Tabletop RPG releases 2020: 10 upcoming roleplaying games you should play this year
From the first Warhammer: Age of Sigmar RPG to Nordic horror and underground cities
It looks to be an awesome year for tabletop RPGs, with plenty of titles slated for release in 2020 that cater to a wide variety of tastes, themes and settings.
Big tabletop roleplaying games for 2020 include the upcoming RPG adaptation of board game Root - one of the best board games of recent years - in which you all play woodland animals fighting for justice in an idyllic forest.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the filthy flesh and steel-smelted streets of Cyberpunk Red: a grim, post-apocalyptic future world rife with horrifying bodily augmentations. Meanwhile, a new Warhammer RPG set in the fantasy world of Age of Sigmar is landing soon.
However, eccentrics fear not, because there is definitely some top-tier tabletop roleplaying game strangeness coming up this year. This includes alternative-history weird-western RPG Haunted West and dark fantasy RPG dungeon delver Heart: The City Beneath. Or perhaps you’d like to invade the recesses of folks’ darkest mind palaces in Voidheart Symphony.
Alternatively, take an eerie trip through the horrors of Scandinavian folklore with Vaesan: Nordic Horror Roleplaying, that hails from the same folks who created time-travelling RPG Tales from the Loop, plus explore cursed planes of existence aplenty in The Yellow King RPG, which is based on stories that inspired cosmic-horror herald Lovecraft. Furthermore, you can get your very own needy lap-crocodile pets in Electric Bastionland, a world where unknowable machines roam and Living Stars whisper strange miracles.
Upcoming tabletop RPG releases 2020
There are tabletop RPG titles not featured here worth keeping an eye out for in 2020. Legendary sci-fi series Dune is getting its own RPG adaptation from Modiphius, which is bringing out the tabletop adaptation of dark fantasy video game Dishonored.
In addition, sci-fi tabletop RPG Lancer raised quite the cosmic storm last year, to the tune of over $400,000 on Kickstarter. In it, you play a team of mech pilots, ranging from cold-blooded mercenaries to no-nonsense Union regulars.
Following a similar sci-fi vein is psychedelic RPG trilogy Super Blood Harvest. In adventure one, you’ve been abducted by a vampire space fortress (yes, you read that right) and need to escape before it enters hibernation behind the Moon. Later instalments see you hiding from killbot swarms in a world ruled by monolith-sized mechanical gods.
Last but not least, we spotted unusual tabletop RPG Nahaul: a Tabletop RPG of Mexican Urban Fantasy. You all play nahuales, humans who can shapeshift into animals. You’ll mostly be hunting angels in Mexico, a setting that comprises both fantasy plus grittier elements like corruption and inequality, as well as running a business together, where you can sell angel meat cooked in tacos or a drug comprised of ground up angel bones - among other things.
The bulk of these roleplaying games are fairly complex, so if you're seeking an easy entry point into tabletop roleplaying, take a gander at some of the best rules-light and storytelling RPGs for beginners. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the finest tabletop RPGs coming in 2020.
1. Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game
Based on the lore of the popular board game of the same name, where-in you play vagabond woodland animals vying for control of a forest. In Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game you create a character, such as a wolf ranger, grizzled fox veteran or a cat scoundrel, before setting out to complete quests across the various clearings within the woodland.
These are ruled by one of Root’s myriad factions, such as the Marquise de Cat and her factory-building armies, or the old lords of the wood, the birdy Eyrie Dynasties who roost in the high trees. A living world, these factions will do bloody battle among themselves whether you’re there or not.
Each character has five stats, including the likes of charm and cunning. Whenever you want to do something, you’ll usually roll two d6 and add any relevant stat modifiers. If you roll lower than a six, you’ll fail, whereas a ten or higher indicates an overwhelming success.
It’s based on the Powered by the Apocalypse system, notably used in fantasy RPG Dungeon World.
Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game raised over half a million dollars on Kickstarter last year, with copies estimated to land in September 2020.
If you fancy being lovely animals steeped in bucolic melancholy before Root lands later this year, try out rules-light storytelling RPGs Mouse Guard and The Warren.
2. Cyberpunk Red
Currently only available in a stripped-back form as the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, the fully-fledged new Cyberpunk Red tabletop RPG is allegedly slated for release this year.
It adapts from the filth-ridden, nightmare augmentation sci-fi setting so well known to the Cyberpunk series as a whole. However, as far as the canon goes, it takes place in 2045, making it a prequel to the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 video game due for release in September, but a sequel to the last two instalments in the tabletop RPG franchise, Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020.
In Cyberpunk Red, which takes its name from the scarlet-coloured sky created by nuclear dust, the Fourth Corporate War has finished and all the head honchos have retreated, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves in a broken world full of cyber assassins, lurid skyscrapers and sleazy bars. As in previous instalments, you can hurtle between realities, hacking the dangerous recesses of cyberspace and beyond.
