Day 8 What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hrs or less?
I love the Warren. Playing Watership Down style rabbits in not new the world of RPGs, Bunnies and Burrows was one of the first games published. But the Warren is, I would argue, possibly the best Powered by the Apocalypse game out there. For those unfamiliar with that engine, its worth saying that PbtA is a stripped down, low prep system ideal for pick-up play. Character generation is not complex, for example, in most games you pick up a playbook for the sort of character you want to be, make a a couple of choices and you are good to go. You describe your actions until you do something that can be defined by a move, a move can be something everyone does, like "hack and slash" or something unique to your character. When you make a move you roll 2d6, which might be modified one or two points by your stats or a bonus earned with a previous move. You get what you want with ten or above, success at a cost between seven and ten, and if you roll six or less, something interesting happens.
The Warren seems to me to be an even more distilled version of PbtA, the playbooks don't give you archetypes or class analogues like many games – instead your rabbit character is differentiated by picking a unique move from a shared list. When someone has picked a move from that list, no-one else can pick it. Arrange your stats (assingn +2, +1, 0 and -1 to strong; swift; steady; and shewd), pick a few details and a name and you are ready to play.
The book gives the GM a couple of worlds to choose from, with threats, other rabbits and creatures defined. As usual for PbtA a session starts with a conversation with the players answering questions that help fill out the world and current situation, and then you start play to see what happens. (There are more pre-written worlds on line, including one I really want to try, but not in two hours – Polygon Wood is a campaign, following life in a warren in France for a year, in 1917.)
So, a stripped down version of a stripped down RPG, must help if you've only got two hours to play. But there's something else about the setting that makes this idea for short sessions; nature is red in tooth and claw, and you are playing prey.
One of the great innovations of 76's Bunnies and Burrows was its skills system, arguably the very first time one appeared in an RPG. That skill list included detailed rabbit martial arts. I hate to break it to fans of B&B, but bunnies don't do martial arts.
Instead, the Warren has moves like bolt and struggle move. You use bolt when you make a run for it and struggle when you want to break free. Only one of your party can take the character move Tooth and Claw, allowing them to initiate attacks. It doesn't mean as a PC you can't attack, but it does mean that the GM gets to choose the outcome. Two rabbits facing off can use the compete move, but that more about panicking your opponent than insuring them. Panic works a bit like hit points, but you are out the GM chooses whether you fight, run away or freeze. If you do get involved in a fight you are very likely to wind up dead or scarred. In a very elegant mechanic the player represents a scar by crossing out one of their rabbit's moves, permanently disabling them. The rules advise that a player retires a rabbit with two or three scars.
So life is short, but rabbits are fecund, and character generation is quick. If a PC dies, it takes no time at all for the player to rejoin the game with another rabbit, and given the rabbit life-cycle, that new character may well be one of the previous characters children.
The perfect two hour game. One, I suggest, that might even be more acceptable to people who don't normally play RPGs, than messing about with swords and dragons, or magic and Cthulhu.
In fact writing this, I'm convincing myself that I should prepare a pack of playbooks and a couple of worlds, and carry it around with me always, in case I have a couple of hours free unexpectedly.