What is your favorite zero-prep game for ongoing campaigns.

Reynard

Legend
I find myself in a situation where my schedule has gotten tight enough that while I can still carve out a couple hours to run a game weekly, I don't really have time to prep. I have run lots of no-prep games, but as one shots or short engagements (3 or 4 sessions, max, usually over a constrained time like a convention weekend). I have never run an ongoing campaign with a zero-prep paradigm, though.

If you have done so, what is your favorite system for an ongoing, no prep RPG campaign? Is the system built for zero-prep? If so, what built in tools make that possible. If not, what external tools are you using?

Any general advice for ongoing zero-prep? Do certain genres work better? What is a good number of players? What kind of format (ie episodic versus serial) works best for you?

Thanks!
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
Right now it's Ironlands! It's a great zero-prep game for a smaller group (I'd say 4 players max, one of them being the GM, though it's GM-optional). What makes it a great zero-prep system is that it has multiple "oracle tables" that you roll on to generate places, consequences, NPCs, plot hooks, and even enemy actions. There's also a system of "swearing an iron vow" that commits your character to resolving an adventure hook. Sometimes a consequence to an action is to take a new vow. This means that a single adventure can create hooks for following adventures!

I've run a few sessions now for a group of two players. In the first sessions we created the setting (through prompts provided by the game) and characters (took about 10 minutes), generated a starting vow, and played through about half an adventure. The first mission was pretty simple: rescue a helpful NPC in a distant location.

But as the players rolled, some consequences introduced new plot hooks and iron vows. For example, when attempting to establish a bond with an NPC, one character had to swear an iron vow to convince their own faction to join in with a broader conspiracy. Another character received a vision that if they sacrifice an enemy in the name of the Varou (wolf people), they will gain powers.

All these storylines were generated during the session. The only prep I did was to create a Roll20 game (there's great support for Ironlands on Roll20).
 



aco175

Legend
I kind of have things develop as we go along. I have the base town and a few NPCs from earlier games or lower levels and then add a few secrets to fill out more. I find it takes little time to add a couple things for the inn or the innkeeper and lay onto them the hooks. Part of your planning each week can involve one NPC and 3 secrets for them. This may spawn more for others to tie things together, but you only need the next ones.

Not as good as having more time to plan this out more fully or with more time to develop more before the campaign starts is always better. I find this works for a ok to fine campaign.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
My favorite zero prep game at the moment is Dungeon Crawl Classics.

While not every part of every module can be run smoothly without reading it first, they're all close enough that I can coast by when I need to.

I've been running a regular campaign consistently meeting every Sunday since June or July, and it's been just about the easiest and most enjoyable TTRPG experience I've had since I started gaming back in 1993.
 

payn

Legend
I've been wanting to do a Battletech campaign where the players are PCs and I would run their opponents. Basically, at the end of each session the PCs decide which job to take next. Just pop out the enemies and roll dice at the beginning of each session.
 


aramis erak

Legend
For me, currently, it's Talisman Adventures - if I need a plot, a d12 and d6 roll will give me a place, a couple cards from the boardgame will give me a big bad. And Travel will generate a lot of encounters to riff.

Twilight 2000 4E is a close second. It's a survival game. In 2000. 3 years after the start of WW III. (alt. hist diverging in 1992.)
 

Reynard

Legend
I kind of have things develop as we go along. I have the base town and a few NPCs from earlier games or lower levels and then add a few secrets to fill out more. I find it takes little time to add a couple things for the inn or the innkeeper and lay onto them the hooks. Part of your planning each week can involve one NPC and 3 secrets for them. This may spawn more for others to tie things together, but you only need the next ones.

Not as good as having more time to plan this out more fully or with more time to develop more before the campaign starts is always better. I find this works for a ok to fine campaign.
I think you misunderstood my question.
 

What is a good number of players?
I don't have any experience with any zero-prep RPG games, but I'd imagine though that with any RPG you'd at least have to read the rules at least once to familiarize yourself with them. As far as number of players are concerned, I've found in cases like this where prep time is limited or non-existent 2-3 players work best for me. It's easier to keep track of PCs abilities, the game moves faster and unfolds more organically as there's less players vying for the spotlight or deciding what to do. Write down 2-3 sentences for a premise of the adventure/session and just wing it.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I don't have any experience with any zero-prep RPG games, but I'd imagine though that with any RPG you'd at least have to read the rules at least once to familiarize yourself with them. As far as number of players are concerned, I've found in cases like this where prep time is limited or non-existent 2-3 players work best for me. It's easier to keep track of PCs abilities, the game moves faster and unfolds more organically as there's less players vying for the spotlight or deciding what to do. Write down 2-3 sentences for a premise of the adventure/session and just wing it.
Pretty much if youve got a random encounter table and encourage players to improvise you can roll a game out of zero-prep. Some games just provide better tools to do it - Ironsworn is good for that
 
