Dungeons & Dragons has grown massively in popularity over the past few years, shining a light on the tabletop RPG form of gaming, but with that popularity comes a tendency for other TTRPGs to sometimes become overlooked.
Whether players are looking for a change of pace, to branch out from D&D for the first time, or to find a system and game that more accurately reflects the kinds of story they want to take part in, there are plenty of tabletop RPGs out there that offer players something unique.
Blades In The Dark
Blades in the Dark is a Gothic, urban fantasy game, with the detailed city of Doskvol as its base setting, a place roaming with ghosts in its perpetual night. Players of the game are members of one of many criminal organizations, working to gain influence in the cutthroat underworld.
The rules focus more on a character’s skillset than combat, and players can make use of the flashback mechanic to retroactively assist themselves in dangerous situations, for a price. The Blades in the Dark sourcebook is highly detailed but not overwhelming, making it a great pick for first time game masters, with a memorable setting that remains adaptable to a group’s playing preferences.
Mixing together key elements of the Western and horror genres, Deadlands’ “Weird West” setting sees players facing down monsters in a steampunk-tinged imagining of the United States in the late 1800s, from legions of undead to clockwork men.
A memorable aspect of Deadlands comes from its spellcasting mechanics, which have players use a deck of playing cards alongside the dice, through which they must draw 5 cards and assemble the best poker hand possible to determine the effectiveness of their spell (or hex). This added gamble gives every use of magic additional stakes, further informing the chaos of its setting.
The Quiet Year
The Quiet Year is the work of Buried Without Ceremony creator Avery Alder, a game centered around a settlement after the apocalypse, working together to build up their community over the space of a quiet year.
Rather than dice, the game uses a deck of cards – each representing a week in that year – and through each card a new scenario emerges, that players must find a way to work through, whilst also collectively creating a map that reflects the events of their story. No matter what, the final card of the deck will bring an end to both the quiet and the game, enforcing a limited time frame that encourages thoughtful choices.
Star Wars Roleplaying Game
For D&D fans craving a TTRPG with similarly vast amounts of lore, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game by Fantasy Flight Games is a great fit, taking themes of the Star Wars saga and breaking them down into three standalone games to suit the kinds of characters players want to embody.
One of these, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, in which players can become bounty hunters and smugglers, has received particular praise as one of the best sci-fi tabletop RPGs, owing in part to its focus on the more rugged aspects of sci-fi life, allowing players to experience obscure corners of the galaxy.
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Mouse Guard is a roleplaying game full of charm. Using a more streamlined version of the Burning Wheel system, Mouse Guard allows players to take on various roles in its titular order, ranging from newcomers to veteran champions.
Characters form patrols and head out on mighty missions, in a medieval setting that has real stakes whilst staying mindful of its (and any game’s) purpose, to be fun for GM and players alike. As each character has an immediate goal, roleplaying motivations are built into every backstory, whilst there are also mechanics for the GM to use in order to assist the flow of gameplay.
Though it was only released in 2021, Wanderhome made a big impact on the TTRPG scene, winning Polygon’s Best Indie Tabletop Game of the year. A nature-inspired fantasy, player characters in Wanderhome are are animal-folk that travel from place to place, experiencing the marvels of their world.
With inspirations for the game including Studio Ghibli‘s Hayao Miyazaki and Moomins author Tove Jansson, the lush world of Wanderhome has a pointed connection to the natural world that is not overly sweet. Perfect for fans looking for a more exploratory world, Wanderhome pays great attention to the little things.
The Symbaroum source books are full of stunning art bound to spark the imagination of anyone leafing through them. A Swedish fantasy RPG, Symbaroum has a dark and evocative setting that centers around the forest of Davokar, full of intrigue and monsters.
One of the most compelling things about Symbaroum is its flexibility in terms of the kinds of campaign it can be used to run, with both an intuitive system that makes it a good choice for one-shots, and deep lore that can support long-form play.
Though magic is often a feature of tabletop RPGs, it is by no means a necessity, as proved by Good Society, a Jane Austen RPG in which players make characters formed from archetypes of regency society that must then navigate the era’s social dynamics.
As is the case with some of the best Jane Austen movie adaptations, Good Society balances its attention to detail with good humor, facing down family dynamics and shocking scandals in a way that feels true to the author it emulates, whilst bringing something new to the TTRPG space.
Tales From The Loop
Based on the book by Swedish author Simon Stålenhag – also the basis for the 2020 show of the same name – Tales from the Loop is set in the 1980s, with players taking on roles as members of a teenaged friend group that come across living machines around their hometown, and take on mysteries related to them.
Whilst the show of Tales from the Loop had some major differences from the book, the RPG is largely faithful to its source material, creating an environment full of both marvels and uncanny creatures, that thrives because of both its nostalgic and sci-fi elements.
Tackling the magical girl genre with style, Glitter Hearts is an RPG that draws from the aesthetics of works like Sailor Moon with a loving hand, making it an action-filled game where heroes balance their regular daily lives with calls to use their wondrous feats of power to save the day.
One of the most exciting parts of Glitter Hearts is that it lends itself to character customization. Players can pick from their hero’s abilities from over 150 “moves,” meaning there are a vast number of ways to construct a character that fits a player’s desired aesthetic, and always chances to learn something new.
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