"Casual" RPGs

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It also helps that Leverage comes pre-assembled, as one of the biggest issues with Cortex Prime is that it feels like being handed a random assortment of Legos and told to build something with it.

Yeah. Cortex Prime is pretty explicitly a toolbox to make games with, rather than a system for a specific game.
 

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We're sort of in an interesting place where I think we're due to rethink what casual means, I think it means different things based off what people find easy or hard to learn. Some games that are sometimes considered really accessible and lightweight seem to come across as harder around the table for us because their play loops require a greater degree of input and maintenance from the whole table to keep up, even while the people who love them tend to insist that its all very natural in play. Meanwhile some games that are crunchier and more intimidating are relatively easy for us because they have looser play loops and twists and complications tend to be player and GM driven, which means we only do them when it feels right, rather than coming up with something when prompted by the system.

Generally, I see game rules as tools to resolve uncertainty in what would otherwise be freeform roleplaying, so I've noticed that the more a game mechanizes social elements and story structure, the more stressed my players and I get trying to run it. I'm the least stressed when the game assumes I'm bringing it in to simulate specific things within the narrative that present problems for freeform roleplaying-- e.g. structuring a fight and determining winners and losers, while making it long and involved enough to emulate the fiction we like, or allowing us to resolve singular moments of casual uncertainty that show up within the story, but may or may not define it. They're pretty consistently things that were harder to do organically in my freeform message board days, because you'd just have to 'decide' how they worked out, which is a tough skill even when writing a novel, how often do people complain about plot armor or broken suspension of disbelief from convenient power ups or whatever?

I thought about this after reading viewpoints about what it means for a game to have rules for something and be about something-- I've tended to see mechanics as being something you pull in when something is hard or problematic to do without them. E.g. your game about political intrigue between medieval houses might have more rules for resolving combat than for resolving talking, because combat, when it does break out, is harder to make feel fair without the rules.

But obviously, other people don't have the same framework for what that most basic level is, or what makes a game easy for them.

Its also interesting, because I've kind of wondered lately about the new player thing, if you started playing say, in 2018, you've been playing for four years, if you started in 2017, you've been playing for 5, 2016, 6 years. Obviously, not everyone is playing consistently enough to make assumptions about how much they've actually played in that time. But at this point, a huge percentage of what we think of as new players aren't really new anymore. What does content for them look like? Are they evergreen casual players? Is there just a churn where the players aren't being retained? Do they seek out games with a different complexity ratio as they gain experience? What's their degree of satisfaction with the things they liked when they started?
 

Reynard

Legend
We're sort of in an interesting place where I think we're due to rethink what casual means, I think it means different things based off what people find easy or hard to learn. Some games that are sometimes considered really accessible and lightweight seem to come across as harder around the table for us because their play loops require a greater degree of input and maintenance from the whole table to keep up, even while the people who love them tend to insist that its all very natural in play. Meanwhile some games that are crunchier and more intimidating are relatively easy for us because they have looser play loops and twists and complications tend to be player and GM driven, which means we only do them when it feels right, rather than coming up with something when prompted by the system.

Generally, I see game rules as tools to resolve uncertainty in what would otherwise be freeform roleplaying, so I've noticed that the more a game mechanizes social elements and story structure, the more stressed my players and I get trying to run it. I'm the least stressed when the game assumes I'm bringing it in to simulate specific things within the narrative that present problems for freeform roleplaying-- e.g. structuring a fight and determining winners and losers, while making it long and involved enough to emulate the fiction we like, or allowing us to resolve singular moments of casual uncertainty that show up within the story, but may or may not define it. They're pretty consistently things that were harder to do organically in my freeform message board days, because you'd just have to 'decide' how they worked out, which is a tough skill even when writing a novel, how often do people complain about plot armor or broken suspension of disbelief from convenient power ups or whatever?

I thought about this after reading viewpoints about what it means for a game to have rules for something and be about something-- I've tended to see mechanics as being something you pull in when something is hard or problematic to do without them. E.g. your game about political intrigue between medieval houses might have more rules for resolving combat than for resolving talking, because combat, when it does break out, is harder to make feel fair without the rules.

But obviously, other people don't have the same framework for what that most basic level is, or what makes a game easy for them.

