I've never played an RPG before...where to start (indie games)?

edited February 2011 in Story Games
Hi there! Scott here, I hope that I'm posting in the right category. I've been lurking around these (and other pages) for a while because I'm super-excited about trying an RPG with my game group but really have no idea where to start, and what might work best with my group. We play a lot of boardgames (euros mainly) but the closest that I've gotten to an RPG is Tales of the Arabian Nights. Anyway, I never really had much interest in role-playing games because dungeons and fantasy (and combat) don't really appeal much to my group or myself until I stumbled on RPGgeek only to discover these cool 'indie' games, many of which have cool little twists, and an emphasis on 'story' that is right up my alley. I'm a humanities-geek and liberal-arts educated; number-crunching isn't my thing, but I love stories.

I don't really know much about Role playing games in general--I've looked though some D&D books on the store shelves but they never really spoke to me, and I'm sure that that sort of role-playing would be too complex for my group anyway--so I need a game that will help me learn the ropes. I'm really interested in indie RPGs but you just can't find them on the store shelves where I live so I'm not really sure which, if any, might be the best fit. From the research I've done, games like Inspectres, Faery Tales, Fiasco (huge movie buffs), A Penny For Your Thoughts (very cool-looking group story-telling?), Primetime Adventures (appears to be out of print), Breaking the Ice, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Grey Ranks (among many others) look really cool. Not that I'm totally opposed to a more traditional system--there are just so many options.

So where to start for a bunch of inexperienced players? Genre doesn't really matter, other than the caveats above. I can GM (I can handle a lot of rules, but the rest of the group has a complexity-ceiling), but GM-free is good too. I would just like to grab a game or two that is/are unique, story-oriented, noob-friendly, encourage imaginative, narrative-centered games, fun and playable. I'm open to any and all suggestions.

Thank you so much for any help that you can offer!

P.S. Family-friendly content is a plus.

Comments

  • I highly suggest A Penny For My Thoughts. You can warp it to whatever setting you want (aside from the default mundane 21st century setting) and it's as family friendly as you want it to be.

    The text is eminently teachable and very easy to read. You can start playing the game without having read a word of the rulebook (though having read the book is a plus), and there's a lot of advice in the later sections of the book for to read after you've gotten your feet wet. I think the pdf is $10 or something, and it's a steal. The physical book is beautifully laid out and comes with the pdf I believe.

    I can vouch for Fiasco and Dogs, though those can be pretty intense, though in different ways. They have implicit violence, though. I've played and love both, and in fact Dogs was my first experience with indie games (I bought Burning Wheel first, but to this day have not had a chance to play it).

    Primetime Adventures you can get in pdf, which I own. I've not played it but it looks like a lot of fun and the TV series paradigm is really easy to get into. Even if you've never roleplayed before, you've probably seen a TV series!

    tl:dr: start with A Penny For My Thoughts or Primetime Adventures. After that I'd recommend Dogs and Fiasco, but if you aren't into the violence thing you might try Shock: Social Science Fiction or perhaps Archipelago II. I've played Shock:, but I've only read Archipelago.

    Good luck, and please do ask for clarification if you need it!
  • 1. What sort of games do you and your gaming group like? Give us your best guess.
    2. Try Fiasco.
  • I might suggest something dead simple, open to free form narration, and free: GHOST/ECHO

    Come to think of it, the whole GMing thing is a weird oral tradition. Maybe something without a centralized authority. I'll second Shock: and also suggest Remember Tomorrow.

    Dogs is my absolute favorite and would recommend it as a follow up to whatever breaks the ice.
  • I second Remember Tomorrow too. I tried it with a player who never played an RPG before and another who hadn't come near a RPG table for decades, and they got it better and faster than any of us gamer geeks.

    Haven't played InSpectres for years, but it seems like a very good choice too.
  • "A Taste for Murder" is simple and fun, and can get pretty deep/dark if the players want to go there. Replayable, too. (Family-friendly... well, hm, that depends.)
  • I think GHOST/ECHO is a great suggestion. Everyone can read 2 pages and understand the rules in a minute or two. And everyone has a right to contribute because there's no setting for them to contradict.

    If not GHOST/ECHO, what about another game from John Harper: Lady Blackbird? There's a bit more meat on this one, which might work for or against you. The rules are a little more complicated but not by much.

