Yesterday, an ice storm crippled my game. Three of my five players had to cancel due to road conditions. This left me with two players. Since these two players were regulars and were planning on coming next weekend, I decided to postpone the regularly schedule CoC game I had spent the week prepping and run it next weekend with a full house.
In the meantime, I didn't want these two players, who braved the ice and snow for me, to walk away with nothing. So I started thinking about my short order options. First on my mind, as is always the case in situations like this, was tremulus. But as these two picked their playbooks and I started looking over the Ebon Eaves playset, I decided I didn't want to do this. I just wasn't inspired enough to go from my meticulously-prepped CoC scenario to an on-the-fly game of tremulus. So I started looking at other options.
Earlier in the week, I was beginning to thumb through my copy of Numenera again. I had an old adventure I had written for the game a year ago still on my Google Drive. So, I figured, why not? And in minutes, we were up and running in the Ninth World. The adventure was short and, in my opinion, not very good, consisting of little more than some dice rolls and a single action scene taking place in mid-air where the two players, using portable hang-glider cyphers, engaged in battle with an ambushing tribe of sathosh flying down onto a small, defenseless town. However, as rough around the edges as it was, the players had a great time, and were vocally expressing their hopes that I would return to Numenera in the coming weeks.
Overall, although the session was just about ready to be declared dead on the table, it was saved by Monte Cook. Huzzah!
The lesson I learned looking back is this: I want to cultivate some more short-notice options. I went into this session yesterday with only CoC prepped and ready, and I was left scrambling when I only had two players and decided to postpone the game. I know there are some very easy short-prep games out there (Fiasco immediately comes to mind), but I'd like to have a more traditional RPG experience ready, as that is the kind of game most of my players come to my table expecting. I'd also like a game that can be run with very little logistical prep; this is the big problem with me regarding Apocalypse Engine games. To play one, I need a complete set of playbooks printed out and ready to go.
So what I'm really looking for in an "emergency" RPG is a straightforward system that can be played easily with a single copy of the corebook and blank paper, and plays in the traditional paradign of RPGs (the players control their characters, I control everything else). After thinking on it a bit, here is the short list I've come up with:
1. Dungeons & Dragons. It really says something about how amazing the fifth edition of this game is that it can end up on this list, when its previous edition would probably be the very antithesis to this list! The Basic D&D pdf alone could enable this game to be played for free, and none of the stats are so complicated as to require a nicely-formatted character sheet to keep track of.
2. Fate Core. Fate and its lite spinoff Fate Accelerated are so incredibly flexible they can be played very easily with nothing more than a sheet of paper and a single copy of the pdf (and even that isn't strictly necessary, as my cheat sheets have virtually all the rules right on them). The only sticky part are the dice, but my trusty Pip app for my iPhone is more than capable of getting the job done there!
3. Numenera/The Strange. This goes without saying as this game is what saved me yesterday, but I'll put it on the list anyway. For all the funky flair of Numenera's character sheets, I actually found a regular piece of notebook paper was more than capable of holding all a character's stats with little fuss.
4. The D6 System: There's a massive movement out there of grognards who have preserved and revised the old West End Games Star Wars RPG. When I heard about that, I thought "why? The FFG versions are SO GOOD!" But yesterday, I realized there was one great advantage the old school game had: it's much simpler. All you need are a pile of D6's and a couple of blank sheets of paper and you can be off the ground and running adventures immediately. The FFG games have quite a large profile, between the funky dice and lack of official pdf. And, hey, who doesn't love Star Wars?
So keep in mind as you look over this list that I have some very specific, exacting criteria. I know there are a ton of "mini" RPGs out there that can be played off of a business card or a single sheet of paper. In theory, that sounds like what I want, but the reality is that I'm not necessarily looking for a light RPG; I'm looking for an easy RPG. There is a difference, albeit a slight one.
The other thing to keep in mind is that there is one component missing to all of them: an adventure. That's fine. I want to create the adventure. I just need a low-maintenence game to run it with!