Best Tabletop RPG Games

Orcs and Goblins are a standard enemy in most Fantasy RPG games.
Orcs and Goblins are a standard enemy in most Fantasy RPG games. | Source

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What is a table-top Role Playing Game?

The RPG is becoming one of the most successful video gaming genres that combine adventure, exploration and combat to produce a compelling game with hours of game play. The modern RPG video game is based on the traditional table top role-playing games that became popular in the early seventies and are still popular today.

While these games have a reputation of being played by geeks with no girlfriends, they actually have a pretty wide range of players and with a variety of different genres cater for most interests. Table top role playing games are often a social event where a group of friends will gather together, bring their characters (including figures) and play a game run by the dungeon master (DM). It is a collaborative game that involves team work and camaraderie as the players build their characters incorporating their own personal idiosyncrasies as they adventure in a fantastic world.

The table top game is exciting especially if he DM has the ability to create a great atmosphere and believable world. Part of the excitement is down to the adrenalin pumping battles you may have where you barely survive but are rewarded with experience to build your character and unique equipment to ‘buff’ you character.

It may be a strange past-time but it is more of a social event than a nerdy hobby!

Common Role-playing Game Terms

  • DM – Dungeon Master – creates the scenario or campaign, runs the game and ensures all rules are adhered to.
  • NPC – non-player characters – as the players adventure they will meet many NPC characters who can be interacted with. These could be store owners, or people who give the players hints and/or quests.
  • PC – Player Character – player creates a character and the role-plays with the character gaining experience, skills and wealth along the way.
  • RPG – Role Playing Games
  • D4 – 4 sided dice
  • D6 – 6 sixed dice
  • D10 – 10 sided dice
  • D20 – 20 sided dice
  • D100 – two D10s rolled to produce a number between 1 and 100 (double 0 represents 100)

What are Role Playing Figures?

While today’s RPG video games feature fantastic graphics, superbly detailed characters and enemies and atmospheric music the table-top game relies on imagination and the atmosphere set by the DM. However, one aspect that allows for creativity is the ability to buy and paint your own figures. You can buy figures for your hero such as a wizard or warrior and paint them exactly as you want – or you can purchase a lot of monsters and enemies thus providing a great way for the players to envision the battles they are entering – it’s not essential to have figures in table top RPG gaming but it certainly enhances the game.

What is a Dungeon Master?

The Dungeon Master (DM) is the most important person in the table-top RPG game. The DM is the person who creates the campaign, world, encounters etc. in which the player characters have their adventure. There are many pre-set campaigns, but many DMs write their own materiel within standard worlds creating their own set of quests, non player characters (NPC) and encounters. The DM also controls the game ensuring rules are applied where applicable and determining actions of monsters, NPCs and also the PCs in some circumstances.

The DM is the glue that keeps the game together and ensures it runs smoothly – without a DM there is no table-top RPG game.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) formerly known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D)

Hobbits (or Halflings) are a popular PC thief in many table top RPG games.
Hobbits (or Halflings) are a popular PC thief in many table top RPG games. | Source
Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook: Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes (Roleplaying Game Core Rules)
Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook: Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes (Roleplaying Game Core Rules)

This rule book presents all the rules needed to play D&D including how to create a character.

 
Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual: Roleplaying Game Core Rules, 4th Edition
Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual: Roleplaying Game Core Rules, 4th Edition

What would D&D be without monsters! This rule book gives you all the details about the majority of monsters and creatures you'll meet in the D&D world.

 
Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide: Roleplaying Game Core Rules, 4th Edition
Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide: Roleplaying Game Core Rules, 4th Edition

This is an impolrtant resource for the Game Master; it gives many tools to help the DM create campaigns. It also provides a detailed town to help start things off.

 

This is probably the most popular RPG game. D&D was one of the first RPG games to hit the market. I used simple mechanics (using a D20 dice), a wide and varied world to make the game very enjoyable and playable by all ranges of players. After several years AD&D was introduced – this system codified many of the rules of the original game and added more complexity to make it a far more rewarding and interesting game.

The AD&D world is full of adventure, intrigue and ultimately violence – therefore character creation and leveling up becomes very important. Understanding the rules isn’t necessary but it does give you a great advantage when playing the game. Since the 90s, AD&D has since been renamed D&D)

As you explore the world you gain experience and equipment allowing you to improve your character by either learning and improving skills and magic or ‘buffing’ up your character using magical or enhanced equipment.

While statistics and mechanics are important, they are not burdensome like some of the more complex games and therefore allows the player to embrace the world and really role-play.

D&D isn’t the most realistic but the simplicity makes it one of the most playable RPG games.

With thousands of scenarios and quests you'll never get bored of this game; however be prepared to spend a lot of money initially - you will need three core rule books before you even start and then if you're not used to creating your own adventures you'll need at least one campagin model.

