Hidden gems

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com


Legendary Pubber
Nov 19, 2020
Reaction score
Gems are TINY, with fewer than 20 pages and no reliance on micro font sizes.

Gems are SHINY, memorably reflecting or refracting light just so.

Gems are SOLID, with substantial presence independent of the reader.

Gems are COMPLETE with no more setting or system needed.

Gems inspire GREED, and yet, there likely is and will be nothing more.

HIDDEN means present, but not necessarily obvious (popular or promoted).

Examples I might suggest:
Fleshscape: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/205832/Fleshscape
To Rat: https://juliasgoodusername.itch.io/to-rat

Anyone have other suggestions?
with a barely stretched version of TINY (where I interpret it as 500 words per page, so 10k words or less) and stripping out the adventure that is in the core book, I'll throw in Black Seven. A tiny little stealth based game using 2d6+modifier. the font is also rather large, so easy on the eyes.

BLACK SEVEN takes most of its influence from stealth action games, and games that have learned from the stealth-action genre. Many are part of a series, and unless otherwise noted all games in the series are worth checking out.

Core Inspiration
  • Deus Ex
  • Alpha Protocol
  • Thief
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Splinter Cell
Additional Gaming
  • Hitman (Silent Assassin/Blood Money)
  • Rainbow Six
  • Tenchu: Stealth Assassin
  • No One Lives Forever
  • System Shock
  • Mass Effect
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Dishonored

It has an example of play

Example of Play

Agent Blackbird (ex-soldier turned assassin, played by Beth) and Agent Grimlock (infiltration and explosives expert, played by Penny) must break in to a U.S. Army computing Facility and inject a virus into the supercomputer. Control (played by Andy) sets the scene

Andy: Your helicopter stays well out of radar range, so as not to raise any suspicions. That does mean you have to glide to the top of the skyscraper by wing-suit.

Penny: Aw! Grim hates gliding.

Beth: Well she didn’t have any better ideas.

Penny: True. Right. I’m going to disable the door to get us in.

[Since this is part of the setup for the Facility, rather than an area, Andy doesn’t call for any kind of roll.]

Beth: While Grim’s busy, Agent Blackbird unzips the bag she’s been carrying. She bolts together the Skyhook launcher, and secures it to the floor with a large caulking gun.

Penny: I’m glad Grim doesn’t know how she’s getting out yet. Eh. Blackbird’s got a plan, she won’t like it, but knowing Blackie she’ll live through it.

Andy: The Skyhook kit snaps together easily, and you’ve got it securely anchored to the pad. Meanwhile, Grim’s got the door open. It’s got a basic alarm, but nothing too complex. If they expected a rooftop infiltration, people would be shooting at you right now.

Penny: We slip inside and head to the data centre.

[The data centre is the only area in the Facility, and has the Same Team and Third Party features. Andy checks the Facility record and notes that it’s got six guards and three researchers. The guards are fair game, but if any of the researchers die then the operation’s a wash—just a pity they’re happy to shoot back. The area also has two Static Targets, one a set of documents explaining what’s really going on, the other a computer terminal with video of unsavoury experiments.

[At this stage, Andy doesn’t need to know where they are. It takes two positioning actions to get to a Static Target, so when Beth or Penny suggest that they’re looking for something, they’ll need to take two actions. At that point, he can add the targets easily.]

Andy: Okay. This is the computing centre. A bunch of labs with glass walls ring a central area with a heavily-cooled supercomputer. You’ve made it as far as one of the labs. You can see guards patrolling, close to the computer, and some more scattered through the labs, maybe half a dozen. You’ve also got three lab-coated researchers working at terminals hooked directly to the core. The lights in the labs are off, so you’ve got lots of shadows.

[As it’s an area, Penny and Beth take turns. Blackbird and Grimlock get one action per turn, with Control reflecting any changes in the situation after each has acted.]

Penny: We probably need to get to one of those terminals to sabotage the cluster.

Beth: Preferably without people shooting us.

Andy: You’ve got one guard stood in the doorway to this lab, facing out. His body language is bored. There’s another door to the other side, through to the other lab. That one’s not guarded. Only a few of the labs have doors to the central area. They don’t know anyone’s here, so Threat is 3.

Penny: I’ll creep over to the guard, keeping a desk between me and him. She rolls two dice, and gets 8. Added to her Sneak of 4, that’s a 12—a success. He doesn’t know I’m there, he’s got his gun slung but his hands are nowhere near it because he’s stretching.

Beth: I’m going to head through to the next lab, I’m looking for some evidence of what’s going on here. I’ll pick the lock. She rolls a 12. Easy!

Andy: Beth, the door swings open quietly. One of the guards patrolling the centre rounds the corner, his torch shines through the window, but he doesn’t notice the open door. The computer in this lab is still powered up, but it’s at the other side of the lab and right next to the window into the core. Penny, your action.

Penny: I grab the guard from behind, pull him back, and apply a sleeper hold. She rolls 7, and adds her Ambush of 5. Twelve. Okay. He struggles a bit, but a swift kick to the back of the knee sends him falling down, and he’s out before he hits the ground. I hide him behind the wall, just in case anyone comes looking.

Beth: I keep low and make my way over to the computer. She rolls 11. The dice love me. I’m flat against the lower part of the lab wall, nobody can see me as I sidle over to the computer.

Andy: Sounds good. Penny, Agent Blackbird can see the next lab. It’s a long clean-room type affair with a door to the central area and a guard just outside the door. He sticks his head in and mutters “Lazy asshole” under his breath when he sees the other guard isn’t there.

Penny: Can I shoot him?

Andy: It’d be a Snipe action, unless you’re talking about walking out bold as brass and taking some hits. Unless you get behind some real cover, you’re also going to be Exposed.

