What indie systems present sufficiently interesting mechanics or settings to be recommended for an “Uncampaign”? [closed]

Recently I concluded a long-running Ars Magica game. In order to fill the gaming gap that left, I've started a series of unrelated one-shots called "Uncampaign." Which is designed around the exploration of novel indie games.

Which games should I try out as one-shots, and why? The only requirement is that a good sense of the game can be had from one or two sessions of play and that the game presents a new or interesting element differently than the mainstream (WoTC products, WoD products, gurps, etc...) games do.

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Brian, this is a very broad question. Almost every indie game plays well in two sessions and presents something differently from the mainstream. Could we have some more details of what you or your players are interested in? – Graham Jan 5 '11 at 15:21
Yeah ... play games that excite and interest you. Tell us what excites and interest you and may be we can point you toward games that map well to that. The idea of taking some time to explore a series of one-shots sounds fun. – Jmstar Jan 5 '11 at 19:48
@Graham the trick is that I'm playing with a rotating group of players. One of my constant players is Gamist with the intention of solving clear goals or instigating when there are no clear goals. I like running exploration. Another one of my players is strongly character driven, with odd characters appealing to her. Rather, this question is more of a "What are the best of breed recent indie games that play well within a short time frame?" – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 5 '11 at 23:50
I wouldn't worry too much about strong play preferences among your friends for one-shots - if the step-on-up guy doesn't get exactly what he wants from game A, there's always next week, and he's learned that isn't his cup of tea. But there's always the chance that you'll both be surprised. – Jmstar Jan 6 '11 at 13:26
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 Sep 22 '12 at 16:25

7 Answers

A selection that I'd recommend:

Don't Rest Your Head You're an exhausted insomniac and you're slowly going mad. Oh and something's going to eat you if you ever go to sleep.

3:16 - Carnage Amongst The Stars You're a Space Marine charged with protecting the human race from all possible threats: the best way to do that is to visit every planet in the universe and kill anything and everything that moves.

Dead Inside For some reason or another, your soul has been stolen, sold, or has rotted away. Now it's time to get it back, and you can do that in several different ways: Grow another, buy/steal someone else's, or eat ghosts.

RISUS Oh dear lord, I don't know how to explain it. Google it and check it out.

Inspectres You solve a mystery - but instead of the GM having a mystery and the players solving it, the GM plants "clues" and the players decide what they mean.

The Shotgun Diaries You're one of six survivors in a zombie apocalypse. You're only really good at one thing. You're either Strong, Fast, Clever, Dangerous, Sneaky or Useless (Well. If you're useless you aren't good at anything.) If you're alone, you can only ever perform actions that fall under the single word that describes you (if you're the Fast survivor, all you can do is run). If you're not alone, you get dice from your teammates to help you not die.

Kobolds Ate My Baby You're a fuzzy little Kobold with a mouth bigger than your head. You like to eat... well, anything really, but fresh babies are your favorite. You need to raid the nearby farm and steal some fresh babies for KING TORG (all hail King Torg!), the King of the Kobolds, and if you're lucky you might snag a snack for yourself. You'll battle chickens, cows and farmers on your quest, and hopefully not drink too much soda.

I think that should do for now!

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RISUS is great. – o0'. Jan 24 '11 at 15:29
@Lo'oris: I agree, it's just hard to describe in a few lines! – jeffszusz Jan 24 '11 at 21:47
3:16 is better in a long campaign, where the ripetitivity of the situation finally brings the players to realize that doing war is something insane. For a short one-shot it's interesting but does not get to the point. – Zachiel Sep 23 '12 at 13:52

Shock: Social Science Fiction - Shared world creation, shared GMing responsibilities, very aggressive scene framing, situations where what the player and his character want are different, mechanics structured around theme instead of physics, mechanics customized to your particular game session. Is quite good at generating the sorts of science fiction short stories you might get from Clarke or Asimov.

In a Wicked Age - Random world/character seeds (the oracles) as brainstorming/artificial constraints to help players stretch and try new things. Is quite good at generating Conan-esque short stories.

Fiasco - Random world/character seeds. Shared GMing responsibilities. Is reportedly quite good at generating "crimes gone very, very bad" stories like of the sorts seen in movies like Snatch and Fargo. Regrettably, I have not yet played.

Penny for My Thoughts - Shared storytelling game with heavy constraints. Game is played entirely in character. The rules themselves can be treated as an in-universe thing explaining to the patients the self-directed treatment. Borderline GM-less.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen - RPG game with very strong storytelling leanings as a bar game. Shows that you can have an identifiable and satisfying RPG with negligible mechanics. Borderline GM-less.

What games are out there that could be played in a single night, with no prep? is also an excellent list of one-shots all of which offer interesting things.

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I think there's going to be a lot of overlap between the answers to this question and the answers to the question you linked to. – gomad Jan 5 '11 at 19:19
@Gomad probably, though the intentions are rather different... – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 5 '11 at 23:50

I'll second here with FATE recommendations, from things like Dresden Files for setting specific, or even a broader range with Spirit of the Century which I found great for pulp one-shots. Similarly on this pulp vibe, although using the Ubiquity system instead of FATE HEX is a great adventure into a more Verne-style pulp with a really simple system.

Moving away from the pulp section you can mix up the GMing style with Polaris, though it requires exactly four people. Branching out into the warmer climbs of political intrigue, and ideally if you're going to move on further from a one-shot you could give the author-ascribed anti-D&D a go with Houses of the Blooded. Or if you want to play around in your collective conscious I'd recommend you Don't Rest Your Head.

There are others which I could go into, and as a small list of good personal experiences:

Another source to look into are the Indie RPG Awards which should provide a nice sample.

