a friendly imagination when everyone is competing, especially when the one who "wins" does GM justice. However, the contest proved to be a great way to speed up the interaction. I've seen that even seasoned players need a while to bring their happy band together, but here we had characters who knew canonically well – easy to lift for those newcomers. This is one of the ways an easy game depends more on players: you can not justify things by showing your character's statistics, so you need to invent world-wide reasons. Everyone has gotten used to adding background stories and details to justify their abilities and choices. The character creation never ended, it just became gameplay. It was perfect.
Everyone stamped around the castle, trying to seize power by conviction or force, holding each other back, forming coalitions and plundering the armory. NPCs came, went and died. I forgot who took the lock, except that the end was a Hamlet-level bloodbath. The conversation was faster in this fantasy world than in our usual small talk. And we did everything with cocktails without a mechanical pencil.