In this article, you’ll find some of the best tabletop RPGs, that aren’t Dungeons and Dragons. Of course if you’d like to know more about D&D, you can always check our D&D Beginner’s Guide, but that’s not what I’ll talk about today. Instead we’ll take a look at some of the other amazing role playing games.
If you’re in a hurry, and just want to get your game, here’s a recap of the best three options, based on different criteria.
|Fate||Best for Beginners|
|Call of Cthulhu||Best Horror RPG|
|Monster of the Week||Best Monster Hunter RPG|
However, if you have time, let’s dive deep into exploring some of the lesser known best tabletop RPGs.
Dungeons and Dragons is one of my favorite games to play with friends, but what if you’re tired of elves and magic? Maybe you want a similar game with more Sci-fi technology? Or perhaps you’re a big fan of the Supernatural show and want to play modern day monster hunters? Thankfully, the world is full of tabletop RPG games you can play, each with varying rules and settings.
Recently, Card Game Base did a survey on Instagram with different themes, and Monster Hunters won the final poll! I also wanted to pick games with other categories, and I ended up on Beginner Friendly games and Horror themed games. Beginner-friendly games are always welcome for anyone teaching new players, And for horror, I’m still running off the high of Halloween. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s December.
Also, I’m going to refer to the individual running the game as DM (Dungeon Master) even though each game has a different term for this individual. If I used every term, I feel like I’ll confuse a lot of you throughout the course of this article. Frankly, I’ll confuse myself, too.
Best Beginner-Friendly Tabletop RPGs
Let’s start with a couple of the best tabletop RPGs, if you’re just starting out.
Fate is one of the stranger systems. The reason for this is that it is beginner-friendly due to very simple rules and forgiving combat. The issue is it heavily depends on roleplaying and creativity, and if you have difficulty being creative, this can make this game extremely difficult for you.
I know a lot of beginners for tabletop games get stressed when starting to roleplay. They get scared of people judging their creativity. So for this game, more than the others, the DM will need to provide extra emotional support.
One of the key reasons for this is your main character traits fall under Aspects that you custom make. There aren’t character classes or a list of specific abilities you must choose from. You decide on the aspects for your character. As long as you and the DM agree to it, you can use it.
Do you want telepathy or water themed magic powers? No problem. You create character traits and then as you play, both you and the DM can reference these traits to give bonuses and penalties to rolls. Your telepathy could give you a bonus to tell someone is lying, but maybe the DM could give you a penalty when you’re trying to concentrate in a crowded area where you hear dozens of thoughts at once.
These aspects don’t have to be superpowers. They can be as simple as “From out of town” or “Antisocial” and they’ll still play into the game somehow. An important thing to keep in mind is you need to make a set of positive and negative traits, but obviously they could end up doing the opposite.
Being from out of town can start negatively since people might not trust you, but later could benefit you since you’ll have knowledge that the locals won’t have about something.
Problem: Damage Count
The way damage is counted is extremely complicated, to the point where it can be hard even for experienced players. The one aspect I like is that you could build it in a way that characters don’t die. Instead, they’ll gain new aspects when they take too much damage, like “lost an arm” or “has a permanent limp.”
This may sound harsh, but if you get emotionally attached to your characters, this is better than them dying. Also, you don’t fully heal with a full night’s rest, which is very interesting. It forces the party to actually take time to rest and recover from major injuries.
One thing that complicates this game is Fate uses dice that have “+” and “-” symbols instead of numbers, so you’ll have to get custom dice or use 6 sided dice and translate numbers into symbols. Using a normal dice will make each roll take more time to figure out, but both options mean far less math than other games, so that’s a big plus for anyone that hates math.
Of the Sci-fi games, I feel Starfinder is the easiest to learn and understand. Sure, you could play a Sci-fi game with Fate, but Starfinder is specifically built for Sci-fi and is more structured, which is perfect if you’re awkward with roleplaying or character creation.
There is a game called Pathfinder that works extremely similarly to D&D. Similar fantasy setting and uses similar dice and rules. Starfinder is basically Pathfinder in space, so the dice, stats, and classes are extremely similar to D&D. If you’ve played D&D but want spaceships and guns, I highly recommend Starfinder.