Its also interesting, because I've kind of wondered lately about the new player thing, if you started playing say, in 2018, you've been playing for four years, if you started in 2017, you've been playing for 5, 2016, 6 years. Obviously, not everyone is playing consistently enough to make assumptions about how much they've actually played in that time. But at this point, a huge percentage of what we think of as new players aren't really new anymore. What does content for them look like? Are they evergreen casual players? Is there just a churn where the players aren't being retained? Do they seek out games with a different complexity ratio as they gain experience? What's their degree of satisfaction with the things they liked when they started?
I'm not really creating a theoretical model, though. There are a noticeable number of players on reddit asking for more casual rpgs that they can pick up and play with no prep and an easy learning curve, essentially along the lines of a board game. That might still be a little relative, but I don't think it is incomprehensible by veterans. And, again, I just wanted to have a couple of suggests in my pocket for when that sort of question pops up.
 

I'm not really creating a theoretical model, though. There are a noticeable number of players on reddit asking for more casual rpgs that they can pick up and play with no prep and an easy learning curve, essentially along the lines of a board game. That might still be a little relative, but I don't think it is incomprehensible by veterans. And, again, I just wanted to have a couple of suggests in my pocket for when that sort of question pops up.
Oh fair, I was riffing off some of the discussion from page 1, and exploring the question of why mileage may vary on different types of 'easy' game.

Edit: there's some neat one page RPGs I've read, maybe Night in the Mech Bay

Ooh, or you could ham up the scenarios in the boardgame "Fog of Love"
 


Here is a set of games I would run with zero prep:
  • Everyway
  • DramaSystem / Hillfok
  • My Life with Father
  • Dogs in the Vineyard
  • Some Fate genres
  • Fiasco
  • Numenéra

And here are ones I would not:
  • Any form of D&D, including AD&D, 13A, PF
  • Any investigative game, including CoC and GUMSHOE
  • Any superhero game
  • Godlike
  • BESM
  • Some Fate genres
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
And here are ones I would not:
  • Any form of D&D, including AD&D, 13A, PF
  • Any investigative game, including CoC and GUMSHOE
  • Any superhero game
  • Godlike
  • BESM
  • Some Fate genres
This is fascinating to me! Our lists are so different; D&D, investigative games (including CoC and GUMSHOE), and any superhero game (especially) top my "genres I like to run with zero prep" list. It may be down to system and genre familiarity, because other than Fiasco I don't think I could run your zero prep games well at all.

Neat stuff.
 


This is fascinating to me! Our lists are so different; D&D, investigative games (including CoC and GUMSHOE), and any superhero game (especially) top my "genres I like to run with zero prep" list. It may be down to system and genre familiarity, because other than Fiasco I don't think I could run your zero prep games well at all.

Neat stuff.
It's possibly because I like to have a pre-defined plot that I have thought through for investigative games -- my goal for that sort of game is for the players to have fun by solving the mystery. I know that another form of investigative game is more reactive, with the fun being the players creating a plausible solution and playing it out -- that's not my style.

The list of games I would run with zero prep is essentially those that I would feel happy playing reactively, or that are essentially plot-less.
 

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?

Crime games can make great pick up sessions. I like crime sessions because they are so player character driven, the GM can largely react to what they try to do. Monster hunts also make great pick up sessions (pick a monster from the game book, put it somewhere, have it terrorize the place, and then the players go into to deal with it).

Right now I am running some modern paranormal adventures. I am using my own system, but any simple game in the spirit of Moldvay works great for this. A lot of times, I run the session with zero prep because I am play testing. So in that respect it is casual. The method I tend to use to get ready, is ten minutes before play starts I quickly look over random news headlines in the area, pull out bits, throw in supernatural bits, and quickly sketch a scenario (not anything linear or overly complex, just a basic thing going on, a threat, some way for the players to get involved) and then let it start.
 

Any game for no-prep casual play has to have very short rules (1-4 pages), and hybrid roleplaying/card games are great for this by providing rules, prompts and play structure on cards.

Like Fiasco:

Or For The Queen:

And in an act of pure self-promotion I'll drop in my micro-RPGs on itch. They're both very short, have very few mechanics, and require no prep.
 

aramis erak

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.
When it comes to running it off the cuff, with a GM who knows the rules and players who don't, here's my list of such games:
  • TSR Advanced Marvel Super Heroes
  • GW Judge Dredd
  • 9th Level's Kobolds Ate My Baby
  • Any of the FFG Beginner Boxes
  • Atlas Games' Feng Shui 2
  • Cosmic Patrol- but only if the group doesn't include my wife.. (she dislikes it)
  • Tunnels and Trolls any edition.
  • River Horse's MLP: Tails of Equestria
  • 9th Level's Ninja Burger
  • Og: Unearthed
  • WEG Star Wars d6
  • WEG D6 Adventure, D6 Space, or D6 Fantasy
For GM Unfamiliar, I honestly don't know any I'd consider doable.
 

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