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"Casual" RPGs

Reynard

Legend
One thing I have noticed in some RPG communities -- particularly those with a high population of new players -- is a desire for more "casual" RPGs. This usually means minimal prep, easy to comprehend and without a huge time commitment (either for a given session or over a long period). What comes to my mind is: try this cool board game! But obviously that is dismissive and doesn't answer the need for those people.

So I was wondering what game folks might label as "casual" with that definition in mind, and how you would go about engaging with a "casual" RPG.

For my part, I think you can certainly play early D&D (B/X or whatever) as a casual game where everyone grabs a premade character and delves a dungeon -- like playing DUNGEON! or Descent but with all the benefits of the RPG part. That doesn't really answer the prep part, though. Even if you use a prewritten module, GMing in that style means being able to be reactive and understand both the rules and the scenario. I would guess that there are OSR games that solve this issue, but I don't know what they are or how they would do so.

Outside of D&D type play, though, I am hard pressed to think of a "casual" RPG where you can experience say, a heist adventure or a spy thriller, that is easy and fast and doesn't require prep.

Thoughts?
 

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payn

Legend
Outside of D&D type play, though, I am hard pressed to think of a "casual" RPG where you can experience say, a heist adventure or a spy thriller, that is easy and fast and doesn't require prep.

Thoughts?
The narrative driven style of game does this well. You chuck out all the minutia of carrying gear and taking turns in rounds and stats for anything. Instead you construct and interesting scene, like a museum heist and focus on the moments of intrigue. The mechanics just help drive the narrative instead of simulate it. Games like PbtA and Fiasco are great at jumping right in quickly and getting right to the fun.
 

Reynard

Legend
The narrative driven style of game does this well. You chuck out all the minutia of carrying gear and taking turns in rounds and stats for anything. Instead you construct and interesting scene, like a museum heist and focus on the moments of intrigue. The mechanics just help drive the narrative instead of simulate it. Games like PbtA and Fiasco are great at jumping right in quickly and getting right to the fun.
I forgot about Fiasco. That's a really good example of a game with almost no rules that needs almost no prep, or even a GM if I remember correctly.

I admit to not being a big fan of PbtA games in general. Are they designed to be little to no prep? My copy of Monster of the Week seems to contain quite a lot of scenarios, but I have never actually run it (I accidentally bought it because I thought it was a FATE game, not PbtA).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Outside of D&D type play, though, I am hard pressed to think of a "casual" RPG where you can experience say, a heist adventure or a spy thriller, that is easy and fast and doesn't require prep.

Thoughts?

A heist scenario? Try the Leverage RPG (Cortex-based). It is intended to emulate a fairly episodic TV show and much of the content of the session is generated via a mechanic in which the players generate complications.
 

Aldarc

Legend
A heist scenario? Try the Leverage RPG (Cortex-based). It is intended to emulate a fairly episodic TV show and much of the content of the session is generated via a mechanic in which the players generate complications.
Didn't Monte Cook Games kickstart a weird time travel heist game as well?

Outside of D&D type play, though, I am hard pressed to think of a "casual" RPG where you can experience say, a heist adventure or a spy thriller, that is easy and fast and doesn't require prep.

Thoughts?
Blades in the Dark. Players generate characters and a crew. Players pick a score for their characters - which may or may not be a heist - and begin play. Mayhem ensues as a result of the cascade of consequences.
 

timbannock

Adventurer
Cortex is session focused: not a huge focus on advancement, the GM can solve a lot with either the Doom Pool mod and/or the simpler Test, Contest, Challenge systems in Tales of Xadia, etc.

Labyrinth the Adventure Game is effectively old school D&D with narrative mechanics and a dungeon ready to run basically after only a very cursory skim by the GM. The "rules" take up about 3-5 pages, tops.

Fate Accelerated is obvious.

Knave, Maze Rats, Mausritter and that family minimize prep by including extensive generators on the fly, but often require a working knowledge of RPGs and/or reliance on outside bestiary or spell sources to truly sing. Not great for total newbies, but they take out a lot of the typical D&D prep or the need for an existing module. Even 5E has Into the Unknown, which is packed with procedural generators, enough so that you can put together a couple hexes of wilderness and a 10-room dungeon in about 15 minutes and run it as is.
 

Reynard

Legend
A heist scenario? Try the Leverage RPG (Cortex-based). It is intended to emulate a fairly episodic TV show and much of the content of the session is generated via a mechanic in which the players generate complications.
Cotex is a system I keep meaning to try but never get around to.
 

Reynard

Legend
Blades in the Dark. Players generate characters and a crew. Players pick a score for their characters - which may or may not be a heist - and begin play. Mayhem ensues as a result of the cascade of consequences.
I played this for the first time the other night. it didn't feel like a pick up and play "casual" game, though -- there's a bunch of subsystems and built in complexity.
 


Slow_Travel

Explorer
I would argue DnD is more "casual" and easy to pick up than FATE or PbTA games. If you have any concept of a boardgame or Dungeons and Dragons, these narrative mechanics have to be learned with effort because you're always trying to make parallels to traditional RPG mechanics.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I would argue DnD is more "casual" and easy to pick up than FATE or PbTA games. If you have any concept of a boardgame or Dungeons and Dragons, these narrative mechanics have to be learned with effort because you're always trying to make parallels to traditional RPG mechanics.
This definitely hasn't been true in my own experience of running various games for people new to TTRPGs.
 