Amazing Classes & Subclasses
I love how the game manages the different classes and subclasses. There aren’t as many as Pathfinder or D&D, but enough to give you a good variety of ways to build characters. I love the idea of having a druid in a space campaign. I also like the backgrounds, like you could be an internet celebrity that runs an online channel where you record your adventures.
Also, each race feels unique and has tons of lore to help inspire story ideas. You can be a mammal, reptile, insect, or several other types of creatures.
Both Pathfinder and Starfinder have much higher numbers from bonuses to add to skill checks. This isn’t bad per se, but if you’re playing with people that hate math, this could be an issue.
Best Horror Tabletop RPGs
Want to get scared? In this section, you’ll find some of the bast tabletop RPGs with the horror component. Furthermore, you can also check my guide on how to write a scary campaign.
Vampire: The Masquerade
Masquerade was one of the first tabletop games I ever played. I played a one shot with friends, and we caught on to the rules very quickly. Unlike other horror stories where humans fight the monsters, you’re all playing vampires that must come to terms with your undead state.
The classes and different types of vampires each feel unique and give you a great variety of gameplay. Are you a stealthy vampire? Maybe a charismatic vampire that hypnotises your prey? Or maybe a brute that can easily crash through doors and even walls?
Potential Problem: Random Kills
The one thing that I’m not the biggest fan of is that if you go too long without drinking blood, there is a good chance you’ll eventually go feral and kill randomly.
If you want a horror game full of violence and betrayal, this is an amazing feature! But for me personally, I’m not a fan of a feature where I can randomly lose control of my character. I’d hate it if I had a favorite NPC that died because I was unlucky with a dice roll.
Call of Cthulhu
As far as horror games go, Call of Cthulhu fits what most people picture for a horror game. Everyone plays helpless humans attempting to survive against horrific monstrosities. Unlike D&D or similar games, you’re most likely not going to become overpowered god killers.
Fighting for Survival
Call of Cthulhu isn’t built for epic fights, but instead for solving mysteries and trying to survive. There is a whole system of the game dedicated to fleeing monsters. So if you’re a stand and fight to the bitter end kind of person, this might not be the best game for you. But if you prefer outsmarting enemies over fighting them, this is an amazing game.
Also an interesting feature is the higher intelligence you have, the easier it is for you to lose your sanity. So it can actually benefit you to play an idiot with low intelligence. I love this idea, I want to play someone so dumb they’re immune to eldritch horrors. No brain cells, just Wii Tennis music playing as I pummel an eldritch horror.
Paranoia might not fit what you’d normally expect from a horror game, but I feel it’ll fit perfectly for a horror one shot. Paranoia stands out among all of these games because it’s built for your players to kill each other. There isn’t teamwork, more working together until someone has an opening to betray everyone.
Paranoia is a dystopian Sci-fi game where there is an omnipotent AI, named Friend Computer, running things, and you’re all clones designed to work for her. You have spare clones, so don’t get too attached to your character. You’re generally killing mutants and rebel groups, and performing tasks that benefit the AI.
Each player character also has their own personal goals and abilities, so you sometimes have to trick players into helping you with your own separate goals. Generally, everyone is part of secret rebel groups, so you’re both working for and against Friend Computer.
Full of Dark Humor
This game is full of dark humor, which satirizes the dystopian setting. One of the secret organizations you could fight or join is the “Seal Club” which worships the great outdoors but actually knows very few facts (most of which are wrong) about actual plants and animals.
There is an obvious target demographic for this type of writing, and if that sounds funny to you, I highly recommend this game.
Best Tabletop RPGs for Monster Hunters
In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the best tabletop RPGs, if you like to roleplay as a Monster Hunter.
Monster of the Week
Strangely enough, of the games mentioned, I feel this one is the most beginner-friendly. It has tons of room for roleplay with very minimal rules, but the rules are structured enough for players that are learning how to roleplay. I mention it here though since it fits the monster hunter archetype too perfectly.
If you’re a fan of Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or X-FIles, you’ll love this game. Each player has a character that fits a monster hunting archetype. Are you an FBI agent? Or maybe the chosen one from prophecy. Or maybe you’re the comedy relief best friend that is the only one without powers.
Each character sheet is 2 pages, making character creation very fast and easy. Instead of rolling stats, each class has multiple sets of preassigned stats, and you choose which one fits your character most.
