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I would like to run an RPG, but one of my players has a hard time sitting up for long periods of time. What sorts of games can I try running given that she needs to be lying in a hospital bed and would not be able to see any maps or minis if they were used?

The group sits in chairs scattered all around the room, and the game will be paused from time to time to tend to a baby, so I need something that can be effectively handled primarily through narration, ideally with simple character sheets and a minimum of dice-rolling.

As far as I know, the group would be open to anything, but various other issues make rules-heavy systems a no-go (if the players need to know the rules, that is).

Specifically, I am looking for a game system that I can teach easily, allows for a variety of storytelling options, and does not require the group to be seated around a table.

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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!

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Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour and the help; they're a useful introduction to the site. This is a brilliant question! Would a resolution mechanic involving, say, playing cards, be more amenable? (And once you have 20+ rep, feel free to join the chat!) –  BESW Aug 4 '13 at 5:38
    
You might want to look into some old text-based RPG, as they didn't rely on visual aides and were interacted with purely through text. These also were less combat focused and more about puzzle/problem solving. The combat systems varied heavily from very intricate combat to very basic (one-two hit kill, maybe needs a specific weapon), so you might be able to mimic a less random-intensive system. –  Garan Aug 4 '13 at 9:29
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I think any game without minis or a lot of writing things down could fit your needs, as long as you had, say, a phone app to handle the occasional die roll. Tapping a phone screen and setting it down occasionally seems about as simple as looking at character sheets. –  Alex P Aug 4 '13 at 10:02
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As this is a system-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  mxyzplk Aug 5 '13 at 18:09
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Not an answer then, but if you do ever get a projector you could possibly expand your range of games by using MapTool. It shows the map, tokens, etc. You could use some sort of accessibility technology (or just plain old "call out your orders") for players who need it. Have one instance of the server running on a hidden screen (eg. your laptop, so you can move monsters) and one instance for the players on the projector. I use MapTool to run a D&D4E game between friends in different cities, and it's excellent once you get the hang of it. –  detly Aug 6 '13 at 6:16
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9 Answers 9

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a whimsical GM-less game about people who get letters asking them to solve the problems of very small worlds floating in an infinite airy space, while working to discover their own role in the universe.

  • No dice: draw stones from a bag. At the beginning of your turn, you draw three stones from a bag (white and black stones, or whatever similar object you want to use). That's the way the game introduces mechanical randomness.
  • Simple rules. Each pilgrim is defined by two traits: how she helps people and how she gets in trouble. By making a choice about the stones you draw from the pouch and considering your pilgrim's current situation in play, you determine the scope of her actions that turn (can she help someone, or is she too busy getting out of trouble herself?). The game is over when any player has kept a certain number of stones.
  • No miniatures or map: write a sentence. Your turn (in which you are the "Storyteller") consists of writing a sentence about your pilgrim's actions based on the above factors, and then everyone else (the "Troublemakers") collaborates to write another sentence in response, following the same rules. The result of each session is a written-down story. The ending of the story ("parade" or "pitchforks") is determined by how much the story used certain words from the letter that brought the pilgrims there in the first place (this is part of the rules, as your use of the words only "counts" under certain conditions; IE, it's harder to use them when you're in trouble than when you're in a position to help people).

It's also worth mentioning that because each story is about answering a different letter asking for help, each session can be a stand-alone game, or you can have your pilgrims answer multiple letters in a row by making the sessions add up to an extended story.

(Though writing sentences while prone is probably difficult, it shouldn't be too hard to dictate a sentence to someone else, or use an electronic speech recognition program to convert speech to digital text. You're only writing one sentence on your own turn, so it's not overwhelming work; possibly appointing a "group scribe" could be useful.)

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Extensive writing, which isn't always easy when prone. –  aramis Aug 4 '13 at 8:52
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@aramis Dictating a sentence to someone shouldn't be too hard, and there are plenty of mechanical aids for it these days, including Siri. –  BESW Aug 4 '13 at 9:03
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Have you considered starting a Freeform role-playing game?

You can base it on any world or ruleset you like, and simply use the ideas and concepts of the game instead of its rules.

You are not required to use anything, no dice, no character sheets, no rules. You simply sit down with your friends, decide who is the narrator, and then assign roles.

Be all you can be

Without the limitations of rules, players can be anything they want, as long as everyone agrees it will be fun for the story - without mechanics getting in the way of playing a game (or telling a story) players could play anything they wanted. An example would be The Legend of Zelda where there is the main hero Link, and sometimes his fairy friend. In a traditional game, no one would play such a fairy, but in a freeform game, players can play any kind of character they want, this lets you create fantastical stories, where players input into the game is not their characters mechanics, but their imaginations.

