Best RPGs for Three Players?

Retreater

Legend
I'm finding myself in a situation where I have a group where it seems like there is always someone who has to miss the session. If it's not the guy with the new kid, it's the guy who travels for work all the time, or the guy who just got promoted to president of his company. It's important for us to get together and game when we can, but sometimes it's a month (or more) between times we can all get together. These are some of my oldest and closest friends, and cutting any of them out of the group in the hope of more play time is not an option. Since we live in different states, our only option is online.

We've tried online board games (Board Game Arena), but it doesn't really do the trick. Most of the time we just get together on Zoom for a chat even if we're missing some people- but it would be nice to have an RPG we could play as an option.

Can you suggest anything that matches some (or all) of these criteria...

1) A game that doesn't require specific party roles to function properly. [D&D and adjacent games require a lot of work if you're missing certain character classes.]
2) Something built for episodic, beer-and-pretzels play. [I'll lose them on deep mysteries.]
3) Works well on VTT (especially Foundry)
 

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TheSword

Legend
The Witcher Board game is good for three players. As is Lords of Waterdeep the board game. Both are available on IPad.
 



payn

Legend
You could go with D&D and do a west marches style sandbox. Short adventures that allow party composition to change between sessions based on availability.

I do get that D&D is tough for three due to its combat system. Traveller is pretty easy to run it doesn't have levels so combat wont change much during the life of the campaign and gameplay. Three Travellers also lends it self to ship combat pretty well. So, I think Traveller would be fine for this idea too; assuming sci-fi is an ok genre?

Call of Cthulhu works fine for three players. Each session could be a separate one shot or you could do an x-files type of thing to account for players coming and going. Horror is the obvious theme here.

I do think Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is very flexible in genre type and play. Its obviously a step away from traditional TTRPG style so your players and GM style may not agree with this type of game. Though, I think it works well for a party of three.

Heroquest on tabletop sim could fit the bill. Though, I think you mentioned its was too difficult for you to use.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Conan 2d20 would probably be a pretty good fit given those considerations. It has pulpy characters with pretty diverse skill sets. Great for episodic play. Pretty good foundry support. A fair deal of adventure content as well.

We played a year long game in its kissing cousin Infinity. It felt perfect with 3 players.
 

Mezuka

Hero
One thing I used to do with just 2 players is to give them 2 characters each. A main PC and a secondary PC that stayed in the background except when he is really needed. With AD&D we had Magic-User and Druid as main characters. Two fighters as secondary. Worked really well.
 

practicalm

Explorer
James Bond 007 RPG works better with smaller groups. It can do larger groups but if you want to model the movies it works with 2-3 players better.

Traveller. Two players with a bunch of crew or just a 2 person scout ship.
Any SF RPG though might work as well

Superhero games work well with 2 players too.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I’d recommend most of the Year Zero games from Free League… Mutant Year Zero, Alien, Tales From the Loop, Vaesen (have no experience with this one myself).

The core mechanics are easy to grasp and simple to implement. You don’t need to have a VTT so you can just use Discord or Skype or whatever. The GM overhead is manageable on these games as well, so running them online, you can get by with having the book handy, or printing a few pages out as needed.

Most also don’t require party roles in order for the group to be effective.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Can you suggest anything that matches some (or all) of these criteria...

1) A game that doesn't require specific party roles to function properly. [D&D and adjacent games require a lot of work if you're missing certain character classes.]
2) Something built for episodic, beer-and-pretzels play. [I'll lose them on deep mysteries.]
3) Works well on VTT (especially Foundry)
Index Card RPG
  • A hacked streamlined version of D&D, but...
  • Classless, loot-based progression! But also...
  • Includes fantasy, sci-fi, weird western, superhero, and paleolithic settings
  • Has its own art assets and VTT support options

Here's a Youtube Channel - Kane's Kiln - that shows some episodic play for ICRPG across multiple settings and the VTT.
 

JohnF

Explorer
Fate Accelerated is very beer & pretzels and you don’t need a VTT.

Cogs, Cakes, and Swordsticks for light steampunk fun (light crunch, light theme).

