So right now, Into the Odd has my attention. This game has a super light rules framework inspired by older versions of D&D (even lighter than you probably think) that also lends itself well to episodic play. Each session consists of a self-contained “expedition” to recover strange magical devices called Arcana. The author, Chris McDowall, has made a free version of the rules available without some of the additional advice on running games or the sample adventure and random tables. It contains everything the players need, in other words.
Bastionland, the default setting, is sort of a weird steampunk-y city that sits on top of a vast labyrinth of catacombs and dungeons. The city itself has mobs seeking vengeance upon otherworldly aberrations while Lovecraftian cults carry out their own machinations and schemes. Players delve into this labyrinth to find magical and mundane treasures; with the items they recover, they may become significant personages in the city running mercenary companies or other profit-making enterprises. Of course, the GM (“Referee”) is free to create their own setting, and in fact so little detail is given on Bastion that they mostly will anyway. Apparently a setting book called “Electric Bastionland” is in the works and is currently being developed at the author’s blog.
Character creation is ridiculously simple and reminds me of Microlite: roll 3d6 three times for your ability scores, roll another d6 for “hit points” (which don’t quite work the way HP does in most other games), and then check a table based on your highest ability score and your HP for equipment and other skills. This last bit sort of evens things out: if you have no good ability scores and low HP, you’re likely to get some awesome stuff to compensate. If your dice favored you with super high abilities, though, you won’t get much and might even get a minor drawback or two.
Playing the game is equally simple: to succeed at a task, you need to roll a d20 lower than the relevant ability score. Attacks always succeed, so damage comes off HP first and then starts reducing strength. When that hits zero, it starts coming off your Strength ability score and you have to roll saves to avoid unconsciousness, at which point somebody needs to save you within an hour or so.
This game reminds me of Dungeon World in the sense that, while it owes much of its sensibilities and inspiration to the oldest versions of Dungeons and Dragons, it focuses on the narrative that emerges from collaborative play. Don’t worry about system mastery very much; instead, worry about imagination and creativity and teamwork. In fact, the “monster statblock” (insofar as this game even has one) basically evolved from a simplified version of the one DW uses: a handful of relevant stats, plus a quick list of moves. If you imagine a Venn diagram with two circles labeled “OSR” and “Story Games”, both ItO and DW sit in the slim overlap region.
I think it would work well as an open table sort of thing among a community of players, when I’m bored on Saturday night and looking for some folks who want to play. The game does require, however, that the players buy into the specific premise and be willing to fill in around the mechanics with their own free-form roleplay.