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+1 for Dogs in the Vineyard. I have to say though, I don't think Dresden Files makes a good one-shot. My DFRPG campaign just wrapped up its first "novel" and the system really supported our novel-length endeavors. Maybe I'm wrong. Spirit of the Century, on the other hand, was pretty much intended as a once-in-a-while game, and is great fun for that. – gomad Jan 19 '11 at 23:52
Keep in mind that Dogs really comes out after the first session, where the GM uses the actions taken by the players in the previous cities to press hard choices on the dogs. – Zachiel Sep 23 '12 at 13:55

Reaching back into the archives, I think a great way to "shake the dust off" following a long campaign (or long career) in traditional RPGs is to play a game of Donjon.

Donjon was one of my first tastes of modern RPGs (I call evolved games, 'modern' as opposed to 'indie', just like I call current boardgames 'modern' instead of 'euro'), and it helped shape my idea of what RPGs could be.

Once you've played Donjon, you might try 3:16 RPGGeek, a game that has been on my radar lately because of its potential to create Starship Troopers-style games (from the novel, not the movie).

I've just gotten Fiasco RPGGeek, and will actually probably be playing that this weekend. I have high hopes for the game and think it will be an even better game than Dirty Secrets RPGGeek. Both are GM-less games intended to create movie-like experiences.

Oh, and of course, there's Og RPGGeek. Og is a game of caveman hilarity. The game plays with a drastically constrained vocabulary and is the perfect remedy to months of super-serious roleplaying. Dammit, I may have to play Og this weekend instead of Fiasco.

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I hope you enjoy Fiasco! – Jmstar Jan 6 '11 at 18:31
@Jmstar - I'll let you know! – gomad Jan 6 '11 at 18:42
@Jmstar - Tough luck for Og - I just found all the monthly playsets. I had better keep London 1593 a secret from my wife until we've played Dragon Slayers and Gangster London... – gomad Jan 7 '11 at 0:02
London 1593 is really fantastic. – Jmstar Jan 7 '11 at 2:31
@Jmstar - Played Fiasco this weekend. We had a 3-player Boomtown setup. I think our RPG experience worked against us, as we were reluctant to really pull out all the stops in terms of how badly we were willing to harm each other and ourselves. Not that things went well, that's for sure. We all loved the Aftermath and everybody wants to play again. We'll be back to DFRPG for a while now, but I can tell that Fiasco has supplanted (the also awesome) Dirty Secrets for my group! – gomad Jan 19 '11 at 19:44

Our group has been wanting to do a one shot of Fiasco, which works fine as a one shot. We also want to run Blowback, the Burn Notice RPG, but it really requires a set of sessions of unfolding the meta threat. We did a one shot of Dresden Files, though I don't feel like the one shot format takes sufficient advantage of FATE to make it worth it.

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To be precise, running Fiasco as anything other than a one-shot would require a major hack on the game-as-written. – SevenSidedDie Jan 6 '11 at 0:10
You can link individual sessions into related fiascoes, carrying one character or element from one to the next with related baggage. Some of the playsets (Southern town and suburbia) have some carry-over in available elements to facilitate this. But yeah, it's designed as a one-shot game. – Jmstar Jan 6 '11 at 13:23

I own Ars Magica myself. I hope you had a great campaign!

Hm, indie games to try out? There are so many!

Horror Rules: Rules-light, incredibly funny, awesome, horror rpg. I don't even like Horror RPGs and I'd recommend this game. Check out the reviews. Everyone loves this game.

Savage Worlds: not really my favorite, but a lot of people like it and it's easy to pick up and give a shot. If you have the money/time it's an interesting game to test out.

Challenger RPG: this is my game, it's free in all formats across the net, and I'd love to hear what you think of it! If you have the time to check it out and let me know, that'd be great. It's somewhere near 13th revision now, so I'm hoping it's a 'little' better than when I started out. It was designed to run fast and loose with a bit of humor thrown in. There's even a section on quick advancement for 'trying out' the game in a couple sessions and advice on running one shots (as well as 60+ pages of universal GM advice, something I can never get enough of personally).

I hope you find some cool games before you start up another epic campaign!

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Welcome to the site, Dmof. Edited your answer slightly to conform to our FAQ. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Sep 22 '12 at 3:47
Thank you very much! Please let me now if I'm doing anything wrong. I'm kind of new at this. Thanks! – DmofAlterak Sep 22 '12 at 17:29

While sadly out of business, if you can find a copy of Big Eye, Small Mouth I found it to be an excellent "different" RPG back in the day. It's different in the effect that it attempts to allow any setting you want, albeit with an anime flavor to it, and gives total character customization. Your setting doesn't have to be "anime" but the system gets it's ideas from it. My experience with the system comes from it's second edition but I heard they released a third before they went out.

The system is relatively different in the fact that you are given a certain amount of points to create your character with (there are no character classes). With these points you can buy different attributes to make a one of a kind character. Party memebers could be anything from a winged flying sorcerer to a mechanized ninja to your typical magical school girl. The system also only uses three stats (mind, body, soul if I remember correctly) to represent your character and requires only 2d6 to play.

The system is setup to be highly customizable while being fairly simple to play. Mechanics are fairly loose and at times leaves up a lot of stuff to the DM due to so many possibilities. It does have it's downsides. One, due to customizability there is some problems with power balancing in which one PC could end up being insanely powerful compared to others if you let people do it. Secondly, there is no inherent "level-up" system. You can award more points as characters level to accomplish this feeling if you want. Thirdly, the entire system is contained in one book and revolves around world and character creation. There is no "monster manual" for this setting, you will need to create your own monsters.

Some of the cons kind of set it up for an ideal one-shot scenario, so this may work in your favor =) I wouldn't run any serious on-going campaign with it now-a-days though.

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