Best tabletop RPGs 2023 (that aren’t Dungeons & Dragons 5E)
Lose yourself in an amazing world this year
Though Dungeons & Dragons is considered one of the best tabletop roleplaying games, there’s an entire smorgasbord of great RPGs out there besides D&D.
Enabling players to be immersed in entirely different worlds and realities via their imaginations, tabletop RPGs can range from the extremely accessible to the deeply complex – which you decide to play depends on the kind of experience you want. While some of the best roleplaying games are more focused on a rich ruleset intended to simulate living in another world, others are more concerned with providing the tools needed for storytelling.
Best tabletop RPGs 2023
- Kids on Bikes
- Blades in the Dark
- Cyberpunk Red
- Mörk Borg
- Trail of Cthulhu
- Monsterhearts 2
- Honey Heist
- Coyote & Crow
Another factor to consider when choosing which tabletop RPG you want to play is the setting and theme. Setting and theme are incredibly important regarding tone and atmosphere, as well as the sorts of stories that you and your group want to tell. For example, a horror RPG will probably see the player characters feeling overpowered by terrifying creatures, whereas a fantasy roleplaying game – such as Dungeons & Dragons – will be more likely to present its players with an epic experience.
This list of the best tabletop RPGs features both lightweight and complex roleplaying games, alongside TRPGs that range from gritty steampunk to futuristic cyberpunk. Regardless of your experience level or particular needs, our suggestions for the best tabletop RPGs in 2023 will be sure to have something for everyone.
1. Kids on Bikes
Create your own Stranger Things-esque storyline with this collaborative RPG
As 1980s nostalgia continues to remain a significant part of the current pop culture landscape, people are undoubtedly looking for a roleplaying game that hits this particular spot. Kids on Bikes is a lightweight sci-fi roleplaying game that feels inspired by the likes of movies such as ET and Stephen King’s IT, as well as television series like Stranger Things.
In Kids on Bikes, players take the role of young people living in a seemingly sleepy suburban town. As characters whose every day is usually dictated by school, parents and homework, the players suddenly discover that there is something a lot scarier than bullies or teachers hiding in their backyards.
Kids on Bikes is a collaborative RPG, meaning that the games master isn’t the only person responsible for narrating and building the world. Before they start playing, the group works together to form the town their characters inhabit: its residents, its locations and its general vibe. Having players create the town itself makes them inevitably more emotionally invested in it.
When controlling their characters, players will have a set of polyhedral dice to roll whenever they attempt to do something that they’ll face resistance on or a task that’s particularly difficult. Which die they throw for which action depends on how effective their character is at performing that type of action. While some kids are going to be more bookish, others are going to be better at sports. For ‘80s nostalgia at an accessible level, give Kids on Bikes a go.
Buy Kids on Bikes from the Renegade Games Studio store and Zatu.
2. Blades in the Dark
Ocean’s Eleven in a dark steampunk world
The city of Duskvol is a dangerous place. Its streets are filled with gangs, guards and even ghosts. It’s also the setting for the steampunk fantasy roleplaying game Blades in the Dark. Created by John Harper, Blades in the Dark is an RPG about crawling your way out of the darkest holes of society using wits, connections and instinct.
Players in Blades in the Dark are members of a crew who dream of making a steady life for themselves through the less-than-steady career of thievery. Duskvol is a city of extreme wealth and poverty, where rich noble families live in luxury over the sewers and hovels of the poor - which is why there’s nothing wrong with you and your fellow crewmates taking a little of that luxury for yourselves.
Each session of Blades in the Dark is shaped around a job, which can be as simple as stealing a valuable item from a wealthy resident or as complicated as pulling off a full-blown bank heist. However, unlike many other heist stories, this one won’t have you devising your plan beforehand. Instead, the players are able to pause in the middle of the action to describe a flashback sequence that will somehow explain how their character was prepared for a sudden obstacle or setback. This gameplay system allows the pacing of each session to flow smoothly, rather than having one very long section at the beginning where the players make their plan. It also adds an element of improvisation and chaos to the experience, echoing the characters’ own feelings of potentially feeling in over their heads.
If the players manage to complete their jobs without getting locked up by the authorities or taken out by a rival gang, then they’ll go onto accept more and more ambitious work. Luckily enough, their experiences will also enable them to gain new skills and acquire some impressive equipment from their contacts. We haven’t even touched on the supernatural element of Blades in the Dark! (Some players are able to communicate with the dead.) Safe to say, there are many reasons to play this particular tabletop RPG.
