I flipped through the Savage Worlds RPG while I was at my local gaming store yesterday, and was interested to see that Savage Worlds bills itself as requiring very little prep, and shifts the traditional GM/player roles a little bit. This got me to thinking about prep-light RPGs in general.

What prep-light systems are out there, and what makes them prep-light?

I see prep-light RPGs as falling into three categories:

Beer and Pretzels RPGs

Beer and pretzels games like Toon, Og: The Caveman Roleplaying Game and kill puppies for satan are designed from the ground up to require little to no prep, and they don’t really benefit from extra prep. I’ve run both Toon and Og with close to zero prep, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do more prep than I did.

These games don’t have a whole lot in the way of sourcebooks or complex rules, and they leave a lot of things up to GM fiat. They’re also funny, and often designed to be played as one-shots or diversions from your regular weekly game.

Short-Play Indie RPGs

Indie RPGs like Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures are designed with fairly specific play cycles in mind (for example, PTA specifies how many sessions each show will include) — and they shift GM/player roles around quite a bit. They also tend to have very tight themes, and they don’t take a kitchen sink approach to mechanics (there aren’t a whole lot of rules to learn).

I’ve read (and read about) these kinds of RPGs, but never played them. I think my conclusions are reasonable, but if I’m way off on my assumptions please call me out on it.

Long-Play Traditional RPGs

Games like D&D, GURPS and the various World of Darkness titles are geared towards relatively long-term play. That can mean decades-long campaigns with the same characters (the old school D&D approach), shorter arcs that last for 12-18 months or anything in between, but the end result is pretty open-ended.

These RPGs tend to to have rules for most situations that come up during play (lengthy combat sections, for example), and they’re built to support a variety of play styles and goals. Prepping for — and running — these kinds of RPGs is the topic of a lot of GMing advice, and has been for many years. (On TT, see: I’d Rather Rake Leaves than Do Prep, More Fun, Less Work, Speeding Up Item Management and Start Small.)

The Questions

For the first two categories, beer and pretzels and short-play indie RPGs, do you agree with my take on why those games are generally prep-light? And what factors that I didn’t cover play into that?

For the last category, long-play traditional RPGs, are there any games that fit this definition that aren’t heavy on prep? If so, what makes them different from the ones that are heavy on prep?

And lastly, how can the third category be made more like the first two without losing sight of the open-ended, long-play aspect (drifted, in other words)?