More of a story than a game

Limited only by imagination, this becomes a collaborative story. Each player might control the actions and thoughts of any number of characters (usually a single character) and takes turns describing their actions in the story, while the narrator is there to disrupt disputes and to fill in the rest of the world.

Yin and Yang

Because of the nature of freeform games, you can have players deciding the actions of characters on either side of the story, there does not have to be a party of do-gooders, but you could have a mix of players all taking part in the story, some playing the roles and deciding the actions of the villains, and some of the heroes.

Structure and Limitation

With all this storytelling, sometimes a player who is dominant can take over all the fun for other players, so you need to balance this as a narrator (or maybe that player wants to be the narrator?). But if you must use some kind of rules system to determine power, or actions, you can always invent your own. Personally, I use a system I developed called the Action Points System.


Action Point System

This is a system I developed for running my freeform games. It is very simple, all you need to know is that each player has 5 action points for every scene of the game. Any action the character wants to take that is somewhat beyond its regular capacity, or that would drastically modify the story requires action points. The amount is determined by the narrator at that time (meaning, the same action taken during different scenes might be more - or less - expensive depending on other situations).

For example, a player playing a Wizard is expected to cast spells - but if the character wants to use a very powerful spell that will impact the game in a drastic way (like blasting a fireball into the center of a town) it would cost action points (the amount is - of course, to be determined by the narrator).

The way to use the Action Points System, is totally up to you - the way I use it is to keep the story and the characters in the story on a certain level, without letting the players get too powerful or modify the world in ways that are too drastic for my liking. But of course, since everyone is playing the game (or story) together, if one players really wants to destroy the entire town... just make it cost him all his action for the scene and then simply play on.

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I'd suggest Amber Diceless Roleplaying (soon to be joined by Lords of Gossamer and Shadow). Though by default, the game is set in the world of Roger Zelazny's Amber, I have seen it used in everything from Science Fiction, to Modern World, to Fantasy, and everything in between. And because of the unique setting of Amber, it supports it very easily.

The basic mechanic is based on the ranking of three stats: Warfare, Psyche, and Strength. At the beginning of the game, you hold an auction of a certain number of points to be spent between the three stats- going from one to the other in turn. After no one is willing to spend more points on a stat, the person with the highest score becomes the best of the PCs in that stat- and in the default game, a very major player in that stat. Others get the advantage of having theirs only known to the last bid... they can use point to raise their stat after the fact, as long as they don't surpass the winner of the bid - that sets a ceiling for character creation.

Powers and such are also available- from sorcery to summoning, from items of power to companions and places of power. The primary powers in the default campaign are Pattern and Logrus however (with Shapeshifting thrown in there). At the ends of the universe exist two opposing forces- the Courts of Chaos and Amber, representing Order. Amber is the beacon of the universe to an extent, and every other place (other than the Courts of Chaos) is not real, but a shadow cast by Amber. The Pattern lets you walk these Shadows (while Chaosians use the Logrus to do the same, but in a different manner of pulling themselves to where they want to be).

Once characters are created, resolution is diceless- based on Stat mostly, but situational aspects can make it a bit less cut and dried than comparing numbers, i.e. using powers and environment to strip away the advantage of a high stat.

It's highly imaginative, highly cooperative, and highly narrative.

Its available on Drive Thru RPG, and the designer's site is very minimal right now- Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is supposed to pick up where this left off. It just had a very successful kickstarter, and is nearing the end of its design cycle. There is a free preview available currently.

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System Recommendations

CORPS (available only in PDF) - tactical combat is hex based, but can be done more narratively fairly easily. Uses only 1d10 per player, and that seldom; autosuccess is used a lot. Works really well, but a bit mathy for some.

Castle Falkenstein is a card based victorian steampunk fantasy, It uses standard bridge or poker decks, and works just fine with separate decks per player; magic users need to share a single magic deck (which is still just a poker or bridge deck), but that is not used all that frequently. Further, the character sheet is a journal; inexpensive journals can be used (and reused), and preclude needing a clipboard. Pencil is adequate, so writing upwards isn't an issue either.

Active Exploits is a passable diceless system; I'm not fond of it, but it has plenty of fans.

Theatrix is a diceless system with optional d100 mechanics. I like it fairly well, but it's sadly out of print. Caveat: I've only run it using the dice based mechanics.

TSR released two card based games (Dragonlance 5th Age, and Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game), each using custom decks. Both are out of print. Both are labeled with the "Saga System" logo (which shouldn't be confused with Star Wars Saga Edition, which is derived from the d20 system).