    I think Dogs is a bit heavy for a first or even second session without people who've role-played before. But I could be wrong.
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
    Once Upon a Time.

    Both of these have had success with complete non-gamers, so your guys would pick them up in no time. Both are good introductions to story gaming.
  • I was just about to recommend The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchhausen as well as A Penny for my Thoughts.

    After that, check out Dogs in the Vineyard and perhaps "Dresden Files RPG" or "Spirit of the Century". Those ones are slightly crunchier story-game flavored games which are in print and easy to find.
  • Hey Scott,

    Do you live somewhere that already has a gaming subculture? If so, my advice would be to attend a local convention or check out your local store's event calendar, look at local meetups, and see what's going on. It's a social hobby, and I think you can learn the most by playing. Not only will you be exposed to different games, you'll get to see them in action and see how people approach them. For me anyway, that's the best way to learn. Conventions are really great, because you can try lots of things in a short time. If you could convince your crew to attend one with you, you could get a feel for a lot of different games.

    If that's not really a possibility, I wouldn't worry about complexity at all. I think that's a misleading benchmark, particularly if you're willing to learn and facilitate the game yourself. All the suggestions you are getting are good games, so I'd pitch the ones that most interest you to your crew and see what settings, themes, and ideas they are most excited about. Then pick up the group's #1 choice and dive in.
  • Heya Scott,

    Everyone asking you what your prior experience with RPGs is and what your fiction/game preference is right to do so. It's hard to recomend a game in a vaccume. However, if what you're looking for is the real origins of the modern indie-rpg movement, then there is no better place to start than The Pool. That game has had an enormous amount of influence on indie designers and still does to this day. It's simple, quick to read, and serves as an excellent introduction to the indie-rpg ethos. I hope you find what you're looking for, and welcome to Story Games! It's really good to have you here.

    Peace,

    -Troy
  • I recommend Contenders - Joe Murphy told why in a recent Canon Puncture podcast.
  • edited February 2011
    Given that "Family-friendly" is a consideration, I would go with PTA or Fiasco. PTA is out of print but is short enough that the PDF would work. Both games are very easy to learn and the content can be fine tuned to make it as family friendly as you need.

    I don't recommend Once Upon a Time. It's competitive and I've seen many new players become frustrated by it.

    I have not read A Penny For My Thoughts. I've heard rules wise, it's very easy and very fast to pickup. My only concern is the content. If it can be made family friendly, then it sounds like a good match but the default setting may not be a good fit.

    Games like GHOST/ECHO, Lady Blackbird, and The Pool are very easy to play but assume you have experience with RPGs and in some cases, Indie Games specifically. The rules are short and super easy but explanation on how to use those rules is limited. I think they are good games to play, I just wouldn't start with them.

    I LOVE Dogs in the Vineyard but I don't suggest starting with it as the content isn't family friendly and the rules are a bit more involved that the above games (but simpler than most RPGs).

    After experiencing the above, games like Remember Tomorrow and Contenders are good options.

    Dresden Files and Spirit of the Century are on the bit more complicated side (compared to the above games) but easier than many popular games. I really like Mouse Guard but it's similar to Dresden Files and Spirit of the Century in difficulty (which is not that difficult compared to many popular games). But the content of Mouse Guard can be very family friendly.
  • edited February 2011
    Posted By: jenskotGames likeGHOST/ECHO,Lady Blackbird, andThe Poolare very easy to play but assume you have experience with RPGs and in some cases, Indie Games specifically. The rules are short and super easy but explanation on how to use those rules is limited. I think they are good games to play, I just wouldn't start with them.
    Totally agree with this about GHOST/ECHO; I was surprised to see so many people mention it. It's a really neat game, but it is (intentionally) vague and leaves too many blanks to fill in for beginners.

    I agree less with this assessment for Lady Blackbird. For players, I think it is actually a pretty good introduction to roleplaying. Simple and well presented, where the player only really sees the stuff that they can do or care about. The drawback is that it is not as clear about the role of the GM, and how to best run a game. I'm pretty sure some googling can point your GM in the right direction.

    One massive win for Lady Blackbird is that a lot of the work of setting up a game is already done, and the game very quickly carries the players into action. A lot of other games introduce the players to a game by teaching the least interesting part first (usually character generation). In Lady Blackbird, the first thing the players do is the meat of the game, so they can see what it actually is right at the beginning.
  • edited February 2011
    John is wise and very experienced as a gaming evangelist.

