What are your favorite one-shot games? That can be played in 3-4 hours?

edited October 2016 in Play Advice
I'm looking for one-shot games we can play in about 3-4 hours, which are easy or somewhat easy to facilitate. Collaborative games are probably best, but also games that are simple to GM as well. Games that are in playtest are fine so long as they work well. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated :) Thanks :)

Comments

  • edited October 2016
    While the World Ends and the Shadows of the Trees are probably my favourite ones in that time slot!
  • Cool, thanks for the suggestions :-) I have while the world ends but I haven't heard of shadows of the trees, do you happen to have a link for it? thanks :-)
  • Musette works great in that it runs reliably 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
  • Musette works great in that it runs reliably 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
    Musette is definitely on my list :) If feel like a jerk because with my new job, preparing for my gaming group, and translating "Svart av kval, vit av lust," I've been crunched for time and still haven't read it, other than the beginning. I got sick that week and didn't end up using it. Thank you so much for sending it; I will definitely check it out this week and finish reading it. Thanks Paul
  • No problem! The text is old and in need of updating, so my apologies there, but the game works very well, particularly as an "intro to story gaming".
  • Fiasco is the hands down winner with my group.
  • edited October 2016
    No problem! The text is old and in need of updating, so my apologies there, but the game works very well, particularly as an "intro to story gaming".
    Awesome, I might run it in two or three weeks, so if I have any issues understanding the text, I might take you up on clarifying it for me. Thanks so much Paul :-)
  • edited October 2016
    Fiasco was the first game I thought of too, but I think you have to move pretty fast to fit it into three hours. Two games I could definitely recommend from my own experience would be Beatrice Henrietta Brystol-Smythe, DBE and Doctor Magnethands.

  • I'm conditioned to playing in two hour chunks so my design sensibility leans that way, too. I think with strong facilitation and merciless editing you can have a satisfying session of anything in two hours. Three is positively luxurious. If an aggressive pace is not fun for you, look for games with pre-built situation and characters, like Lady Blackbird or Love in the Time of Seið.
  • How many players?
  • How many players?
    Typically 4 to 6. Thanks :-)
  • For a more "gamer-y" experience, you could try this:

    An Easy Apocalypse World One-Shot
  • For a more "gamer-y" experience, you could try this:

    An Easy Apocalypse World One-Shot
    This seems super fun :) I need to read AW and do this! Thanks Paul :)
  • I'm the opposite of Jason, in that I tend to game in longer chunks these days, 4+ hours, except at some conventions which mandate 3 hour slots and it's always a pain then. And maybe we Italians are extraordinarily laid-back, but there's been no game in my approaching-30-years-long career as a role-player which hasn't taken me & my pals longer than the designer expected.
    For example, when I read "3 hours" I thought "3-player Fiasco", because regular 4-player Fiasco usually takes me longer!
    I do run into a lot of situations where I need as-short-as-possible RPGs, though, like when introducing people to role-playing at public events or in after-dinner sessions with parents (most of the time I can only manage to fit a simple board-game in there, but there have been exceptions).
    That's why I've designed my only published/released games so far (Enter the Avenger, Awkward and Italian-language-only La casetta di marzapane) to fit into 3-hour or shorter slots, BTW. Other games I've successfully and reliably run within 3 hours include:

    Ben Lehman's Clover, Skew (very easy to facilitate and good for teaching first timers) and Amidst Endless Quiet.

    Eero & Sami's Fables of Camelot.

    Jiituomas Harviainen's short larps Serpent of Ashes and The Tribunal (recommended for 8-12 people, sorry).

    Invisible Empire, from Worlds Without Master.

    Some 2-player games: S/lay w/Me, Murderous Ghosts.

    Some games described as "game poems", including The Vicar is Coming for Tea.

    Also It's Complicated and Mist-Robed Gate, but these aren't -like- easy or beginner-friendly games.
  • edited October 2016
    Where can I get Musette? The name is kind of generic, so I get a lot of links...

