A Brief Tour of the Indie Games

Our old-timey D&D group contains a couple of folks who are indie-friendly, but many more who have only played D&D. Some of them have expressed a bit of interest in playing some different types of games, so I want to pitch a couple (3-6) one-shots, as kind of a "tour" of indie-space.

What would be your picks? Relevant criteria could include: entertainment value of play, diversity of design, diversity of fictional genre, influential games, diversity of tone, etc.

The only hard constraints are:
1. game must work well in under 4 hours.
2. game must be fairly newbie-friendly - something like full-bore Burning Wheel or Capes are probably out (as even I find them intimidating)

Among the several soft constraints:
1. It helps if I own this thing already
2. It helps if the game works with 3-6 participants (including GM if any)
3. The thing we have in common is that we like old-timey D&D, from which you may infer that our default play style is mostly a casual farce. We can do other tones, but it takes a little while to get into that emotional space.

Comments

  • I don't know what you own, but my advice would be pick the game you are most excited to run. Your enthusiasm will make anything better. If they have a good time, it will be easier to get them to play other games that go after a particular style of play or setting.

    Were I in your shoes, I would use 3:16 if they like the fighty bits of D&D, PTA if they like the talky bits, or Baron Munchhausen if they like the drinky bits. They meet your hard constraints, and require very little preparation.
  • edited December 2009
    James, you gotta run Dogs for 'em.

    InSpectres, too.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: Ben JohnsonI don't know what you own, but my advice would be pick the game you are most excited to run. Your enthusiasm will make anything better.
    This. And only this.

    Now, if you're asking the hypothetical "Don't suggest games for me to love and run, but rather if this were you doing this activity, what games would you personally run for your friends?" I would pick, in order:

    Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium
    With Great Power
    In a Wicked Age
    Primetime Adventures
    Dogs in the Vineyard
    Empire of Dust
    (maybe Dust Devils or Lacuna as well)

    (all the above have old-timey GMs and traditional "we work together for the most part, we don't stab each other in the face all the time" structure), and add something new as well)

    -Andy
  • PTA (for the fan mail, setting jam)
    1001 Nights or Geiger Counter (free beta) or Baron Münchhausen (GM-less story telling)
    Dirty Secrets (first person narration, crime generation mechanic)
    My Life With Master (tight scene framing, end game)

    I'd be a bit careful with a one shot of Dogs as learning the conflict resolution sub game can take a lot of focus in the first session.
  • I have had great success at cons running a handful of games in a four hour slot. Yes, I mean running each game for about 80 minutes and then moving to the next game. You get just enough of a taste to want more, which is the whole point. I'd recommend carry: a game about war, Annalise, My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, Shock:, Primetime Adventures, Misspent Youth, and Montsegur.

    carry, Annalise, My Life with Master, and Montsegur tend to be very serious games. You CAN play My Life with Master with a humorous bent, but I don't recommend it.

    Roach is a hilarious game. Roach happily accepts a huge table full of players. carry does, too, by the way.

    Shock: tends to play on the serious side, but it isn't dark. Dogs isn't usually dark, at least when I play it, but it's also serious. Primetime Adventures is whatever you make of it. Misspent Youth is a rip-roaring good time and it has one foot in serious issues and the other foot in punk rock attitude, so I suspect a "casual farce" group would love it. For my money, carry can deliver for that kind of group, too. They will be laughing as really serious shit goes down, but it won't be mocking laughter as much as "I can't believe this is happening to us" blowing-off-steam laughter.
  • I run Dogs as a four-hour one-shot all the time. The subgame isn't that complicated. Players get it. Just make your Town really grabby and unsubtle. The hardest part of running Dogs as a one-shot is explaining the religious theory necessary for players to understand what is going on (or why townspeople are supposedly sinning).
  • I've had great times showing In A Wicked Age to D&D-only people.
  • Lacuna, or Dogs, or PTA.
  • Posted By: Adam DrayThe hardest part of running Dogs as a one-shot is explaining the religious theory necessary for players to understand what is going on (or why townspeople are supposedly sinning).
    Huh. Not for me. "Mormon religion, in terms of how the family and Faith go together" has worked fine so far. And don't forget (James, if you run DitV) that the players ultimately are supposed to determine what is Right and Wrong with your town--your Progression of Sin is just in terms of the RAW dogma. The players don't HAVE to "get it," in terms of "why such-and-such is considered a sin."

