The surge of popularity for Dungeons & Dragons led to a banner year for tabletop RPGs. A rising tide lifts all boats, as the old saying goes, so we’re looking at the best roleplaying games and products released this year for players and GMs looking to expand their horizons or supplement their adventures. This part talks about the five on prestige titles from large publishers that knocked our socks off this year (with an honorable mention as a bonus).
Vampire: The Masquerade
Another influential RPG started its own fifth edition renaissance this year: Vampire: The Masquerade swooped into a new edition at Gen Con this year by bringing new mechanics to a classic game of immortal intrigues and personal horror. We had a blast showing you the secrets of the Kindred with L.A. by Night and look forward to more nefarious schemes next year.
Legend of the Five Rings
The fantasy samurai setting of Rokugan is one of the richest settings in gaming that was defined by four beloved editions of the RPG. Fantasy Flight Games went the other route with the new Legend of the Five Rings it released this year by stripping the setting down to its basics and making it accessible to new players.
It also introduced an approach-based, narrative engine featuring unique thematic dice that pushed a character’s emotional limits. The new rules cut to the essence of the stories that inspired Rokugan by forcing the conflict that every samurai feel between desire and duty to the forefront of the game.
Overlight began as a Kickstarter in April, a surprise hit at Gen Con and a Geek & Sundry show by the end of the year. Art is an important part of every RPG, and Kwanchai Moriya’s bright, strange vision of the setting is one of the reason the game has caught so many eyes. Combined with easy-to-grasp rules and a setting inspired by the weird fantasy of classic album covers, Overlight became one of the rarest things in the tabletop world: an overnight success.
We’ve already talked about how gamers love to play roguish space smugglers, but Tachyon Squadron from Evil Hat Productions cast them as members of a hotshot starfighter squadron living on the edge. Players create pilots that blow off steam in challenging ways, push each other both in and out of the cockpit and are the last line of defense in the galaxy against a crushing galactic empire. What really makes the game is the abstract yet tactical way it handles starfighter combat that lets players make hard choices in battle while still leaving plenty of time to throw out fighter pilot lingo in battle.
Free League Publishing has shown to be masters of mixing nostalgia and drama with its blockbuster Tales From The Loop setting. The company decided to go old school with its fantasy release this year with a game offering a modern take on the classic fantasy boxed set. Forbidden Lands offers a world with a darker tone than Dungeons & Dragons. The artwork harkens back to those hazy days of detailed pencil drawings and intricately doodled character sheets. The system, based on the robust Mutant: Year Zero system used in most Free League games, offers fast, deadly combat as well as a card based option for dramatic duels between heroes and villains. The last part of the boxed set features a map and stickers that players can mark up as they explore the wilderness to claim a stronghold they can rule for their very own.
Honorable Mention: Pathfinder Second Edition (Beta)
Pathfinder carried the torch for the hobby for several years after evolving from the 3.5 rules for Dungeons & Dragons. The game evolved again this year featuring both electronic and print copies of the new rules. The beta rules for the new edition turned into one of Gen Con’s big releases, featuring some streamlining and other lessons learned from the hundreds of products released over the last decade, and gets an honorable mention because this isn’t technically a finished product as it’s still in beta.
Players who want a game that more options in both the tactical and character building sense can pick up the beta right now to shape the game’s release in 2019.
What big RPGs did you play and love this year? Tell us in the comments!
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Images Credits: White Wolf Entertainment, Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo Publishing, Renegade Game Studios, Free League Publishing, Evil Hat Productions
Disclosure: Geek & Sundry co-produces L.A. By Night with White Wolf Entertainment, and Overlight: Fractured Paradox is sponsored by Renegade Games.
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd, with credits on a variety of tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. His Twitter is here. Watch him livestream RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players.