10 best rules-light and storytelling RPGs for beginners
Tabletop RPG games light on rules, and heavy of story.
There’s nothing quite like exploring strange new worlds with your friends. But learning tabletop fantasy RPG systems like Dungeons & Dragons - one of the best tabletop roleplaying games ever made - can take a lot of up front investment for both game master and player.
Sometimes, you just want a collaborative storytelling RPG experience that doesn’t include a litany of stats, saves and tables. A light tabletop storytelling game that's quick and easy to pick up - perhaps even for RPG beginners or younglings - but is still super immersive.
Here, we’ve rounded up some great rules-light tabletop RPGS, which are not only swift to grasp, but often require no game master - meaning everyone can get involved!
With most of these roleplaying games you can have a preliminary read of the source material, then just get stuck straight into that sweet, sweet escapism.
Easy storytelling tabletop RPGs for beginners
Perhaps you'd like to stage a heist with Coen-brothers-film-in-a-box RPG Fiasco, start your debauched rock band in Umläut: Game of Metal, or build your own doomed civilisation with Icarus.
You don't even have to play humans with some of these roleplaying games. The beautiful Mouse Guard sees you taking on behemoth sized racoons as a tiny mouse, while The Warren essentially leaves off where Watership Down ended. Expect lots of psychedelic bunnies.
Meanwhile, horror nuts can enjoy jenga-block breaker Dread, which lets you generate any number of vicious scenarios, while Cthulhu Dark will grant more cursed terrors then you can shake a tentacle at.
Last, but not least, save the world blockbuster movie style with apocalypse disaster generater Our Last Best Hope, traipse around as incompetent goblins in Goblin Quest and enjoy a Dungeons & Dragons 5E style light fantasy with the immensely accessible Quest RPG.
If you're looking for something a little more complex, take a gander at the best fantasy RPGs or this year's upcoming roleplaying games.
So whether you want to save humanity, or just Sean Bean, these are the best simple roleplaying systems for you.
Inspired by films like Fargo and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Fiasco sees players collaboratively engineer and act out stories. These are usually motivated by heist staples such as greed, lust and revenge. Best of all, no game master is required.
In Fiasco, no fantasy heroics apply. You play as ordinary people driven by something dark - and unmistakably human.
Essentially, it’s a Coen Brothers movie in a box. Although if mean streets and sleepy desert towns are less your thing, you can engineer tales as far afield as space stations or cosmic horror.
Fiasco leans more toward the blackly comic then the serious, but that's not to say it can’t get gritty: Fiasco's tone is utterly reliant on its players.
The game's recent second edition has been adapted from a small book to a sort of board game RPG hybrid, featuring a multitude of cards in lieu of dice and rulesets.
While the card version looks awesome, the first edition might be better if you’re interested in treating Fiasco as more of a sandbox RPG system. It makes an excellent entry point RPG, although one to avoid for players less inclined to role-play, as you'll be effectively performing scenes.
Buy Fiasco on Amazon.
2. Umläut: Game of Metal
Heavy metal. The only truth there is, according to this ridiculous tabletop RPG in which you wield a different type of axe entirely.
Requiring no GM (players take turns to narrate) and prep, this game sees you each playing a heavy metal band. You’ll come up with names, pick a style and even create individual band members - the wilder the better.
Goals wise, you’ll be trying to score booze, babes and fame. Basically, as your tight pants will allow. If they like, players can also team up to manage one band between them.
Victories lead to Glory, and failures accumulate dreaded Ego, which leads to further mishaps later down the line. One of the main things that’s great about Umläut is that it’s really, really silly, so you’ll enjoy narrating your brutal failures as much as your epic wins.
Buy Umläut: Game of Metal at Drive Thru RPG.
3. Goblin Quest
Described as a “game of fatal ineptitude” by creator Grant Howitt, Goblin Quest is one shot silliness perfection. All you’ll need are stupid voices, pen, paper and six-sided dice.
The premise of Goblin Quest is this: you are unfortunate goblins that don’t get to live very long.
As such, you’ll try and cram as much glory into your short life as possible. Each player creates a clutch of multiple identical characters - because you will die, and die, and die again.
The latest edition of Goblin Quest also includes a cornucopia of other settings: including a version where you play five Sean Beans attempting to escape an endless loop of death and a Cthulhu themed adventure.
Buy Goblin Quest at Amazon.
4. Mouse Guard
Based on the award winning graphic novel series, Mouse Guard is a narrative based tabletop RPG with a truly unique setup.
In it, you perform dangerous deeds for the betterment of mice-kind. No easy feat, as the world of Mouse Guard comprises leaves and racoons alike enlarged to monstrous proportions. It's also super cute. For example, fresh mice recruits to the Guard are named Tenderpaws.
As well as battling armoured weasels and birds, you’ll also be working through the machinations of an advanced mouse society: meaning there is plenty to explore in a recogniseable fantasy vein. Whether that’s mysterious strangers, mouse politics or mad scientists.
It uses a simple six-sided dice pool system and requires a Games Master. That said, it’s one of the simplest games to run, requiring less nitty-gritty then say, a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Mouse Guard is perfect for anyone looking for something a little different from the usual fare, and is especially well placed for co-operative players- as team work trumps firepower.
Buy Mouse Guard at Amazon.
Dread is a fantastic system for horror games, as it takes away player agency via a Jenga block tower of doom, plus also features tons of tips for making your game as terrifying as possible.
