A tabletop role-playing game (RPG) is a game where each player takes on the role of a fictional character that attempts to complete a challenge in an imaginary setting. The game can be linear (i.e., a story or narrative) or task-oriented, where the players simply complete a single challenge and then move on to the next.
Traditional tabletop role-playing games shared five basic characteristics:
1. Character Building
In a tabletop role-playing game, you can build your character’s abilities, talents, or strengths as you go. The goal is to position your character to win the game by improving their assets.
2. Lots of Options
One of the reasons tabletop RPGs are popular is that they are unpredictable and filled with seemingly endless scenarios. Players are given choices that play out in more choices. You can often choose your character’s persona, identity, clothing, weapons, challenges, journey, powers, and abilities.
3. A Central Storyline or Theme
Every great tabletop RPG has a storyline or theme that keeps all the characters grounded and aligned. Characters may have options for how they journey through the story. However, they always come back to the narrative, often an overarching quest, goal or objective.
4. Room or Environment Interaction
Players can interact with the platform (think Final Fantasy or Warcraft). Tabletop RPGs operation on the same concept. While the game board is often the platform, other game pieces may allow you to interact with the game. Some games allow you to use the room as the setting.
5. Character Types, Categories, or Classes
Nearly every tabletop RPG has character classes or categories that define the characteristics, skills, abilities, and spells (e.g., wizard, thief, warrior, etc.). Although every player can expand on these abilities or characteristics, they are central to the character and cannot be changed.
Keep in mind that these are common traits in RPG games. You may not find them in all games. Some of the most popular RPG games do not have some elements but play on a completely different concept.
Here Are 10 Essential Tabletop Role-Playing Games for 2022
This seemed too obvious, but no list of tabletop RPGs is complete without Dungeons and Dragons. In D&D, you can create your character to be anything you want. You form a party with other players and go on adventures to explore and solve problems in a fantasy realm that your dungeon master creates.
One of the best features of D&D is that you can buy supplemental adventure packs for Dungeons and Dragons to keep adventures fresh and exciting. Dungeons and Dragons have always been a game about choice and how your choice molds your player instead of forcing you to engage in certain challenges. This element separates D&D from the pack of RPGs that it inspired over the last four decades.
Why Dungeons & Dragons Is Popular
The 5th Edition is popular mainly due to the new mechanics and features that were not available in previous editions. The 5e system is more user-friendly, making it easier for novice players to feel like they succeed, especially since it’s now harder to die.
RPG enthusiasts also like D&D because it's social, imaginative, escapist, collaborative, and fun. It allows you to truly feel like you’ve entered a different dimension of reality - and this is from a board game, not a video game. Players get lost in D&D, never to be found again.
The Five Rings Legend is an RPG game of honor and conflict for two players. Drawing on the legacy of AEG’s original Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game, you can join the Great Clans, uphold the tenets of Bushidō, and fulfill your duty to your daimyō and the Emperor in a world shaped and changed by a dynamic, player-influenced story.
Like Dungeons and Dragons, Legend of the Five Rings is a clan tabletop RPG. During the game, you are the leader of one of the Great Clans of the Rokugani society. You go into battle against another clan. There are several ways to do battle and several clans to fight. You can ally with other clans as you find new and interesting ways to lead your clan to victory.
Why Legend of the Five Rings Is Popular
Legend of the Five Rings is not considered a ‘fun’ game, per se. It’s more or less for people who want to get completely lost in a fantasy RPG and, at times, take it seriously. In other words, it can be highly complex and equally as competitive. You need a sharp mind and think like a strategist.
If you’re in the market for an obsession, this game is for you. People who enjoy this game will claim that it’s the best RPG on the market right now. It offers plenty of options for strategy, planning, team-building, and building mastery of the concept.
Cyberpunk Red is the original roleplaying game of the dark future. Your character competes in a world of corporate assassins, heavy-metal heroes, and cyberhackers. The Corporations control the world, enforcing their rule with armies of cyborg assassins. Gangs roam the urban wilderness on the streets, killing and looting at will. The Future never looked so bad.