Buy Blades in the Dark on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
3. Cyberpunk Red
Explore the world of Cyberpunk 2077 and Cyberpunk Edgerunners in a new way
First hitting the scene in 1988, Cyberpunk is a series that’s become synonymous with dark corporate schemes, transhuman technology and jackets with the largest collars you’ve ever laid your eyes on. Since its release, Cyberpunk has received multiple editions, each one pushing the game’s setting a few more years into the future, to ensure that its speculative technology continues to remain, well, speculative. Its most recent edition is Cyberpunk Red, a streamlined version of Mike Pondsmith’s sci-fi roleplaying game that takes place during the 2040s - decades before popular video game adaptation Cyberpunk 2077 - inviting players to step into the seedy and exciting world of Night City.
Don’t let Cyberpunk Red’s snazzy retro-futuristic aesthetic fool you; it’s an RPG that dives into all sorts of heavy topics, from the consequences of uncontrolled capitalism to environmentalism to what it means to be human. Players are able to choose from a variety of different classes for their characters, with each one having their own bizarre way of interacting with Night City. If you’ve always fancied yourself a musician you can create a rockerboy geared up to lead a revolution, or if you’re a fan of the 1995 film Hackers then you can live the dream of breaking into top security networks as a netrunner. Navigating Night City’s various gangs, corporations and major players is essential to your party’s survival in Cyberpunk Red, potentially teaming up with a particular faction or otherwise pushing back against the forces that seek to conquer the metropolis.
Regardless of who you do and don’t ally yourself with, you can choose how you’re going to tackle the various jobs or missions that your party chooses to take on by putting points in attributes and skills. Whilst some characters will be more accomplished at kicking down the door all guns blazing, others are sure to prefer a more subtle approach. As your party gains experience, they’ll be able to improve at these approaches and branch out from them as well. Don’t forget about all the cool weaponry and equipment you’ll be able to acquire as well. Take a trip to Night City - and try to stay alive.
Buy Cyberpunk Red on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
4. Mörk Borg
Delve into a dark fantasy world where the best you can hope for is redemption
Most fantasy roleplaying games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, want to offer their players a world where they can wield powerful magic, gleaming swords and fiery axes in order to save people. Mörk Borg takes a slightly different approach by presenting a gloomy world where characters must struggle to survive and people may not deserve to be saved. An apocalyptic RPG, Mörk Borg isn’t about being a hero - it’s about finding something worthwhile to cling onto as the last vestiges of humanity turn to ashes.
Player characters in Mörk Borg are people seeking resolution, redemption or recompense for their otherwise miserable lives. Taking place on the eve of destruction, the dark fantasy TRPG features a doomsday clock gameplay mechanic that gradually makes the world a more dangerous place to live in. There are also plenty of opportunities for player characters to make crucial mistakes, whether that be a miscast spell or a misplaced sword-swing, with the consequences often being severe. All of this – plus the roster of bloodthirsty assailants players can encounter – makes for a pretty mean RPG that we wouldn’t recommend to new roleplayers or anyone who isn’t up for having a depressing time.
What Mörk Borg can offer players is an exploration of finding comfort and catharsis in the end. Rather than reveling in power fantasy and spectacle, Mörk Borg provides players with a safe space to tell stories about depression, guilt, fear and all those other difficult emotions that humanity struggles with. The end might be very dark in Mörk Borg, but there are plenty of opportunities to create light before it all goes dark - which is why curious players should check it out
Buy Mörk Borg on the Free League Games store and Zatu.
A mech RPG inspired by the likes of Evangelion and Gundam
Who doesn’t want to control a massive robot in space? Sci-fi RPG Lancer draws on classic mech anime such as Gundam and Evangelion to bring to life its vision of a far-flung future much more upbeat than the grimdark likes of Warhammer 40,000.
Players control pilots working on behalf of various factions, who hop into their powerful mechs to solve whatever problem is required of them. The RPG mixes deep narrative storytelling with a tactical edge in its mech-based combat, with the ability for players to highly customise their machine and deploy onto hex-based grids for battles.
Lancer’s futuristic setting mixes crunchy combat with more fantastical elements, while players progress the story and development of their characters both in and out of the mech. While the game’s universe isn’t quite a utopia – someone still needs to employ the players’ pilots to solve problems, after all – it's a much more hopeful and bright look at sci-fi than the recent trend towards dark, dystopian horror.
Lancer finds a thematic sweet spot between the flashy cinematic scope of Saturday morning cartoons and a serious commentary on human society, wrapped up in a complex, visionary take on an ever-popular genre: big robots fighting. One of the most original RPG settings of recent years accompanied by rewarding gameplay, it already looks set to become a modern classic.
Buy Lancer on Itch.io.