    I find It wasn't Me very enjoyable.
    I also like running a little round of Lasers & Feelings or FU.
    Self-created games are also very enjoyable to run (i.e. Lost Genius for me) - maybe because you've already invested so much energy into it.

    I've asked a similar question in another thread on 2 hour RPG recommendations.
  • Where can I get Musette? The name is kind of generic, so I get a lot of links...
    Musette is an modified form of Muse meant for shorter sessions; it is designed by Paul_T. I think that Paul would be happy to provide you with a copy if you messaged him. He provided me with the copy I own :)

    Thank you for your suggestions and the link to the other thread :)
  • I'm the opposite of Jason, in that I tend to game in longer chunks these days, 4+ hours, except at some conventions which mandate 3 hour slots and it's always a pain then. And maybe we Italians are extraordinarily laid-back, but there's been no game in my approaching-30-years-long career as a role-player which hasn't taken me & my pals longer than the designer expected.
    For example, when I read "3 hours" I thought "3-player Fiasco", because regular 4-player Fiasco usually takes me longer!
    I do run into a lot of situations where I need as-short-as-possible RPGs, though, like when introducing people to role-playing at public events or in after-dinner sessions with parents (most of the time I can only manage to fit a simple board-game in there, but there have been exceptions).
    That's why I've designed my only published/released games so far (Enter the Avenger, Awkward and Italian-language-only La casetta di marzapane) to fit into 3-hour or shorter slots, BTW. Other games I've successfully and reliably run within 3 hours include:

    Ben Lehman's Clover, Skew (very easy to facilitate and good for teaching first timers) and Amidst Endless Quiet.

    Eero & Sami's Fables of Camelot.

    Jiituomas Harviainen's short larps Serpent of Ashes and The Tribunal (recommended for 8-12 people, sorry).

    Invisible Empire, from Worlds Without Master.

    Some 2-player games: S/lay w/Me, Murderous Ghosts.

    Some games described as "game poems", including The Vicar is Coming for Tea.

    Also It's Complicated and Mist-Robed Gate, but these aren't -like- easy or beginner-friendly games.
    Wow Rafu, thank you for all of these wonderful suggestions! I really appreciate it :)

  • edited October 2016
    I thought I might also ask about some of the games I own (or will own soon), since I haven't ran many of them. Here is a list of some of them that I think might be appropriate for a one-shot that lasts about 3-4 hours and that don't demand much preparation (but I have no idea). If anyone could comment on whether or not any would work for three hour one-shot, I would greatly appreciate it :)

    Remember Tomorrow
    Montsegur 1244
    Trollbabe
    Primetime Advantures
    Agon
    Sagas of the Icelanders
    Mouse Guard
    Torchbearer
    Psi*Run
    Mars Colony
    The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach
    Polaris
    Downfall
    Inspecters
    Universalis
    Dread
    Monster Hearts
    Dogs in the Vinyard
    Kingdom
    Microscope (& Explorer) ( I think this will work, but I can't remember if three hours is enough)
    Fiasco (& Companion, Playsets '10, '11)
    Night Witches
    Lucuna
    Urban Shadows
    Dungeon World
    Apocalypse World
    Fellowship
    Blood & Honor
    Houses of the Blooded
    Fate Core
    Fate Accelerated
    The Shadow of Yesterday
    Reign
    HillFolk
    The Sprawl
    The Warren
    Sorcerer (& The Dictionary of Mu)
    World of Dew
    Solar System
    Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide
    A Penny for My Thoughts
    S/lay w/me
    Steal Away Jordan
    Stalker
    Blood Red Sands
    Trail of Cthulhu
    Night's Black Agents
    FateLess
    Don't Rest Your Head
    Archipelago
    Swords Without Master
    Undying (& All Men Must Die)
    Blades in the Dark
    Over the Edge
    Follow (this one works good in 3 hour one shots just thought I'd tell others if they're looking for the same thing)
    Eden
    While the World Ends
    Nine Worlds
    Geiger Counter
    Shinobigami
    The Quiet Year
    Bluebeard's Bride
    Lady Blackbird (This kind of worked but definitely wasn't ideal and I think the game suffered a lot for it)
    Lasers and Feelings
    Muse (I know Musette by Paul_T really good and I plan on using that)
    Skew (Rafu said this works really good)
    And other free games on the internet that I don't want to type :)

