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We are between campaigns and are looking for a good, short game to fill the prep time for the GM.

  1. Character creation must be very short. Minimal stats is best. We want to be able to start playing less than 10 minutes after reading the rules. Which leads to...
  2. The rules must be very simple. We should rarely have to look up a rule to figure out how something works.
  3. It must be able to have a light-hearted tone. Silly, goofy, door-busting, dungeon-crawling, laser-blasting action would be best.
  4. All players should be considered "playing" at the same time. This eliminates games like Everyone Is John that push all but one person to the background for a duration. We don't want anyone to lose interest to their cell phone while it's someone else's turn to play. (Note that combat turns are fine, as long as they are pretty short.)
  5. Made for around 5-6 players. A GM is allowed, but not required if the rules are simple enough.

Bonus points if the system is cheap/free/available online.

Edit: What games are out there that could be played in a single night, with no prep? is another good resource, however it does not necessarily follow 2, 3, or 4 from this question.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

    
This may be a near-duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/q/3849/696. Check some of the answers there. –  gomad Jul 2 '13 at 19:04
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Nothing clenses the palette between campaigns quite like a game of Paranoia. –  GrandmasterB Jul 2 '13 at 19:07
    
@gomad Thanks for the link, I could not find that question. Let me know if this question is too similar. I will close it. –  TorelTwiddler Jul 2 '13 at 19:09
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While the thread Gomad linked is surely a source of good one-shot games, I thik your question here is waaaay more specific. If I were you I'd edit your question to make a reference (with hotlinking) to the other question, mentioning the differences in scope. –  Zachiel Jul 2 '13 at 20:46
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As this is a product recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  mxyzplk Jul 2 '13 at 23:23

18 Answers 18

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Risus: The Anything RPG would fit the bill perfectly:

  1. Character creation lasts about 20 seconds if you know what you're doing. Simply divide 10 d6s into three or more clichés and you're done. It's probably 5 minutes or less if you need to explain the rules.
  2. The rules are very simple: generally there are just TNs or opposed checks where you pit one cliché against another (e.g. All-powerful Wizard vs. Man of Titanium). There are optional rules, but you can just ignore them.
  3. Risus bills itself as a "universal comedy system" although it can also be used for serious gaming. You could easily do dungeon crawling, laser blasting, or both at the same time! The examples, for instance, include having a wheelchair racer go off a ramp in order to jump off a pit, so that should give you an idea of what this can do.
  4. Unless the GM runs the game otherwise, all players have an equal share of the spotlight.
  5. Risus doesn't specify the number of players, but I've run it successfully with 6 players and one GM. It is intended to be used with a GM, but I've also run it with four players and the Mythic GM Emulator.

Bonus: It's free and online! There's also a solo adventure you can try out, although half the fun is trying to justify using a strange cliché in a given situation.

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Came here to say this. It really is pretty much one of the simplest games available, and perfect for light, fun gaming. –  Mike Riverso Jul 2 '13 at 22:25

I vote for WARP (the one originally used in Over the Edge - now available in OGL/Free format).

About your criteria:

  • Character creation must be very short.

Players have to define their characters through three descriptive traits plus one flaw. One is major, the other two help define the PC. So Iron Man would be Armored vigilante, Gadgeteer, Millionaire, with Womanizer (or alcoholic, depending on your continuity) as a flaw. Indiana Jones: Adventurer, Archaeologist, University Professor, with Fear of Snakes as flaw.

  • Minimal stats is best.

There are no stats. The three traits are rated in terms of dice. If you have to roll for something, you either use the rating of the most appropriate traits or a default (i.e. a Surgeon would use her dice in Surgeon to perform surgery, a Computer Programmer would use a single d6).

  • The rules must be very simple.

The whole system is a 28 pages PDF. The actual mechanics can easily be put on a single-face cheat sheet. (I have tried to find one online because I sorta remember having seen it in the past, but failed).

  • It must be able to have a light-hearted tone.

Up to you, really. The rules were originally the engine for a SURREALISTIC conspiracy game, and Light Hearted was definitely one of the possible flavours.

  • All players should be considered "playing" at the same time.

In this the game is pretty "old school": everyone take turns and describe what they want to do. If combat is not interesting for your group, there is an abstraction mechanic to fast forward an encounter instead of playing it out.

