The Best Roleplaying Games You've Never Heard Of

Published: November 14, 2013

These days, most people exposed to Western media have heard of Dungeons & Dragons, and people worldwide have played online roleplaying games like World of Warcraft. But there are hundreds of pen and paper RPGs that are mostly unknown outside of small communities of players, and they produce some incredible stories. If you're looking for something new to do on game night with your friends, check out some of these great RPGs, listed by accessibility to new players, the amount of time or number of gaming sessions you need to get the most out of it, and their degree of uniqueness or innovation.

 

  1. Apocalypse World

    Apocalypse World is a game about cool, sexy, badass people making a life for themselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It brings the genre alive like nothing else, and the system is fast, fun, and easy to get in to if the stylized way the book is written doesn't bother you. If you're used to D&D, Apocalypse World will blow your mind.

    Accessibility: 7/10

    Time: 4+ sessions

     

    Innovation: 10/10

  2. Dungeon World

    Dungeon World is a tribute to D&D based on the critically-acclaimed system powering Apocalypse World. It's a game that manages to look and play like Dungeons & Dragons and captures all the fun of the early editions, while using a rules set that's more accessible, better balanced, and requires less time to play.

     

    Accessibility: 8/10

    Time: 2+ sessions

     

    Innovation: 8/10

  3. Fiasco

    Fiasco describes itself perfectly as a game about people with "powerful ambitions and poor impulse control." If you love Coen Brothers movies like Faro or Blood Simple, or just like fiction where elaborate plans become total trainwrecks, you'll love Fiasco. Check out Wil Wheaton and friends playing a full session of it right here.

     

    Accessibility: 10/10

    Time: 2-4 hours

     

    Innovation: 10/10

  4. Hillfolk

    Hillfolk says it's about personal dramas set in the Iron Age, but that's just the surface. It's really a system that models the way serial dramas like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or The Sopranos work on TV, and it does it incredibly well. The book is crammed with ideas for new "shows," and it's easy to create your own, too.

     

    Accessibility: 8/10

    Time: 3+ sessions

     

    Innovation: 8/10

  5. Kagematsu

    Kagematsu is a deceptively simple game ostensibly about a wandering samurai and the women who try to convince him to stay and protect their village. In reality, it's a clever, considerate examination of gender relationships, especially in groups. This game requires a mixed-gender group with at least one woman, and thrives with groups of one woman and three or four men, which not everyone can put together. If you can, give it a shot: you'll learn something about yourself, and the opposite sex.

     

    Accessibility: 7/10

    Time: 4-6 hours

     

    Innovation: 9/10

Comparing games is an apples-to-oranges problem: they differ so wildly that it's mostly a matter of personal taste. But for people who have never played a roleplaying game before and are intrigued by the idea, it's hard to find a better starting point than Fiasco. It plays fast, the rules are simple, and it's based on a genre that everyone is familiar with, or can become familiar with just by watching a good movie. 

Tabletop roleplaying games are a great addition to a game night, and there's hundreds out there to choose from. Go on - get rolling!