Tabletop role-playing games, or TTRPGs, are hotter than ever. Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D for short, is by far the market leader. According to its publisher, Wizards of the Coast, the fantasy game has seen a growth of 33% in sales starting in 2020 with 4.3 billion minutes of D&D content watched on Twitch. With this uptick in interest over the past two years with help from actual play streaming series of D&D campaign games like Critical Role and Dropout TV’s Dimension 20, newcomers into the hobby are looking for other games to satiate their dice rolling and role playing hobbies. Speaking from my own 10+ years experience as a tabletop gamer, I’ve been lucky enough to discover a buffet of titles, each with their own unique flavor to satiate my RPG needs. Here are my recommendations for games that can help you expand your tabletop palette.
Genre: Cosmic Horror
Call of Cthulhu is a horror fiction role-playing game based on H. P. Lovecraft's story of the same name and the associated cthulhu mythos. The Lorekeeper guides players through a terrifying tale, usually a mystery set in a period piece of the Victorian era, and has you come face to face with things that make you question your very sanity. In fact, “Sanity Rolls” are a mechanic of the game that will dictate whether you start to witness supernatural events that your other players don’t see. CoC’s characters are built using a skill-based system, with player characters getting better with their skills by succeeding at using them for as long as they stay functionally healthy and sane. All players use a percentile dice set with results ranging from 1 to 100 to determine success or failure after rolls mandated by the Lorekeeper. Let’s hope your hands don’t shake too hard from being scared while trying to roll your character’s fate! However, for this TTRPG, the terror is all part of the fun!
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Genre: Cyberpunk/Urban Fantasy
Set in an alternate future in which cybernetics, magic, and fantasy creatures co-exist, Shadowrun combines the genres of cyberpunk and urban fantasy with a sprinkling of elements of detective noir, horror, and crime. Orcs, dwarves, trolls, and elves live alongside humans in a near-future world damaged by a massive magical event where industrial espionage and corporate warfare runs wild. Sci-fi high tech and magical abilities are used by hired mercenaries (“runners”) to commit data theft for their employer. Planning, team-work, and knowing when to drop it all when ambushed into a firefight are all part of everyday life in this game. Do you want to build a reputation as a smooth talker who can get in anywhere they want? Are you the messy merc with a taste for explosions? Maybe you want to become one of the invisibles and have your name only be a rumor on the ‘net. Be anything you want to make money, take down the megacorps, and live long enough to spend your reward until it's time for the next big job.
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
Monsters are real, and it's up to you and your friends to take them down. Monster of the Week brings the adventure to life in the vein of hit TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, or The X-Files. There are mysteries to solve, monsters to hunt, and small towns to save between you and your friends. This game makes you feel like you’re in an episode of the popular TV shows that use the “monster of the week” trope of which the game takes its name. Live out your fantasy of becoming the hero who decides to go out on the crusade to defend their livelihood from everything evil.
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
This is the ultimate storytelling game for vampire lovers. Being a vampire is a curse in Vampire: The Masquerade, and it is the backdrop to explore mature themes of morality, depravity, and the human condition. You live in a world full of gloom, and your story of struggle is painted over a bleak canvas. You will discover a sense of self, what it means to be human, and what can happen when that is stripped away to satiate a deadly thirst for all time. As a vampire, you and other players form a coterie and play a game of survival in the modern world against supernatural antagonists that come in all forms. To balance out the use of your abilities and weaknesses, every player fights to hold onto their humanity lest they fall prey to the feral side of the vampiric soul. That side is driven entirely by rage and hunger and is referred to as “the Beast.” Fall too far away from your humanity by your actions (and the results of 10-sided dice rolls), you may never be able to return.
Beyond these games listed there is a virtually endless library available to find online or at your local gaming store. Popular franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and even Monty Python have been adapted into RPGs to let you immerse yourself in those universes. The possibilities for escapism are virtually endless. Whether you’re a newbie to the scene or have been playing since the pencil and paper days, there’s something for everyone.
If you have your own RPG recommendations, leave them in the comments below!