Vampire: The Masquerade
Vampire: The Masquerade

Everyting you need to play Vampire The Masquerade is included in this volume.

 

Vampire: The Masquerade RPG

I first encountered Vampire the Masquerade when I purchased the video game. It was an intriguing and enjoyable game and while the mechanics were very simple, the concept of the game was great. In this game you get to play a blood-drinker (vampire) – forget everything you’ve seen on TV about vampires, this game is dark and the vampires are involved in an eternal struggle to survive.

The game is one of the most compelling RPGs available as it allows you to explore morality and the uniqueness of the human being – it is a dark world and it’s tough to survive. The mechanics are relatively simple and revolve about trying to simulate a vampire’s life – blood is at the core of the game, but there is also an important measure of ‘humanity’ that controls how ‘good’ or ‘evil’ your character is – get too low a ‘humanity’ score and you’ll fall into a constant frenzy.

IN 1998 a new edition of the game has been introduced featured information of all the clans and disciplines – and a ton of information about the world of vampires. Everything you need is in the updated book and while it takes a while to get used to the system, once mastered it is an excellent game.

GURPS Basic Set: Characters, Fourth Edition
GURPS Basic Set: Characters, Fourth Edition

One of the more detailed RPGs available and also cross-genre.

 

GURPS RPG

I grew up playing Steve Jackson board games and reading his ‘dynamic’ RPG books that allowed you to adventure and fight in a fantasy world. It was inevitable that a full RPG system would be developed.

The result was Gurp (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) that was groundbreaking as it supplied a standard set of rules that could be used in any genre ranging from sci-fi and fantasy to horror.

The basic rules provided the mechanics for the game and with hundreds of accompanying volumes that explored the rules and expanded the mechanics it became a huge and complex game that spawned adventures ranging from stone-age settings to futuristic science fiction games.

GURPS is the most realistic RPG system available and allows for the most detailed (and stats oriented) games that provide a realism that is second to none.

It perhaps is a little to cumbersome for the casual RPGer though and I advise only hardened gamers to play it as you will be weighed down with a complex set of rules. The flexibility does make it great though.

RuneQuest 6th Edition (TDM100)
RuneQuest 6th Edition (TDM100)

Updated and expanded version of this great RPG game.

 

Runequest RPG

This was the first RPG game that I played and remains one of my favorites. With a D100 based system that allows you to focus on individual skills (or sets of skills) and gives you a percentage chance of hitting, improving skills, parrying, casting magic etc. it is one of the more intuitive games making it very easy to play and enjoy.

The latest edition of the rules focuses more on the culture, career, skills, magic and background of the PC and allows for a progressive skill advancement (in a similar way to the Skyrim video games).

This system is one of the most flexible available and allows for truly cross-class PCs, making it very rewarding. The rules are very well written and easy to follow making it one of the easier games to learn.

Rolemaster Standard Rules (Rolemaster Standard System)
Rolemaster Standard Rules (Rolemaster Standard System)

One of the most detailed RPG games available.

 

Rolemaster RPG

Rolemaster is probably one of the most detailed and realistic role-playing systems. Based on a D100 system, it is the most detailed rule-set that I have encountered covering combat, perception, encounters and many other things that most games don’t cover including different difficulty levels for many maneuvers.

It is a highly complex game and requires deep knowledge of all the rules to get the most out of it – the DM should be fully versed in the rules to ensure a fun game that isn’t bogged down in statistics.

Rolemaster can be a brutal game – with the right combination of rolls of the D100 a character could be killed in one blow – it’s up to the DM to try to work around the rules, the multitude of tables and the ‘luck’ element to ensure the game doesn’t end too quickly.

If you like a detailed system with a rich world, fantastic monsters and some incredible magic items then this is the one you should consider – this game is not for beginners.

Middle-Earth RPG (MERP)

This role-playing game is based in Middle Earth bringing together the history, flora, fauna and magic of Tolkien’s land. In it you can often meet some of the main Lord of the Rings characters and play campaigns that compliment the main story.

MERP takes the rule-set of Rolemaster and simplifies them providing a more D&D type game. With similar classes to D&D it uses a leveling system and a deep magical system. MERP provides a huge amount of detailed history and includes all of the languages, herbs, magic and monsters that you would have read about in Tolkien’s books.

This is one of the best RPG games of all, especially if you are a huge Tolkien fan. The system is detailed enough to please number crunchers, but easy enough to allow most beginner players to enjoy the game without being bogged down with stats.

Game of Thrones: A song of Ice and Fire RPG

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan then you will simply love this game. Based on George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic this game gives you everything you need to run an RPG game based in the Game of Thrones world.

