Getting into the tabletop roleplaying game hobby can feel a little daunting. This is often due to complexity or expense, with some games requiring multiple books and supplemental material. The Peabody Institute of Danvers roleplaying game collection is a fantastic resource for new players. Not only can they try these games for free, but we have a growing collection of “Pick-Up-and-Play” RPGs. These games are fun, easy to understand, and in some cases can be played over the course of an evening.
This is a quick guide to Pick-Up-and-Play games at the Peabody Institute of Danvers. Most of these RPGs require the book, scrap paper, and dice. When specific mechanics of the games are explained, the relevant terms are Capitalized in a Bold Font.
Out of the Pick-Up-and-Play RPGs in our collection, FATE requires the largest amount of prep-work. The game is not overly complex, but it has substantial optional rules and tweaks. This gives FATE a flexibility to cover nearly any genre or setting. Broken down FATE revolves around four traits: Aspects, Fate Points, Skills, and Stunts.
Aspects are used to describe characters, objects, and their environment. They can be permanent or temporary. For example, the Character Aspect “Dashing Swordswoman with a Song in Her Heart” is a permanent Aspect, while “Nasty Flesh Wound” is a temporary. Character Aspects should be evocative and broad in scope. For example, “Mad Scientist” is straightforward but limited. Whereas, “Stand Back! I’m Going To Try SCIENCE!!!” will give a player more options. Characters use Aspects in conjunction with Fate Points to gain a bonus on Skill rolls. Aspects can be Invoked after player makes a Skill roll. For example, a character sneaking through a dark warehouse could spend a Fate Point to use the Aspect Shadows as a bonus to their Stealth Skill roll.
Fate Points are a resource used by the Game Master and Players to influence the game. Each scenario players are given a fixed number of Fate Points while the Game Master has a Fate Point budget for each scene. Over the course of a game there are several ways to spend and earn back Fate Points. The most common use is to Invoke an Aspect to gain a bonus or advantage. For example, Aria our dashing swordswoman is fending off three ruffians in a barroom brawl. She spends a Fate Point and Invokes her Character Aspect “Dashing Swordswoman with a Song in Her Heart”. Aria now has a temporary bonus against her unhappy drinking companions, smacking one with a tankard while singing a merry tune.
Skills represent and measure broad areas of competency for the character. When taking an action that involves risk the relevant Skill is added to a dice roll to determine success or failure. Characters begin the game with a set number of Skills that are rated from Great (+4) to Average (+1). The FATE Core System contains a series of default Skills that can be modified or eliminated to fit the setting. It is important to clearly define what a new or modified Skill can and cannot do. For example, a game taking place in a wizard’s school might have multiple magic Skills, each representing expertise in a specific area. For example, Mirek a third year student from House Skitterin has the Maleficia Skill. This allows him to magically attack or hinder an opponent. Mirek cannot use Maleficia aid himself or an ally in any fashion, nor any other application that does not bring harm to another.
Stunts are special abilities that let the character bend or break the rules in some fashion. They might give a bonus to a Skill roll under certain circumstances, or allow a Skill to be used in a different way. Powerful Stunts may require the expenditure of Fate points. For example, the Stunt Sneak Attack allows a character to attack an unaware opponent with their Stealth Skill. Killing Strike, a more powerful version of this Stunt requires a Fate Point, but would automatically inflict damage or a Temporary Aspect like “Nasty Flesh Wound”.
The resolution mechanics for FATE uses four special six sided dice. Each die has two blank sides, two sides with a plus symbol, and two sides with a minus symbol.
When players take an action that might result in failure they roll four of these dice adding their relevant Skill, Stunts, and Invoked Aspects. For example, Doc Steel the Action Scientist has been captured by enemy agents and forced to build them a missile. To escape he attempts to jury rig a weapon from the missile components. Doc has the Weird Science Skill at Good (+3) and the Character Aspect “Stand Back! I’m Going To Try SCIENCE!!!”. Doc’s player rolls the dice getting one blank die , one positive die, and two negative die for a net result of -1 applied to his Weird Science Skill. He could choose to Invoke the “Stand Back! I’m Going To Try SCIENCE!!!” Aspect for a +2 on the total, or choose to re-roll the dice. Doc chooses to take the +2 bonus giving him a net +4, or Great Result. Just enough for Doc Steel to cobble together a ray gun.
For more information on the FATE RPG, Evil Hat Productions has an online System Reference Document. It contains rules and explanations for FATE Core and related supplements. The FATE Core System is available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers or through interlibrary loan.
For me roleplaying games are a shared narrative experience, with the players contributing just as much to the plot as the game master. Fiasco takes this even further with a unique system that is fully player driven. If you have ever seen a Cohen brothers movie the structure of the game will seem familiar. Players come up with a caper or similar scenario that spectacularly goes off the rails. I find keeping a movie mindset helpful, as much of the game is couched in cinematic terms. While the default setting for Fiasco is the modern era, the system can be easily adopted to fantasy setting, such as Game of Thrones.
The game is divided into four sequential sections: the Setup, Act I, Act II, and the Aftermath. In the Setup players pick a game scenario called a Playset. They can either use the pre-generated version or roll a pile of six-sided dice to determine the Relationships, Needs, Locations, and Objects. These are the building blocks of the scenario, and should be crafted within the spirit of the game. Fiasco is about tragedy, not triumph. Relationships determine how the characters know each other. Are they acquaintances, co-workers, or family? Needs determine what drives the characters. Do they crave acceptance, money, power, etc? The Locations determine where the action takes place. Is it an abandoned warehouse, gas station, family home, etc? Objects are items crucial to the plot. It could be a bag of money, drugs, or a murder weapon. Once these are all set the players move to Act I, where they enact Scenes to establish the story. At the end of Act I comes the Tilt, a catastrophic moment that brings down the whole house of cards. Act II continues this downward spiral until players reach the Aftermath, a montage that determines the final fate of their characters.
