We got a great question on our Contact Us page this week, and instead of writing out an unwieldy comment, it was decided we should tackle it in a full-on blog post.
Looking for a tabletop roleplaying game to break my wife and some of her friends into roleplaying, give them an introduction. So a simple system with a strong dramatic/cinematic flair any ideas? I was thinking fiasco? which might be too dark? Also maybe Hollow Earth or Spirit of the Century/Fate? The character creation seems… involved?
First, a welcome to your wife and her friends to the world of roleplaying! I hope they have a blast and help swell the ranks of women gamers. It can be an intimidating world to break into, and I appreciate your question HoneyBear because it lets me address two favorite topics: women in gaming and my favorite games!
Because I could go on forever about either one of these topics, I’m going to limit myself first to the games you mention.
The most story-driven of the games you mentioned, Fandible has had a blast playing Fiasco together and at conventions. One part party game, one part RPG, it removes the artifice of a die deciding the outcome of your actions. Instead it becomes a communal storytelling experience as the group decides whether your scene should end positively or negatively for your character. Because it’s GM-less, it also means the most experienced player is in the middle of the action with the new players and can easily lead by example, rather than being stuck behind a GM screen.
Only you know whether Fiasco is too dark for your group. In my experience the stories end up so crazy it’s more black comedy than anything else. There’s also a huge variety of playsets that can help guide you toward the type of story experience you want to tell – a story set in Salem 1692 is likely to be far darker than the “teen romantic comedy” of Those Summer Nights. No matter the playset, Fiasco is a game that requires strong roleplaying skills from the start, exactly because there are no dice or GMs to give you challenges to overcome. If your group is already strongly imaginative or has a background in theater or improv, this is easily overcome, and some complete newbies will come out of their shells naturally as they get into the fun.
Games don’t get much more cinematic than pulp-style RPGs. These games often draw explicitly from the pulp adventure serials of the 1930s and seek to emulate the broad action style of the genre. You named two of the leading games in the genre, the near and dear to me Hollow Earth Expedition, and Spirit of the Century (sorry, no superlative for you).
I can’t recommend HEX highly enough for new players (or any players! I want everyone on this bandwagon with me). I love the simple resolution system (your pool comes from the number of attribute+skill points you have, and is based on a simple succeed/fail method rather than hitting a random target number or calculating percentages). The point-based character creation system has only a small number of points to allocate, so you aren’t intimidated by trying to manage 100+ arbitrary points at a time, and the style point economy no only allows players to put their own mark on the story, but allows the GM to explicitly reward and encourage good behavior at the table.
Also (and here’s where I talk about women in gaming!), the art is great and the whole book presents women adventurers as equal to the men on the journey. It’s a refreshing departure from slavishly emulating old pulp stories where women were damsels in distress, if they appeared at all.
Spirit of the Century, on the other hand, is the first game to use the Fate system, and it really shows when compared to later Fate games. This one really does have a surprisingly long character creation process, and the system overall is one I’ve never found to be intuitive (The pyramid-style allocation of skills took me far too long to wrap my head around when we first picked up Fate via Dresden Files). And, more women in gaming real talk, it annoys me to no end that women NPC’s are few and far between in the book and several archetypes or stunts are needlessly and explicitly gendered (and far more often in favor of men than women). With a massive number of aspects, it can be intimidating for even seasoned role players to make up so much of their character without mechanical guidance, and a nightmare for a GM to remember even a fraction of them for compels (the primary way of gaining Fate’s version of style points).
But I don’t want to scare you off Fate entirely! Both the Dresden Files and Atomic Robo (coming this summer!) have been great for Fandible. And while I personally haven’t played it yet, Fate Accelerated Edition sounds like it has really streamlined the Fate experience for both GMs and players. It’s also a generic system that you can put in any setting. New players might prefer to play a game in a setting they know like the back of their hand, and with a little prep work by the GM, Fate Accelerated could be used to emulate any number of books, TV shows, or movies your wife and her friends enjoy.
I’ll continue this topic next week, with some input from the rest of Fandible, with additional suggestions that didn’t come up in HoneyBear’s initial question. But first let’s open the floor to the Fandible community. What game would you recommend for a group like HoneyBear’s?
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