At the start, all characters complete questionnaires to determine their preferences (questions include, do you like cats? And do you worship Cthulhu?). Following this, the game is setup, and a Jenga tower is built.
Instead of rolling die, players instead pull from the Jenga tower everytime they make a decision. Should the tower collapse, the character dies. It’s then rebuilt for the other players.
Rinse. Repeat. Die?
The book also features a host of techniques to make your session as traumatic as possible. Horror nuts, take heed.
Buy Dread at Drive Thru RPG.
Last year's fantasy RPG Quest did an impressive job of stripping back the stats and setup so prolific among tabletop RPG games, letting folks descend super fast into that sweet narrative goodness. Acting and maths skills be damned, this one works just as well for tabletop newbies as it does children.
There are multiple ways Quest achieves this. First, each player only requires a single twenty-sided die to play. You'll get bonuses for a few skills that you specialise in, but otherwise the outcome of rolls is very straightforward. In addition, your spells often force you to do curious, but fun little activities: like drawing pictures, or reciting poems.
Secondly, the starter book is strikingly simple, letting you pick a range of abilties unique to your class. When Dicebreaker played Quest (a rather haunted affair including bloodthirsty trees and terrified villagers), I was able to make Dave the hammer-wielding wizard from Croydon in less than 20 minutes.
Lastly, it's very versatile. You can finish up a fun one-off session in literally a couple of hours, but can also build an on-going campaign if that's what you're after. It also features cards that outline both spells and unique items - meaning even less flipping through sheets and books.
As such, Quest's mechanical brevity, player flexibility and powerful - yet ever so simple - story engine makes it absolutely one of the best rules-light storytelling tabletop RPGs out there right now.
Buy Quest at the official Quest store
For a completely different RPG experience, you can chart the rise and fall of a civilization in Icarus. In this, you’ll literally stack dice that represent the construction of a grand monument. When the dice fall, so does your mighty civilisation.
Many types of civilisation are possible, ranging from a sci-fi metropolis, to colonies on Mars and spired fantasy cities.
Icarus not only requires no DM, but also has no character stats, ensuring minimal setup.
Instead players will take on roles like Diplomat and Scientist, and events are spurred on through randomly drawn story cards. Although it veers away from traditional RPG tropes such as in-depth character creation, Icarus us ultimately a game that creates intense, and always tragic, stories collaboratively.
Buy Icarus at Ebay.
8. The Warren
If you like the bucolic melancholy of Watership Down and Animals of Farthing Wood, The Warren is the RPG for you.
You all play lovely wabbits who must traverse a world of terrible dangers. In this game, you are the prey, and survival is the goal.
Swift to setup, it uses straightforward enough stats, and that simplest of all dice, the six-sided one. Each character also gets to choose from one of 31 unique moves. These include things like ‘gilded cage’ which makes you especially fluffy and cute, or the more mystical ‘marked by the black rabbit’ trait, which lets you literally cheat death.
As no one can have the same moves, this helps make each character distinct.
The settings of The Warren will take you from busy cities to mythic riverbeds. Be warned though, this isn’t one for combat players: as a rabbit the emphasis is on being clever, and quick - just like the Watership Down bunnies.
The Warren also utilises an interesting Panic mechanic, which not unlike the Sanity meters so prevalent in Lovecraft-themed games, forces your hand on certain events when it’s maxed out.
It can also be adapted into a child-friendly version, devoid of blood and pathos.
Buy The Warren at Bully Pulpit Games.
9. Cthulhu Dark
For all of you looking for non-Euclidean hijinx and bonus tentacles, Cthulhu Dark is the one.
While Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu is the tabletop RPG default, Cthulhu Dark is much more straightforward and includes all the terrible secrets and dread soaked settings that appease aspiring cultists. If campaigns titled Screams of the Children and The Doors Beyond Time appeal, go for this.
It does require a GM, who will need to do very basic prep comparative to the big tabletop RPG hitters. Additionally, the onboarding process for the Investigator players is ludicrously simple, involving moves determined by a small pool of six-sided dice.
As is tradition with Lovecraftian games, there’s also a sanity meter, upping the odds that you will literally be driven mad by cosmic horrors.
In addition, combat should be generally eschewed in favor of running and/or hiding. You’re playing squishy humans, not spellcasters and barbarians.
Attempting to do anything untoward (unless you have a specifically occult based skillset) will only get those insanity points mounting. This is ideal for folks who want to solve mysteries, or worship tentacles.
Buy Cthulhu Dark at Drive Thru RPG.
10. Our Last Best Hope
If you dream of fending off the apocalypse Bruce Willis style, Our Last Best Hope is the tabletop RPG for you.
Based on the blockbuster disaster movies of yore like Armageddon, this perfect one shot epic requires no DM, takes around two hours to play and is ideal for three to four players.
The emphasis is on swift and dramatic storytelling, although you will have a chance to define a unique character, and just like the movies, all of you will be able to do insane things to save team-mates.
Our Last Best Hope will have you preparing for missions, then moving through Act 1 and Act 2, before you confront the Crisis itself. Two players are picked as Captain and Supply Officer respectively, while others can go into a Doctor, Engineer or Soldier.
Ever so simple, this RPG uses stripped back character creation mechanics (who, why, where and secrets) and runs via pools of trusty six-sided dice.
This game is also hugely collaborative, with characters making huge decisions all together. Whatever happens, you’re guaranteed to play a part in literally saving the world.
Buy Our Last Best Hope at Drive Thru RPG.