Coping with Prone

Note that for die-rolling, a cheap, lightweight mirror and a shallow box can be used to make the rolls readable prone. I've run games while prone (recovering from knee surgery), and I used a laptop and a die-rolling program, but I've had friends who rolled into a box and the read the dice using a mirror.

Any game using d10's only can be played with a poker deck, with all the faces removed. d12's only can be done as well, by removing one face (I'd pull the kings, and read J as 11 and Q as 12). As mentioned for Castle Falkenstein, cards are easily handled prone.

If one's willing to make custom decks, a deck marked 1-12, with a smaller 1-6 can be used for replacing both d12 and d6 (and by extension, d3). At least 4 sets (48 cards) would be good; 5 sets allows adding d10 markings, but also means every card is unique

Maps and minis can be easily worked around. There's this neat product called Blu-Tac; generic versions are called poster putty or poster tac. Use it to put a laminated map on the TV screen. Use it to put flat counters on same said map. Or, use a map on poster board (laminate it) and hang it in her eyeline at a 45° angle, again using blu-tac to hold counters on the map.

The Fiery Dragon token sets work GREAT for this - they're cardboard, about 1mm thick, and pretty clear, and consistently 1" diameter.

If you have the money, you can buy sheet magnets or roll magnet, often peel-n-stick. Some whiteboards are ferrous (will hold a magnet); sheet steel can also be purchased, then gridded, the edge rolled or sanded and taped. Counters can be mounted to sheet or roll magnet, and stuck to the board.

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There are several fortune-less games out there, I'll name you the ones I find more suitable between those I've personally tried or seen played. Some will only be diceless for the GM, some will be almost diceless, I'll state in bold what applies to each game.

Polaris is a game about the knights of a noble ice empire doomed to end with the advent of the Sun. It's played by four people sitting around a table, with rotating roles.
The gaming system makes use of ritual sentences to guide compromise between each player's desires, for example the knight might discover the assassin he's looking for, but only if the assassin turns out to be his lover, but only if she's compelled by a demon.
Dice rolling happens in Polaris, but only when the players don't come to an agreement. Whoever can roll the dice, otherwise the playerss only need to talk. (A sheet with a list on NPC names divided by allegiance is the only piece of necessary writing IIRC). One-shot-ish.

Games based on the Apocalypse World engine (collectively called "powered by the Apocalypse games") don't need the game master to roll.
The GM is asked to write lots of notes because he needs to use what happens during a game to prepare for the next, the game is also really preparation-intensive after the first session so maybe it's a problem.
Undying, the vampire-themed hack, is completely diceless.

Trollbabe also has a diceless GM. The game requires a drawn map where the players chose their location at the beginning of each adventure and the GM needs to spend five minutes for each player writing down some hidden stakes and what drives NPCs in each player's adventure. Past this phase, it can be played with no dice on the GM's part.

Montsegur 1244 has some personalized cards detailing the characters' quirks and during each scene you draw a random card that can be played to set the tone of a scene. While the card needs to be placed on a scroll, it's nothing more than an evocative ritual. Diceless, one-shot game.

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In nearly all World of Darkness games, especially in the earlier editions they recommended minimal dice usage, suggesting even not using them at all. I recall a Changeling module that included a system of combat without dices.

Victorian Age Vampire (a Masquerade module) comes with some advice about not using dices. Players must have big trust in the Storyteller, as he alone is the one who decides who succeeds and who fails. The Storyteller also must have a good knowledge of the character sheets, the characters themselves, and the stat scales (1 novice, 2 skilled, 3 professional, ...).

This way you can know that if a character has Dexterity 5 and Brawl 3 he could be able to break his way through a pack of thugs, but one of less capabilities will be bruised in the way.

The only player who should know the rules while you are playing in this style is the Storyteller. The rest of the group must only know where to look for the character's stats, and what actions can the player take: the normal a person could plus their supernatural capabilities (which you can resume on their sheet). If you are sticking to World of Darkness, the earlier games (Vampire and Werewolf) are easier for beginners.

When those supernatural powers are used, don't bother you to learn each roll. For instance: Dominate rolls are 1: Manipulation + Intimidation, 2:Manipulation + Leadership, 3: Wits + Subterfuge and so on. Don't complicate yourself with that. Assume dominate always work. Exceptionally, if the players confront a strong willed individual, make it work partially or not work at all in very special cases. But don't bore your players asking continually for their stats. Let the game just flow.

When playing without dices, try to make the combat and other actions as imaginative and descriptive as possible. Players shouldn't say "I attack the policeman", but "I try to run by the side of the police while he is confronting Peter, catch him in the flank and hit his stomach" and such. Storyteller should give advantage to those players that try to use the environment on their actions.

