A casual roleplaying game is one that has very few rules and mechanics. Most rulings are adjudicated on the fly, and for this reason they require a fair GM to run. The majority of roleplayers have a negative bias towards casual roleplaying games without having ever played any. Hopefully, with this article, I will be able to convince you to at least try them out!
1) Take A Break & Relax
Sometimes you can get tired of a really long campaign or a certain theme or setting. Maybe you’ve had a difficult week, and all you want to do is blast aliens with a space cannon instead of solving the delicate intricacies of a complicated plot full of intrigue and mystery. But you also don’t want to spend hours creating new characters or learning an entire new system.
Well in these cases, casual games are the way to go. They almost always have very short manuals, sometimes even being a single page long. They are also usually universal, meaning they have no setting or theme attached. Because of this, casual games are great for taking a short break.
2) Be Creative Again
Most crunchy roleplaying games don’t allow complete freedom, as you are limited by the mechanics of the game in one way or another. Your character ideas have to fit the predefined rules of the game or otherwise it can end up being unbalanced or ‘broken’. Casual games use the same rules for everything. This means that a time-traveling samurai with cybernetic implants is just as powerful as a wild barbarian with a two handed axe. It may seem weird at first, but it allows you to be creative with your character designs. It doesn’t matter what your character is, because it's going to be as strong as everyone else. So what really matters is how your character does things. Because the rules are also light, it means you can attempt almost anything and the rules will cover those actions very easily. This allows players to be as creative as they want without thinking too much about rules, and without putting any strain whatsoever on the GM.
3) Involve New Players
It’s also an ideal moment to invite new players to your table. Most detailed systems have very large manuals and a complicated rule set that must be learnt before a player can effectively join a game without slowing it down to a grind. Casual games usually take about 5 or 10 minutes to explain every single rule in the game. New players are also a great addition for casual games, because since they have never been bound by the rules of any system, they tend to be much more creative with their actions. After one or two sessions, these players might be willing to put a bit more effort and join your regular table.
4) Letting The GM Play
Contrary to popular opinion, most GMs like being players. A casual game is an excellent opportunity to switch who is running the game and let your GM take a break. I can assure you they will be grateful. Some casual games also have mechanics for in-game GM rotation, where everyone takes a turn at running the game. Others can even be run without a GM. It is also a great learning opportunity. Running a game will teach you many things that you can use when you are a player again. It is also good to learn what it's like being the one behind the screen.
5) Practice Your Improvising
Being a GM, one of the most difficult and useful abilities is improvisation. Without improvisation, every campaign you run will feel forced and players will lack any type of freedom. Most GMs don’t like improvising for fear it will ruin their campaign. Thats why, once again, casual games are a great time to train and hone those skills. If you’re feeling lucky, you could even improvise the entire oneshot, just following the players leads and seeing where that goes. I only recommend that as an exercise and not a style of running games. It can go either way, resulting in excellent stories or terribly dull ones.
Some of the universal casual games I recommend are GURPS-Lite, Risus, Tango RPG, and Freeform Universal. If you want to play a short casual game that is tied to a specific setting you can try Lasers & Feelings, Honey Heist, The Witch is Dead, and Cthulhu Dark.
There are many others out there, I hope you try some of them out!
Rodrigo Peralta is a roleplayer and a DM that likes to playtest many different rpgs. He enjoys both highly detailed complex systems and barebone casual games. He participates in local roleplaying events as both DM and player.
Picture provided by the writer
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Starting out in roleplaying games is more than buying the stuff and jumping in. Getting a group together is hard enough for some people, and then the extra monetary cost of buying minis, rulebooks, supplements and any extra bits and pieces for a game. Not everyone has enough surplus cash to throw at the hobby, so for those who don't want to break the bank to test the waters, here are eight free roleplaying games for you to check out. I mean why not, they’re free.
1) A+ Fantasy
A+ Fantasy has an attribute system very similar to classic RPGs but different enough to make it its own. Instead of rolling up numbers for your usual six attributes, A+ Fantasy has four to which you assign a grade, which range from A+ to D- and affect dice rolls. Modifiers are different than the norm, as to succeed you must roll two d6 and get at least one six, and the modifier adds to this. The ruleset is very easy to understand and is laid out in a great way, at least in my opinion, I read through the full rules in just over 30 minutes while sitting in a waiting room. This is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of diving into D&D.
