Two friends of mine and me meet from time to time to play a few (board) games and we want to smoothly enter the RPG area. I know there are some questions asking for simple systems, but as they do not focus on the just-two-player part, I think it is fine to open a new question.

In more detail: We are looking for a system which is …

  • suitable for just two players (+ game master). This is obviously the most important point.
  • set up in a fantasy world. This includes magic, different races/mystic creatures and a in general a medieval like setting.
  • easy to learn. It would be perfect to be able to explain the rules and play one mission/chapter/whatever on a (longer) evening, but it would also be okay if each player needed to read the rulebook for a few(!) hours at home.
  • easy to start. I know that the two players will love to generate their own characters, but this should be an easy and fast (and fun!) task: Choose race, values (such as strength or intelligence) skills, spell, amour/equipment etc. and a short background story and you are ready to play. (The easiest way to do this might be a simple "spend X points on these things" system)
    • If this is important: I assume the players will go for a "I can kill anyone"-warrior (or troll or whatever) and a "I heal you from time to time" mage (which has also some very cool spells available).
  • available for free as a PDF. This just makes it easier to start. (In a perfect world the rulebook would also be available as a German version.)
  • playable just which pen and paper and some D6 dice (or no dice at all?). We just do not own any D20.
  • offers ready-to-play scenarios. I would be the game master and am probably not experienced enough to create a great story myself and would probably rail-road my players most of the time.
  • not a "roll-playing" game. We love board games, but we want to try out something else after all. A short role playing sequence ("I go north" - "You are attacked") followed by an hour of dice rolling does not sound so fun to me. Of course I am exaggerating here, but I guess you know what I mean. In general the game should not feel as a board game without a board, but focus on role playing. I am fine with randomness and dice rolling in general though.
    • I believe a system solely based on role playing might be somewhat hard to play for inexperienced role players.

Obviously our needs lead to some problems. We would still be like the game if it lacked …

  • realism. I understand that part of the huge rulebooks make the system more realistic.
  • coverage of all possible combinations. It is fine to say "Well, you got this and that, just roll an additional dice" or sth.
  • complex systems. Magic for example should just work somehow and that‘s it. I doubt there is room for many "ways" of magic (except maybe light/dark)
  • detailed areas/background story. I assume an easy way to do that the PC do not know that much of their world as well ("We have lived in this small town for our whole life, no one ever dared to go through that dark forest there. Well, at least those who dared never returned", so neither the PCs nor the players need to know much about the world.)
  • "replayability" for a thousand of evenings. A simple advancing mechanism would be nice (so we are able to play a campaing for a few evenings), but I doubt we will spend more than ten days a year on such a game, there is just no need for complex levelling stuff.

Thanks a lot in advance for your recommendations, Keba

PS: I am not interested in answers which suggest to find and join a larger and/or more experienced group. However if you assume our needs just cannot be met, feel free to explain why.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't directly answer your question, but I would strongly suggest while you're looking for your right RPG you consider the Talisman board game. It's basically a bridge - definitely a board game, but with VERY strong RPG elements. I've heard it called "DnD Lite" for a reason ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Oct 8 '14 at 1:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 Have they released a simplified version of Talisman recently? Last I played it, it took longer than full-on D&D... \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '14 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie There are some variant rules for faster play, of course. "Race to the Crown" and using one fewer die for the Portal and the first step down each Inner Region path each make the game noticeably faster. "Talisman Bloodbath" makes the game laughably short. (In Bloodbath, there is only one Talisman in the Talisman deck, so further Talismans can only be randomly encountered. Moreover, classes with PvP restrictions ignore those and players don't respawn.) \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Oct 8 '14 at 1:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 Hopefully whoever answers with "DW" has actually used it one-on-one. It has a few design features that make it non-obvious how well (or not) it would work with only one player. (My own experience is it works only so-so when you get down to two players + GM.) Someone explaining how to use it that way (and the gotchas to watch for) from experience would be awesome, since it otherwise hits the requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '14 at 1:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related question (but closed for being a way-too-broad big ol' list): rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1320/a-2-player-rpg-for-buddies/… \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '14 at 1:51

Dungeon World

I can honestly say I've never seen a game recommendation question that's screamed the name of my favourite fantasy RPG so loudly.