  • A GM is allowed, but not required if the rules are simple enough.

As I said above, it was designed for use with a GM, but being very light in terms of mechanics you can probably use it with the Mythic GM Emulator (even if I don't have direct experience with this).

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I strongly recommend Roll To Dodge. It's a very simple system, with one rule (three, if you include the extended ruleset) and near-zero character generation, played with naught but 1d6 and a twinkle in the eye. The one thing I might say against it is that it requires a lot of creativity on the part of the GM to play properly, but it's a lot of fun if you're up to it.

Sean Mirrisen's old Multiworld Madness game on the Bay12 forums is still regarded as one of the greatest examples of what tends to happen with RTD; that is, insanity. It also includes the entirety of the rules in the first post (this particular game was hosted play-by-post on a forum, though RTD can certainly be played tabletop).

I also recommend reading the archives of the old Netland game I ran on a different site a while ago; we took a slightly more traditional, roleplay-heavy (relatively speaking) approach with that one.

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There appears to be at least one spot where RTD's rules are published online. Do you know if there's any authoritative published (whether online or on paper) source for the rules? If so, it might be worth linking to it or mentioning it. –  doppelgreener Jul 7 '13 at 7:27
    
@JonathanHobbs I do not believe there is any one authoritative source for RTD rules, no. The OP of Multiworld Madness is the closest you can hope to get. –  Schilcote Jul 14 '13 at 16:35

I have a recommendation to make, that is really, really exactly what you are asking for:

Dungeons and Dragons Gamma World

Character Generation is really fast, as you basically choose two backgrounds and do some adaptions. Done. You should be finished in under 10 minutes, if you know what you want to play or you go all random (i always go random). I do recommend using the expensions, too, though.

Have you ever played a swarm of rats? A radioactive amoeba? A pyromantic plant? Have you ever worn a traffic sign as a shield, using an atomic-ray-weapon to burn through bio-robotic enemies in a world where the laws of nature have no use as you use your ever changing mutant-powers to gain the edge? This is gamma world! Goofy? Check! Action? Check! Fast character generation? Hey - using the online generator it is a matter of 2 seconds! http://wizards.com/dnd/blank.aspx?x=dnd/4dnd/gwsheet

Just try the automatic generation a little while and look what you'll come up with!

The general tone of the game is very lightweight, sometimes silly. Gee: on of the boxes you can read "no mutant rat included".

Unboxing Gamma Wold: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gcm8jXQ3Mbc

The one thing, that i should point out: Gamma World emphasizes on the game in "Roleplaying Game". If you don't mind that or might even embrace it - go for it. For me, Gamma World was a real surprise in the most positive way possible.

P.S.: I can't post the links to reviews or their homepage, as my "reputation" doesn't allow me to. But I guess youre google-fu will be good enough for that. ;-)

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Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the help; it's a useful introduction to the site. Can you explain a bit what you mean by Gamma World emphasizes on the game in "Roleplaying Game," please? "Game" doesn't really tell me anything about the experience. And once you have 20+ rep, feel free to join the chat! –  BESW Jul 6 '13 at 12:04
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I'm also unsure that this meets the question's requirements for very simple rules. –  Phil Jul 6 '13 at 12:10
    
Did you play it? Sure - compared to Talislanta 2nd, risus or dream park you might get the impression. But for a game that actually supports goofy and silly fast-paced action, this is quite on the light side, with all relevant rules in your head and on the char sheet. # –  Dailor Jul 6 '13 at 13:26

Something a bit different, but still fits the idea(mostly) Munchkin. I have played the card game and feel the Star Munchkin version would suit your idea. While there is also the Munchkin RPG, I have not played it so I can't say for sure if it would suit your quick game parameters.

Munchkin its self is a stripped down RPG turned into a card game. Each player starts with a Human character and some gear & assorted cards. You can equip gear and weapons to fight the monsters in the door deck. You can also gain and lose classes and races for your character as the game progresses. The goal is to be the first to reach level 10(or 20 in Epic Munchkin mode).

