(This is a draft quickly pasted from Obsidian, and just a little out of date. Will edit and update soon!)
Lady Blackbird is always a good go-to intro for new players. It’s free, and it comes with pregens and a kicker! Super character-driven, really open and exciting, basically steampunk Firefly/Star Wars: http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/
Fiasco is a fun, light GMless game four 3–5 (but really, 4) people that can get out of hand pretty fast, so if you’re into chaos and very few rules: https://bullypulpitgames.com/games/fiasco/ (I haven’t played the new version with cards, but I hear good things.
If you want a cozy horror mystery, I absolutely love Brindlewood Bay. You play retired women in a coastal New England town solving mysteries, and maybe a supernatural conspiracy. Think Murder She Wrote meets Lovecraft:
If they’re into supers, Masks is by far my favorite superhero game. It’s PBtA, and you can knock out characters in half an hour or so — building relationships with the other characters is core to the game, so everyone has to make them together. It’s also great for mixed powers — it doesn’t matter if hawkeye is fighting alongside Thor, because there’s no hit points or anything, but everyone can get mad or sad when they get punched. :smile:
Also from the same publisher is Pasión de las Pasiones — you don’t have to be super into Télenovelas to have an awesome time with it, but it doesn’t hurt. Great for a super over the top one-shot, but I’ve also run months-long campaigns with it, and it rules the whole time.
If they want some straight up dungeon murder, depending on how murdery they want it, I’d recommend Old School Essentials (a pretty faithful recreation of 1st ed AD&D), The Black Hack (fast and light, very evocative modern dungeon-y game), or Mörk Borg (if you want to go full Black Metal and gore and doom).
If they want something lighter, there’s Mausritter if you want to play cute and cozy adventuring mice, or Troika if you got into a bad batch of mushrooms and need a game to come up and meet you. And for the metalest of the metal, Metal Queens ov Skull Mountain will rock you all the way.
Or if they want to play Lord of the Rings, Fellowship is the absolute best thing I’ve seen to get that kind of story, but if they just want to be Hobbits, try Under Hill By Water.
If sci-fi is more to your liking, we’ve got everything from old-school style space horror (Mothership) to community building on a wild space station (Orbital) . Nova is a pretty sweet translation of Destiny to tabletop, and Lancer is the absolute crunchiest and fun mech combat game I’ve seen, but I haven’t played either of those yet!
But if they want to lean into the horror, I’m a huge fan of the classic Cthulhu Dark (free, very few rules, but takes a lot of agility from the GM), but these days, I’m 1000% more into Trophy Dark, which follows desperate treasure hunters into the forest where… bad things happen. Most people don’t make it out. (Trophy Gold is the more adventure-y version, which is also great.)
Bluebeard’s Bride is also a special kind of horror, and might not be for everyone, but it’s pretty amazing if you’re into it.
And on the cyberpunk side, I think the best one-shot you can do is CBR+PNK, a garish four-page game that’s specifically designed to get you in and out in one session. But if you want to camp it up a bit, Boy Problems is AMAZING — you’re on a heist mission to steal the secret recording archives of Carly Rae Jepsen. AMAZING.
I’m also partial to The King is Dead, Mobile Frame Zero: Firebrands, Stewpot, and Once More Into the Void. They all use the same framework, but they’re all wildly different, from space adventure to game of thrones-y intrigue to dueling mecha to retired adventurers running a tavern together. They’re all definitely one-shottable, but even better with some breathing room.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t plug my own games. The Empire Never Ended is a super fun drug-and-paranoia fueled scifi trip, but there’s something in there for everyone. (And if there’s not, I’ll get to them soon. :smile: )
Oooookay, that’s the short list! I’m happy to answer any questions, run a demo game, talk through rules or running advice, or recommend something else if you like something here, but want something a little different. I am your RPG sommelier!