Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard for people to hang out with friends like they used to. People looking to have fun at home have been either reconnecting with friends or making new acquaintances to keep in touch and play games through video conferencing. Or maybe, you’re trying to get your family and roommates into tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) so they can play with you. Tabletop RPGs are a great way for people to craft stories together with their imaginations, so we at Geek Girl Authority have compiled a list of the top 10 best tabletop RPGs for beginners. Each of these RPGs are easy to implement on Skype, Discord, and more, and each has interesting settings and premises that are sure to inspire your players and draw them into the story.
1. Lady Blackbird
There are three good reasons why Lady Blackbird is #1 on our list. First, it is free to download. That’s right: 100% free! Second, it comes with pre-written character sheets, each describing your hero and explaining the rules in-depth. Third and final, the whole book by John Harper is only sixteen pages-long. Lady Blackbird is set in a universe where space is breathable and skyships traverse the stars (not too dissimilar from Disney’s Treasure Planet). It is a swashbuckling story of magic and romance. You the players are the crew hired by the titular Lady Blackbird to smuggle her away from the Imperial Planet and reunite her with her one true love: Uriah Flint, the Pirate King. If you are a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson or Gilbert & Sullivan, you are sure to love this sci-fi take as your Sky Pirate swings into adventure!
2. Goblin Quest
Get your vocal chords warmed up for your best goblin voice in Goblin Quest! Out of his entire free one-page RPGs, Grant Howitt is probably best known as the creator of Honey Heist. However, if you are more familiar with the modern fantasy genre, you might have more fun playing as one of the tiny, stupid, and fragile foot soldiers in the Armies of Evil. You the player have been left alone at camp, and now you must set out to achieve something brilliant and/or silly before you inevitably get yourself killed. What kind of ridiculous nonsense do goblins get up to while the “real” monsters have marched off to war against the human heroes? Your party of up to five goblins comes up with a “quest” to make your mark on the history of goblinkin. Armed with your trusty frying pans and/or sticks, your goblins will map out their objectively terrible plan, roleplay the cartoonish and violent misadventures alone the way, and hope your goal ends in success rather than failure. In addition to fighting Inigo Montoya-style swordsmen out for revenge, your goblins will also have to deal with their fellow evil monsters (those hobgoblins are notoriously uptight). If you have a pencil, some six-sided dice, and a few hours to spare, spend one of your best evenings playing a very, very silly story!
Do you like the Coen Brothers, but you wish their stories were shorter than a three-hour runtime? Your wish is granted with Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games! Fiasco is a type of tabletop RPG that focuses on collaborative storytelling. Using dice to pick from a list of suggestions, your group will weave a web of interconnected characters united by the worst impulses of human nature. Think of Fargo or A Simple Plan as good examples. Your characters don’t necessarily have to be terrible people, but they at least have to make terrible decisions. Players set up and end scenes (like movie or TV scenes) to create a cinematic story. In Fiasco, everything always goes to Hell (the dice make sure of that). The real fun of Fiasco is figuring out just how screwed your character is by the very end. Remember that in Fiasco, you only get to decide what the scene is about or how it ends…but never both. All you need to play is about four six-sided dice per player, though it’s recommended you have them in two colors: dice for success and dice for failure. Whether your story of greed and fear takes place on the stages of Broadway or even an Antarctic research station, pick up Fiasco and see the stupidity and disaster that your choices result in!
4. Dungeon World
Dungeon World is a good RPG for those that want to capture the feel of Dungeons & Dragons without the number-crunching mechanics. Some D&D players live for combat and character abilities, but others want to focus more on exploration and storytelling. Designed and published by Sage Kobold Productions, Dungeon World classes are no more than two pages long (and also function as the character sheet), so there’s no need for you or your Game Master to go thumbing through rulebooks for specific abilities or spells. Many of the familiar D&D mechanics have been shaved down to simple arithmetic: bonuses and penalties rarely exceed +2 or -2. If your character encounters an obstacle (whether physical or social), you will always roll 2 six-sided dice and you will always know what number you need to meet in order to succeed. This isn’t to say that Dungeon World is too easy. There are more complex options, such as Fronts (which Game Masters can use to plan plot points and campaigns around their characters). For an RPG that is light and easy-to-understand, Dungeon World is a solid choice.
5. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire focuses on the bounty hunters and smugglers struggling to make a living in that beloved Galaxy Far, Far Away. Published by Fantasy Flight Games, Edge of the Empire uses a dice pool system with custom dice that replace the numbers with special symbols. It can get a little pricey and confusing to have to buy dice that are really only specific to this game, but the system is actually less complicated than it initially appears. There are six main symbols: Success, Failure, Advantage, Threat (Disadvantage), Triumph (Critical Success), and Despair (Critical Failure). The color of the dice determines how likely each symbol is to be rolled (how many sides each symbol occupies). What dice and how many are rolled is determined by your character’s skills and the difficulty of the task being attempted. Successes cancel out Failures, and so on, so adding everything together is rather quick. Adding this fairly simple system to the recognized and popular Star Wars makes this RPG an easy sell to players of all ages!