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Reynard

Legend
Pretty much if youve got a random encounter table and encourage players to improvise you can roll a game out of zero-prep. Some games just provide better tolls to do it - Ironsworn is good for that
I think that's true if you know the system well or the game is pretty simple and built for it. I have certainly been successful with D&D, Savage Worlds and a few others off the cuff, mostly because I am familiar with them.

But, again, I am interested inthe idea of sustained zero prep and no one has really addressed that part of my question yet.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
I think that's true if you know the system well or the game is pretty simple and built for it. I have certainly been successful with D&D, Savage Worlds and a few others off the cuff, mostly because I am familiar with them.

But, again, I am interested inthe idea of sustained zero prep and no one has really addressed that part of my question yet.
To an extent it depends on how literally you mean "zero prep." I prep a situation once and it takes a few sessions for the players to work through it and that leads to another situation which takes a few more sessions. These days I barely write anything down unless I'm generating a new situation.

A thought about running persistently no-prep: Maintaining consistency will become a mental load if you do not have someone at the table who takes notes about what happens in the game. You can almost think of it as moving the workload from prep to remember. Some people are better at remembering than others. This is not advice not to do it.
 

Reynard

Legend
To an extent it depends on how literally you mean "zero prep." I prep a situation once and it takes a few sessions for the players to work through it and that leads to another situation which takes a few more sessions. These days I barely write anything down unless I'm generating a new situation.

A thought about running persistently no-prep: Maintaining consistency will become a mental load if you do not have someone at the table who takes notes about what happens in the game. You can almost think of it as moving the workload from prep to remember. Some people are better at remembering than others. This is not advice not to do it.
Yeah. I already offloads my memory to players (giving bonus XP for keeping notes, or whatever is appropriate for the game). Mostly I don't like having to pause to write down things because it messes with the flow of the game at the moment.

Forged in the Dark games, which are intended to be minimal prep, have built in short runs. i think that's because even with zero prep, ongoing games are likely to coalesce around certain storylines that interest the participants. But I would think of those things more as adventures than campaigns, or at least single seasons of a television show. There's no reason not to do multiple seasons (at least up to a point). But if there is significant mechanical progress with a built in cap, you are going to run into trouble with a perpetual game.

I kind of like the idea of figuring out how to eliminate hard advancement and make "xp" a session resource rather than permanent improvement. But I have not thought it through deeply.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Yeah. I already offloads my memory to players (giving bonus XP for keeping notes, or whatever is appropriate for the game). Mostly I don't like having to pause to write down things because it messes with the flow of the game at the moment.

Forged in the Dark games, which are intended to be minimal prep, have built in short runs. i think that's because even with zero prep, ongoing games are likely to coalesce around certain storylines that interest the participants. But I would think of those things more as adventures than campaigns, or at least single seasons of a television show. There's no reason not to do multiple seasons (at least up to a point). But if there is significant mechanical progress with a built in cap, you are going to run into trouble with a perpetual game.

I kind of like the idea of figuring out how to eliminate hard advancement and make "xp" a session resource rather than permanent improvement. But I have not thought it through deeply.
Something to keep in mind about Story Now play is that long-term consistency is not as high a priority of the games. You get more immediacy in exchange which might make it a thing to consider in the situation you've found yourself in.
 

Reynard

Legend
Something to keep in mind about Story Now play is that long-term consistency is not as high a priority of the games. You get more immediacy in exchange which might make it a thing to consider in the situation you've found yourself in.
Right, but the built in limited run aspect remains. Also, the couple of groups of more trad players I have run FitD games with or tried to incorporate play-to-find-out elements with have not really enjoyed the "writer's room" feel that can come with PtFO. Most of them prefer immersive roleplaying and exploration which is, in my experience so far anyway, harder to do with PtFO.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Right, but the built in limited run aspect remains. Also, the couple of groups of more trad players I have run FitD games with or tried to incorporate play-to-find-out elements with have not really enjoyed the "writer's room" feel that can come with PtFO. Most of them prefer immersive roleplaying and exploration which is, in my experience so far anyway, harder to do with PtFO.
I can absolutely believe that was your experience and I agree that what your players prefer is going to be harder get from Story Now play.
 

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