Of course those games are rarely played with maps or figures. Everything happens in the player's imagination and the exact distances and angles are not very relevant. This is how we play most often, and although hardcore D&D players maybe accustomed to the use of minis, it's actually more common on games to play without those props.

Anyway, you should avoid combat-centered adventures. Try that the action is quick and short, and center your adventure on other things: investigation, mystery, drama, dialogues, politics,... Things that interests your players but don't require as much work as combat.

Note that all these advices are not specific to WoD games, but can be applied to many, many ones. Just look for one who isn't very focused on combat, that doesn't rely on tables and that has a simple enough character sheet. Obviously, the more narrativist games would work better, as this style values the story more than simulationist and gamist, styles that lose much without rolls.

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Do you think WoD can be run this way without the players knowing much about the rules? That would seem to be Cartomancer's other main criteria. –  BESW Aug 4 '13 at 13:31
    
@BESW I didn't notice, thanks. –  Flamma Aug 4 '13 at 13:48
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@BESW Having introduced new players to WoD, I would say "Yes, as long as the GM is willing to help with things like character creation." –  TimothyAWiseman Aug 6 '13 at 17:24
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I'm becoming a big fan of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It's been pretty successfully used in video chat play on Google Hangouts specifically because it's basically just character sheets and dice. It's a very narrative heavy system (Cortex-based, I believe), and doesn't track nit-noid details like exact character positions and precise physical details of the game world. It's designed to play the way a superhero comic reads, so it's very relaxed and often a bit campy.

In my experience with the half dozen or so people I've introduced to the game it can be grasped quite quickly. In general we end up going over the rules for about 10-15 minutes then jump right into play.

Also, there are a wealth of pre-made characters available, and since the characters tend to be ones people know from Marvel publications and movies, character creation is optional and often people understand their character's abilities and motives "right out of the box".

Two caveats:

  1. The game is now discontinued. You can still get rulebooks and supplements from Amazon and occasionally at local game stores, but to the best of my knowledge they're not printing any more. Despite this, the game is a lot of fun and there's actually a wealth of fan-created material to draw from on-line, so I still recommend it if you can find a copy.

  2. It can involve a lot of dice. You build dice pools, typically 3 to 5 dice, but often many more, then pick a few from the roll to describe your result. If you've solved the dice rolling problem with an indirect viewing system or an app (the iPhone app "Easy Dice" is free, easy to use, and pretty good for this particular dice pool game) then this won't be an issue.

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"nit-noid" ...? –  SevenSidedDie Aug 6 '13 at 17:39
    
Sorry, sometimes my topology background peeks through. Won't happen again... ;-) –  Zimul8r Aug 8 '13 at 12:39
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I would argue for Nobilis. It's diceless and the characters sheets are fairly simple and it also allows for a huge range of stories. The 2nd edition (aka "The Great White Book") is fairly hard to find but the newest edition is available in PDF and various other eBook formats. Terribly fun for creative people but whoever is running needs to be able to grok the concept pretty well. There are a couple places in character generation that I thought were a little confusing as the author's chargen system perhaps a bit more convoluted than necessary.

After that no dice rolling, writing, or anything else is required. Just play.

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I would recommend Microscope RPG. It's a collaborative history, where you define a period by stating what events begin and end the period or history to be played in, and you jump around defining moments of interest, and playing out scenes to see how they happened. There's no GM and no prep. You can find a quickstart in the back of the book.

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I would anti-recommend Microscope (much as I love it), because it would be very hard to read a table full of index cards while lying on one's back in a hospital bed. It's a wonderful game, but not suited to this use. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 7 '13 at 18:52
    
Pin them to a board instead? Play a small period and do without cards? –  Tanath Aug 8 '13 at 5:03
    
If the question were how to adapt Microscope to this situation, maybe, but it's about games that would work naturally. If we start answering with games that "could" work if changed, then every game ever becomes a possible answer and we don't accept questions that are so broad. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 8 '13 at 16:00
    
It's hardly adapting the game to pin cards to a board instead of putting them on a table or other flat surface. Even the cards are little more than memory aids. Adapting a game would involve changing rules and things that matter. One reason I suggested it is you don't need dice or even character sheets. If the game is one the players are interested in surely they can find a piece of cardboard or something to pin to. –  Tanath Aug 8 '13 at 17:01
    
I've played enough Microscope to know that playing it in a hospital bed when raising your arms is hard enough isn't going to be easy even pinning the cards to a board. The cards aren't simply memory aids, they're external memory and the play space: try playing it without the card--it doesn't work, there are too many to hold in memory. It's also necessary to see the board on other players' turns to properly appreciate/understand/participate in the unfolding history. The board would have to be over or projected over the player constantly for them to participate. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 8 '13 at 17:08
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