But you can change it. Using your weapons, lasers in your eyes, interface plug-ins and bio-chip programming, you can fight the bad guys on the streets and in the corporations. In Cyberpunk Red, your team will be made of thugs, criminals, and people trying to survive in a future filled with technology and problems if you’re not in the upper class.
Why Cyberpunk Red Is Popular
If you are willing to invest a bit of time into reading and absorbing everything in the rulebook, you’ll find a lot of charm in Cyberpunk Red’s approach to gameplay. There are a lot of games that use the same tropes and hi-tech, low-humanity settings, but few of them have quite the zest for RPGs like this one.
It’s nice, easy-to-grasp rules that most players will get the swing of in one minute flat. However, the deeper you delve into the game, the more edge-cases and sub-systems you need to contend with. And not all of them are quite so slick. Cyberpunk Red has a nice balance of in-depth role-playing for the ultimate geek and a popular appeal for players who are casually getting into the genre.
Blades in the Dark is a tabletop role-playing game about a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial fantasy city. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and, above all, riches to be had — if you're bold enough to seize them.
You and your crew must survive amid the threats of rival gangs, powerful noble families, vengeful ghosts, the Bluecoats of the city watch, and the siren song of your scoundrel’s vices. Will you rise to power in the criminal underworld? What are you willing to do to get to the top?
Why Blades In The Dark Is Popular
The Blades in the Dark rule book is 327 pages long. However, within all those rules, there is something that people love most about the tabletop RPG game: its ability to allow you to improvise and invent your solutions on the fly. It’s less about having the right skills at the right time and more about using the world that you’ve created as the motivation for inspiration.
It sounds odd, but failing in Blades is almost more fun than succeeding. The varying scale of failure built into the game lets failure become enjoyable. It gives you the freedom to focus more on the ability to build your character and develop your strategy than winning the game. That concept alone is what makes Blades in the Dark a unique experience.
CALL OF CTHULHU is a classic roleplaying game of Lovecraftian horror in which ordinary people are confronted by the terrifying and alien forces of the Cthulhu Mythos. CALL OF CTHULHU uses Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System, which is easy to learn and quick to play.
CALL OF CTHULHU is a game much more about bringing that feeling of cosmic horror and creeping dread to life than it is about a high epic adventure. It’s also heavily focused on character development. Characters gain experience, become stronger, smarter, more handsome, richer, and acquire magic and special abilities.
Why CALL OF CTHULHU Is Popular
Many players love difficult games like CALL OF CTHULLHU because it lets them try out numerous play styles in their backup characters. Plus, it challenges even the most adept player’s roleplaying skills. You have to immerse yourself totally into the game to develop these skills over time. You will either find it infuriating or fascinating - or both.
One of the best things about this game is that there is a psychological factor you constantly have to deal with, as in any horror-based game. Not only can your characters physically die, but their minds can be utterly destroyed, rendering them unplayable. Most of the things you may fight in the game are likely to do this to you since many monsters are insanity-inducing otherworldly beings.
Everybody loves a good detective mystery tabletop RPG. In Partners, you co-star in a roleplaying game inspired by crime drama series. Described as a love letter to police procedural television, Partners is an RPG that sees players becoming detectives tasked with solving a murder case.
Each game session centers around a new case, which the player characters must pursue to appease their boss and stay on the force. Players are encouraged to create characters designed to clash with one another, whose approaches to the job or personalities are so ill-matched that they inevitably get into crazy cases together.
Why Partners Is Popular
One of the reasons Partners is so popular has little to do with the game and more to do with the story and culture surrounding it. Partners was a product of Kickstarter, and that’s where it found its audience. Once people got their heads around the concept, they supported the venture, and it became a Kickstarter phenomenon.
However, don’t believe the hype. This is a fun game that allows you to create your character, narrative, mysteries, and clues and then act them out. Partners is a unique story-telling game where the plot is procedurally generated. Using random words and a regular playing card deck, two players will build their detective show, four suspects, and a solution to the mystery even if they won't see coming.
Speaking of Kickstarter, another game, External Containment Bureau, started as a project on the platform and turned into a popular tabletop RPG almost overnight. External Containment Bureau is a game of paranormal investigation and bureaucracy using a lightweight, hackable version of the Forged in the Dark design framework.