6. Trail of Cthulhu
Become detectives investigating a terrifying mystery in this horror RPG
Even though Call of Cthulhu is the most well-known tabletop roleplaying game based on the Cthulhu mythos, there are others that rival – and arguably surpass – it. Trail of Cthulhu is a tabletop RPG that’s built on the Gumshoe gameplay system, a ruleset designed to simulate the perfect mystery for players to investigate. One of the most appealing things about a lot of games that tackle the Cthulhu mythos is that they often don’t focus on narratives involving combat. After all, there’s not much you can do against a godlike being such as Cthulhu and friends once they’re at Earth’s door.
Trail of Cthulhu is a great example of a Cthulhu mythos game that isn’t interested in combat as much as it’s interested in detective work. Utilising the Gumshoe system, Trail of Cthulhu sees players embodying fairly unremarkable characters as they attempt to investigate a mystery. The RPG is fantastic at helping GMs to build-up to grand reveals and larger plots, starting players out with a fairly small mystery before expanding the story’s scope as they progress. Whilst knowledge is most certainly power in Trail of Cthulhu – with each clue moving players closer to answering the mystery – it is also incredibly dangerous, with the threat of knowing too much hanging over the party’s heads at all times.
The more players discover about the impending invasion of the Old Ones, the greater the likelihood that one or more of them will completely lose sense of reality. As with many titles inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, Trail of Cthulhu includes sanity elements. However, thanks to its nature as a detective RPG, player characters will have to prepared to deal with the consequences of ‘fucking around and finding out’ more than they’re likely to survive. If you like solving mysteries and losing yourself – quite literally – then Trail of Cthulhu should definitely be your next tabletop roleplaying experience.
Buy Trail of Cthulhu on Amazon UK and the Pelgrane Press website.
7. Monsterhearts 2
Teens and screams abound in a very queer and very cool supernatural RPG
Being a teenager is super hard. Having to deal with change, social pressures and understanding who you are is plenty to have to cope with. Monsterhearts 2 is an RPG that takes all the challenges of adolescence and makes them exponentially more troublesome by adding in supernatural elements. A game about the trials, tribulations and joys of growing up, Monsterhearts 2 sees players becoming some classic supernatural beings – such as vampires and werewolves – as well as some more unusual creatures, like living toys called the hollow, attempting to navigate the world of youth. Though the game’s supernatural elements certainly allow it to stand out, it’s an RPG that’s more about finding and developing relationships than anything else.
The player characters in Monsterhearts 2 will find themselves struggling against their own worst tendencies in order to better realise themselves. Each supernatural species in Monsterhearts 2 has its own unique vice that the player characters will have to wrestle with if they’re going to build healthy relationships with other people. These relationships can be romantic and/or sexual in nature – with queer relationships being actively supported by the text – but can also be platonic connections, with the back-and-forth exchange of giving and receiving power being backed up by the game’s mechanics. Players will be able to perform different interactions with other characters, depending on their supernatural identity, with the outcomes being affected by their characters’ traits. Besides altering their relationships with other people, certain actions can change a character’s relationship with themselves – causing them to better understand who they are or gradually become more confused.
Monsterhearts 2 is a fantastic tabletop RPG because it takes some of the classic tropes of melodramatic teen drama – angst, passion and self–discovery – and turns them into a meaningful exploration of the self and of our need for connection. For an RPG that’s brimming with interpersonal relationship drama and gothic stylings, play Monsterhearts 2.
Buy Monsterhearts 2 on Buried Without Ceremony.
8. Honey Heist
A simple but hilarious roleplaying game about playing criminal bears
Amongst all the epic worldbuilding and bombast of so many other tabletop roleplaying games sits Honey Heist. Fitting onto a single piece of A4 paper, the rules for Honey Heist are very simple: you are bears, you commit crimes. Part of designer Grant Howitt’s one-page RPG series – which has also featured such classics as Jason Statham’s Big Vacation – Honey Heist is easily the most well-known game in the collection. It makes sense that Honey Heist be as popular as it is because, despite its ridiculous premise, it works exceedingly well as a tabletop RPG.
A big reason as to why Honey Heist works is that it’s exceedingly easy to learn. Each player character has exactly two stats: Bear and Crime. Throughout the rules-light RPG players will be rolling with one of these two stats to overcome obstacles. Whichever they decide to use depends on whether they believe that embracing their bear side or criminal side will better suit them. For instance, breaking into a vault will likely be more of a criminal action, whereas scaring away a crowd of onlookers is better served by being a bear.
Like any good heist story, each player character will be assigned a different role in the crew – from the intimidating muscle to the driver – with the aim being to pull off the greatest crime seen in bear history. Honey Heist isn’t just simple for players to learn, as GMs are free to drive the story wherever they think will be more entertaining, with plenty of opportunities for collaboration too. Rather than focusing on simulating a world, Honey Heist is very much a roleplaying game about telling silly stories and laughing, a lot.
Get Honey Heist for whatever price you choose on Itch.io.
