I’ve had some interest in roleplaying games before. It’s my first hobby gaming interest, really: my tabletop gaming hobby began with roleplaying games, before Magic or hobby board games.
I’ve never played much, though. Most of the time my interest has been fairly theoretical. I played D&D as a kid and some Changeling in university. In high school I didn’t have a group to play with, but I was interested in the theory.
I decided about fifteen years ago that roleplaying games just weren’t my thing. Board games offered bigger thrills in shorter time frames and with less preparation. More bang for the buck.
Now, I’ve found a new style of roleplaying games that have renewed my interest. Well, “new”, it’s just new to me, I’ve been looking at older games really.
I’m talking about games designed to run without a GM, as one-shots in a short timeframe. They’re mostly just co-operative story telling, with generally light rules and frameworks to facilitate interesting play.
Fiasco is so far the only game I’ve actually played. This 2009 game by Jason Morningstar is a something of a hit. It’s a game of poor impulse control, lots of ambition and a tendency to fail spectacularly. Think Fargo, for example. Petty crime, greed and lust for power, but without much skill.
It’s a lovely game. It can be played in an hour or two, depending on how much you roleplay your scenes, and the two games I’ve played were super funny. The basic story is American small-town crime, but there are dozens of playsets that move the action in a different setting. I played a Harry Potter setting with my kids.
Fiasco is still available from Bully Pulpit Games. They Kickstarted a new card-based edition in September with great success. I have that preordered; it seems like it could make playing the game even smoother than the original pen, paper and dice version does.
Lame Mage Productions is Ben Robbins, and his main claim to fame is Microscope. It’s a game of creating a world, where players start with a high-level concept – “Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization” – and two periods that define the beginning and the end. Players then add periods between those bookends, add events inside the periods and roleplay scenes inside those events.
Everyone has full control over the history that is formed. You can do anything on your turn, as long as it respects the history written so far. Since players are not bound to a chronological order, the play can zoom in and out at different times to explore interesting facets of the timeline.
Kingdom is Microscope, but on a tighter scope: it follows one Kingdom (interpreted loosely, so it can mean an actual kingdom or any group or organization) as they face crossroads and difficult decisions. Union is a game about a single hero and the two generations of parents before them. Follow is a game about going on a quest. Of these three, Kingdom is highest on my list of interests. All these games are available from Lame Mage.
The Deep Forest is a map-drawing game. It’s a kind of response to The Quiet Year, another map-drawing game, but this has a more interesting twist. The Quiet Year describes a post-apocalyptic colony trying to survive for a year. The Deep Forest, on the other hand, is a decolonizing game, in which a forest full of monsters is trying to recover from a human colony that ruled over it.
That’s simply very fascinating. The game is also available free from Buried Without Ceremony.