The Bureau authorizes you to use paranormal phenomena to give yourself incredible powers and solve ghostly mysteries. There’s just one catch: Using paranormal powers inches you ever closer to joining the ranks of the paranormal yourself and becoming lost forever. Will you transcend humanity in the line of duty before you solve the mystery?
Why External Containment Bureau Is Popular
The External Containment Bureau is fun on one condition: that you understand the context. In other words - DON’T skip the 56-page downloadable PDF when trying to learn the game. Take some time to go through it and understand the backdrop of this game - doing so will make it more challenging and more fun.
External Containment Bureau is a fun, rules-light system that leverages smart design into an easy-to-learn, easy-to-run experience with broad appeal. While those who prefer a more fleshed-out world or a greater emphasis on psychological consequences may not appreciate the lighter feel of the game, others will appreciate the faster, simplistic pace of the game.
The Troubleshooters is an action-adventure RPG set in the mid-60s. Players take on the roles of international adventurers of mystery as they explore mysterious temples hidden in the jungles, valleys that time forgot, stop mad scientists and more. As spies or adventurers, they will be equipped with super gadgets and be sent on missions to stop The Octopus' evil plans for world domination.
The Troubleshooters takes you on exciting adventures around the globe. Do those adventures lead you closer to truth and send you on a fact-finding mission gone awry. The 236-page is packed with breath-taking 60s-style art and all the rules and context you need to get started.
Why The Troubleshooters Is Fun to Play
The initial reaction to The Troubleshooters tabletop RPG is how stunning and attractive the artwork is. The game has its comic universe set in the 1960s. Cool is a factor here: the clothes, the cars, the look of the comics of that period will enhance the play. However, get past the surface and find a remarkably fun and intuitive game.
The stories are French comic-styled — there’s danger and villains, but the gunplay is minimal. Instead of battling it out like a video game, characters are expected to punch or outsmart their way out of trouble. If you are looking for a game that captured the Jet Age cool and the comics or movies of the period, it’s a fun game that’s nice to look at and has easy mechanics to learn and helps the flow of play.
In Bucket of Bolts, you’re telling the story of a single spaceship, a.k.a, a bucket of bolts. You’ll create a brand new freighter, fresh off the manufacturing line, and explore its history through each person who captains it. Your ship will change as the decades pass - new names, new parts, fresh paint, fresh starts - until your story closes.
You’ll choose your Captains, bring them to life with names and details, and create stories of their time with your ship using prompts and tables. You’ll choose a Fate for your ship when you're ready to move on. Maybe it’s traded away fairly, but more likely, it’s stolen, captured or even wrecked. You might drift for a while as you wait for your next Captain, or the seat might still be warm when a new one takes over. Either way, the galaxy will change around you, and you’ll see it all from the view in the cockpit.
Why Bucket of Bolts Is Popular
First, you should note that Bucket of Bolts is primarily a solo game - the only one on our list. Multiple people can play (or view it, depending on how you look at it). However, the game plays out through the eyes of a single ship. So, while the game is highly interactive, you will not be engaging with many teammates or competitors.
Second, this game is heavy on narration, guiding you through a story more than putting you on a goal-driven journey. However, the narrative can be fascinating and draw you in for hours at a time. The concept of going into a different dimension is deep here, as you pass through galaxies, pilots, times, and places. You may not come back once you get started.
10. Alice Is Missing
Alice Is Missing is a silent role-playing game for three to five players, meant to be experienced in a single gameplay session of two to three hours. It is a story about the disappearance of a high school girl named Alice, exploring its effect on those she knew and unraveling what happened.
Instead of speaking to each other, the entire game is conducted via a group text message thread, where clues gradually come together, and players act out their character’s emotional arcs. To say much more would spoil the experience.
Why Alice Is Missing Is Fun to Play
Instead of a traditional GM and players structure, Alice Is Missing encourages all players to take on one of the main characters. Still, one player does need to understand the rules and facilitate the gameplay.
Alice is Missing focuses on the emotional engagement between players, immersing them in a tense, dramatic mystery that unfolds organically through the text messages they send to one another. In this way, it may not be considered the ultimate in recreation. However, it is easy to become obsessed with the game due to the emotional draw.
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