I've played Dungeon World with two players (my Significant Other and a friend with myself as GM) and unlike its parent game, Apocalypse World, I found it coped quite smoothly. The introduction even bills it as a game for 2-5 players. I'll come back to this after I've addressed your other requirements.

Set in a fantasy world

I'll quote here from the Dungeon World introduction:

Dungeon World is a world of fantastic adventure. A world of magic, gods and demons, of good and evil, law and chaos. Brave heroes venture into the most dangerous corners of the land in search of gold and glory.

If you follow the game's rules and guidance it will definitely deliver on this front, perhaps more so than any other game I've played.

Easy to Learn

For the GM it might take a few hours to thoroughly read through the full rules and I really recommend you read them thoroughly before playing. For players they can get by with just an explanation of how moves work and a copy of the Basic Moves sheet.

Easy to Start

Once your players have a basic idea of how moves work then all they need to do is choose one of the character sheets (each character sheet is a class: e.g. Fighter, Wizard, Thief), tick some boxes (race, alignment etc.) and assign their stats.

Available for free as a PDF

Now it's not available for free as a PDF but it is available free in an online format and for the rules in german then a google page translation may help. If you want the PDF with pretty art it'll set you back $10 or so but it's by no means necessary for play.

Playable with pen, paper and some d6

Dungeon World stumbles a little here. All move rolls in Dungeon World are 2d6 rolls with some other number added so you can use the core mechanics without any other dice. However when damage is dealt it uses a range of dice between d4 and d12. A mobile phone with a dice-rolling app could make up for the lack of these specific dice as they're not needed as regularly as your d6 or it should be possible to house-rule the damage to either use only d6s or not use dice at all.

Offers ready-to-play scenarios

Dungeon World can be played without any prep at all and the GM's rules will help you work together with your players to construct a scenario. If you do want a ready-made scenario these are implementable in Dungeon World and this handy Dungeon World guide has just such a scenario spelled out at the end of it, including an explanation of how it was constructed. As for rail-roading you shouldn't have a problem if you follow the GM rules, they'll actively fight to stop that from happening.

Not a "roll-playing" game

"Roll-playing" is exactly what Dungeon World isn't. The dice only get involved when a character makes a fictional action that matches one of the listed moves. When that happens the rules kick in, help you determine what happens next, and get out of the way again. No matter what happens the results should never be dull, if a character fails a roll then the GM gets to make a 'hard move': something dangerous that happens to the character. Players also mark XP each time they fail a roll.

Playing with two players (and a GM)

Right, getting back to 2-and-GM gameplay. Overall I found that the flow of Dungeon World isn't unduly affected by having only two player characters but the Bonds system becomes very forced and clunky. What I'd recommend for two players is to ask them to only fill in one of their bonds at the start of the game, referring to the other player's character. This keeps Bonds in the back seat for now and stops the players worrying overmuch about their importance. When you come to the end of the session and they can mark off bonds I recommend two things:

  • Allow them to write a new bond even if they don't mark an old one off. The rules-as-written don't allow this but it worked well and the players didn't feel compelled to try and resolve their bonds quickly, rather allowing them to resolve naturally in the fiction.

  • Their new bonds don't have to be with the other character. They can be with NPCs, the character's Deity (if they have one) or can represent their character's personal objectives. For example our Fighter had an old military comrade who had been captured, so at the end of the session where he discovered this he wrote the new bond "I will rescue my old comrade." and then later followed through on that, allowing him to resolve that bond.

