Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow, and no matter what you might think about the troublesome history of the holiday itself, let’s be honest – At least here in the US of A, we’re staring down the barrel of a nice, long weekend. Unfortunately, that weekend will likely be spent crowded in visiting with family, which for many of us, isn’t exactly a great experience.
Now I have previously discussed ways to make this experience better, by trying to start up roleplaying sessions with some of your family (let’s call them the “Cousins”) who might be amenable to the hobby. That’s great advice, in my opinion, and will help both you to turn these long holiday weekends into a great experience, but also help make the experience better for some of the older members of the family, by helping to clear out a bit of the crowd for a few hours.
But here’s the question I’d like to discuss today: What should you play? The obvious answer is “Dungeons & Dragons”, obviously. It is the most well-known roleplaying game, and you have the best chance of finding cousins who already know how to play, and so on. All in all, D&D is a solid choice.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be my choice to play in this circumstance. Let me explain why.
First of all, every single “strength” of choosing D&D as the game to play with your cousins, is also a hindrance. First of all, being the most well-known TTRPG also puts a harsh spotlight on D&D. This gives it a higher chance of finding cousins who already know the game, and hate it, or other family members who feel it is Satanic, etc. Plus, there are better games out there for you to play.
Keep in mind, you aren’t looking to start a campaign here. You are looking to play a one-shot, or at best a few, short games throughout the weekend. So why start up a game of D&D, which is better suited to campaign play?
No, let’s discuss a few games that better fit the bill for Thanksgiving weekend:
Monster of the Week: This game is easy to learn, easy to play, an almost “pick up and play” experience. No preparation required on the GameMaster’s part, either, which is great for you, since I assume you’re getting stuck in the GM’s chair. Basically, if you find cousins that enjoy shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Supernatural”, they will enjoy MotW.
The Sprawl: Please forgive my cramming in two “Powered by the Apocalypse” games, right at the start, but that’s just how the list fell out. But many of the same reasons I chose MotW for this list also apply to “The Sprawl”. It is easy to learn, and easy to play, just like most PbtA games. Now TS is a little harder to start up than most other games on this list, as there is a bit of worldbuilding to be done from the start (the GM and Players working together to make up some MegaCorporations that control the world, for example), but it isn’t that huge of an issue. But once you get a little worldbuilding done, and toss together some characters, this Cyberpunk TTRPG is a very smooth experience. Player-driven adventures allow the GM more time to focus on roleplaying the NPCs, and – like most Cyberpunk games – TS is built around one-shot games. I absolutely love this title!
The Eldritch Hack: Would you like a game that is easy to start up? Extremely easy to learn? Has almost no rules? Well, maybe you should check out “Eldritch Hack”, then. Characters have pretty much one attribute, and can be thrown together in mere moments. If your cousins are into Cosmic Horror like H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, but don’t want to spend a lot of time crafting characters and learning a new game, this would be the game for you. Also, like most “Call of Cthulhu”-style TTRPGs, EH is great for one-shots and short campaigns.
Mörk Borg: I know, I know… MB has a bit of a weird reputation, and not everyone will like it. But if you have cousins that enjoy dark and gritty fantasy games, MB will work well. The game is well-suited to short campaigns or one-shots, characters are expendable and almost expected to die like flies, and the game is chock full of randomized tables that help the GM run a game with very little prep. No one cares if the game goes to Hell, when the world is fated to die, anyway!
Dead of Night: I’ll admit my bias here – this is my all-time favorite TTRPG. That said, I love this game for a reason. Possibly the best TTRPG for one-shots ever devised, DoN allows you to make characters in three minutes, and learn the few rules there are in just a few minutes more. A player-driven experience, DoN works perfectly for GMs who want a game that requires only a little prep to play, and encourages your players to basically go nuts with character development and roleplaying. Meanwhile, the GameMaster can sit back and ham it up. Finally, it is really easy to get people to play with a bit of a call-back to Halloween, since that holiday is beloved, and likely still fresh in your cousins’ minds.
Of course, there are many other tabletop roleplaying games out there that you could choose for this purpose, these are just five that I could think of, right off the top of my head. But all of them are better than D&D by far, and that’s not meant as an insult to D&D at all. It is just a simple fact. D&D, for all of the positives it brings to the table, is built for campaign play, not for one-shots and short, weekend adventures. All five of the games I listed above are perfect for short games and one-shots, period.
In this case, the only advantage D&D really has is that it is readily available on short notice in physical book form, where some of the others aren’t so easy to find as physical books. But all of them can be found in digital form from DriveThruRPG, and downloaded in moments. It isn’t an ideal solution, but it is a solution on short notice.
Anyway, in closing, enjoy your holiday weekend, and Happy Gaming!