Hello, my name is Aaron Feild (@turgidbolk1 on twitter if you must), here are some microgame one-shot suggestions. I’ve played all of them to good effect at cons, though I’d suggest test-driving them with a home group first if you get a chance.
“Microgame” means the rules are small enough to be printed out entirely, most can be played quickly enough that you can play again or play another microgame afterwards.
Most of these require just a few reference pages and some index cards. I assume you have a selection of dice. Usually there’s no prep needed, however the creative lift is offloaded to the players at run time. I’ll note exceptions or other requirements.
As always at cons, bring your own consent tools:
Script Change: http://briebeau.com/thoughty/script-change/
Collaborative sci-fi horror mystery generator that turns into “guess my explanation.” GM-less, everyone plays the same protagonist. You don’t even need to read through it first, but do. Plays in 2 hours tops. (Btw the protagonist will probably have strangely contradicting aspects, e.g. a man named Jennifer, a lower-class doctor, etc.; this is intentional, normalize it.)
Life On Mars
Minimalist sci-fi RPG, mechanical precursor to Fall of Magic, take turns selecting and answering simple prompts. You’re on the first crewed mission to Mars, what’s that like for you? GM-less. Sadly the physical version is out of print, so get yourself 5 nice unique tokens.
PbtA where everyone plays clones created and enslaved for one purpose. Two moves – if you are designed to do it, you do it. If you aren’t designed to do it, roll, and maybe you can do it now or maybe you never can.
Enter The Avenger
Scripted structure around freeform dialogue of the Avenger interrogating suspects and deciding whether to kill them. GM-less, sword and sorcery. Print out two copies so people can pass them around. Needs a deck of cards (but really only 6, you can make your own set from index cards). If you’re facilitating, do not play the Avenger, and start as the Narrator role.
Take turns making up fantastical sword and sorcery stories of your travels, but beware the judgment of your fellow players who represent the court of the capricious Silent Emperor. GM-less.
Otherkind, Psi*Run, Ghost/Echo style dice. You died but your brain was scanned and conscripted to fight via mechs, which damages your few remaining emotional memories. Print a copy for each player. It can help to imagine a few possible military missions/alien planets ahead of time. (One rules tweak – change the Failure under Attempt to “Player says what they’ll need from another character to succeed.”)
Editor’s note: Aaron ran this for me at the Arizona Game Fair and it is super neat! I think one more round of development would be nice. I hope Jay considers doing so!
One person plays the Agent who has just been (nearly) killed in action. The other players frame flashback scenes of their career based on card draws. Spy action/thriller genre. Needs a deck of cards.
Part of a microgame collection, although I haven’t tried the others yet. Simple dice and narrative scenes plus a little meter/xp tracking, GM-less. Snakegrinder is a Sliders-style time traveling 80s glam metal band that have to fix someone else’s problems to get home! Think Bill and Ted. Actual guitar picks preferred, but cut-outable ones are included. Strong facilitation helps.
Vast & Starlit
Simple scene-setting with narrative resolution, with a clever cliffhanger mechanic, and collaborative alien creation. GM-less. Expansions available but not necessary. Sci-fi/Space Fantasy ship of prison escapees on the run. Strong facilitation helps.
Probably the most well-known on this list. Simple dice pool-building, plus narrative Keys. Space / Steampunk Fantasy. Lady Blackbird hired a smuggling crew to help her escape an arranged marriage and meet her lover across the solar system, but you start off captured. Strong GMing required.
Weird phrase interpretation mechanic needing a novel or other tome. You play priest/esses interpreting gibberish divine speech from an oracle. PvP – each player has a hidden agenda, and interpretations are vetted by majority vote.
Borderline entries with slightly more rules and longer play time:
Narrative scene-setting with one player judging/reacting secretly to the others. A woman player plays the man Kagematsu, masterless knight, who happens upon a war-torn Japanese village with mainly women left, under (supernatural?) threat. Other players play the village women trying to convince Kagematsu to stay and defend them. Will he love or pity them, or both? Try to work your way up the ladder of affection – or jump ahead at your peril. Technically GM-less, but strong facilitation helps. (I have not tried it, but if you don’t dig the woman player restriction, there’s a KaGaymatsu hack: http://www.gentechegioca.it/smf/index.php?topic=9371.0)
Carolina Death Crawl
Role-playing card game. Special cards required, which you can buy or print yourself. GM-less. Civil war betrayers try to make it back to friendly lines from their former homeland of North Carolina. Every one will die, except perhaps one. Technically competitive, but more focused on trying to work prompts in to the narrative. Eliminated players become ghosts who may larp haunting the survivors.
So Very Many More
Looking for more? There’s a whole passel of super tiny games available from the 200 Word RPG Challenge: https://200wordrpg.github.io/