6. Mouse Guard
Based on the award-winning graphic novels and designed by Luke Crane, Mouse Guard is a narrative RPG with a truly unique setup. It is the year 1149 of the medieval era, but there are no humans in this world. This is a world of sentient mice. A brotherhood of mice known as the “Mouse Guard” have sworn an oath to serve their fellow mice in times of need by making safe passage through the wilderness and protecting them from predators. So the world of Mouse Guard is equally cute and dangerous. In addition to battling armored weasels, the player will be exploring this fantasy world and the strangers, politicians, and scientists that make up an advanced mouse society. Mouse Guard is a simple game to run and less nitty-gritty than Dungeons & Dragons thanks largely to its simple dice pool system using six-sided dice. Mouse Guard is the perfect RPG if you’re looking for something different than the usual fantasy fare and a game where teamwork and cooperation triumph over all!
Dread is published by The Impossible Dream and it is a fantastic system for horror RPGs. You may be familiar with the system from Geek & Sundry’s Sagas of Sundry series on Twitch and YouTube. Part of what makes Dread so terrifying is taking away a player’s agency by having them pull a block from the “Tower of Doom” (your friendly royalty-free Jenga tower) every time they make a decision. The Tower is first built as characters answer questions to determine their preferences (favorite pet, religious beliefs, etc.). If the Tower collapses, the last character to touch the Tower dies. The surviving characters then rebuild the Tower. It’s possible for characters to survive to the end of the session, but no character in Dread ends their story without trauma. If you are a horror fan, get ready to pull, die, rinse, repeat, and die again!
8. Dungeons & Dragons
The often-titled “Grandfather of RPGs” isn’t the most accessible game for newcomers. Many of the most prominent players of Dungeons & Dragons have been playing for literal decades, so it’s easy for new players to feel intimidated and out of their element. Aware of this, publisher Wizards of the Coast specifically created the D&D Starter Set for the game’s 5th edition. The set comes with pre-generated characters, all the dice you could possibly need, premade settings, and easy-to-follow instructions. The D&D Starter Rulebook boils down the rules of D&D to 32 pages of the most essential rules. If you have wanted to try D&D but you didn’t know where to start, this set is for you. Even if you do decide to try the full game, almost everything included in the kit will be used for the more advanced stuff anyways. D&D is a great game, and starting with the D&D Starter Set is a great idea for getting into it!
9. Fate Core/Fate Accelerated
Okay, this is technically two RPGs, but they use the same system. Another setting-agnostic tabletop RPG, Fate Core has players collaboratively imagine their own world. Published by Evil Hat Productions, Fate Core is highly customizable and focuses on player-focused narratives. Fate Accelerated is lighter on rules than Fate Core and you can read the booklet in a half-hour at most, but Fate Core offers more built-in options. Everything in Fate Core (the worlds, the campaign, the characters, and more) is given life by Aspects. Aspects are short phrases that say what makes that thing unique. Aspects can be beneficial and risky. A player can invoke an Aspect to get an edge in intimidating an opponent during a brawl, but the Game Master might have used that same Aspect to compel that inadvisable brawl in the first place. This tug-and-pull is handled with Fate Points. Play your character’s Aspects in interesting ways and you earn Fate Points, which can later be spent to get out of trouble or temporarily wrestle control of the story. If you don’t enjoy role-playing, then this game won’t be much fun. But if you do like focusing on storytelling over statistics, then roll your own world with Fate Core or Fate Accelerated!
Kickstarted last year by The Adventure Guild was another fantasy RPG that stripped back the stats and let folks quickly descend into that sweet narrative goodness. A great RPG for children and tabletop newbies alike, Quest is an RPG that doesn’t require you to be a math wizard or a phenomenal actor. Each player requires only a single twenty-sided die to play. There are bonuses for the few skills your character can specialize in, but most rolls are very straightforward. A fun consequence of spells is doing a curious but fun activity. It can be something as simple as drawing a picture or reciting a poem. The Quest rulebook is startling simple. Pick a range of abilities unique to your class, and you will have your character ready in less than 30 minutes. Whether playing through a fun one-shot session just a couple hours long or playing through an ongoing campaign, Quest is very versatile in suiting the needs of your players. The brevity and simplicity of Quest creates characters that are both flexible and powerful for players. See for yourself by getting one of the best storytelling tabletop RPG out there!
GGA encourages you to pick the system that best matches the story you and your players want to tell. Download one or more online, and enjoy a splendid night at the virtual gaming table!
This article was originally published on 4/17/20
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