    I would rather use the shorter games first, but if a long game works well for repeat short, one-shots I would go for it. I tried to leave out games that obviously wouldn't work like Burning Wheel etc. but I haven't read them all so sorry if I left some games in that obviously won't work. I know this is a lot of games but if you could just comment on whether one or two you've played would work, I would really, really appreciate it :) Thanks :)

  • Which dozen or so of those are you most excited to play, right now?
  • edited October 2016
    Montsegur 1244
    Psi*Run
    Polaris
    Downfall
    Dogs in the Vinyard
    Fiasco
    Apocalypse World
    Don't Rest Your Head
    Primetime Advantures
    Archipelago
    Swords Without Master
    Blades in the Dark
    The Quiet Year
    Bluebeard's Bride

    Really anything that will work :)

    Thanks for your help :)
  • Based on my experience (yours may disagree with mine)...

    Skew, Follow, S/lay w/Me, A Penny for My Thoughts will definitely fit, no problem. They're designed to.

    Swords Without Master, The Quiet Year, Microscope should work just fine, though I'd feel better knowing I could go overtime a little and nothing bad would happen, or if I weren't the only one having read the rules.

    Kingdom, too. Though it would be cooler if playing one more chapter sometimes was one of the options on the table.

    Montsegur 1244 - different numbers of players yield different numbers of scenes, in clever ways, such that a 3-player game isn't the shortest game - unlike, say, Fiasco. I think this is a really good game, and it should usually work for you as a 3-hour game, but check this number of players/number of scenes thing carefully so that you don't get stuck with the longest possible game the first time you play: it would be a bummer not to be able to finish it.

    Psi*Run will fit using convention/one-shot rules, i.e., fewer questions/answers per player. It's better with no time limit, but cool this way too.

    Remember Tomorrow: you might be able to wrap up a chapter over one 3-hour session, though only if everybody's on board with that (because the mechanics as written allow for stalling each other into a longer game).

    PTA: an episode usually fits within 3-hours, sure. Pitching a series + playing out an episode? That's harder. Pitching a series to just play one episode of it, then drop it? That's always felt disappointing to me, though some friends of mine do that all the time.

    Trollbabe: no problem fitting a session within the time-slot, but the game really needs to be run over several sessions to shine.

    Dogs in the Vineyard: you might be able to fit a town into your 3-hour slot, but don't underestimate how long it takes to explain the setting to those who haven't read the book, and create characters together. You'll have to come prepared, with setting handouts which emphasize what you care about and what's crucial to your town design, and aggressively moderate character creation - maybe by paring down their options - but definitely don't skip initiation (i.e. conflict rules tutorial). Even then, that's probably no more than 2 hours left to play the town, which might or might not be enough for a very uncomplicated town. And even then, it'll feel like just a demo or tutorial if you don't plan on playing again (same PCs, new town).

    Apocalypse World, Don't Rest Your Head, Sorcerer, The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System: these only make sense as one-shots if you design one-shot scenarios for them.

    Polaris, as a one-shot game? It only makes sense as a demo run to "sell" (or literally sell) the game to people who will then play it as designed.
  • Most games don't play well in three-hour one-shot slots. Whatever you choose, prep as much as possible. You're basically losing the hour of the four-hour slot where you make characters, explain the setting, and so on.

    For short sessions, I prepare cheat sheets with all the reference a player needs to understand what's going on. If the game has collaborative setting creation, I short-circuit this by either just telling them the setting for the session or giving them 2-3 choices. I make index cards with names of people and places for them to riff off.