The rules are quick to learn, and easy to use. Once the game starts flowing it is easy to know how the rules work, how you can break them, and how to mess with the other players. Card rules overrule game rules(except for a few key ones). Great fun and only costs $25 per set. You can even combine sets for more possibilities(or for more players if need be).

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Munchkin fulfils every requirement specified by the OP. However, this is a role-playing game specific site; It can be safely assumed, therefore, that the OP was looking for RPGs, rather than card games that parody them. -1. –  GMJoe Jul 4 '13 at 4:49
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I'm going to go against the grain here for a moment and suggest that RMDan's answer is in fact valid. The question asks for a game to play while the GM sets up the next campaign; "Play Munchkin" is an appropriate suggestion. –  Schilcote Jul 14 '13 at 16:33

Searchers of the Unknown

The rules are one side of one page and are designed to be usable with any adventure compatible with TSR-era D&D or AD&D. (Which means that adventures for retroclones like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizards, etc. would be suitable as well.)

(And I upvoted Risus, because that’d be my other choice.)

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I would recommend The Lady Blackbird.

Characters come with the rulebook- the setup as written is fun and can spiral off in a lot of different ways. Just pick a character sheet that looks good and away you go. On subsequent runs you might want to make your own, but you can get pretty far just stealing bits and pieces of each different premade character.

The rules are printed at the bottom of each character sheet, and can be read through in a few minutes. It's pretty straightforward over all. Shadow of yesterday fans will find it very familiar.

The tone is absolutely fantastic every time I've played- though it can go over the map. Usually feels like a slightly whimsical take on Firefly. If things ever start looking grim or dark, have Snargle, the daredevil goblin pilot, run through the area with his pants on fire. (Snargle by default, and other characters if they pick it up, get mechanically rewarded for making other players laugh, a cool notion I have stolen for every other lighthearted game I run. )

Keeping the game moving is pretty easy, largely because of the simple rules and low consequences. Damage states are (in no particular order) injured, tired, angry, lost, hunted, trapped, and presumed dead, and all are equally easy to recover from.

The game comes with five premade PCs, a setting, and a starting situation, and works much better with a GM. Making new PCs is easy, especially if you get lazy and just patch together powers and abilities from different premade characters. I would absolutely try this out if you haven't heard of it before.

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I'm going to go on a slight tangent and suggest Microscope. While it is more of a "storytelling game", it dings on most points of your question.

No character creation

Not at the start of the game anyway. As individuals are as much an asset of the story as a village, a mountain range, an occult sect or a galactic senate, they come up during the various stages of the game. They can be as detailed or shallow as needed, but details will be provided in play as the story demands.

Very simple rules

The book is 80 pages long, with a little more than half of it being rules and the basics are really easy to grasp.

The tone is what you make of it

The tone of the different parts of the story is actually an integral element of the gameplay. When defining a Period, you set the general tone of the story within its bounds. Nothing prevents you from defining each and every part of the story as a Light one. You can totally go silly across the board, but as the game goes on you might find that silly and Dark aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. This is the Power of this game. Let your creativity roll and the stories unfold in the most surprising manner. Just read some of these game reports.

Everybody's playing

The game is extremely collaborative. A player's turn still allows for some input from other players. And in Scenes, you're litterally playing out a part of your Story, Shakespeare style ! (actual acting credibility not guaranteed)

Numbers may be a problem

The game is pitched "for 2 to 4 players". No GM required. 5-6 players is still largely doable, but will increase the game length that much (I wouldn't expect "completing" a Story - whatever that means - in a single/short session), with a longer time on the same Focus (which may or may not be an actual problem).


Available for quite cheap as a PDF here. Slightly less cheap as deadtree there.

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Most groups' first games of Microscope go very silly, so you don't really have to try at all for a lighthearted tone! And they're digest-sized pages of comfortably-sized type, too. It's equivalent to 30 or 40 pages of a more standard letter-sized hardback RPG. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 4 '13 at 0:30

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen A Role Playing game in a new style.

  1. Character creation is as simple as adopting the persona of a Nobleman (or woman).
  2. The rules a ludicrously simple.
  3. The tone is certainly light hearted.
  4. It kind of fails here, since each player takes a turn telling a story, however everyone can interrupt the current player's story.
  5. This works great with a half dozen people! More might be an issue if you are in a noisy location.