Penny: Shit. Oh well, it only matters when people start shooting. I take the radio from the guard I downed and call in “Power’s out downstairs. Can you get my back.”

Andy: Going for a Scare, or Manipulate?

Penny: I’ll make it a Scare. Gets rid of the guard and opens things up. She rolls 11. He shakes his head, and takes off through the lab we were just in. Fortunately, he’s too pissed off about being called away to notice the crumpled body in the shadows. Penny marks the Exposed checkbox on Blackbird’s sheet.

Beth: I’m going to see if there’s anything incriminating on this computer. I plug my palmtop in. Rather than dictating whether she needs to beat the encryption, Beth rolls Retrieve early in her description to help her frame what happens. The dice come up a pair of twos. Ah, shit. It’s encrypted, so I can clone the drive, but I can’t get any data off it.

Andy: It’s Threat 3, so you might not be Noticed. Plugging in your palmtop made the screen power on and it’s like someone just hit a lightbulb. How do you Infiltrate your way out of that one?

[Rolls required by Threat are all part of the same action.]

Beth: I yank the monitor’s power cable. That good enough for a Crack roll?

Andy: Sure!

Beth: Rolls a 5. Right. That didn’t work. I guess it was another power cable.

Andy: One of the guards sees the light and gestures to the others. They’re closing in. You’re Noticed and that means the Threat is now 4.

Penny: How many guards are left?

Andy: Four. They’re moving towards a lab where a light’s just come on.

Penny: I comm Grimlock. “Think you can get them off your case?”

Beth: “I could, but it’s a good distraction for you. Plan B.”

Penny: I’m already Exposed, but nobody’s noticed me yet. So I’m going to dart through the lab and ninja two of those guards with my knives. She rolls 9, adds her Fight of 6 for 15. Done and done. Two of the guards collapse in pools of blood.

Andy: And now you’re Noticed.

Penny: It was worth it.

Beth: Threat’s not going to increase until after my action, right?

Andy: Right, the Threat doesn’t go up until Control’s next action.

Beth: Good. While they’re distracted by Agent Blackbird showing up, I’m going to punch out the window and drop a shock trap right next to the feet of the nearest one. She rolls 8 and adds her Trap of 5. Got him!

Andy: He takes one step backwards under Blackbird’s assault, and gets a plentiful helping of electricity for his trouble. You’ve got one guard left, but the researchers have Noticed you too and they’ve got sidearms. Threat is now 5. They saw Grimlock first, but Blackbird’s the obvious threat. He rolls one die for the soldier, and three more for the researchers. They come up 4,5,6,6.

Sorry, Penny. Blackbird’s Exposed, so she takes four Hits, and that means two Conditions.

Penny: I’ll use the Reinforced Ceramic Plates that I brought, so that four doesn’t hurt. Three still gives me a Condition, though. I’ll go for Dazed.

Andy: Right enough.

Penny: I’m going to keep running and go ninja on two of the researchers. Got to remember to be non-lethal. She rolls 12. They crumple like cheap sheets.

Beth: I hurl a gas bomb between the other researcher and the guard, hoping to catch both of them. Her dice show 7, just enough to succeed. They collapse as well.

Andy: You’re all alone on the floor, so it’s no longer a case for Threat.

Penny: Right. Time to inject the virus into this crate.

Beth: I’ll handle that. You see if you can find anything else.

[Without opposition, Penny doesn’t need to worry about positioning actions to get to a Static Target.]

Andy: Okay. Penny, make a Sneak roll. Beth, give me a Retrieve roll to

inject the virus. This is your goal, so you’ve got a -2 modifier.

Penny: Nine, plus a sneak of four is a success.

Andy: Looks like one of the researchers was going to take some of his work home. You find a cache of documents branded “Beyond Top Secret” in a folder taped to the underside of a desk.

Beth: Seven and a Retrieve of six is thirteen. Even with the modifier it’s a success.

Andy: The progress bar for the viral load ticks slowly to the right. Once it’s done, you can yank the flash drive and leave. You’ve beat this Milestone, and it’s time to bug out.

Penny: Say, did Blackbird ever tell Grim how they’re getting out?

Beth: Grimlock’s going to stick a shock trap in her bed if she keeps making him hang in mid-air.
One Shot World, by the same author as Cairn (which also clocks in a 20 page, but I wouldn't classify as hidden.) Dungeon World, stripped down of some of the D&D baggage and made super easy to bring to the table for a few hours of fun.

Yesterday's Tomorrow barely counts if you drop the 3 pages of optional magic. Quick cyberpunk game, another good choice for a last-minute game night.

Overall, pretty tough challenge. Options open up immensely once you move up to the 40-50 page range.
Drive10 by The Chaos Grenade (who also did Osprey's recent Sigils & Shadows RPG) qualifies as a hidden gem. I'm the only person I've ever seen mention it anywhere outside of Chaos Grenade's own blog.

What is it? It's a cheap (as in "name your price"), simple, 6 page system that is very generic but also very easy to hack into whatever you want. To support this there are several very useful, and very free, toolkit articles on their blog. It can basically be played "as is" if you have players who are confident (and trustworthy) enough to create their own Boosts, Edges, etc that will suit the setting you're running. It's presented as very freeform but structured. It's a bit like Fate Core's Stunts in that regard. You could also, as GM, create a list of pre-made options in order to help less confident players or to capture a particular feel.

It's fairly traditional in it's rules. It boils down to D10+Stat+Vocation+bonuses vs Target Number.

You can get the game on itch.io: https://chaosgrenade.itch.io/drive10
and, you can find the free toolkits here: https://chaosgrenade.com/tagged/drive10
Banner: The best cosmic horror & Cthulhu Mythos @ DriveThruRPG.com