    You also have to GM aggressively. Remind people how much time they have. Push scenes to conclusion. Scene framing games need very aggressive framing, pushing things into conflict as soon as possible.

    Of the games you listed, I think only Fiasco was designed to run in a shorter slot (2 hours, but it often stretches to 3-4).
  • edited October 2016
    Based on my experience (yours may disagree with mine)...

    Skew, Follow, S/lay w/Me, A Penny for My Thoughts will definitely fit, no problem. They're designed to.

    Swords Without Master, The Quiet Year, Microscope should work just fine, though I'd feel better knowing I could go overtime a little and nothing bad would happen, or if I weren't the only one having read the rules.

    Kingdom, too. Though it would be cooler if playing one more chapter sometimes was one of the options on the table.

    Montsegur 1244 - different numbers of players yield different numbers of scenes, in clever ways, such that a 3-player game isn't the shortest game - unlike, say, Fiasco. I think this is a really good game, and it should usually work for you as a 3-hour game, but check this number of players/number of scenes thing carefully so that you don't get stuck with the longest possible game the first time you play: it would be a bummer not to be able to finish it.

    Psi*Run will fit using convention/one-shot rules, i.e., fewer questions/answers per player. It's better with no time limit, but cool this way too.

    Remember Tomorrow: you might be able to wrap up a chapter over one 3-hour session, though only if everybody's on board with that (because the mechanics as written allow for stalling each other into a longer game).

    PTA: an episode usually fits within 3-hours, sure. Pitching a series + playing out an episode? That's harder. Pitching a series to just play one episode of it, then drop it? That's always felt disappointing to me, though some friends of mine do that all the time.

    Trollbabe: no problem fitting a session within the time-slot, but the game really needs to be run over several sessions to shine.

    Dogs in the Vineyard: you might be able to fit a town into your 3-hour slot, but don't underestimate how long it takes to explain the setting to those who haven't read the book, and create characters together. You'll have to come prepared, with setting handouts which emphasize what you care about and what's crucial to your town design, and aggressively moderate character creation - maybe by paring down their options - but definitely don't skip initiation (i.e. conflict rules tutorial). Even then, that's probably no more than 2 hours left to play the town, which might or might not be enough for a very uncomplicated town. And even then, it'll feel like just a demo or tutorial if you don't plan on playing again (same PCs, new town).

    Apocalypse World, Don't Rest Your Head, Sorcerer, The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System: these only make sense as one-shots if you design one-shot scenarios for them.

    Polaris, as a one-shot game? It only makes sense as a demo run to
    "sell" (or literally sell) the game to people who will then play it as
    designed.
    Awesome Rafu, thank you for all this info and the time you put into this response; it is super helpful and I really appreciate it :)
  • Of those games, only a few fall into the intersection of "games I know anything about" and "games that I think would run well in 3 hours or less."

    InSpectres is a clear win in this space.

    Shinobigami can also do it, but you'd need to move it along briskly.

    Lasers & Feelings is great for this.

    The Quiet Year will fit in this space if you follow the instructions of removing cards for a shorter game.

    Blades in the Dark works great in this space too - my normal sessions of it are like 2.5 hours, and they feel like a ton of stuff happens.

    I bet The Warren would work, but I haven't tested it.

    You could run Mouse Guard in 3 hours if you used pregens.

    Stay the heck AWAY from Houses of the Blooded, Blood & Honor and World of Dew for this - they have substantial startup time. I guess if you came to the table with pregens and premade clan/city/whatever you have in HotB then it MIGHT work, but I don't think it's a very good fit.
  • Most games don't play well in three-hour one-shot slots. Whatever you choose, prep as much as possible. You're basically losing the hour of the four-hour slot where you make characters, explain the setting, and so on.

    For short sessions, I prepare cheat sheets with all the reference a player needs to understand what's going on. If the game has collaborative setting creation, I short-circuit this by either just telling them the setting for the session or giving them 2-3 choices. I make index cards with names of people and places for them to riff off.