The game is well thought out and produces probably one of the best combat systems of all of the RPG games (solo fights and huge battles). It focuses on social interaction and really brings in much of the feel of the books (and the TV show).

The biggest downfall is the lack of support – there are a few add-ons available but not really enough yet. It’s worth getting just to experience the thrill of being part of the intriguing and dangerous world that George R R Martin has created.

Call of Cthulhu RPG

Lovecraft created a fantastic set of stories and novels based on the Cthulhu Mythos where ordinary people faced horrific and out of this world forces – it is one of the best horror based collections of all time. The Call of Cthulhu RPG uses Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System and adapts it to the Cthulhu genre. It is one of the easiest systems to learn and allows most gamers to quickly get into the game without getting over-run with complex rule-sets.

While the genre is very narrow and the game will not be for everyone, it will appeal to some. One thing that makes it unique is that there are times where battles are impossible and that PCs will often be killed off very quickly – thus often speed and the ability to flee while inflicting some damage to the enemy are important – you end up focusing on different elements when compared to standard RPGs.

Traveller

Traveller is one of my favorite science-fiction RPGs of all time. The beauty about Traveller was that it was easy to cross genres as you travelled the universe and essentially could encounter any type of world ranging from highly advanced civilizations to D&D type worlds – the ability to meld fantasy type campaigns with the high powered sci-fi world of Traveller made it very intriguing and fun – I well remember fighting dragons and orcs in on ‘famos’ campaign ran by a DM friend of mine – great fun!

The system is based on the GURPS system. Character generation was like a game in itself and often characters could actually die in the generation as you worked your way through careers, gaining skills and experience as you went.

This game is a classic RPG in every respect. You have a vast amount of skills and abilities to level up, there are a multitude of enemies to fight, and there’s a great amount of adventure to be had. It may seem a little dated today but it remains one of the best sci-fi RPGs around.

Pathfinder RPG

There are many out there who say that D&D became a poor game once it reached edition 4 becoming a game that focused on the nitty-gritty rather than the game play. Pathfinder grew out of the D&D edition 3.5, codifying the core rules and updating them so that the system became much more intuitive and was very easy to play.

Pathfinder takes you out of the traditional D&D settings and creates a unique world with an excellent history, a new bestiary and plenty of room for expansion. It’s a D20 based system with simple mechanics based on the D&D system. If you are familiar with the older versions of D&D then you’ll pick this game up very quickly – it allows you to focus more on the role-playing elements of the game rather than getting bogged down in the statistics and game mechanics.

Warhammer 40000 RPG

A great example of a vehicle from the Warhammer 40000 universe.
A great example of a vehicle from the Warhammer 40000 universe. | Source

I first encountered Warhammer as a table top war game and then as a very brutal fantasy RPG in which PCs simply had no chance of survival - even the lowliest Goblin could cut down the standard PC with a bit of luck.

Eventually as the world of Warhammer expanded the table top game Warhammer 40000 emerged. If you’ve played the very successful online RTS then you are pretty familiar with this game. Warhammer 40000 is a very well designed space-opera game which is very well designed, simple to play and fun.

It features a very harsh universe with your usual enemies such as Orcs – but now they have technology. The game is predominantly about having the best fire power and grenades, and does involve a fair amount of strategy such as using terrain to your advantage – but overall it’s the fun combination of fantasy characters combined with futuristic technology that make this a great game to play.

Other RPG Games

There are many other RPG games available – I’m not as familiar with them so they are not featured above:

  • Mutants and Masterminds – a detailed superhero RPG game that allows for quick generation of super heroes and provides a detailed world in which to fight crime!
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplay Basic Game – an interesting combination of traditional RPG and super-hero RPG.
  • Tunnels and Trolls – a very old system that was fun to play and was based in underground tunnels. Fairly simply to play and quick to set up.
  • Advanced Figthing Fantasy RPG – an excellent introduction into the world of RPG gaming. Produced by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone this is a simple game and a great way to introduce new players to the concepts of RPGing.
  • Rift – an intriguing RPG with typical elements and a cyber-punk feel. Great backstory - but mechanics not that good.

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Comments 4 comments

katiem2 3 years ago

Very detailed review of tabletop RPG games, I think I could enjoy a good night of gaming after having read this and I'm not even a geek ... Great Article!


Porshadoxus profile image

Porshadoxus 3 years ago from the straight and narrow way

Good stuff here.

Have you tried FASA's Earthdawn? The mechanics and magic system are quite unique.


SimeyC profile image

SimeyC 3 years ago from NJ, USA Author

Porsadoxus: no I haven't - I'll have to take a look! Thanks for the tip!


Mark McClane profile image

Mark McClane 21 months ago from Pratt, Kansas

Omega Connection should be in the list....

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