Tabletop RPGs are a niche hobby here. There aren’t a lot of players to begin with, and those who play sometimes fade out of the scene due to real-life commitments. It’s also difficult to get new players (and game masters) because of how obscure the hobby can be.
Quickstarts are, IMO, a great way to rope in new players. They come with the bare minimum rules with most of the complex layers stripped away, and so are easy to learn. They also have almost everything one would need to play right off the bat, barring dice/cards and the actual players; pre-gen characters are usually included, as are introductory adventures. Finally, most are free.
There are many Quickstarts, and I can’t claim to have tried most of them. I have however looked through and played a number. There are many good ones, but to keep things brief, I’ve shortlisted 5 of them based on the criteria of ease for new players and aesthetics (art, layout and length). The choices also differ in theme and gameplay mechanics, so there’s something for everyone. Without further ado, they are:
Savage Worlds is one of the most popular systems out there now. I like it a lot – it’s easy for the GM to run, and for players the narrative flows really quickly, living up to the “Fast, Furious, Fun” catchphrase. Savage Worlds is also good for introducing new players to the hobby as it strikes a middle ground between the simulationist and narrativist style of gameplay.
I prefer the 2015 Test Drive to the 2012 one because the art and formatting are more pleasing to the eye. The adventure also seems to be more interesting and well-paced (I stress on the word ‘seems’ because I haven’t run either of them, only read through), even though I’m not a huge fan of Fritz Leiber’s works. Regardless of which one you go with, the rules mostly remain the same (2015’s version uses new rules for Shaken), and as such, either one will make a good candidate if you want to make it your first ever RPG played/run.
Scarlet Heroes can be played with only 2 people in the group – 1 GM, 1 Player. This makes it really easy to run. Don’t have a fixed gaming group? No problem, you only need one player anyway. The rules are mechanically simple and are similar to old-school games, but with some added nuggets like the Fray die. The Quickstart itself facilitates the entry of new players by keeping things clear and concise. It’s overall a very good game to pick up if you want to see what the hobby has to offer (including some of its roots).
Swords & Wizardry (hereafter abbreviated S&W) was one of the first few RPGs I’d ever read. It is almost a direct clone of 0e Dungeons & Dragons’ rules by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, which means it’s a cinch to pick up and play. The quickstart makes this even easier. Most of the rules are condensed, so new players won’t be scared off by tables and charts, and even though there are no pre-generated characters, it’s easy to roll one up. Art is sparse but nice, and the layout is functional, making text easy to read. Finally, there’s an included adventure which is simple to run
After players have cleared The Dungeon of Akban, they can move on to the full set of rules by downloading the Complete core rulebook for absolutely no charge at all. One thing to note is that there are some discrepancies between the core and Quickstart rules, due to both being done by different authors and the Quickstart being built off an older version of S&W, but it should not pose much of a problem.
Mongoose Traveller is a sci-fi game with highly modular rules, including augmentations and interstellar travel. This means it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. I love the system. Combat, especially infantry, can be fast and deadly, while there is a great deal of character customisation options. Book 0 only takes the bare minimum of rules from the entire set. You can’t play out ship battles but on-foot combat is fine, and there are lists of basic items that one can purchase across several adventures.
However, those aren’t the only reasons why Book 0 is on this list, especially because there are no pre-generated characters or even an included adventure. No, the reason why it’s included is simply because character creation is actually an experience on its own, and will surely be an eye-opener for some. Half of the quickstart is dedicated to character creation. For those who have never tried rolling characters in Traveller, give it a shot. You never know what kind of character you’ll end up with, as not many games have you almost killing your character before an actual game session even starts.
While all the above recommendations are streamlined in some form from their core rulebooks, they still have a few added layers of complexity that may be challenging for first-time GMs. OneDice does not, and is as easy to pick up as its name implies. To perform a task, you roll a d6 and add the score from a relevant ability and skill, then compare it against the target number (or another player’s score if it’s against his/her character) to see if you succeed.
Also, at only 44 pages long, the basic rules only take up 25 pages (p.5 to p.29), including examples of play. But wait, Savage Worlds Test Drive only hits 15 pages, so OneDice Quickstart should take longer to finish reading, right? Well, while Savage Worlds Test Drive 2015 crams about 500 words per page, OneDice Quickstart only does 200. It’s that easy to digest in one reading session.
OneDice Quickstart can be downloaded for free, but it’s also on a pay-what-you-want pricing scheme, so if you like it, do consider dropping Cakebread & Walton a dollar or two or picking up OneDice Universal 🙂
There’s something for everyone
It took a while to write up this list as I had to look through my library of games and pick out those that I thought met the criteria of having easy and/or interesting gameplay mechanics, but I hope it’s of use to budding players and GMs. Of course, given the extensive selection of games out there, I also hope it will expose existing players to less well-known games.
On a final note, this is by no means an exhaustive list, as there were several other quickstarts that I was tempted to add to the list but didn’t (e.g. Basic Role-Playing/Call of Cthulhu, Eclipse Phase). Let me know your thoughts on the quickstarts mentioned; in particular I’d very much like to hear from those of you who’ve played or read any of them before. Please also don’t hesitate to share if there’s a quickstart that you’ve played before that’s not on the list. As always, have a good week ahead and happy gaming!