Varying Dice Rolls
My favorite part of this game is that each dice roll has varying levels of success. You could roll and succeed at your task, or maybe you succeed but at a cost. There are even degrees of failure that change the consequences of failing.
No Turn Initiative
Another interesting feature is there is no turn initiative. The players perform actions, and the monster attacks or acts when they fail rolls. There is no monster turn unless the DM decides to make one and this usually happens if the players are taking too long to act.
A great feature I want to steal and use for D&D is players gaining experience when they fail rolls. It’s meant to fit into “learn from failure” but it’s great because it gives your players an incentive to try and do things instead of being scared of failure. They’ll gain something from trying, whether that’s success or experience.
My first experience with Savage Worlds was a group playing a horror one shot where we all had characters built on horror stereotypes like jock, nerd, goth, etc. and it was tons of fun! The game is built very similarly to Fate, but it is much more structured. The character aspects are premade and have rule explanations, which gives you tons of freedom. However, there is more structure available — in case you don’t like to have too many options.
I really like the dice system with Savage Worlds. Depending on your stat, you roll higher dice. Why this is great is you just need a 4 to succeed most rolls, so even a D4 has a good chance of success. I’m not a fan of games where you roll dice without a chance of success or at least a positive outcome.
Regular Playing Cards
Another interesting feature of this game is that you use a normal deck of playing cards to decide turn order in combat. You also can get bonuses during your turn if you pull a Joker card. You redeal each round, so the turn order is constantly changing.
One big positive is that the constantly changing turn order forces everyone to pay more attention to combat, versus just zoning out until their turn. There is also the negative that this can annoy people, since the turn order constantly changing will throw people off and make strategizing very hard.
Tons of Options
Savage Worlds has dozens of books that help customize the world for different settings and genres. Do you want to hunt monsters in a modern setting? Or maybe do it in a Sci-fi setting or medieval times? There are tons of materials and books you can get to help you plan your perfect game.
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire
I loved the vibe of The Madalorian. That old western vibe in space. Personally, I love this game more than the other two versions, Age of Rebellion and Force of Destiny. There isn’t a dependence on the Alliance versus Empire conflict, and no Jedi or Sith to complicate things. Just mercenaries trying to survive on desolate planets full of monstrous aliens and crime syndicates. If you’re a Star Wars fan, tired of dealing with the Skywalkers, then this is certainly one of the best tabletop RPGs you could get.
You could run a monster hunting campaign with any of the versions, but I feel it’ll fit the setting of Edge of the Empire more. Each system has a Karma system that impacts how NPCs interact with players. The Edge of the Empire system is built around debt, usually to criminal organizations. I feel it makes more sense, since you’re not hunting monsters due to Alliance orders or because the force told you to. You’re in debt and have to hunt insane monsters to scrap by in the wilderness of the galaxy.
All versions share the same rules, so you can take content from any of them and mix and match. So it’s worth at least researching the other two, even if you have your heart set on one.
One strange thing about this game that is both a big positive and negative is the dice. It uses a unique set of dice that not only has symbols for success and failure, but there is a good/bad luck system.
How it works is the player rolls a set of dice based on skills/abilities/situation, and the DM also rolls a set. You subtract the DM dice from the player dice, and a positive number succeeds and a negative number fails. The thing is you also count the luck symbols, so you can fail but have something lucky happen or succeed with bad luck.
An example the book uses is you are trying to unlock a door. You fail but have good luck, which means you don’t unlock that door, but you hack the system and accidentally open several other doors. If you succeed with bad luck, you open the door but activate the alarm. So this is a very fun system, but it can be difficult using these dice if you’re playing online or if you don’t have the money to buy another set of dice.
Problem: Overwhelming Character Creation
The one thing that prevents me from playing this game is character creation. There are an insane number of options per class, and it is extremely overwhelming even for experienced players. That said, if you’re a fan of the Mandalorian series, I highly recommend taking some time to check the rules and character creation to see if this is your cup of tea.
There are tons of other games that I love and would want to recommend, but there is only so much space here. What games do you like to play? Would you want any articles where I focus on a specific game and go into details on the rules and how to run a game? If so, which games should I focus on? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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