5 Games to Play When The GM Calls in SickThursday, March 30th 2017 Zoran Dobrijevic

Game night is ruined! Everyone has already sat down at the table when suddenly your Game Master (GM) sends a message that they won’t be making it tonight. Now there’s nothing for the gathered players to do but play board games like some kind of gaming plebeians.

Luckily you’re no ordinary gamers, you’re role-players! You won’t settle for that “other tabletop” drivel! You’re going to have your night of escapism and revelry, GM or no GM!

The following are 5 games to break out in trying times such as this. These RPGs require almost no prep, no materials, and sometimes not even a GM. You’ll be waiting for the day your GM gets the flu for an excuse to play them.

1. The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Have you ever wanted to be a crotchety old man? I know I have! Who doesn’t want to tell long pointless stories from their youth that; go nowhere and have no truth to them? You can make these tales as outlandish as you want them to be. Who’s going to call you out on it? You’re old, folks are to respect you no matter how senile you’re getting. Therein lies the charm of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. You and your other crotchety old friends can all gather and one-up each other with thrilling tales of days past.

For instance, the noble lady Fuaxlandia may turn to you and say; “Duke Ruffelpumpkabottom, please regale us with a retelling of the day, you ate thirty horses in one sitting on a dare from the king of Arendelle.” Then you, as the witty and charismatic Duke that you are, will oblige and let your compatriots know just how this occurred in the most vivid of detail.

The whole purpose of this RPG is to have the most interesting story of everyone at the table. That’s right, you’re competing to be the most interesting man in the world.

I don’t always play RPGs but when I do…

Players may ask you to retell true stories that they “know” you’ve told. They may also call you out on details they remember differently. For example; competitors may wager points that you couldn’t have met Strahd Van Zarovich at said Blood Bowl match since, he was attending a wedding at the time. Then you must either; admit your mistake and pass the story telling on or, spend your own points to prove them wrong.

Players in The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen will go back and forth telling stories, interrupting others, and just adding details (now part of the narrative) that had slipped the minds of everyone. With passing points between players as its only mechanic, this game allows you to have as much fun roleplaying as you want.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins and a resounding “Huzzah!” is declared for the victor. The losers however, will all be good sports and pour a glass of the houses’ finest wine for the victor. Seriously, it’s in the rules.

2. Fiasco

Are you a fan of the movie Fargo? No? Anyway, in Fiasco you play as career criminals who aren’t so great at their jobs. You’re trying to pull off a huge caper but things don’t go smoothly. This might mean you kidnap the wrong person or, forget to plan how you’re going to divide a single priceless painting six ways.

Fiasco is a GM-less RPG where the fun comes from screwing up. There’s no min-maxing and the players don’t need to worry about their characters’ stats at all. You randomly generate attributes, relationships, items and locations. Just pool together some D6s and you’re good to go!

This RPG is fast to set up and it’s fun not having to worry about “winning”. You’re a bunch of bumbling fools trying to pull off a heist well beyond your abilities. Your characters are probably going to end up dead or worse but, you all know that going in. It’s all about trying to have as amusing an experience as possible before and while it all goes wrong. Fiasco is a little like Call of Cthulhu in this regard but, with more laughs and less going insane from things your minds can’t understand.

Trust me, bribing the GM never helps the situation.

3. Writer's Blocks

The first time I played Writer’s Blocks I had the privilege of playing it with the creator at GenCon. Now you may think that he made the session better than average, given that he knows the ins and outs of the system he created but, this game just runs amazingly well with a bunch of strangers and first timers. All you need to play are some dominoes and the book.

First, the group picks a setting. The environment can be anything from gritty film noir to epic high fantasy. Setting choice can also be determined by domino selection if you’re really strapped for ideas. Then you draw a domino for each character. One side of your characters domino represents their motivation and the other their background. Next, everyone writes down a location within the chosen environment. For instance, in a high fantasy setting you may choose someplace like; a wizards’ tower, castle, or dragons’ lair.

If you’re from Toronto though, the dominoes and the setting can be one and the same.

At GenCon, we decided on a pirate setting. Everyone drew the motivation “reluctant pirate.” Except for me, my character got “delusions of grandeur.” The game was tons of fun. My character accidentally became captain of a ship, leading to a mutiny as his incompetence could not be handled. He was technically working for the navy though, making everyone now criminals wanted for the assassination of a government official. With great reluctance, they had all become pirates.

