Tips on "boardgamifying" RPGs for fast pick-up play?

edited October 2012 in Story Games
For some years, I've been organizing a monthly open RP-gaming night, so I have considerable experience with setting up one-shots, but I'm always looking for ways to cook up a more concentrated mix. We play just about everything and I know that each RPG is a different beast, but I'd like to know your experiences with adapting your favorite game for a quick one-shot. Specifically, I'm currently looking for ways to have a session in under two hours instead of four and also to easily remember how the game is played without having to read the book again.


  • I pretty much created Zombie Cinema as a way to play The Mountain Witch and Primetime Adventures within a boardgame-like social footprint. The rules are out there if you'd like a look.
  • I really really hate character creation, how long it takes and all the decisions you have to make before even playing. I love the way AW and hacks solve that.
  • edited October 2012
    It probably works easier with traditional games, especially action oriented ones, but do as much stuff offscreen by way of stuff like e-mail, and save the sessions of face to face play for focussing on stuff near the real actiony, wahoo stuff.

    Encourage players to write fiction if that's what they're into and share it.

    If they aren't into that, ask questions about wht the characters are up to on those times they aren't together. Pass rumors, allow for off-screen preliminary investigations, and so on. Then do a quick summary while they're together to start the session or even e-mail an update of everything players would want known by other players prior to the f2f session.

    If you have players who know the setting, and it's a big traditional game, try to get some feedback in just plain what they're interested in by e-mail. Say you've got an immersionist and the game is an oWoD setting. they aren't going to want to do a whole lot of stuff other than play their character during f2f, but you may be able to elicit some info on what the player themself digs during "non-play" time and be able to work it in at some point. It need not be about their character directly. Nowing that they find Setites fascinating villains is enough to start pointing to things you can work in to the f2f session later on.

    For each session of f2f play, keepi is stupidly simple. Even with all of that preliminary work and info passing done, plaers will inevitably complicate a straight forward situation, especially if any mystery at all is involved. Somewhere out there there is a site for 5 Room dungeons. It doesn't sound like much, but a five room dungeon or a five encounter/key point session should quickly eat up two hours. A more shared creation type game that has each player frame two scenes with eat up probably ten to fifteen minutes per scene. 4 players each framing two scenes and playing through them and you've used most of the two hours already, since you're probably talking 80 to 120 minutes plus any down time.
  • Make cards.
    I created a template to make 2.5 x 4 inch cards with moves on them. Even in really tactical games with grid combat.

    Make the charactersheet into a playmat.
    Make little boxes with labels for resources. Put little icons or notes next to those boxes to help get the memory engaged.

    Formalize the play procedure far more than is in the rules.
    Announce the steps to play before you do them. Make sure everyone understands what step is coming next, and what step you just finished with. There's no reason to read the full text of what to do, just declare "this is the declaration phase" and do it. Then "declarations are over, this is the initiative phase," etc.

    Have a Sancho Panza.
    Keep an unengaged NPC floating around, so if someone walks by and gets interested, you can integrate them without breaking things up.

    Bring a ringer.
    Bring someone who speaks your language pretty well. So if you start to explain a thing in "your way" and the audience doesn't get it, you have someone there who can interpret, or tease out what you mean in a different way. I cannot stress how important this is. We all get so convinced that we know how to make this work and make it easy to understand, but sometimes we need a third opinion.
  • edited October 2012
    I'm going more towards wanting to pick up 1-2 RPGs per session and play them straight away, just like board games, so I created one. It takes 1,5 hour to play if you haven't played the game before. This includes adventure and character creation and explaining the rules. The fastest game I've played took 40 minutes, and when me and a fellow GM started to play at the same time, I began playing while he was still explaining the rules to InSpectres. Here are some reasons why:

    × The P.R.E.P. consist of all players adding two things on a outlined map. All these things will appear in the improvised adventure.
    × The character creation consist of drawing three archetypes out of twelve pre-made ones and choose one of them to play with.
    × The rules are light and explained while playing.
    × The game has a pacing mechanism with three acts that consist of around five player actions each.
    × The game provides structures, for example forcing you to frame scenes hard, which speeds up play.

    When I started to make this game, I took a look at how board games worked. How to handle the archetypes is for example from Arkham Horrors.
  • Rickard, I took a lot of cues from board games when writing Bad Family and my list looks similar to yours.

    Prep consists of choosing a character from a list of options, and deciding what they want to achieve (using either a guided process for discussing it or selecting from a one-page list of options).

    I also put in clear victory conditions (to end the story), and a tutorial (to explain the game as we go).

    And, now I think about it, there's also a structure to frame scenes hard (when you start a scene you're asked the question "What's making it difficult to get what you want?"
  • I pretty much created Zombie Cinema as a way to play The Mountain Witch and Primetime Adventures within a boardgame-like social footprint. The rules are out there if you'd like a look.
    I've heard about it and am thinking of ordering it.
  • It is well worth your time, and once you see how to make a board, you can replace "Zombies" with pretty much anything thematic if your audience changes.
  • I'd put players in pre-written scenarios where they have a limited amount of options. Only the mechanical options are meaningful, so you don't have to be creative and descriptive at all, unless you want to.

    I'd make scenes (or rooms or whatever) self-contained rather than have them build up to some grand climax which you'll never have time to play anyway. Everything on a character sheet should be meaningful right away, not in some imaginary future.
  • My last attempt on sampling different RPGs is taking me to turn everything into cards: player moves, gm moves, items & equipment, keys, etc. Add something like Paizo's condition cards and drop other wounded/mutilated conditions ad libitum. It also uses tokens as game currency, representing at the same time hit points, mana and money. Top it with a set of gm cards that also help to create an scene randomly (I've got the first version of this last deck here.)

    Perhaps just cards and/or premade characters for the players will be more than enough. Having a very detailed and highly modular list of events in the game will make it better for making it a solid session. So far all I've been able to get out from my system is a few unexpected challenges but not a solid narration.
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