    A Penny For My Thoughts can be tuned to a family-friendly frequency.

    Mouse Guard is super cool and has a killer premise, and if your crew are into Dresden Files fiction already that is also a solid choice (see my note above about complexity). None of these games is as complicated as D&D's current version. My 8-year-old nephew has mastered D&D.
  • Posted By: WordmanI agree less with this assessment for Lady Blackbird. Forplayers, I think it is actually a pretty good introduction to roleplaying. Simple and well presented, where the player only really sees the stuff that they can do or care about. The drawback is that it is not as clear about the role of the GM, and how to best run a game. I'm pretty sure some googling can point your GM in the right direction.
    This is a great point. I was speaking about how easy I thought games were for all the players, including GM who are new to RPGs. But there is plenty of subtlety here as many games may be easy for the GM but not the players or vice versa. For example, D&D 4E is fairly easy for the players but less so for the GM (although to be fair, it's easier to GM compared to the previous version of D&D).
  • I feel a bit surprised by some of these suggestions as while they are all good games (at least the ones I've read and played) some can be quite demanding for different reasons.

    The difficulty with a GM-less game is that gamers are expected to throw lots of story elements into the pot, which is great if everyone in your group is OK with this. However, some people prefer to role-play by sitting back and having a world described to them by a GM, which puts an onus on the GM. I'm not knocking either of these styles but would caution you consider the stances players sometimes have to take. Also my experience of getting into Indie Games was confusing. I looked to rule sets that were very rules and guidance light and this left me with questions that I have started to answer.

    Ghost/Echo I get now, but the ruleset for a beginner is daunting as it is so minimal. Lady Blackbird is a better suggestion.
    Dogs is a great game and is facilitated by a GM but relies on an underlying conflict between the players throughout the game for it to sizzle.
    A Penny for My Thoughts is a great suggestion for a co-operative game. It is well written and has an underlying structure that beginners can refer back to.
    Baron Munchausen is another great game but relies on players ability to improvise well. If you "n00bs" are happy with this then go for it.
    You can get Primetime Adventures as a pdf from Indie Press Revolution.

    My own suggestions are Love in the time of Seid or Polaris. I like the tools that they give players to affect the experience of the characters.
  • Wow! Thanks for all the suggestions, that definitely puts a few new ones on my radar. I like hard-boiled fiction, classic literature (anything originally written in Russian especially : P), science fiction (space operaish, not the ultra techy stuff), I really like caper and espionage stuff as well, anything with philosophical, religious, and/or political undertones could work really well as well--Dogs and Montsegur 1244 look interesting on that front. Something like Fiasco has a lot of appeal to the film-buff in me. My hunch is that my group will probably be enthusiastic about anything that I'm enthusiastic about (at least at first), but so far, Tales of the Arabian Nights has been a favorite--that seems to have at least some RPG-like elements to it.

    As far as GMing, it will probably be me to start and I have no experience whatsoever with Rpg's (other than when we role-play through our boardgames). We're all big readers (mainly classic literature and modern mainstream fiction--for lack of a better term) but I'm sure that more genre-oriented stuff will work fine. As I think more about it, even fantasy could work, I'd just prefer to have less emphasis on combat. Thanks again for all the suggestions, and for the welcome; what a great community!
  • Posted By: OrlyI might suggest something dead simple, open to free form narration, and free:GHOST/ECHO

    GHOST/ECHO looks really cool, but a bit daunting. Since none of us have really played an RPG before, I'm not exactly sure how I would make something so bare-boned into a game given that I don't know exactly how RPG's work. It would be great to find a game that not only gives you lite-rules (GHOST seems perfect there), but also explains how exactly one runs an RPG, though I might be able to figure that out with some more research.

    To Jason: I live in Denver, which does have a very active gaming culture, but I haven't had a whole lot of luck finding people who play the sort of games that I'm interested in.
  • I would second/third/fourth FIASCO, mainly because:

    It's easy to play.
    It provides fun/a full session in the 3 hour slot you mention
    It has "replays", or full examples of play (basically a game session written out as a screenplay) so that you can see exactly how you are supposed to run/play the game, what role-playing looks like in the context of the game, etc.

    Ghost/Echo and particularly Lady Blackbird are fun, awesome light games, but as you and others noted, it's basically a stripped down rules-focus-only without all that play advice and stuff, so it assumes you know all about roleplaying before you play.