    You also have to GM aggressively. Remind people how much time they have. Push scenes to conclusion. Scene framing games need very aggressive framing, pushing things into conflict as soon as possible.

    Of the games you listed, I think only Fiasco was designed to run in a shorter slot (2 hours, but it often stretches to 3-4).
    Thanks for the great suggestions Adam. I think I might just try to talk everyone into a 4 hour slot and see how many people I can get on board. As you say you can do a lot with that extra hour. Thanks again :)
  • Of those games, only a few fall into the intersection of "games I know anything about" and "games that I think would run well in 3 hours or less."

    InSpectres is a clear win in this space.

    Shinobigami can also do it, but you'd need to move it along briskly.

    Lasers & Feelings is great for this.

    The Quiet Year will fit in this space if you follow the instructions of removing cards for a shorter game.

    Blades in the Dark works great in this space too - my normal sessions of it are like 2.5 hours, and they feel like a ton of stuff happens.

    I bet The Warren would work, but I haven't tested it.

    You could run Mouse Guard in 3 hours if you used pregens.

    Stay the heck AWAY from Houses of the Blooded, Blood & Honor and World of Dew for this - they have substantial startup time. I guess if you came to the table with pregens and premade clan/city/whatever you have in HotB then it MIGHT work, but I don't think it's a very good fit.
    Cool Arik, thank you for all of you help, and I applicate you adding the ones that will defiantly not work as that is also valuable info. Thanks again :)
  • With "conventional" RPGs, keep in mind that the number of players also has a great influence on duration.
  • I think it depends a great deal on the number of players, as well as the local "playstyle". (Some groups play slowly, in great detail, and others skip through events like a knife through butter. Some players want to know all the rules before playing; others just jump in head-first... and so on.)

    Dogs in the Vineyard can be played (and very effectively!) in a 3-4 hour slot, but you have to have a plan to get through character creation quickly, play it with determination, and keep the Town quite simple.

    I often find that players who are not familiar with the game go entirely in the wrong direction when creating characters, so I wrote up this a while back:

    story-games.com/forums/discussion/12372/dogs-in-the-vineyard-meet-random-character-creation
  • edited October 2016
    Of the games listed above, here are the ones I'd dare attempt in a mere 3 hours:

    The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach
    Inspecters
    Fiasco
    A Penny for My Thoughts
    Archipelago
    Swords Without Master

    These all have short learning curves, and system contact is quick and easy. On that front, I'd add Spookybeans, which has a lot in common with the Roach.

    If yer feeling in a playtesty mood, I could eventually send you my supervillain game, which has 3 different versions intended for different play lengths. Whether the shorter versions (under 2 hrs) count as RPGs or not is probably a matter of opinion.
  • @Paul_T
    Thanks for the Dogs idea it looks cool :)
    @David_Berg
    Thanks for the info about the games. I think it would be cool to play test your game. If you want to IM me with a link that would be great :) Thanks :)
  • I don't do tabletop much anymore, since I've for some reason been consumed by Black Box, but one I carry around, just in case I need to introduce people to roleplaying/parlor larps/Black Box at the drop of a hat (it happens more often than I'd ever expected) is "Old Friends" by Ole Peder Gjæver and Jason Morningstar. It's a parlor larp, mind you, that only requires a mask.
    Also, I'd recommend Alexandria.dk as a resource. There are hundreds of one-shots freely available for download, quite a few of them in English.
  • I don't do tabletop much anymore, since I've for some reason been consumed by Black Box, but one I carry around, just in case I need to introduce people to roleplaying/parlor larps/Black Box at the drop of a hat
    I'm sorry, what is Black Box?

  • what is Black Box?
    It's a form of small-scale larping. One which allows for greater freedom than the traditional "360° illusion" setup of Nordic larp, but still looks impressive compared to the minimal setup, almost no costuming and certainly no backdrop parlor/chamber larps I'm used to, because a proper "black box" is equipped with theatrical lights and a sound system.

    https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Black_Box_Larp
    https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Black_Box
  • Thanks, Rafu!
    I'm so deep in the box these days I forget not everyone knows what it is.
  • I would pick a game to suit the group/players.

