What RPG system/game should I use for my one-shot?

Reading about so many of your campaigns here has me wondering if now is a good moment to try and get a game running again.

I’ve got ideas… but I don’t like to freestyle it completely. So I’m looking for a system that’s not too complicated and doesn’t bring its own setting. Something that I can start from a single book without needing additional handbooks… most of my ideas tend to alternate earth settings either as near future SF or something along the lines of urban fantasy. So it should be suited to that.

As I haven’t bought new RPGs in a while, I really have no idea what’s out there these days…


There are a lot of systems that might be the perfect system for you. But there’s a great deal of variation and it would help to know very roughly what you’re looking for.

In a very broad sense, if two people have a fight in this game, who do you think should win? (Split answers are absolutely fine.)

  • The one with better combat ability and higher-quality weapons
  • The one whose player does a better job of working the game mechanics and rolling dice
  • The one who’s fighting harder because their opponent is the man who killed their father

(For those who recognise the simulationist-gamer-narrativist split, yes, but I’m absolutely not a purist in any of these. I’m just trying to identify which region of RPGspace yashima should be looking in.)


I haven’t kept up with new RPGs for a while. I’ve used three multigenre systems for more than one campaign: Big Eyes Small Mouth, FUDGE, and GURPS. They have different root metaphors: In BESM your character is a visually imagined/represented figure, in FUDGE they’re a character in a narrative, and in GURPS they’re a real person in the real universe. This gives rise to different styles of play.

If you want a fairly simple system, FUDGE has a lot to recommend it; in fact it’s more or less a skeleton for assembling your own system. I’ve used it for a covert supers campaign inspired by Planetary and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and also for a Discworld campaign. It will take you closer to freestyle than the other two while still providing a structure. And it’s still contained in a single book. The other two are more complex, and GURPS, in particular, takes quite a while for character creation.


As it’s just for a one shot, why not just reskin a system you are already familiar with? What do you know well already and are comfortable running? Might be a shorter process to do that than to learn a new system - for both you and your players?

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Yes, I agree and no, not really an option :slight_smile: At this point in time the only system I am “familiar” with is the one I played 17 years of fantasy campaign with and that one is bound quite tightly with its setting… also the rules for it are one reason the campaign ended. Especially the combat rules started to turn into a simulation where we had to start playing with minis to be able to run a combat… -.- every attempt at simplification failed.

All other games I’ve played over the years are too far in the past to be considered. Possibly I could try and generify the D10 system my old White Wolf games use (V:tM, M:tA and Exalted are still on my shelves after last year’s purge). But they come with a lot of baggage both mental and setting-wise.
While I loved the world, I was never quite happy with the rules Unknown Armies (2nd was my last) provided. I feel like it would be easier to learn a new game without the baggage of my existing ones.

Good question that.

Now that you asked it, I can see why I didn’t agree with our fantasy game in the final years because it became too much of a “who does the best job with the mechanics” thing.

Both the others seem fine to me. I say I’d have a tendency to want to have the guy who is fighting hardest to win but I’d say that as someone who hasn’t run a game in a while it would probably be easier to have a game that mostly values better ability or equipment.

I’ve never been a GM with lot of combat encounters. But if it comes to combat it needs to be something I can handle on the fly and yet with style (favorite combat systems that come to mind from my past are Exalted & Feng Shui because… stunts)

If “real person in real universe” means the game simulates a lot of moving parts that’s a no go. I’ve had that and don’t care to repeat it. I want to tell stories not simulate combat. Ideally, I also want something that doesn’t take too long for character creation…

FUDGE sounds like something I might take a look at (I googled a bit :slight_smile: )

PS: Out of curiosity, I’ve always had a visual in my mind for every character I’ve ever created both as player and GM, what is this different with BESM?

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OK, some options in no particular order for systems I know that aren’t tied to particular settings. My opinions noted but there are people who will disagree with any of them so don’t assume they’re valid-for-you.

I know nothing about availability in languages other than English.