    But that... is another thread. :)
  • Mouse Guard (teamwork, choose-your-own adversity)
    InSpectres (confessionals, can't finish 'til you've run down the timer)
    Dogs (for hopefully obvious reasons)
    PTA (fanmail, collaboration)
    Dust Devils (very clear iteration of burn-your-character-to-the-ground play, also VERY strong fiction-first play when you start provoking their Devils)
  • Go with low/no prep games.

    3:16
    Contenders
    Shab-al-hiri Roach
    Inspectres

    Those are the ones I use to suck in new players.
  • 1.) "Hey, check out how coherent and meaningful and simple conflicts can be!"
    Dust Devils or Mouse Guard

    2.) "Hey, check out what you can do with group dynamics!"
    PTA or Mountain Witch

    3.) "Hey, games can have endgames!"
    My Life with Master or Mountain Witch

    4.) "You can structure games in wildly different ways!"
    Shock: Social Science Fiction or In A Wicked Age

    5.) "You can have weirdo thematic content!"
    Lacuna or Don't Rest Your Head

    6.) "You can take the D&D with you, as you enter indie land!"
    Labrynths & Lycanthropes or 3:16 or Dust Devils.
  • Serial Homicide Unit

    is

    awesome.

    No prep. Under 4 hours. Players play 2 different characters in very different ways. GM-LESS. There are no good cop rpgs aside from this. Modern day is a nice change. Where else can you play the victim without glorifying evil? You don't even have to read the rules. Everyone has seen at least one police-procedural show. Definitely a one-shot.
  • I'm going to vote for having great experiences playing 3:16 and Lacuna for D&D only players.
  • edited December 2009
    A Penny For My Thoughts would be a good choice. Six players is pushing it, although I played with six a couple of weeks ago and with one minor rules drift (the Traveler only prompted three of the other players for Guiding Questions, rather than all five, each round), we got through the whole game in four hours. I might use the same drift for a five-player game. If you happen to have three at the table one week, Penny is the perfect choice. Three players for Penny is magical, since every player is mechanically involved in every interaction in the game, and if you don't get too distracted, you can finish in two hours and play again! No GM, no prep, and, I think, the best game of 2009.

    Puppetland is one of my favorite games, and it takes precisely one hour to play, no more and no less. There is a GM, but prep is just coming up with a one-sentence scenario (like these) and the rules are among the simplest in the hobby. It's formally unique, easy to play and to teach, and wonderful; it works great with 3-6 total players. Also, it's available for free here.

    As Ben said above, if you have a table of people who emphasize the "beer" part of "beer and pretzels", The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is for you. It can be played by an unlimited number of people; budget 10-15 minutes per player.

    Happy Birthday, Robot! is cuter than a button, works fine with 3-6 players, and takes an hour or (much) less. It produces a beautiful play artifact, too.

    You can have a fun anthology night with any two of the above - when I host games nights at my place, we usually aim to play two games in five hours, so I've learned to pay attention to APs that mention how long a game ran. These are all gems that pack a lot of story game into a short session.
  • Mouse Guard!
  • *Mouse Guard - I ran two (2) sessions (GMturn-Player turn) for three players who had never played any Burning games before in just around 3-4 hours. It has teamwork and a points-of-light type setting. Just make sure you are very familiar with the rules before you play. The first hour or so the weight of the rules is on the GM, but the the players basically start running the game themselves, you just need to nudge them a bit from time to time.

    *In A Wicked Age or Dogs or both - IAWA gives you all the old-school sword and sorcery sweetness (it is also no-prep and many other things), while Dogs has been compared to D&D on several levels even if it's nothing like D&D at first glance.

    *3:16 for the mindless genocide of native aliens/monsters

    *Spirit of the Century or Danger Patrol for crazy pulp action

    *
  • edited December 2009
    Zombie Cinema is an incredibly simple game to teach, yet the rules have far-reaching implications for how the game is played. I'm consistently blown away by how easy it is to get people to catch onto, while cramming in so many collaborative storytelling elements and techniques. The are variants available if your group is prejudiced against the living dead.

    Donjon may have a somewhat flawed system, but that usually doesn't become apparent until after several sessions. That first session, with an established D&D group, is liquid awesome. It follows a familiar formula but introduces narrative control as a play element with the very first dice roll you make. Just make sure you play the Facts system right: winner states Facts, loser narrates. Very important.

    Spirit of the Century is just phenomenal. Easy to get into, immediate action, super coherent system. Yesyesyes!

    In a Wicked Age, Don't Rest Your Head and Mouse Guard are on my list as well. IAWA and DRYH have easy systems that play really well once people start picking up on the subtleties. Mouse Guard's rules are crunchier but should pose no problems for your average dungeon crawler.