My group has recorded two of our three Baron Munchausen sessions (I Podcast Magic Missile) if you would like to check out the game. It works pretty well for an audio only Actual Play to since there are no maps, miniatures, etc to keep track of.

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Wow, just wow. I have the game you're looking for, it's downloadable for free, it's called Great Orc Gods, and it features every single thing you asked for. The only problem with it is that the game has a really low replayability (because it quickly becomes repetitive) so you'll be soon in search of something else. Luckily for us my answer won't be the only one, so you're going to have a lot of other games for different occasions.

  1. Easy and fast character creation. The game has an high mortality rate so being able to make a new character in seconds is essential to the game. Basically, you have some points and you need to divide them between the seven orchish gods you worship.

  2. Simple rules? You roll, the player controlling the patron of the activity your character is doing chooses the number of successes you need, other players may give you tokens to make the check harder.

  3. No lasers. But stupid orcs pillaging a village because trolls said so, using their goblin goons as tools, weapons, ammo, portable rams, matchsticks and the like is guaranteed to be light-hearted, silly and door-busting.

  4. Everyone has a character, and is trying to make a better score than the others. Killing the dwarven defender? One point! Burning a house? One point! Kidnapping a villager lady? One point! Killing the halfling hero? Zero points, it's just a nuisance after all... And you lose them if you die. So the attention of everyone is on spending tokens to kill that ****** ****** that has more points than you! Everybody's focused on the story at all times, granted.

  5. 7 + GM is best. Works with less.

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If you don't mind some creepiness in your light-hearted fun, I highly recommend Little Fears, the game of childhood monsters and nightmares. I played the original game (recently re-released as Happy Birthday, Little Fears), which worked great as a one-shot, even with a first-time GM who'd never run any RPG before. It's definitely a dark game, but it's ripe for silly, childlike fun too.

I have not played Little Fears Nightmare Edition, a newer version of the game with a different system. The author describes it as “much more fantastic in its horror than the original game” – or, as Wikipedia calls it, “more focused on Goosebumps-style horror,” with controversial elements removed.

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Teenagers from Outer Space & Star Riders

Two games, two publishers, one system.

Very light rules, usually played for humor. I've never seen character generation take more than 15 minutes for a group, tho' I've heard nasty rumors that certain people can be prone to losing dice and pushing it past 30 minutes.

You're playing a group of teens in high-school, or just post high-school.

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If you want "Kick-in-the-Door", I recommend Badass. You only have a meager handful of points to spread out and with a little reading ahead, the game only takes about a (quite literal) minute to set up. The fun of the game lies in playing against cliches and long worn tropes and having fun.

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You could find the original version of Toon, by West End Games. The GURPS version probably has a longer setup.

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I'd recommend Durance.

I posted this as an answer to another question, and though it might not seem a good fit for point 3 (light-hearted nature), and by the default examples it isn't, because of the narrative nature, it would be easy to make it so.

There are several examples of prison films so over the top that they are humorous: Hogan's Heroes, Let's Go To Prison, Life, Stir Crazy, and several more.

The major rules change that would have to be made isn't so much a rules change as it is a rules interpretation change: all interpretation and setups would need to lead towards the dark comedy that you are trying to engender than the brutal reality of what the default game suggests, and this is fine per the rules as the outcomes and questions suggest and inform the narrative rather than dictating it.

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You can't make Durance lighthearted with a reskin—the tragedy of the human condition around power, authority, and oppression are built right into the core mechanics. It's not a prison-game physics system that can be played with any theme and premise. You would have to make a full (and probably difficult) hack of the core mechanics and their structural semantics to play a lighthearted game. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '13 at 5:39
    
Unless you've personally pulled it off or seen it done, of course. That personal experience would certainly trump my theory-based objection. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 3 '13 at 5:44

Roll for Shoes

  1. It's got technically no character creation (although you might want to name your PC). You collect stats/abilities as you go.
  2. The rules, in their entirety, consist of seven lines (eight sentences).
  3. The phrasal nature of character abilities can lead to very amusing characters if your group plays that way, though it doesn't have to.
  4. Turns are about as short as you can get and still have it be a dice-based RPG.
  5. I haven't played it with that many people, but it looks like it would work with any number that doesn't get too unwieldy at the table. There's a GM, but the GM's work is minimal and I've played it without (just have someone else at the table roll when the GM normally would).

