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Four of us will be in the car for roughly 10 hours, for a road trip that will probably take 12 hours or so to complete. It occurred to me that we could try to spend the time doing a role-playing session.

I'm looking for a game system which can be played under these circumstances:

  • The driver will be on rotation, so the system has to allow for players to seamlessly leave/join mid-stream
  • If the GM is driving someone else will have to take over, so it can't depend too too much on the GM having secret information from everyone else
  • Dice throwing will be difficult, at best. The mechanics will preferably be as simple as possible. Also, they should ideally be easy to learn - so we can both learn the rules and play on the road trip.
  • Ideally, we can fit the entire session in one drive (or possibly two - we could continue on the return trip)
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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!

Just a word to folks - on questions like this, I generally am very loathe to vote up answers that are not "I have actually done this" - random speculations on "oh this would probably be good" are usually just people's favorite games or new flavor of the week stuff. I think in general on this site because of the subjective nature of system recommendations we look down on "I haven't used it for this, but I'm sure it would be great for you" kinds of answers. FYI. – mxyzplk Feb 5 '11 at 15:21
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 16:33
Better late than never. Years ago a friend and I played a Shadowrun game over the course of three days of driving. For dice rolling we used a Tupperware box. I mention Shadowrun not because it was particularly well-suited to this style of play, but because it wound up working well anyway. The trick was that we both had been playing Shadowrun together for quite some time, so the rules didn't really matter. It also helps that we confined ourselves to the core rulebook; looking through a half dozen books for some obscure bit of information is no fun. – Erik Schmidt Jul 24 '13 at 23:23

13 Answers 13

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If it were me and I was road-tripping with players amenable to a different sort of RPG game, I'd try Archipelago II. Its virtues in this context are:

  • The rules are a free-to-download PDF of only 22 pages.

  • GMless. Setting, event, and rules authority are formally divided in such a way that no GM is necessary to have an unexpected and interesting plot.

  • Diceless. Everything is resolved by rules-moderated fiat between the players.

  • Some randomness of plot elements is added by a small (and optional) deck of cards, which can be copied from the back of the rules onto index cards while learning the rules. A stack of cards with an elastic is harder to lose than bouncing dice.

  • Everything except the setting, including characters, can be tracked with a few notes on spare index cards.

  • The setting is tracked on a map drawn during setup. For a road trip this can be a single sheet of paper, or a set of index cards with "join to card X here" noted on the edges. The position of PCs is usually marked with tokens on the map. In the case of a road trip, a pencil and eraser would probably work fine.

  • Character's plots are individual threads in an overall plot, with characters never or rarely meeting, so players can drop in and out of the game easily.

  • You can play a satisfying plot arc that includes all the characters in a short span, so playing for two hours and then breaking for a rest stop would complement the game's normal rhythm of play.

If that's intriguing, the game's page describes in more detail the sort of play that the system suits and tends to encourage.

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I went on a road trip across the country this past December with a couple friends. Started in Flagstaff, AZ and ended in Baltimore, MA. I came up with a really simple rpg we could play while driving using one die and four stats.

The driver is the gamemaster and gets the story rolling, throwing obstacles in the way of the characters' goals.

You start with 4 numbers that you drop into 4 stats. Stealing a little from Dogs in the Vineyard, the stats are talking, physical but not fighting, fighting, shooting. The numbers are -1, 0, 1, and 2. You may put these numbers in the stats in any order based on what you want your character to be good at.

The number is your bonus or penalty that you get when rolling a d6. Your target number is 4 for a success. A 6 is a great success and a 1 is always a failure.

If the obstacle is particularly difficuly, throw in a -1 penalty. If it's really easy, just give it to them or give a +1 bonus.

In addition, the players have the ability to get a single +1 bonus on a check with either the aid of a friend, weapon, or other item in their possession.

If you want to add magic to the game, either replace shooting or add an additional stat called magic and use the numbers 2, 1, 1, 0, -2 to fill in all the stats.

That's it! I don't have a name for it. Feel free to add or subtract anything.

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a single d6 and an abstract rules system that can be explained in a single paragraph, coupled with a real-world example ... the post could use some formatting but certainly isn't deserving of a -1 – Simon Withers Feb 10 '11 at 2:14
Thanks Mr. Withers. The system worked for our purposes. – d3n3b Feb 12 '11 at 19:23

Consider SHERPA, it's designed explicitly for this situation. See the designer's site. ...ok, I see I'm the third person to suggest this; still it does seem to be what you need.

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Whereas I'll vote up this answer that mentions Sherpa alone, while I won't vote up the one that mixes in suggestions of D&D and Risus. So, +1! – SevenSidedDie Feb 16 '11 at 16:56

Baron Munchausen; no dice, all story, no GM required as such; drop in and out and let the stories get more and more tall. Great fun game, I've played this before on road trips (although admittedly not as long as that!)

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I don't have a perfect system, but I do have a perfect cheap tool to facillitate gameplay in a car- a simple Tic Tacs container. I keep a sealed one with several mini d6 of various colors in my car. If I'm playing something like Apocalypse World, I call out the colors of two dice before I shake container. Those are the only two I'd count. The extra dice are handy if I'm playing something like Risus. Unfortunately, they don't make a Tic Tac container big enough for Tunnels & Trolls size dice pools. I've never lost a die or my die roller under the seats, and concidering the unholy abyss that is my car, that's saying something.

If you're using a percentile system, you might try 2 mini d10s in a gumball machine bubble. Unfortunately, nothing but d6s seem to be made small enough to roll in any number in a pocket size travel die roller. Still, anything's better than a cell phone.