    Dogs in the Vineyard is a given, but if you want to avoid the tricky religious aspects you could try The Princes' Kingdom - it also has a streamlined version of the conflict system, and can potentially bring out a lot of interesting commentary of politics and power structures in addition to the obvious rulings on what is right and wrong.

    I'd be careful with A Penny for my Thoughts myself. It has deceptively easy rules but the gameplay is actually very challenging; like Zombie Cinema you must come up with quality narration on the spot, but unlikely Zombie Cinema the narration has to conform to certain rules and serve a specific purpose. It's a fantastic game, but in my experience you'll ideally want to play it with hardcore indie nerds or the intrigued but completely clueless, not necessarily a D&D group.
  • Posted By: lachekI'd be careful withA Penny for my Thoughtsmyself. It has deceptively easy rules but the gameplay is actually very challenging; like Zombie Cinema you must come up with quality narration on the spot, but unlikely Zombie Cinema the narration has to conform to certain rules and serve a specific purpose. It's a fantastic game, but in my experience you'll ideally want to play it with hardcore indie nerds or the intrigued but completely clueless, not necessarily a D&D group.
    Seconded. Also, note that Penny takes away a lot of permissions that D&D gives, most notably character autonomy.
    It's a great game, but asking a D&D player to agree to (1) taking no real time actions during play at all, and (2) never making authoring a decision about anything the character has ever done... that's a hard pill to swallow, for some. You might hit some serious resistance there.


    PS. I love Penny, and the above is not slander or disrespect. Penny is good.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: joepubAlso, note that Penny takes away a lot of permissions that D&D gives, most notably character autonomy.
    You can approach this positively: Penny grants a lot of permissions that D&D never envisions, like having everyone play every character! I think that if James' group is really interested in something new and different, this is actually a huge selling point - if you're going to play something other than D&D, why not do something really far afield?

    Among my recommendations, Puppetland has character monogamy but nonetheless certainly posits a different player-character relationship than D&D. Happy Birthday, Robot! has a radical character-sharing scheme; Munchausen has a sort of diluted ownership.

    I would argue that Penny isn't especially challenging, and is in fact very noob-friendly; it may be the noob-friendliest GM-less game. The mechanics are unusual, but the text explains them really well, as you play, and the goal of each scene is clear, so you always have something immediate to drive toward. My suggestion is to use one of the genre playsets included in the book ("The Shadow out of Memory" or "The ??? Identity") to further focus your storytelling. Penny does a great job in addressing the twin GMlessness challenges of "How do we know what to do next, in the metagame, if no one is in charge?" and "in the fiction, too many choices, deer in headlights, what do I do next, zomg?"

    (Jason Morningstar: "Character monogamy is the encumbrance rules of the future.")
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: AndyNow, if you're asking the hypothetical "Don't suggest games formeto love and run, but rather if this wereyoudoing this activity, what games wouldyoupersonally run foryourfriends?
    I have had luck using Beast Hunters for an entertaining evening when we don't have quorum for the regular game, and have played tons of pickup games at cons. I've never seen anyone not get it.

    It's accessible and familiar. It's about low-tech violence. The demo game rules does not impose a highfalutin theme, except maybe "if something is worth killing, it's worth killing awesome."

    If you've played Baron Munchausen, it's got that tall tales vibe, except it's about kicking ass. Fueled by some brief, evocative traits on their character sheets, players take turns describing how their iron age tribespeople lay down the pain on some feckless softling invaders. The Challenger judges the narration. The sweeter the Challenger judges it, the more effective it is in the game's fiction. There's more to it than that, but that's the meat of the game there.

    BH also has the familiar powerful game master who judges all actions, but their role is a bit alien to the old school. The Challenger's duties and powers are strictly limited by the rules, so you can ease into that GM-is-consitutional-monarch storygame vibe and away from the traditional GM-as-enlightened-despot vibe.

    Best of all, there's a crazy liberating amount of player agency. Since the background is intentionally sketchy, the character sheet traits evocative, and there are no constraints on anything except for the Challenger's judging, and the table groan factor. I've seen entire magical ecologies emerge from a single disembowling in the BH demo. Players who have wistfully thought of Legolas running up and down oliphant legs, and failing to be able to connect that to an endless cycle of (roll-to-hit,damage,wait for next turn) -- those guys are candidates for Beast Hunters.

    It seats 1-4 players + a Challenger. The demo comes with everything you need to play.
Sign In or Register to comment.