2) Magic and Steel
This game has more reading to it than A+ Fantasy but has a fairly well developed system, based off of old style D&D with a few modern twists to keep it interesting. The character creation seems solid and is simple enough for a new player to get to grips with and complex enough for a seasoned vet to get in there and create more interesting characters. The rule book screams fan made and admits as much in the introduction, but if you like old school fantasy this is a game for you.
3) D100 Dungeon
D100 Dungeon intrigued me to no ends, I read the description and thought, how can I be both GM and player? The answer is I can’t, but D100 Dungeon can be the GM so I can be the player. Tailored so that you are not pitted against your friends this game provides everything you need to run solo. You print out your map sheets and character sheet and read through the rules, which really are quite easy to understand. It took me a couple of days to get through them but when I did I was eager to get going, to play all you need is the roll tables in the back, the print outs and if you didn’t already guess the dice type, some D100. I haven’t got round to playing this yet but it’s definitely on my todo list.
4) GURPS Lite
A great system used in various games and inspiration to even more, it has been used in tabletop games and video games such as the first Fallout games and even adapted for the later ones. The lite version of the system is free, however, and gives a good taste of how the full system works with all the key points laid out. Choose some buffs for your character and combine them with some flaws... it contains everything you need to create a GURPS game. The only downside is that I found it rather wordy so be prepared to read.
5) The Very Important Task
I loved this game as soon as I read the rule sheet. Yes a single sheet. In The Very Important Task everyone plays and GM’s another player’s game, taking it in turns, which simulate one month at your job. Each player tries to complete a task given to them by their manager (another player) as well as completing the very important task for their overall career, to win you simply must complete the very important task, gain executive level in your job or be the last employee standing (or sitting if its an office job). It’s not a long game but can fill an evening and helps introduce some key elements of roleplay as the managers are encouraged to go to the extremes when forging the personalities.
6) The Great Long Dark
Anyone looking to get into horror RPGs should consider this their first step. A quick game aimed at small groups, the rulebook has beautifully haunting artwork which helps set the scene. You take the role of both a child travelling to a place of mystery and despair, also as a parent escaping to a better place. Play takes shape in the form of five acts, the first two acts have you play two cards and roleplay the results, after which you answer a question of your choosing from a list from your character's point of view. No dice rolling but plenty of atmosphere and personal connections to help you come back for another helping.
7) Ghosts of NPCs Passed
Aimed at groups who are currently running a campaign, this game is a nice distraction for change of pace or can even just be implemented into a session to aid the players. It allows a GM to call forth the spirit of any NPC the players may have decapitated too early or a poor passerby who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Upon summoning a spirit the players go round one by one adding to a backstory for that NPC, ending on the second wave round the group with his last day and finally his demise at the hands of player X who plays the murderous warlock in the group. This game could also be used to emphasise how one player seems all too happy to help NPCs shuffle of the mortal coil.
8) To The Temple Of Doom!!!
A really nice little game, this easy to understand rule set has a revolving GM and a shared goal. Each player creates an archaeologist to play, assigning five stat points over three skills and then creates an artifact, ventures into the temple and takes it in turns to create a chamber within the temple. You then throw in some puzzles, bad guys and traps for the team to overcome. At the end is a big showdown against a vast evil trying to destroy the world. Death isn’t the end in this game either as anyone who falls prey to the traps of the chambers can either be possessed and show up to aid the evil or die and become the GM for the final encounter.
No matter which, if any of these you try out i’m sure you will have lots of fun and hopefully will inspire you to play other great roleplaying games out there. To compile this list I read through around 15 titles including some fan made RPGs from the likes of Inception and even the Metal Gear universe, but for the sake of the editors I chose the non fandom games, though they were really good systems and well worth checking out. Although the rules are free you will need dice and a way to print some items out in most of these but compared to a full price system the cost is much more affordable and accessible.
Ross Reid is a lover of all things tabletop, he recently hosted a gaming marathon for charity lasting 24 hours over three days, he is currently working on getting the rest of his family into roleplaying games so he no longer needs to leave the house to get his gaming fix.
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