Sometimes you can’t always play your long term, high fantasy, in depth, and well developed game. Sometimes you just need a break from all that. There are plenty of ways to get a break from a main game or setting. But what if you don’t want to switch to board games or card games? Maybe your group simply can’t get everyone together for a few weeks. Options abound but there are some table top RPGs that are great alternatives to the high fantasy or epic sci-fi campaigns that can last years. The first ones I want to cover are game systems that are quick, easy, and different. You can make characters and start playing in the same night. Rules are fairly simple and easy to pick up, or at least fairly explicit. Just remember, as DM, some prep is always helpful!
Savage Worlds (Pinnacle Entertainment Group)
This is a game I have mentioned before and will continue to mention because I love it. I love the simplicity, the versatility, and the mechanics in general. You could play dozens of campaigns in dozens of settings with a creative group and just the core rules. Character creation itself is quick, and invites you to create a character with an interesting set of both beneficial characteristics and flaws alike.
What makes Savage Worlds an even more remarkable setting is the breadth of supplemental books available. Although, I wouldn’t call them supplements, most of them are settings. From a pop sci-fi with bubble helmets, to madness ridden mythos, to a world covered in oceans and pirates, to an alternate WWII with werewolves and zombies, there is setting after setting for this world. Not only that, but there are numerous fans out there who have adapted other famous settings like Aliens vs Predator.
Savage Worlds is the alternative game for someone who wants to be able to do anything with one book, or wants to do exponentially greater things with each book added to the shelf.
The End of the World (Fantasy Flight Games)
I have not fully gotten to explore this game yet. In fact, I have only played it once. Nevertheless, I am going to own every book in the series. This game is on the list because it is unique. If you haven’t heard about this game, the premise is simple. Your players are all playing themselves. That’s right, you are placing them into a doomsday scenario, just like in the movies. The character sheet is one page, and has almost no mechanics. The hardest thing to actually figure out in this game is how to figure out combative situations. If what I have said hasn’t hooked you yet. Grab either the zombie apocalypse or return of the gods books and play it anyways. Or wait for the aliens or robot overlord books. Or read the rest of this and then think of the possibilities.
So, when you make characters, it really needs to be with friends, because you set your abilities and special attributes. Then, everyone else votes on whether it is right, too high, or too low. The system handles votes either way well, and with friends you’re not gonna get sandbagged. Overall your opinion on some abilities may change, and you only get a couple of attributes so you may pick different ones each time you play. Finally you characters have exactly what they have on them at that moment. Maybe you set it in the house your playing in, but its doomsday. Do they stay? Go? What do they carry? Each book is a different overall theme, obviously, but each one also comeswith a handful of different scenarios. Zombies may be a virus, voodoo priests, or literal supernatural undead. The book covers these, the outbreak period, right after, and much later. You literally have around 2 dozen scenario/time period combos to work with in a single book.
The End of the World is for people who want a huge change of pace, a chance to play themselves, and the opportunity to try to survive a scenario we all have talked about over and over again.
Gamma World 4E (Wizards of the Coast)
You may ask yourselves, “What is this doing here!?” I’m sure some of you may be ranting about fourth edition. Some of you may hate what they did to the setting (I personally never played it before 4E). But, if you listen, I will tell you exactly why you need this box in your closet. And if those aren’t any of your thoughts, maybe you are alread ywith me on this. First off, it is just plain fun as hell. Gamma world is the post-apocalyptic future in a comic-booky, Saturday-night B-movie, almost cartoony kind of way. It is all radiation, mutations, scrap-tech, and jokes.
This is what happens when you take ideas that don’t pass as novel or movie worthy. What about a psychic yeti?! What on earth do you do with that? You play it in Gamma World. The 4E version of it is perfect, in my opinion. The battle-game, mechanic-centric edition of D&D creates a perfect out-of-the-box RPG ruleset. They further embrace this in Gamma World by having each mutation come with specific power for specific levels, so no picking powers. And to avoid min-maxing and pouring over possible mutation combos, you roll. You get two and you combine them to make your character. So psychic yeti is, quite literally, one combo. Additionally gear is random, and sweet tech rewards come in the form of card randomly dealt. Gamma World gives you rules to run the game by, utter randomness for replay-ability, and chiseled down mechanics for quick open-the-box-and-go-play time.
If you can accept what 4E did as a concept, want a light-hearted setting, and plenty of chaos thrown in then Gamma World is perfect for a side game or temporary campaign. Or maybe you just want all the townsfolk to be talking raccoon?