Returning to the subject of game structure, each player has a pool of dominoes and one in front of them. If you have a domino that can attach to another players’, you can make the scene focus on their character. They can bring in other characters too but theirs will be the focus of the scene. The number of dominoes given to a player also represents when it’s time to put an end to the session. Once any player has a fifth domino attached to them it becomes the last scene of the game. If the players want to keep the session going, they must include other characters that haven’t had a lot of screen time. Alternatively if players wish to speed up the game they have a way to do that as well.

Writer’s Blocks is a great game to play when you want to focus on roleplaying rather than fiddly rules. Really the biggest hurdle I’ve had with this game is finding a set of dominos and, when that’s your biggest problem you really have nothing to complain about.

4. Schoolgirl RPG

Okay this one’s a no brainer to see if you’ll like. Did you read the title of the game? Did you giggle? If so, you’ll enjoy this. If not, just move along, nothing to see here.

The Schoolgirl RPG uses a ton of random tables to make random stuff happen to random characters. The games’ only goal is to be humorous and invoke as many anime tropes as possible. It’s the kind of wacky hijinks that only an anime fan could enjoy.

So if you’re an anime fan, you’re in luck! This game was even included in the book “Weird Little Games” (a collection of Anime themed one-shot RPGs). There’s even a game in that book where you roleplay being at an anime convention. If you want to be really meta, bring this along with you to your local con. Instead of wandering around a crowded hall trying to find your friends, you can sit in your hotel room pretending you get separated from them. …Anime fans are weird man.

Oh, I understand the title of the book now.

5. Puppetland

Puppetland is a unique game set in a land of magic and fairytales. It is the most family friendly of family friendly lands. In fact, players will spend the entire game talking like they’re in a story book. You’ll talk about your favorite candy, swim through The Lake of Milk and Cookies, and meet all sorts of funny and wonderful puppets on your journey. You’ll be doing this while trying to overthrow the evil marionette king who, has killed the maker and is wearing his still bleeding flesh as a mask. Okay, it’s a little dark.

You play as puppets that only have a child’s understanding of the world. The actual world around your characters has started to transform into something sinister and genuinely dangerous. This game is all about juxtaposing childhood wonderment with horrifying situations. Sometimes a puppets arms may have been ripped off but, it’s okay because the loose threads where they once were can now be made into a pretty bow. The aggressive optimism of the puppets only makes the dark elements of Puppetland even more unsettling.

Making a character is as easy as picking a type of puppet and adding a few things that make your puppet unique. Puppetland uses no dice. Instead, your character sheet is made up of things your puppet can and can’t do. Maybe your puppet is able to imitate the voice of anyone it hears and do card tricks, but not lie or count past three. You can pick almost any traits to make your puppet special.

Everything out of your mouth is what your puppet says. The Narrator (GM) just fills in the gaps and keeps the story moving forward letting you know what effects your actions have. Sally Gumdrops may say; “I’m going to throw this rock at you, you mean old nutcracker!” Then the narrator may respond; “As Sally tossed the rock at the nutcracker’s head, it made its’ face turn 180 degrees. A loud crack was heard and the nutcracker suddenly fell over.”

One of the strangest but most clever elements of the game is its one hour time limit. No session of Puppetland should ever go long. If the puppets haven’t solved their dilemma before time’s up, the story ends on a sad note.

Despite that, you will be grateful for the time limit. Talking as if you’re in a storybook is harder than you might think and breaking character in this game is a big no-no. Puppets don’t die in the same way PCs do in other games. Instead they simply become unable to move for the rest of the session, and don’t safely wake-up in their beds at the start of the next game. Puppetland has a few very simple rules, and to get the best possible experience I don’t encourage bending or breaking them.

Besides, roleplaying sessions wouldn’t need to be cut short if the usual GM just committed to game night as much as everyone else did. That slacker should go back to board games.

by Zoran DobrijevicZoran Dobrijevic spends far more time talking about games than he ever does playing them. Sometimes he designs them too but that has yet to end well. Zoran can usually be found roaming the floor of 401 or at home with his pants off.