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Essentially I'm thinking of games which have an amount of difficulty/complexity (on every axis) that might be manageable for more casual players, but which still have some of the elements of bigger RPGs.

  • rules/systems: something that can get everyone into the game without a ton of setup or consultations of a player's handbook, but still enough going on (e.g. a few stats and some dice-rolling) that it's not purely an open-ended storytelling game. It's totally fine if the game/GM abstract some things; no need for every last action to be carefully managed.
  • environment/story: enough background/goal and guidance on PC creation to provide some framework and direction, but not a totally on-the-rails win-or-lose story with fixed characters - room for some creativity is still good!
  • length: oneshot or at most a few sessions.

I know I've seen "onepage" RPGs, but I'm not really trying to be that restrictive. Is there a common name for this rough category of RPG, or one or more similar categories?

(Yes, I'm asking because I'm looking for games, but I'm definitely not looking for recommendations here, just some help with vocabulary so I can go look for myself.)

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There are several different axes at play. Here are some common descriptors:

  1. Size of the game: One-page, pocket, or micro RPG
  2. Prep required: Zero-prep, no-prep, or low-prep RPG
  3. Game duration: One-shot RPG

It also comes down to how much effort the GM or facilitator is willing to do. A one-page dungeon is usually low-prep assuming they already know the rules—however expansive—to a relevant RPG.

Given you want everyone to get into the game quickly, searching for one-page RPGs is probably the best place to start.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've also seen “Micro-RPG” but there is also a publisher by this name, which confuses things. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Aug 5 '20 at 2:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like, as the other answer indicates, there is actually another axis as well: rules heavy to rules light. And that ties into the OP's question directly as well "but still enough going on (e.g. a few stats and some dice-rolling) that it's not purely an open-ended storytelling game". Might be worth adding a mention in. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Aug 5 '20 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Rules complexity spans the size and prep axes and is related to my point about GM effort. But given the scope of the asker's “without a ton of setup or consultations [from a book]”, it's a tangent. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Aug 5 '20 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the pointers! Re one-page dungeons with GM-known rules: certainly a good suggestion, but I think part of the idea of the criteria in the question is that the players can relatively quickly understand enough of the rules that the flow of the game won't have to get interrupted too much by "can I do X?" or "how do I do X?" rules questions, which at least in my experience is a bit of a risk with more expansive rules systems that the players are less familiar with. \$\endgroup\$ – Cascabel Aug 5 '20 at 17:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough! Also - having had a bit of time to start searching, "microrpg" does seem like a pretty useful term, even if it's ambiguous in some cases - would you mind including that in your answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Cascabel Aug 5 '20 at 23:22
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Rules light.

Simply put, there's generally acknowledged to be a continuum of how much rules "crunch" a game has, with something like GURPS or DnD 3.5 on one hand, and something like one of these one-page RPGs on the other hand. These can be referred to as "rules heavy" or "rules light", respectively.

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