I struggled with this one until I read the earlier iteration in the originating blog post: “Which RPGs do you enjoy running even if they are difficult for you?”
Two games immediately come to mind. The first is Dungeon World, which I ran as a one-shot at Nuke(m)Con 2017 (my gaming group’s homegrown convention). It’s a very different kind of RPG from what we usually play; the dungeon master’s role is very reactive and reflective — rather than driving the story forward with a particular plot in mind, the players are expected to take on the heavy lifting as they collaboratively build the tale. The player’s actions themselves are confined to a specific setting of “moves” based on their class (e.g. “Hack’n’slash” is an move; so is casting a spell). The game itself is a variant of Apocalypse World and uses the same Powered by the Apocalypse engine.
I used the “Sky Chain” dungeon starter from Fine Mess Games. One of the other players had heard of and read the game, so I had a little help at the table, but for the most part we were newbies and it showed. The whole idea of a limited inventory of possible moves — even if those moves are typically the ones that such a character would make in a game like Dungeons & Dragons — was a hard one to grasp. Rather than letting us focus on story, I think we ended up getting more focused on the repetitiveness of the moves, and the successes and failures that they bred. The story itself had some great elements in it as the players started rifting on the adventure seed, but this too started to run out of gas and we struggled to keep the game going.
I enjoyed it enough to want to play the game again, but I’d rather play it with someone who knows what they’re doing and can guide the group. I’d also like to watch a few actual play videos to see how the game unfolds at the table.
The other game is Blades in the Dark. I played a few sessions of this game online earlier this year and it too was a hard game for us to get our heads around. Blades is built around the idea of a heist movie and its narrative isn’t linear. In a typical game it’s assumed you discover a target, identify how you might secure that target (e.g. diplomacy, stealth, occult) and then immediately skip to the heist in media res as the players come up against their first serious challenge. If you don’t have the skills or resources to solve the problem at hand … you run a short flashback that explains how you actually do have the necessary resources or how you failed to get them.
For folks who cut their teeth on more traditional RPGs, this change proved to be a significant challenge for everyone at the table. A fun challenge to be sure, and one I’d like to get back to, but it was a challenge all the same. You can read more about my Blades in the Darkexperiences in my Game Day columns “Blades in the Dark” and “Meet Bryce Brogan”. I also discuss it in Radio Active Episode #91: “Bad Break”.