  • Savage Worlds. Intended for cinematic pulpy action across multiple genres. I find it bogs down easily.
  • Genesys. Even though it’s FFG, I rather like it, again for cinematic action. But it does really need the special dice, unless everyone rolls on their phones, and right now you can’t buy the rules in hardcopy.
  • GURPS. My go-to system because it will do anything, but may be more complexity than you want.
  • FATE. A development of FUDGE that’s less of a construction kit and more of an actual (albeit generic) system. I find it pushes me out of character play and into “what would be an appropriate thing to happen at this point” but others disgree.
  • QAGS (Quick Ass Game System). @BigJackBrass can tell you more but it’s a good basic “I’m better at this sort of thing than you, you’re better at that sort of thing than me” system that won’t get in the way of role-playing.

I specifically recommended FUDGE, and not FATE, because FATE has too much of that effect for me. In fact, after I read an early version of FATE, I tried my usual test process of coming up with a character or two to see how the system worked, and I found my imagination completely paralyzed.


Years ago, I bought a FATE core rulebook as the “one system” I would use for everything. It’s generic enough. It’s not great, but I found that for players that want a story heavy game, it stayed out of the way. That said, it has built-in bias for how a gamemaster is supposed to run a game that doesn’t agree with me… so I just ignore those bits.

The end result: if people who love and embrace FATE tried to play in my game, they would probably be disappointed. Everybody else would probably have a good, story-rich, rules-lite time.


Well, I should say to start that I’m not very visual at all. I mean, for example, I read about people who describe their characters as looking like some actor, but that doesn’t work for me: I know very few actors, I don’t remember what they look like very well, and I don’t attach any emotional significance or sense of character to their looks.

But what I mean by saying that visual imagery is the root metaphor isn’t just “you have a picture of what the character looks like.” Rather, it’s “if you can picture the character doing X, then the rules provide a way to do X, and how the rules work reflects how X would be pictured.” It’s an anime game, and in anime, we believe that something happens because we are shown a picture of it happening (in Girls und Panzer, for example, we’re shown tanks performing all sorts of amazing maneuvers, as if they were cinematic martial artists), and the game mechanics is very good at giving you a picture of what happens. At the same time, while it does have things like attack ranges, they aren’t defined with the fussy precision that you find in the physics-based GURPS; they’re much broader bands that you could distinguish visually without needing to measure them. So the rules precision doesn’t go beyond what you’d get in an animated video.

I’ve used BESM three times: Once for a campaign set in Middle-Earth, once for a campaign set on Barrayar, and once for a campaign set in an original world where all the characters were inhabitants of a large isolated castle surrounded by wilderness. So it can be used for a broader range of things than anime. (The animistic treatment of the supernatural in its rules, perhaps ultimately derived from Shinto, was a surprisingly good fit to Tolkien.) But you’re more likely to find the rules accessible if you’re familiar with anime tropes, which I wasn’t sure of in your case. And its mechanics are somewhat less freeform and simple than FUDGE’s.


A very handy feature of QAGS is that you can get a nicely usable quick start version, along with all of the first edition PDFs and the complete game M-Force as completely free downloads from the Hexgames website. . The presentation is silly (instead of hero points you use “Yum-yums” which are sweets: you can eat them, but tough luck if you need to spend them later) but it’s perfectly capable of running serious games.

QAGS has a spot on the character sheet for WWPTITM: “Who would play them in the movie?”

I can also recommend Risus which is free and has some fantastic adventures and supplements available.


I hadn’t role-played for some time and the system that I decided to start again with was:

Fair warning, it’s a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ game which is a different way of playing from your traditional systems. Some people dislike this family of game and it does take a bit of getting used to but I think it’s kind of neat. It give you that ‘rules light/story rich’ mix mentioned by @pillbox above, with lots of player involvement (one of the oddities here is that the GM never roles dice, that’s all with the players).

As the name suggests MotW is aimed at duplicating an episode of X-Files, Supernatural, Fringe, Buffy etc so an alternative Earth, near future or Urban Fantasy setting are all easily achievable. It comes as one book which isn’t that expensive and is well suited to doing a one shot.

One thing that I would suggest is that when you have your short list of possible systems you have a look for an actual play podcast in that system. Hearing people playing the game will give you a much better idea if it’s what your after. For MotW I suggest episode one of The Critshow:


That! :smiley:

Yeah, not so much. I like what anime I’ve seen but those are few and my familiarity with tropes is surely lacking…

I like that :slight_smile:

That is a really great idea :slight_smile: Will definitely do that.