The resolution mechanics for Fiasco use a pool of six-sided dice. Each player contributes four dice to the pile, two of them white and the other black.
These dice are used to determine the outcome in each Scene and act as a countdown for the game. The white dice represent good events, the black bad. On each player’s turn they choose to Establish or Resolve a Scene, essentially taking the role of a director. If a player chooses to Establish they pick the die color, but the other players Resolve the Scene. If a player chooses to Resolve a scene, the other players pick the die color and Establish the Scene. As the Scenes play out dice are removed from the pool. If the players keep on grabbing white dice, this will cause more trouble for them in Act II.
For more information on Fiasco, Bully Pulpit Games has a series of free downloads to facilitate and enhance your gaming experience. Fiasco is available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers or through interlibrary loan.
At first glance Index Card RPG resembles a rules light version of Dungeons & Dragons. The game uses similar character creation and resolution mechanics. While the RPG is streamlined for easy use, it contains an amazing array of game options. Index Card RPG comes with two settings and six ready to play adventures. Alfheim, a fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology and Warp Shell a dark science fiction setting.
Character creation in Index Card RPG revolves around four traits: Stats, Gear, Class, and Bio-form. Stats represent how strong, smart, or charming the character is. Players are given the six points to divide among seven Stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Armor. With the exception of Armor, each point gives the character +1 on dice rolls using the relevant Stat. The Armor Stat makes the character harder to hit. Gear is the starting equipment for the character. These range from armor, tools, weapons, and magical artifacts. Class determines the role of the character. Bio-Form is the race of the character, a template that often modifies Stats and other abilities.
Much like Dungeons & Dragons, resolution mechanics for Index Card RPG uses a set of polyhedral dice.
These are used when a character attempts an Action that has an element of risk. For quick pass or fail Actions the player rolls a twenty sided die adding the relevant Stat to beat a Target Number. More complex Actions like attacking a foe or casting a spell use the same method, but if the player beats the Target they roll an Effort die to see how well they succeed. For example, Augustus the Sly is attempting to sneak by a pair of city guardsman. If the watchmen were fatigued or bored the game master might make the Target Number 7 or 8. Unfortunately, they are rested and alert. The Target Number to sneak by them is now a 13. Augustus’ player rolls a twenty-sided die getting a nine adding His Dexterity Stat of +2 for a total of 11. Not enough to sneak by the alert guards. Augustus now finds himself in melee combat with the watchmen. His player rolls a twenty sided die attempting to beat the Armor of the watchmen. If he succeeds Augustus rolls a six-sided die for his short sword adding it to the total. If the final tally is high enough one of the watchmen will fall to the ground, mortally wounded by Augustus’s blade.
For more information on Index Card RPG, Runehammer Games has downloads, quick play rules, and instructions on their website: ICRPG.com and DriveThruRPG.com. The Index Card RPG is available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers or through interlibrary loan.
Out of our four pick-up-and-play games I find Monster of the Week the easiest to play and run. The system is geared towards horror or mystery of the week games, and is extraordinary flexible. Character creation is very quick and the resolution mechanics are easy to grasp. The game can be scaled to accommodate younger players, something in the vein of Gravity Falls or Scooby Doo. Monster of the Week can be broken down into three main elements: Playbooks, Ratings, and Moves.
Playbooks are a series of customizable character templates. These determine the Ratings, Moves, and equipment for each character. Monster of the Week has twelve Playbooks drawn from various horror and mystery archetypes.
- The Chosen
- The Crooked
- The Divine
- The Expert
- The Flake
- The Initiate
- The Monstrous
- The Mundane
- The Professional
- The Spell-Slinger
- The Spooky
- The Wronged
Moves dictate what actions a character can take, whether it is hunting for clues, interviewing an eyewitness, or fighting a zombie. Each character has access to the following Moves:
- Act Under Pressure
- Help Out
- Investigate a Mystery
- Kick Some Ass
- Manipulate Someone
- Protect Someone
- Read a Bad Situation
- Use Magic
In addition each Playbook gives the characters a series of specialized Moves. For example, The Divine Playbook has Lay On Hands. A Divine Move that allows the character to heal others through the power of their faith.
Ratings are used as a bonus on dice rolls when a character attempts a Move. Characters have five Ratings: Cool, Tough, Charm, Sharp, and Weird.
Resolution mechanics for Monster of the Week uses two six-sided dice. When a character attempts a Move they roll two dice and add their relevant Rating. On a 7 or higher they succeed, a 10 or higher indicates a special success. For example, a character defending a bystander from an attacking vampire would use the Move: Protect Someone adding their Tough Rating to the roll. On a 7+ the bystander is unharmed, but the character takes the damage from the attack. On a 10+ the player can choose to include an extra effect into the Move. They might suffer less damage, ensure the bystander escapes, or even inflict damage on the vampire.
For more information on Monster of the Week, Evil Hat Productions has playbooks and other free game documents on their website. Monster of the Week is available at the Peabody Institute of Danvers or through interlibrary loan.
Is your favorite game not available at the Peabody Institute Library? Let us know, and we can try getting it through interlibrary loan or purchase order.
If you are looking for a place to play games, or an area for quiet study the Peabody Institute of Danvers has several study rooms available. For more information or to reserve a room you can e-mail the reference department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give the library a call at 978-774-0554.