Be up front with these changes the first time the End of Session move is discussed. If one of your players asks about it after reading the basic moves make sure that you tell them it works slightly differently in your Dungeon World and explain why. Otherwise explain your changes (and why) at the end of the first session, when this move is resolved.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that if you have access to InDesign, and don't mind the missing art/fonts, they have made the original softcopy available on GitHub. \$\endgroup\$ – TML Oct 8 '14 at 8:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 This indeed looks really nice. Sadly it is not so easy to read the rules (but there is help available). However I think I‘ll give it a shot. (Your answer is my favourite right now, but I think it‘s fair to wait a few days before accepting it. Maybe someone is even able to do better.) \$\endgroup\$ – Keba Oct 8 '14 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aiken do you have these answers prewritten or something? ^^ \$\endgroup\$ – iraserd Oct 9 '14 at 10:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @iraserd Nope, I've just been playing a lot of *World games recently. I'm GMing an Apocalypse World campaign while playing in a Dungeon World one. I also just started developing my own space-exploration hack of Apocalypse World. Oh! and I spent like 90 minutes writing and re-writing this answer until I was satisfied, I think that probably helped too. \$\endgroup\$ – Aiken Oct 9 '14 at 11:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TML: Thanks, but on the official homepage there is a link to the char sheets, which should be the most important thing. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Keba Oct 9 '14 at 12:37

I suggest..

DSA ("Das Schwarze Auge"), 3rd Edition

It was my first RPG system, is originally in German and has been around in many versions since 25 years or more probably.

Part I

Suitable for just two players (+ game master)

We have played many campaigns and adventures this way, and it works very well. If you play prefabricated adventures you might have to tune them a bit, but there are also adventures out there for 1-3 player groups.

Set up in a fantasy world.

DSA is classic high fantasy. Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, Goblins, Orcs, Mages, Priests, Druids, you name it...

Easy to learn.

DSA versions v4 and v5 really went overboard with complicating the rules. Edition 3 is quite basic, and easy to learn.

Easy to start.

Character creation in DSA 3 will take maybe one hour if players are prepared (i.e. thought of a concept/name beforehand). Options available in the v3 core rules are essentially: Pick sex (2 options), pick race (around 12 options), pick profession (around 20-30 options).

Available for free as a PDF.

Hmm, I'm not sure to be honest. As Edition 3 is quite old, it might actually be legally downloadable.


DSA is an almost exclusively German RPG setting/rules system. So essentially all resources are in German.

Playable just which pen and paper and some D6

Sorry, a d20 is required by DSA... But I guess that is a small hurdle to overcome?

Offers ready-to-play scenarios.

Every edition of DSA had a plethora of ready to play adventures. Some can be bought, many many can be found online.

Not a "roll-playing" game.

DSA can be played as a roll-playing game, but just as well can be story-driven and narativistic - this will depend on the game masters style. I assume this should not be a problem, especially if you are not playing with hard core powergamers who learned the rule book by heart.

Part II

Obviously our needs lead to some problems. We would still be like the game if it lacked …


DSA certainly had a very 'realistic feel' to me. The world is well-structured, thougt-through and self-consistent.

Coverage of all possible combinations.

DSA v4 and v5 went all-out and deliverd book after book to cover every possible aspect of, well, everything. In v3 there is still a very basic core system which is totally sufficient for most needs (Our group played DSA for 6+ years).

Detailed areas/background story.

Plenty of sources exist. At this point, the entire contintent is mapped and described in detail, but we played for years without ever needing this information.

"Replayability" for a thousand of evenings.

Leveling in DSAv3 is experience-points driven and happens in levels. Actually 'leveling up' is fairly straightforward. If you plan to play for years, however, your characters might get a bit powerful over time... :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for DSA. DSA was my first roleplaying game ever. I started it, when it was distributed via Schmidt-Spiele. Back then, they had two different rule-sets (starters and ordinary/advanced). We played mostly with 1 GM (usually me) and a party of 2. It is the most common german role-playing game; but it is sometimes very german (bureaucratic). Nevertheless fun to play. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Junk Oct 8 '14 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 DSA is of course the most popular RPG in Germany. I thought it might not fit into the "easy to play/start" category, but maybe I should at least have a look at version 3. Thanks. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Keba Oct 8 '14 at 19:50

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