Thanks also to everyone who gave me systems to look at and ideas to consider. I’ll be looking at all of it to figure out what gives me the best chances to get a game up and running. I’ll let you know how it goes though it may take some time.


Whartson Hall can offer you actual-play of GURPS (search for both GURPS and Reign of Steel), Genesys (Fallout and Firefly), and QAGS.

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I’ve used GURPS for a plurality of my campaigns in the decades since I stopped trying to write my own RPG rules (14/37). And I certainly agree about its flexibility; I’ve done everything from 14-year-old medieval college students built on 75 points to an international superhero team built on 1600 points. But I do have to say that whatever it does, it does in a GURPS style, and sometimes I want other styles. I’m not thinking purely of complexity, though I do find that it takes as long to design one NPC for GURPS as to define three or four NPC for Big Eyes Small Mouth; I’m also thinking of the high level of physical realism in GURPS, for example, and of its expression in terms of measurement.


For generic systems, I like Fate Accelerated (AKA Turbo Fate) (also, free). Rule light enough to be explained for a short one shot, but definitely geared toward action heavy stories.

For something a bit different I think that Uncanny Echo might fit the bill for you. It’s not a generic system, but a series of 10 ultralight PbtA games (following on what @Name1ess said above) with a supernatural, modern urban fantasy vibe, each one meant to be a one shot. I played six of them in what used to be my weekly one shot night before the quarantine, with different players, in a loosely linked series (some themes and side characters coming back, but every game self contained), and liked them quite a bit. Have a look at it, maybe.


It might be worth looking at what other Powered by the Apocalypse games are out there: http://apocalypse-world.com/pbta/

Rather than starting with something completely generic, it’s likely someone’s put together something that would work for your game and could save you a lot of time (especially just for a one-shot).

Just looking at my stack of RPGs, I’ve got PbtA games that cover magical girls, teen superheroes, Scottish folklore, Alice in Wonderland-esque adventures, and whatever genre you’d assign Blades in the Dark to.

Or just go with Honey Heist.


I never ended up playing a game in it, but had a friend that was going to run a Runaways-inspired game using the Lightweight Role Playing Game and the system seemed interesting, if super, well, light-weight.

I have run a couple of sessions using the Cortex system and it wasn’t bad.

It’s been a long time since I’ve really looked at either, though.


So, just an update. I ended up getting a few ebooks for different systems:

  • Genesys
  • Monster of the Week
  • A couple of books for Fate because they were cheap/free
  • QAGS - free-ish

Since the dice thing in Genesys looked fascinating I started reading that one first, but then I went to my FLAGs and found a paper copy of Monster of the Week and I’ve almost worked through the book and more importantly, I’ve gathered 3 players (possibly a fourth but with so little time on his hands, he’ll need some convincing to even make a guest character) for a shortish campaign with a handful of episodes.

It’s been a while and also I’ve never GMed a completely remote campaign (we did finish my Unknown Armies campaign by mail way back when).

So if you have the time and could give me some pointers, I’d be happy.

I have a Jitsi server and everyone already owns TTS and I’ve found a TTS mod with a table, dice and playbooks. I’ve made a tiddlywiki to keep track of everything that might need keeping track of.

Are there any pitfalls with remote playing that I should be aware of?

I plan to have 1 separate session to create the characters/party because I don’t want to rush them through that part. I have a first monster or two in mind but I have yet to figure out the setting. I’ve mulled over pulling this into the realm of SF but decided against it. Currently debating using my hometown (yet again), some place I’ve travelled to or an anonymous village/town that I invent from scratch. As of now I have no idea what kind of group the players will choose, as they were all Buffy fans back in the day I can imagine something like that happening.

Any pointers for MotW itself? Typical GM mistakes? Rules-misunderstandings? Overlooked rules? Do I need to memorize all the DM moves?


This thread may well be relevant.

The biggest change for me was that if multiple people are speaking nobody can hear anyone else, so I have to get into the habit of backing off if I find myself talking over another player.

Not tried TTS for RPGs, but I suspect saving often is a good idea.

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The Adventure Zone was quite a good (or at least I thought it was) playcast of Monster of the Week. And if you fancy listening to the other systems they did, I highly recommend the D&D campaign they started with.