We’re not talking about games which are designed to get the GM a date with the hot new girl in the gaming club (as mabmorrigan will likely relate happily later) but rather games which can be started quickly, how to pick up a game and get started and the pitfalls of doing so.
Games that can be started quickly
I designed SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO and Zombi to be pickup games. Small size books, really simple character sheets, simple rules, only using d6 dice and strong, easily identifiable genres. Likewise, The 23rd Letter, though more involved for the GM is good for In Media Res gaming and I think that qualifies. Another excellent pickup game in my opinion was the Quick Play Vampire rules from White Wolf. Not only were they free, but the rules were vastly simplified. You can download the Demo rules from White Wolf’s web site. Similar games might include Mikko Kauppinen’s PowerGame or some of the games from the Indie RPG Designers Forum. There are some indie games which are very limited in scope, being more like Adventures with Quick Play Rules added (and The Mountain Witch would be a perfect example of this).
How to pick up a game and get started
Okay, you’ve an idea of where to start and assuming that you’re going to avoid the “Adventure with Rules” type of games, then you’re going to wonder where to get started. We’ve recently had a post telling us that pregenerated characters are bad, mmmkay. So, you’re going to need to make up some characters. Just tell them what you want. You’ve a grain of an idea in there and you need that to get the game started. Ivor and Paul in my TTN game will know this as I just told them “Make up characters who work at a TV station.” Without further prompting from me they made up a roving cameraman and his anchor. They’re good players so despite the fact I only had the bare bones of a plot (it’s Zombi, what else is needed), they threw me a few bones. As the game went on, my imagination started working again and soon I had a plot, an idea, a conspiracy and a game!
The biggest issue for me is longevity. I really enjoy long campaigns and pickup games don’t really provide for that a lot of the time. I’ve told my TTN players to make some more characters in their spare time as mortality is a real danger and it’s easy enough to find ways to introduce them. Without longevity of character (an issue I often have with Call of Cthulhu), I tend to find games a little unfulfilling.
I’m already writing some game design notes for WotW and Viride and I see these as Action games and Culture games (more on that later) and I have a couple of idea for Pickup games. Games that are little more than Adventures with rules….Watch this space.