A chaotic and fast-paced RPG inspired by the films of the Coen Brothers
Pulling off a perfect plan without a hitch is satisfying, but sometimes the most memorable moments come from everything going south. Dropping players into the botched setups of foolish criminals, Fiasco is the best tabletop RPG where nothing goes your way.
Fiasco leans into its cinematic debt to crime capers like Fargo and Burn After Reading – along with basically all of the Coen brothers’ movies – by breaking gameplay into a number of scenes. Players create characters that have relationships with each other, but who are mostly out for their own benefit – with tragic and comedic (sometimes at the same time) consequences.
There’s no game master, with players taking it in turns to describe what happens during each scene. A handful of six-sided dice in two colours – representing positive and negative aspects of the story - are used, which players pick during scenes to influence the flow of the plot.
Fiasco’s simple movie-like structure allows it to translate to a number of different genres and settings, from classic neo-noir crime films to westerns, sci-fi and fantasy. At the end of each of the game’s two acts, there will be a tilt – where things suddenly go sideways – and, finally, the aftermath, where players describe what happened to their characters. Normally it’s not good news for the characters, but it’s a lot of fun for the players.
Its uniquely cinematic format, potential for tragicomic stories in any number of settings and GM-less, rules-light gameplay make Fiasco one of the best RPGs for new players looking for something original when it comes to roleplaying. The RPG’s original rulebook has since been replaced by an even more beginner-friendly boxed set that swaps dice for cards, allowing newcomers to jump straight in and let the chaos play out.
Buy Fiasco on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
10. Coyote & Crow
This sci-fi RPG written by indigenous writers imagines a North America free of colonialism
At first glance, Coyote & Crow treads familiar ground. The tabletop RPG's setting presents a future vision of Earth, transformed in the wake of a global climate crisis, for players to explore. Both on and off the table, however, Coyote & Crow represents something new. Created by an Indigenous-led team, headed up by Cherokee designer Connor Alexander, the RPG imagines a world where colonisation never occurred, breaking free of the Eurocentric influences and philosophies established by the likes of Dungeons & Dragons.
Coyote & Crow’s setting of Makasing is an alternate North America that was never colonised by European settlers. Hundreds of years after a meteor collision almost wiped out humanity and plunged the world into inhospitable winters during a period known as Awis, players control inhabitants of the world’s five Indigenous-inspired nations as they use advanced technology and a force known as Adanadi to thrive in the post-apocalyptic landscape.
The RPG’s gameplay uses 12-sided dice in a system akin to Shadowrun or World of Darkness games such as Vampire: The Masquerade, with a focus on solving encounters creatively without immediately resorting to violence. While the rules have plenty of depth, Coyote & Crow also puts an importance on weaving meaningful narratives and character development, drawing inspiration from Native American storytelling. (The rulebook provides advice to non-Indigenous players on respectfully portraying characters and stories without veering into cultural appropriation.)
Between its engrossing setting and gameplay, Coyote & Crow is a literal world away from some of the aspects of “classic” roleplaying that are better left in the past. As the winner of the Tabletop Award for Best Roleplaying Game – alongside its creators being awarded Best Publisher - it paints a bright future for tabletop storytelling.
Buy Coyote & Crow on the game's website.
A Japanese roleplaying game about exploring a world populated by seasonal dragons
Whilst there’s certainly one particular RPG that most people think of when it comes to dragons, there are plenty of other great examples. Japanese tabletop roleplaying game Ryuutama has players becoming adventurers exploring a world inspired by Japanese mythology, combined with tropes associated with classic western fantasy. Via an English-language translation, players can embark on adventures across a land in which seasonal dragons breathe life into the changing natural world. Tagging alongside the party are Ryuujin – or dragon people – whose duty is to record the stories of people they believe will shape the very world itself.
Ryuutama describes itself as being a ‘natural world RPG’, with an emphasis being placed on the pastoral and an innate sense of wanderlust that people experience in the game’s setting. As the player characters unearth more secrets about the world, they learn more about themselves in turn. Though Ryuutama has a combat gameplay system inspired by classic Japanese RPG video games, the focus of the tabletop RPG remains firmly on the act of travelling through a fictional world, experiencing new things and meeting fresh faces. The party will inevitably encounter monsters during their adventures, but the game’s goal is not to hunt for creatures to kill.
Instead, players will be searching for a sense of feelgood - or honobono in Japanese - one that nods at the likes of Studio Ghibli films. Adventure is sought for the opportunity for companionship and unforgettable experiences, rather than the goal itself. If you’re after a wholesome RPG that offers a chilled lo-fi experience with plenty of fantastical wonder, then Ryuutama is certainly worth checking out.
Buy the physical version of Ryuutama from Indie Press Revolution or the digital version from Itch.io.