Bonus points: free and available online.

Here is an example of chat-based play from the RPG.SE Back Room.

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This was going to be my answer. It did the job well when I used it for exactly this purpose. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 2 '13 at 23:30

Fiasco is a one-shot a game in which you create and play out a Coen Brothers-esque scenario. It's for three-to-five players, GM-less, has no character sheets, and games last about 2-3 hours.

Given your constraints, it will probably be more black comedy than lighthearted, but if the players all agree to keep it lighthearted, it could work out that way. I'd try it straight, first.

Players take turns having scenes, but even if your character isn't in a given scene, you can temporarily take up an NPC role for that scene or offer suggestions about what should happen.

You’ll play ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably collapse into a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. Lives and reputations will be lost, painful wisdom will be gained, and if you are really lucky, your guy just might end up back where he started.

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Fiasco is great for in-session character creation and is done in a way ensuring various links between characters, all ripe for drama. Sessions can be long if following the default structure. Shorter structures are suggested in the rules, though. –  leokhorn Jul 3 '13 at 7:56
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When I've played Fiasco, players end up contributing a lot anyway when it's not their turn. –  Bradd Szonye Jul 3 '13 at 9:36
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If you play Fiasco with the “John Hughes movie” variant rules from The Fiasco Companion, it's (potentially) much lighter in tone. –  Bradd Szonye Jul 3 '13 at 10:26
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@evilcandybag Sure, but you normally have 2 key players in any turn, maybe three at a push. The others can contribute with ideas, but quieter players can also end up sidelined and checking their phones. I agree that this is easy to mitigate and often doesn't happen, but it's something to be aware of. –  deworde Jul 3 '13 at 10:51
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@deworde In practice, a good portion of the scenes will involve your character. With five players, a fifth of the scenes are yours, and two fifths involve characters that have a relationship with you. Even if you're not in the scene, the scene is also likely going to be about something you'll want to pay attention to, since at the very least it involves people you know, and you're likely to become involved with it or its fallout. –  okeefe Jul 3 '13 at 20:03

I would recommend the Free Universal RPG (there's a link to RPGNow where you can get it for free)

  1. Character creation should be as short as coming up with a concept. It uses 4 very broad "stats" (more like traits/aspects such as "Mind - Observant" or "Body - Nimble"), 2 pieces of gear and some (possibly optional) idea of what the character wants. There's a tad more (Description, Relationships) but nothing that can't be summed up in a sentence and nothing mandatory to start the game.
  2. The rules are quite simple and short, about 12 pages of required reading, most of it being examples and side notes to help you make the most out of it. The GM defines an obstacle is worth rolling for, player rolls d6, even numbers indicate success (higher is better)
  3. The examples suggest a pulp-inspired tone, so it should fit light-hearted stuff
  4. Everyone is playing and combat should be quite fast
  5. A GM is required, even though there are suggestions of allowing players to shape the various scenes. More of a story-driven system, for sure, but still classic with its GM/Player structure.

Bonus points!

Additional notes:

  • Alternate dice resolutions are provided, including my favored 1-3 fail, 4-6 succeed
  • Results inherently use the concept of "Yes, and..." and "No, but..." which is usually great to keep things moving forward and/or add flavorful details to the action
  • The system has Modifiers (including characters' "stats") which give Bonus or Penalty dice (take best or worst result of the bunch)
  • The system, as such, is very simple (too simple for some, maybe). Do not expect a simulation :)
  • Includes FU points (your classic Hero/Fate/Destiny/Whatever Points)
  • Includes a short pulp adventure and four premade characters
  • Has an "Advancement" mechanic, in case you want to keep going with it, but it's closer to what Fate games offer: you don't pile up abilities, you just tweak and refocus your character.

I used the system during a Pathfinder game to allow a very quick flashback to a PC's childhood. I didn't want any complex rules bothering me and yet wanted a modicum of verisimilitude, with the child PC being better at what he should have been better at. I got just that, and then some. It was fast, simple and the "Yes, but..." portion of results often inspired me to add twists to the situation. It turned into one of our most memorable moments in the campaign so far.

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