5e with each of 2 players running a PC and sidekick (but probably too much).
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I always found that Vampire and similar character-heavy drama games work best with 2-3 players, as they each get more spotlight time and you can get a lot deeper into individual plots than you can with a table of 5-6 PCs. That being said, it doesn't seem ideal for your point 2.
 

Any Apocalypse Engine game. I’m partial to original Apocalyse World or for that new tangled flavor, Blades in the Dark.

Edit: I meant to type "new FANGLED" flavor, but "tangled" is actually deliciously appropriate to your average Blades in the Dark game!
 
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I'd say all ( nearly all) RPGs should work with three players. A couple of my groups have lost a player or two and I'm finding the experience way better with just 3 or 4 players. Play a wide variety so yeah any game should adaptable
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Swords of the Serpentine hits all three criteria. Build the heroes with the point-buy for 3 players (even if you occasionally have a 4th); and it's designed for episodic play, like chapters in a paperback book full of swords & sorcery stories. It can do deep mysteries, but there's no need if that's not what makes sense in your game.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I've run D&D games for decades with 2 or 3 PCs. No sidekicks, no hirelings, just the party members.

It requires a little more out of the box thinking that people like to pretend D&D allows, but it's not any kind of a problem.

I also run DCC games with only 2 or 3 PCs (and will be doing so again on Sunday), and I've run them with as few as 1 PC. Again, no multiple characters per player, no "sidekicks," no nothin.'

I think that many people get very wrapped up in the idea of character classes being a list of things a character can do instead of merely a way to classify a character concept. Nothing prevents a character from trying anything, and a chatty, seductive barbarian can be every bit as rewarding as a dumb-as-nails wizard or a moody, taciturn bard.

These days my recommendation for anybody looking for a game is DCC. It's fast, flexible, easy, inventive, and you can get started with free rules form the publisher. Hard to beat IMO.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
1) A game that doesn't require specific party roles to function properly. [D&D and adjacent games require a lot of work if you're missing certain character classes.]
2) Something built for episodic, beer-and-pretzels play. [I'll lose them on deep mysteries.]
3) Works well on VTT (especially Foundry)
If you like superhero games I'd look at Icons - we use it as a failover game when we can't get a quorum to attend our sessions and it's great for episodic play. The supers genre in general plays fairly well episodically IME, but a lot of supers games are very mechanically crunchy and aren't as suitable for pick-up games unless the players are all really into learning new systems. Icons is traditional and "crunchy" enough that everyone in my group is on board with it but lightweight enough that nobody feels like they have to learn an entirely new system. Don't know how it works on Foundry - we play over Roll20 but we don't use anything special with it (we use Google Docs for character sheets).

Depending on what you mean by 'episodic' and how your players handle "mission-based" sorts of setups, I might also look at doing some kind of Star Trek inspired game. Either the Modiphius 2d20 Star Trek game itself (which we haven't played yet so I can't really comment on it, though it looks pretty) or using something like Star Frontiers to run a Star Trek inspired game. IME Star Frontiers works very well with mission-based high action sorts of SF games, though I doubt there's much in the way of VTT support for it. And IME mission-based games generally go over well with folks who are there to show up and game once every 6-8 weeks and don't have a lot of time to spend on thinking about how they want to start finding an adventure for themselves.
 

dbm

Adventurer
We have two groups in my gaming crowd - one of six (GM + 5 PCs) and one of four (GM + 3 PCs).

Games that don’t have strong niche protection work better at lower numbers, and also games where PCs are a bit more capable from the outset (though you can always start with experienced characters for any system, of course).

I ran a Savage Worlds campaign for the smaller group for a year of weekly play via Fantasy Grounds and it worked really well. You could run a session with two or three PCs in SWADE (Savage Worlds Adventure Edition - the latest one) with ease, and the game also works well with ‘henchmen’ given the way non-Wildcard characters are handled, so you can still run big fights when you want to.

Make an episodic campaign and roll with who can play each session and this could fit into your requirements. I think there is Foundry support - SWADE is well supported in multiple VTTs.
 

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