Tabletop Roleplaying Game Systems & Tools
There’s never been a better time to dive into the world of Tabletop Roleplaying Games but there’s so much information out there it can be hard to know where to start. Especially if you want to look beyond the mammoth that is Dungeons and Dragons. We’ve got a list of some great systems you can try to expand your horizons, and a list of tools that can be used with any system to enrich your game experience.
Game System Recommendations
Blades in the Dark
Blades in the Dark is set in a gritty industrial-fantasy world. It boasts a fast-paced system, and requires minimal preparation compared to other games were talking about. Players become a crew of daring scoundrels, seeking their fortunes through whatever means necessary. There are heists, chases, occult mysteries, dangerous bargains, bloody skirmishes, and riches to be claimed.
Blades in the dark is a good choice if:
- You want to explore a dark industrial setting
- You struggle with planning out sessions as a GM
- You want a system designed for heists and capers
Pathfinder is a direct descendant of the 1st and 2nd editions of Dungeons and Dragons, splitting off before 4th Edition it’s a cousin of the modern-day phenomena. Pathfinder is now in its own second edition and has carved out its own identity. Paizo provides a great number of choices in character creation, allowing for highly specialised characters (especially compared to D&D’s broader strokes)
Pathfinder is a good choice if:
- Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t let you customise characters enough
- You want a more involved combat experience than systems like D&D can offer.
- You want to try your hand at new systems but don’t want to go too far from the familiar.
World of Darkness
World of Darkness is a horror fantasy TTRPG set in our world. Not just modern fantasy, but the real world tinged with supernatural secrets. World of Darkness excel at telling stories about paranormal power struggles, and the edge between mystical and mundane.
In my experience with World of Darkness, I sometimes found myself getting overwhelmed with the mechanics and the rulebook. If you struggle with learning heavy systems like me, you might want to find someone or an online guide to help explain. If you enjoy diving into rich mechanics, this will be a delight for you. Either way, don’t let this be a dealbreaker as they serve as a framework for World of Darkness’s rich gameplay.
World of Darkness is a good choice if:
- You want to explore supernatural characters and settings
- You like the idea of a modern world setting.
Now, quite simply, the Fate system is entirely set up with 2 assumptions: you want to roll less dice, and you want to do more roleplaying. I have to say, it accomplishes these things fantastically. The very first session had us a little nervous because there were so few numbers involved, but it was so refreshing to be able to just focus on roleplaying, investigating, settling into our characters. Plus, once you get the hang of the mechanics, it’s a lot more immersive and engaging than you expect.
Essentially, you have a long list of skills and you’re mediocre at all of them, except for a few depending on your character. Each skill can do 1 or more of 4 actions: attacking, defending, overcoming obstacles, or creating an advantage. Aspects is something notable about a character or the scene, and it can be used to give you a bonus to a dice roll, which usually costs a Fate point. For example, if I snuck upon someone on the toilet, then the aspect would be the fact that their pants are down, impairing their movement. So, I get a bonus since my pants are up and secure. It’s flexible, but it has a cost.
Stunts are more mechanical and are pre-defined, but they grant characters a mechanical benefit. For example, you might have established that your character is extremely strong, and once active then you may get a bonus for an arm-wrestling competition, but you underestimate your strength and accidentally break the fragile glass relic. It’s not that it’s simpler, but that it has done away with a lot of frivolous rules and numbers for the sake of allowing you to focus on your character, and to approach all situations from a role-playing and characterisation perspective
FATE is a good choice if:
- You want a simple system that wont hold you back with rules.
- You’re looking for a highly flexible system to play a atypical setting within.
Now, it’s always tricky getting the party together for a game. It might be a schedule conflict, distance, or finding time and energy, and in these past couple of years that has only become truer. But there are ways to remove some of those issues. Roll20 is one such option, allowing you and your party to play together over the internet, and it can be just as immersive, or even more so! Essentially, it acts as a virtual tabletop.
You can create your characters, put together the maps you need, and make it as detailed or as simple as you want it to be. And it supports just about every tabletop RPG system there is. It’s all in-browser, sign up for free, and you can either create the maps, encounters, everything you need, from scratch, or even buy an adventure with all that already created. For art assets, you can upload your own, or use what’s available from the Roll20 library.
You can manage rolls, roleplay, act out your actions and battles, and there is a tonne of customization that is available. You can even create your own code to make some repetitive tasks a bit easier. Between Roll20 and your own imagination and patience, in a lot of ways it can be more immersive and easier than face-to-face games, but it does take a little bit of time to get the hang of things.
Grandpa’s Audio Helper
Music and sound effects is probably the easiest way to get some instant immersion in your game, but it can be frustrating to not only maintain the game and do your rolls and roleplaying and keep track of all your NPC voices, but to also manage music from your music app of choice, and you get blasted with an ad right in the middle of the boss fight. Well, a local dev created the perfect little tool: Grandpa’s Audio Helper.
It’s quite simple to use, load it up and you have access to a library of sounds and music for all sorts of settings. Busy village, a quiet night around the campfire, a horde of zombies. But more than that, you can layer the various sounds in order to build the perfect soundscape. On a ship in the middle of a storm and there’s zombies? Sorted. In the middle of a forest, only birds for company, when you hear a strange chanting in the distance? Done.
You can adjust the volume for each aspect individually, and you can even create groups of sounds, allowing you to load the perfect, pre-prepared scene when you need it. Can’t find the sound you need? You can import your own sounds into the app. It just makes building the auditory experience so much easier, whether it needs to be on the fly, or if you’re planning something epic and need the scene to be just right.
Heroforge is a store that sells customisable miniature figurines. While the store is a great option if you’re wanting to purchase one, I want to specifically recommend Heroforge for it’s free-to-use creation tool. You can create a digital 3D model using the hundreds of assets they offer across many genres, pose it dynamically, and paint the whole thing to complete the look. If you aren’t artistically talented this is a great way to design your character and share with others.
There are far more tools available for your TTRPG than we could list here, very few of which are a good fit for all the available systems. With a near endless list, how could they be? This conundrum is why our last recommendation for you is Drive Thru RPG. Drive Thru RPG is a huge online marketplace selling all manner of digital TTRPG content: sourcebooks, supplements, battle maps, and inspiration. The range extends from official Dungeons and Dragons to Homebrew rulesets, to the most obscure, indie title you can imagine. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your TTRPG experience beyond what we’re talking about tonight, I have no doubt you’ll be able to find something that scratches your very specific itch on DriveThruRPG.