    -Andy
  • Man! I would *love* to see what someone who's never played an RPG did with GHOST/ECHO. Seriously.
  • +1 Fiasco

    My 74 year old dad played Fiasco with me, having never roleplayed before, and was awesome.


    On another note, one thing I ran into once bringing a serious board-gamer to a story game night, was it really rubbed him the wrong way. He was game to try something new but when it was his "turn" - ("So, what do you do?") he was paralyzed: "Sorry, I don't get the point, I don't really like to tell stories."

    If I had someone like him again I might try some of these http://www.mythic-cartography.org/2009/02/25/the-pedagogy-of-play-bite-sized-pieces-part-ii/to get him loosened up - but really it just wasn't his thing and we should have gone back to Dominion or whatever.
  • Posted By: OrlyCome to think of it, the whole GMing thing is a weird oral tradition. Maybe something without a centralized authority.
  • edited February 2011
    Until We Sink and Archipelago II are short, free, easy and (can be played as) family friendly. Archipelago might have a slightly more difficult entry level than Until We Sink. Check out the links. They're not very traditional role playing games, though, and don't have the Game master-function.
  • I tend to think that the traditional model is best for new young gamers, i.e. a GM and players who respond to situations. The reason is that each player plays just their character and has a more limited set of responsibilities, especially regarding direction of play. Their actions are all in character and that's easier to relate to. In games I've played with Simon's pre-teen children, we also introduced "swine tokens" which you could spend for some limited narrative control (such as I've always known how to speak to snakes or there's a motorbike parked outside the shop).
  • I second Archipelago II!

    If your gaming group is used to board games you may feel more comfortable at the beginning if you have a visual representation of what's going on in the fiction. And in Archipelago you draw a map (tried with kids -- works well!) while creating the universe the story talks place in. Also tokens representing the characters are used. And it's a rare king of game -- whatever you will do with it, it's gonna be fun.

    I'd also disagree with Steve. It probably works only when the GM is an experienced one and players are really young (I mean: kids). But even then it's good to listen to their suggestions. Also, I believe that once you get used to the traditional pattern it's very difficult to change your habits.

    When learning how to GM the games I find particularly useful are Dogs and Apocalypse World but they may be a bit too complicated for the beginning.
  • Fiasco and A Penny... seem like they might work the best (they certainly look cool to me), still I'd like to find one that has a GM as well, so that I can learn what that is all about. Archipelago looks pretty cool, as do Dogs and Spirit of the Century; it would be nice if I could find something very structured (i.e. a world that is pre-generated to take a little bit of the pressure off of creating everything from scratch; I think I'd like to avoid generic systems at first), that explains exactly how to run the game, and how Role playing games work in general. Are there any books that are very structured and specific in that way? Thanks again for all help!
  • I'm a little surprised no one has suggested Zombie Cinema.

    Maybe it's a bit too much of a board-game for some people?

    But it consistently throws together good hour to two hour games with strangers and new players alike.

    Also agree with Fiasco, Remember Tomorrow, Lady Blackbird, InSpectres, Kagematsu. Just depends what you're looking to play.
  • Check: For Archipelago with a pre-determined setting, try Love in The Time of Seid. It's got ready-made characters as well, and teaches you how to play.
  • edited February 2011
    Fiasco gives you a lot of help in establishing some fictional particulars, but the mechanics leave it up to you to manage the unfolding of a scene. Primetime Adventures gives you a lot of mechanical help resolving scenes in satisfying ways, but puts the onus on the group to decide what genre of TV you're playing. InSpectres is in-between on both fronts, but also features a system of character change that is more representative of the RPG hobby than the other two.

    If you'd like to start with a highly formalized style of narrating fiction, Puppetland is great, but very different from any other RPG. It's free (the whole game text is on that page), so you could at least take a look!
    Posted By: Checkit would be nice if I could find something very structured (i.e. a world that is pre-generated . . .), that explains exactly how to run the game, and how Role playing games work in general. Are there any books that are very structured and specific in that way?
    If you don't mind reading a short book cover to cover, Dogs in the Vineyard is pretty good at most of this. It establishes the basics of the setting, lays out the important concerns of the game's fiction, and lists concrete steps to take those concerns and make an adventure out of them. The "how to GM" advice is good too (though not representative of RPGs in general).

