What is an RPG B-side?
Occasionally a scheduled roleplaying session does not run as planned. This can happen for many reasons. Perhaps the game has a minimum player requirement or recommendation, and not enough people have shown up. Maybe the game session was for an ongoing campaign and some critical members are not available. Perhaps the GM themself had to cancel. Maybe the game requires certain technologies or preparation that have prevented the game from running.
Regardless of the reason, and whether or not this is a face-to-face or online game, you have a group of players who were motivated to play, and are now left with… nothing? This does not need to be the case! Salvage the situation, with an RPG B-side.
An RPG B-side is a one-shot alternate game that can be run without any preparation. In the best case scenario, having one or more flexible B-side games means that you can handle situations of any group size, and you can include a GM-less game in your arsenal in case nobody is able to take on the “GM” position. This means that the session doesn't have to be cancelled or wasted, and all the motivated-to-play peoples are given what they came to do.
Where did the term come from?
Well, sit down young’uns and remember a time when music came on large fancy vinyl discs called “records”. The term “A-side” and “B-side” referred to the front and back side of records. When a famous artist released a hit track on a record single as an A-side, very often the back side had tracks that were rare, sometimes even unavailable, on the full albums… the B-sides.
(Editor's note: The specific use of the term "B-side" being referenced in this article was created by Jason Cordova right here.)
Preparing for running B-sides
Being able to run an alternate RPG at the drop of a hat sounds great, and simple. However the degree of simplicity in doing so depends heavily on the RPG itself. It could be as simple as having a one-shot adventure with pre-generated characters ready to go, for whatever system you all already are playing in. However, for maximum flexibility, having a set of alternate games means you can handle different sets of players, game tones, and moods.
Having RPG B-sides ready to go may require some prior setup. Carrying them along in a “Games on Demand” style folder or bag means that you already have the rules, or often a cheat sheet of those rules, as well as any character sheets or other related tools such as index cards, playing cards, dice, and so on. This is no different in online games, where some games require character keepers or the use of other online tools such as white boards and online dice rollers.
We posed this question of some Gauntleteers and got a wide variety of answers. Here are a few:
Anyone who has heard me in the last few months knows that For the Queen is my new jam. I will play that in a heartbeat, because it's easy, requires no prep at all and just glides into play mode. In fact, I've already used it twice in the Gauntlet as B-sides (a cancelled GauntletCon game and a postponed pickup game), so I know it works through experience! -Tomer Gurantz, Keeper of the Squamous Beast Below
For me, my go to is Fall of Magic. I can spin up a Roll20 instance in like 5 minutes. It requires ZERO prep, so the time it takes to get the Roll20 up and everyone to join, I can be in a place to facilitate it. It's not a game for everyone, as it puts a lot on every player to improv on the spot and spout some self-indulgent fantasy bullshit... but for those who like that stuff, it's great. -Yoshi
So the pick up games that I like off the top of my head are duet games. I had a great time doing a pick up of Our Mundane Supernatural Life with Vee during GauntletCon. I think Strange Birds by Lauren McManamon and Kyle Thompson (currently in beta) would also work, and probably a lot of the short duet games from the new You & I: Roleplaying Games for Two collection, like Connection Lost. Actually I think that Mission! Accomplished by Jeff Stormer would also be a great pick up game, especially if you have one of the premade scenarios. Super fun and super easy. -Noella
Cheat Your Own Adventure (easy to run on the spot, works for most numbers, fun). -Jason
For me B-side usually = maximum self-indulgence and not too many mechanics (hence Fall of Magic is a popular choice ha ha). However I think anything that is designed to play out in a single session is a pretty great B-side. Outside the vast mountain of duets that are great B-sides, there's Swords Without Master, The King is Dead, and to be super self-indulgent there's a couple of our games I tend to use as B-sides as well as they are single session experiences. -Hayley
B-sides for me needs to be a one-shot that is no prep, easy to get playing, and importantly, something I remember how to play. With my goldfish memory, I usually have space for only two or maximum three B-sides in my mind at a time, which I cycle through in the year. Current B-sides I am ready to run are Warrior Poet, Swords Without Master, and Our Mundane Supernatural Life. -Vee
If I'm not too disappointed to be able to run something alternative immediately, I prefer games with a very short run time, so it's easier to convince the players to indulge in a one-hour game than a full session of something they hadn't expected to play that night. When I offer to facilitate, my B-sides are 2-5 players, < 1 hour, no prior knowledge / prep necessary, and on the not-so-serious side of gaming: Cheat Your Own Adventure (starting at difficulty 6), my own Tuk Fast Tuk Furious, my hack of Happy Birthday, Robot called Happy Birthday Mr President, and Society of Vegan Sorcerers by Wendy Gorman (found in Codex - Yellow), which can be played as a laog (live action online game, or digital larp). -Gerrit, Keeper of the Voice of the Silent Emperor
The Final Girl! Fast to the table, and I’ve never not had a good time playing it. Plus, I usually have at least one person who hadn’t played it before. And who doesn’t like learning a new game that is so easy and so fun? -David LaFreniere
I love Warrior Poet it's so good and melodramatic and yo people write some good poems when you play that game! My go-to is either Microscope or Star-Crossed. Nice and zero prep. -Agatha
I think any game you have a lot of experience running can be a B-side. For me it would be Swords Without Master, The Final Girl, or Cheat Your Own Adventure. An OSR game or a PbtA game could be a B-side as long as the GM has the experience to set it up to run quickly. -Patrick
Monstegur 1244, Leverage, Dusk City Outlaws, Don't Rest Your Head. -Mikel Matthews
I love Forsooth! Setting and PC are made in a few minutes, if you already know it as GM. Everyone has a rough idea of the settings. Almost no rules. -Marco
My B-side used to be Fiasco or Cathulhu but recently it became Cheat Your Own Adventure. -Ludovico
I’ve never had not enough players with The Gauntlet, but in face-to-face I have a strong tolerance and will run the scheduled game even if I’m down to two other players. For 2-player games, I pack a Murderous Ghosts or S/lay w/me, just in case. -Donogh McCarthy, Keeper of the Nine Dread Names
My go to's usually are Cheat Your Own Adventure, Lovecraftesque, and Murderous Ghosts. (Could probably swing a Cthulhu Dark scenario too.) But... I got to play For the Queen this morning... I totally understand Tomes' fervor over it and I think that will likely become my main go-to, once I get a copy. -Shane
Not having a B-side is OK too!
When asked about B-sides, Jim Crocker gave the following response: I don’t have any, and won’t. If we don’t get enough people to play, I cancel. When I’ve spent 4-8 weeks prepping mentally to run an instance of my planned game, I don’t really have the capacity to switch gears. I admire people who can do it, but last-minute cancellations really kneecap me emotionally.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and recognizing what you can and can’t offer is a hallmark of a great person and great game facilitator!
What about you?
What are your RPG B-sides? Let us know in the comments below!