    Zombie Cinema, Witch Quest and The Daughters of Verona would be on the top of my list. But I haven't followed the developments in the field for a long time.
  • Thanks for the info. I'm amazed about all the things going on in Nordic countries.
  • I know I'm a little late to the party on this one but I recently designed a game called The Box that would fit perfectly with what you're looking for.

    I'm calling it an "object discovery game", where each player is contributing details, components, and attributes of a strange object inside a box using a specific process, and then at the end the players try to fathom the purpose or nature of the object. Although no narrative is explicitly called for in the rules, one seems to always emerge naturally from the process in a very fun and organic way. It works great as a stand-alone game, and could also be incorporated into any larger game campaign that involves the characters discovering an object. The playtests I've done so far have been very successful and clock in right around 3 hours, or a little less.

    If you or anyone else in this thread would like to try it, I'd love to hear your feedback and find out what your group came up with! Here's a link to the PDF:

    The Box

    Thanks :)
  • I'm not here to self promote but my "code" games (The Comics Code, The Code of the Spacelanes, The Code of Steam and Steel) were designed exactly for this.

    Also worth looking at from us Brits:

    Intrepid
    And
    Era (the Neil Gow two player one)

    All of these are available on
    DRIVETHRU

    Cheers!
  • Ribbon Drive is excellent.
  • Ribbon Drive is excellent.
    That's a great game! When I've played it, it usually didn't fit in 3 hours, but depending on your style I suppose it can. However, I strongly recommend some prep, in the form of hooking up perspective players a week or two in advance and having them make mixtapes (CDs, playlists, whatever). No problem fitting in a player or two who come to the game without a mixtape of their own, though, be it because they are last-minute additions or just because they couldn't spare the time to mix it (maybe bring a spare one as a the facilitator, just in case).
  • Ribbon Drive is excellent.
    That's a great game! When I've played it, it usually didn't fit in 3 hours, but depending on your style I suppose it can. However, I strongly recommend some prep, in the form of hooking up perspective players a week or two in advance and having them make mixtapes (CDs, playlists, whatever). No problem fitting in a player or two who come to the game without a mixtape of their own, though, be it because they are last-minute additions or just because they couldn't spare the time to mix it (maybe bring a spare one as a the facilitator, just in case).
    A mix tape :) that's different for a game...I will have to check into it :) I gave out mix tapes to all the girls I fell in love with in middle school :) something tells me my experience was not unique...the 80s was an amazing time :)
  • I've heard that Ben uses Shock:Social Science in Story Games Seattle one-shots. Does anyone have any experience using it in this capacity? Thanks :)
  • edited October 2016
    I've heard that Ben uses Shock:Social Science in Story Games Seattle one-shots.
    Have you checked out SG Seattle's house rules for Shock?

  • edited October 2016
    I've heard that Ben uses Shock:Social Science in Story Games Seattle one-shots.
    Have you checked out SG Seattle's house rules for Shock?
    I actually hadn't seen this...thank you for bringing it to my attention :) It's super helpful :)
  • Shock: playing it by the book, the length of the game is strictly based on the number of players, modified by aggressiveness of opposition. I keep it down to 3 players (myself included) when I have to fit in a convention slot. I also tell everybody to try and burn all of their Antagonist oil over the minimum allowed number of scenes. When we play it at home, we take it easy and usually break it into 2 sessions of play.
    Thanks for the house rules!
  • Shock: playing it by the book, the length of the game is strictly based on the number of players, modified by aggressiveness of opposition. I keep it down to 3 players (myself included) when I have to fit in a convention slot. I also tell everybody to try and burn all of their Antagonist oil over the minimum allowed number of scenes. When we play it at home, we take it easy and usually break it into 2 sessions of play.
    Thanks for the house rules!
    Cool Rafu, thank you for the info :)
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