    The dice rules are more complex than the other games listed, though. And the game requires morally grey violence to be an option, so I'm not sure how that suits family-friendliness.

    Most of the indie games I know are short on detailed and inspiring settings, but How We Came to Live Here is an exception. Needs 2 GMs and a learning curve for the dice rules, though.

    Also worth noting, in terms of structure:
    In Puppetland, Dogs and InSpectres (I think), players don't get scenes where it's "their turn". This is the way old-skool RPGs also work. Fiasco, PtA, and HWCTLH do use turns.

    Finally, I've heard that D&D Essentials does a good job of teaching how to play.
  • Oh, there's also a game that's billed as kid-friendly in both content and rules-learning called Happy Birthday Robot. It's definitely for kids, but plenty of adults have said they enjoyed it.
  • edited February 2011
    Posted By: David BergIf you don't mind reading a short book cover to cover, Dogs in the Vineyard is pretty good at most of this. It establishes the basics of the setting, lays out the important concerns of the game's fiction, and lists concrete steps to take those concerns and make an adventure out of them. The "how to GM" advice is good too (though not representative of RPGs in general).

    The dice rules are more complex than the other games listed, though. And the game requires morally grey violence to be an option, so I'm not sure how that suits family-friendliness.
    I just remembered that there’s The Princes' Kingdom, which is Dogs in the Vineyard’s conflict mechanics with a lighter premise. I’ve got the book, but I can’t remember how the text stacks up against Dogs. It might be a good introduction for your group, Scott.
  • Coming in late to the conversation...
    Posted By: Check...still I'd like to find one that has a GM as well, so that I can learn what that is all about...
    Someone above mentioned Inspectres . I'd second that, unless folks didn't like the Ghostbusters movies.
  • Pantheon & Other Games is based on the Narrative Cage Match system. It's pretty straightforward to run, and I've had a lot of fun with it. Unfortunately it's really hard to find these days, but if you can find it, it's pretty great.
  • It's equal-parts awesome and terrible, as any good Action Home Video should be.
  • As an addendum to what everyone has said- pick something that grabs you in the way that D&D didn't. It's better to be excited about it at the outset, and makes it more likely you'll enjoy it.

    Also, 'Indie' games really cover a huge amount of ground, so don't get too discouraged if your first foray doesn't quite work out. Of course, I can totally understand it if you don't want to keep on trying game after game in search of something that works for you.

    Might be an idea to stick with free games at first- no up-front cost and no feeling that the game has to prove itself to you to justify the outlay. Once you've dipped your toes, you will probably have a better idea as to what will appeal to you and can open your wallet with more confidence.
  • Well I thought I'd give an update on my progress. I went ahead and got Fiasco; following the advice of those who suggested that the game that I'm most excited about would probably be the game I'd able to get my group excited about as well. I haven't played it yet but upon reading it looks like exactly what I was after; hopefully I'll get a chance to run through it this weekend.

    However, there is one thing I don't quite understand: is the game meant to be 'acted-out' ala improv' or is it meant to be narrated out, as though it were a story? I sort of assumed it was the latter, but the book's play example implies the former. My gut tells me that a self-conscious group of non-acting new role-players might have a little trouble playing the story out in character, at least at first. Does the game still work if the group just takes turns telling a story? How do you all play?

    Thanks!
  • Posted By: CheckHowever, there is one thing I don't quite understand: is the game meant to be 'acted-out' ala improv' or is it meant to be narrated out, as though it were a story? I sort of assumed it was the latter, but the book's play example implies the former. My gut tells me that a self-conscious group of non-acting new role-players might have a little trouble playing the story out in character, at least at first. Does the game still work if the group just takes turns telling a story? How do you all play?
    This would be a great topic for a new thread. The game was written in a way that keeps a lot of "what happens at the table" - social interactions and interpersonal stuff - deliberately vague. You can (and I have) played in a mode that was close to improv theater, and also a much more sedate tabletop experience where you talk about what your guy does. There's no right answer, so do what feels comfortable and fun.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarThe game was written in a way that keeps a lot of "what happens at the table" - social interactions and interpersonal stuff - deliberately vague.
    Though you have to admit the example skews towards improv theater.

    Here's what I'll bet will happen (particularly if there's alcohol involved): start out narrating, third person omniscient, cool and distanced, and I bet before the night is through at least some of you will be doing improv theater and loving it.
Sign In or Register to comment.