Arilyn

Hero
A heist scenario? Try the Leverage RPG (Cortex-based). It is intended to emulate a fairly episodic TV show and much of the content of the session is generated via a mechanic in which the players generate complications.
And Leverage has excellent tables for creating the client, mark, problem and twist. Makes it easy to "roll" up the session's scenario, and then let the players have at it.
 

Arilyn

Hero
FAE is awesome but I think you actually have to have a prettty solid understanding of both FATE and rpgs in general to run it effectively on the fly.
I have played a lot of Fate. It's one of the easiest games for new rpg players to grasp because it plays out like a tv show or story. It's actually very intuitive, unless the players come to the table having already absorbed D&D as their first game.
 

Reynard

Legend
I have played a lot of Fate. It's one of the easiest games for new rpg players to grasp because it plays out like a tv show or story. It's actually very intuitive, unless the players come to the table having already absorbed D&D as their first game.
Right, but you are an experienced GM. Part of this call for casual games I see are for everyone to be able to pick up and play, including the GM.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Right, but you are an experienced GM. Part of this call for casual games I see are for everyone to be able to pick up and play, including the GM.
Several people in my prior gaming groups had little to no GM experience, but I watched them pick up and run games of Fate pretty quickly. 🤷‍♂️

IME, the biggest hurdles to Fate tend to come from what people who mostly have experience playing and running D&D.
 

Reynard

Legend
Several people in my prior gaming groups had little to no GM experience, but I watched them pick up and run games of Fate pretty quickly. 🤷‍♂️

IME, the biggest hurdles to Fate tend to come from what people who mostly have experience playing and running D&D.
I feel like Aspects throw people until they don't, then everything runs as smooth as butter.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Right, but you are an experienced GM. Part of this call for casual games I see are for everyone to be able to pick up and play, including the GM.
But the ease Fate has for new players works for new GMs as well. The core rules fit on a bookmark. Fae in particular, is very simple to grasp. There is no default world which can be a hurdle, but if participants have an idea and some tropes in mind, it's pretty brezzy to run and play.
 

Reynard

Legend
But the ease Fate has for new players works for new GMs as well. The core rules fit on a bookmark. Fae in particular, is very simple to grasp. There is no default world which can be a hurdle, but if participants have an idea and some tropes in mind, it's pretty brezzy to run and play.
Like I said, I have found that some folks really bounce off Aspects while others get them right away. That's not really a system complexity problem, though, more like a particular kind of abstract thinking, maybe? Anyway, I agree that for folks that get it, FAE can be super easy to pick up.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
One thing I have noticed in some RPG communities -- particularly those with a high population of new players -- is a desire for more "casual" RPGs. This usually means minimal prep, easy to comprehend and without a huge time commitment (either for a given session or over a long period). What comes to my mind is: try this cool board game! But obviously that is dismissive and doesn't answer the need for those people.

So I was wondering what game folks might label as "casual" with that definition in mind, and how you would go about engaging with a "casual" RPG.

For my part, I think you can certainly play early D&D (B/X or whatever) as a casual game where everyone grabs a premade character and delves a dungeon -- like playing DUNGEON! or Descent but with all the benefits of the RPG part. That doesn't really answer the prep part, though. Even if you use a prewritten module, GMing in that style means being able to be reactive and understand both the rules and the scenario. I would guess that there are OSR games that solve this issue, but I don't know what they are or how they would do so.

Outside of D&D type play, though, I am hard pressed to think of a "casual" RPG where you can experience say, a heist adventure or a spy thriller, that is easy and fast and doesn't require prep.

Thoughts?
I definitely think that BECMI and other older basic edition including OSR clones, but also 5e, lend themselves pretty well to casual play. Then of course "casual DMing" is another matter! I wish I were able to improvise an adventure, but I can only improvise sandboxy encounters, not whole good stories and plots.

Outside D&D, I have been a player exactly in a casual heist adventure based on Risus, one of the rules-lightest RPGs I've ever seen. The DM was completely improvising the story, so it must be possible. In fact, the DM actually asked the players right at the beginning even what kind of adventure and in what kind of world we wanted to play, we made proposals and together voted for a heist adventure in a modern (slightly futuristic) non-magic setting. Storytelling was collaborative at times, and DM-based at others. It's hard for me to think of more "casual" than that :)
 

Reynard

Legend
I definitely think that BECMI and other older basic edition including OSR clones, but also 5e, lend themselves pretty well to casual play. Then of course "casual DMing" is another matter! I wish I were able to improvise an adventure, but I can only improvise sandboxy encounters, not whole good stories and plots.

Outside D&D, I have been a player exactly in a casual heist adventure based on Risus, one of the rules-lightest RPGs I've ever seen. The DM was completely improvising the story, so it must be possible. In fact, the DM actually asked the players right at the beginning even what kind of adventure and in what kind of world we wanted to play, we made proposals and together voted for a heist adventure in a modern (slightly futuristic) non-magic setting. Storytelling was collaborative at times, and DM-based at others. It's hard for me to think of more "casual" than that :)
I am an improvisational GM and have run plenty of games with zero prep. But I am also an oldie who's been doing this for a while. What I gather from most folks hoping for a casual experience is that they don't want a forever GM type. I mostly started this thread to find some options I could offer.

I know solo RPGs have kind of taken off recently. What about shared or no GM games?
 

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