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Ribbon Drive is a game based around a road trip (and which would also work well for an actual road trip).

There are no dice. The mechanics are based around changing CDs and switching from one track to the next.

It does use character sheets, but they're simple, and you could do without them if necessary.

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The Parsely games could be fun. One person plays the parser and everyone else takes turns being the protagonist in an old-school, InfoCom-style text adventure game.

Continuing the Jared Sorensen love fest, InSpectres could work. It's a comedy/horror game in which you play a GhostBusters-esque franchise. Characters are five stats, a background, and a talent. Dice are d6, although you could use an dice-rolling app on your phone. Mechanics boil down a few tables that can fit on a sheet. Bookkeeping is minimal.

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Any of the oWoD Mind's Eye Theater LARP games. They're set up for RSP resolution. This means the driver might be able to play.

Theatrix. It's diceless, flowchart resolution. Thus it's also allowing the driver to play. Uses comparisons, and flow charts.

CORPS is another good choice; since it uses 1d10, one can use the 0.01sec display on a stopwatch instead of a die. Also, many actions require no throw.

Parsely is doable, too. Diceless. But it requires somewhat more concentration, IMO, based upon seeing the demos.

No idea why it originally slipped my mind, but Stefan O'Sullivan's Sherpa... designed to be run while hiking.

Not so good: Epiphany. While I love it, it requires 2 hands for resolution.

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One again, I would recommend Universalis as it focuses on telling a story together.

It does not know any permanent character ownership, so you can rotate drivers easily with people joining and leaving on the fly. There is no GM.

Most of the mechanics are done by spending coins, which should be fairly easy. Rolling the dice does come up, but not nearly as often as any traditional RPG.

You can play it character-heavy or plot-heavy or world-heavy. Or a mix of those. It has no fixed setting but will create one tailored to your group as you start playing. I'd start the session with all the players, starting to drive when the first scene begins. The narration rights ensure that all players will get their fun out of the game.

There will be a log of events (a quick note for every coin) so that players will be able to easily rejoin the game after being distracted with traffic.

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I love Universalis, but the piles of coins and handfuls of d6s are really counter to the requirements in this question. – SevenSidedDie Sep 9 '11 at 18:53

We always played D&D in the car (and in the dark, usually) on the way to Boy Scout camps, diceless and character sheetless (it was D&D because we said it was, and kept to D&D tropes). The DM just made judgement calls for resolution. We had a great time. If you relax and just play for "funsies" you can use (or more likely not use) anything. Just go for a genre you all like.

If for some reason you think your group can't handle GM fiat resolution as maturely as a bunch of 12 year old boys, then you could add in very simple rock-scissors-paper resolution from various LARPs, or have one person using a smartphone dice roller (or paper list of prefab rolls), or use a game like Amber where everything's deterministic. Sherpa is a light game built for hiking that uses a stopwatch where randomization is the tenths-of-a-second - that's kinda retro now that smartphones are ubiquitous, heck on a drive you could use numbers in car license plates you pass or something if you were desperate. Heck with a phone dice roller you could do other simple game systems like Risus "in full." But it really seems like all that isn't necessary, use whatever game you like and are familiar with, just abandon battlemats and at least most of the dice rolling.

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I don't know if it works on a road trip, because it does need a d12 (which we encased in a small plastic bubble) or playing cards (which we held in a pocket), but Mnemonic does work great on hikes in the woods. After a certain point we stopped using character sheets (which were just note cards) and whenever we were going to go for a random number, we just mentioned two things about the character that sounded appropriate.

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Warriors Adventure Game, available here hits all your requirements. It is simple and straightforward, designed with rotation of the narrator role in mind, and doesn't make use of dice. It even allows the driver to be included because skill checks are done in a static number, so the narrator can assume that player's character will make certain actions. It definitely streamlines everything.

It's also well suited to online play, which I believe was the design goal. Another bonus is it's free.

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I've never actually tried it, but if I were in your position I would go with Risus. It's rules light and it's free. Anyway, here's why I think it's a good idea:

  1. Rules light. The PDF is 6 pages long. You won't have to lug around books or reference them in the car.
  2. Small character sheets. If I recall correctly you can fit a character on an index card. You could probably have a designated mechanics person hold all the character sheets on a single page.
  3. Few dice. The system uses d6s. IIRC you'll only ever use 4 or 5 in a single roll.
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4-5 dice in a car is 3-4 dice likely to be lost under the seat... – aramis Feb 4 '11 at 5:33
@aramis, I disagree. I wouldn't suggest everyone roll dice. But if you have a designated roller he can keep control of them somewhere. Or you can roll one at a time (4-5 dice is few enough that that's reasonable). Or buy toys at the quarter machine, throw at the toy, put dice in egg, and make a Pop-o-matic bubble like my GURPS GM did. Or let the person with the iPhone download an app. – valadil Feb 4 '11 at 14:55
@Aramis Also you can have a small box to roll into. Or maybe a dice-tower. – Pulsehead Feb 4 '11 at 19:00
I've seen far too many dice lost trying to game in the car. Cars are unstable platforms, and having gamed in cars, unless they're large (18mm+) d4 or d6, it's pretty hard to keep stable enough to read on all but the smoothest highways. Die-roller programs work, but it's not a safe bet that any given individual has one. – aramis Feb 5 '11 at 1:18
Get a small, transparent plastic box. Put the dice in it. Seal the lid. Shake. Done. If the system needs varying numbers of dice, just make them different colours so you can designate which are in use. – Tynam Feb 7 '11 at 9:55

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