The full edition of Cyberpunk Red does not have a set release date currently, although the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit is out now. We actually gave it a go last year in our Cyberpunk Red playthrough. Learn how to play the Cyberpunk Red tabletop RPG while you wait.
3. Dungeon & Dragons: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
Earlier this year, Critical Role - a hugely popular Dungeons & Dragons 5E playthrough video series - announced its first official Dungeons & Dungeons sourcebook, the upcoming Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
It takes players to Critical Role continent Wildemount, created by Critical Role dungeon master and writer Matt Mercer - who is also credited as a designer on the upcoming book.
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount promises a “land of war, betrayal and swashbuckling adventure” and takes place during a huge conflict between the Dwendalian Empire and the Kryn Dynasty. The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount will feature character options, along with spells, subclasses, monsters and magic items. Essentially, everything you need to build a Dungeons & Dragons 5E RPG campaign within the setting. In addition, It features four starting adventures to set you up.
The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemont is landing in stores on March 17th.
4. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound
The very first tabletop RPG set in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar universe, Age of Sigmar - Soulbond continues in the Warhammer fantasy RPG tradition. It comes from Cubicle 7, which is behind previous system Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4E, although did not create the original Warhammer Fantasy RPG.
Age of Sigmar follows on from the Warhammer fantasy setting and is based on nine interconnected realms, including the plains of Chaos. Unlike Warhammer 4E, the Age of Sigmar setting blends dark fantasy with lashes of steampunk, magitech and post-apocalyptic horror. As such, you can enjoy a wide cast of gods, demons and monsters here - along with the usual ultra-violence so beloved of the series as a whole.
In terms of characters, you’ll choose from an archetype - similar to a class in Dungeons & Dragons - which can refer to anything from your job to your calling. Potential choices include the Skyrigger, who uses the power of a back-mounted aether-endrin to fly, or a Sylvaneth Branchwych, a tree-person that packs a hefty heal. In terms of Warhammer factions, you’ll be able to play agents of the Order, although other factions, like horrible rat people the Skaven, will also be options.
Curiously, the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound RPG is slated to do away with the d100 roleplaying system so well-known in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay series. Instead of chucking down those epic one-hundred sided dice, you’ll instead be drawing from a pool of d6.
The Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound Starter Set is due out in the second quarter of 2020, while the Soulbound Core Rules book will be landing in the first few months of 2020.
5. Haunted West
Funded in under three hours on Kickstarter last year, Haunted West is described as a “historical-fiction, Weird-Western, spaghetti-action game” - but your typical rootin’ shootin’ western this ain’t. This is because Haunted West explores the mechanisms of oppression and struggle, just as much as it does menacing monsters and free-for-all violence.
It comes from RPG designer Chris Spivey, who previously made Cthulhu RPG Harlem Unbound, which is set in 1920s Harlem. In defiance of the original stories of racist HP Lovecraft, Harlem Unbound featured African-American protagonists hailing from diverse backgrounds.
Haunted West is set in an alternate reality where not only Lincoln gets assassinated, but his real-life replacement, former slave owner and vice president Andrew Johnson, is also killed. As such, in the lands of Haunted West, Lafayette Foster becomes president. The US becomes divided, parts given out to enslaved people - as was originally planned in our own own timeline - completely changing the power dynamic of America.
Curiously, Haunted West can be played as a gritty historical game, where the odds of you dying of dysentery are higher than getting shot. Or, you can go full spaghetti or pulp western - meaning loads of those ultra-violent good times so beloved of the genre. Meanwhile, the weird-west aspect includes everything from aliens to skinwalkers.
The core mechanic is based on a 1d100 system that covers three tiers of play: narrative-based with minimal rolling, heavy storytelling and rolling.
Hunted West reached its goals on Kickstarter last year and is estimated to arrive with backers in July 2020.
6. Heart: The City Beneath
Coming out in July 2020 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Heart: The City Beneath focuses on the darker parts of dungeon-delving.
Based in the same world as fantasy RPG and spiritual predecessor Spire, Heart takes place in a “realm of unreality”; namely, a hidden nightmare city that can give you everything you’ve ever wanted - or just kill you horribly. The Heart itself is semi-parasitic and somewhat sentient, building itself around your dreams. Its stories are ones of desperation, adventure and hubris.
You all play delvers: strange, obsessive folks with a burning desire to explore the City Beneath. There’s a range of unusual player character choices, like the witch, who can adopt a predatory lair and turn into a “flickering zoetrope horror”; the Vermissian Knight, who can summon a legendary train that crushes their foes; and The Deep Apiarist, who is full of psychically-charged bees.
Heart: The City Beneath comes from writers Chris Taylor and Grant Howitt. Howitt recently joined us for a playthrough of his surreal one-page RPG Reverse Beastmaster.
7. Voidheart Symphony
In designer Jay Illes’ Voidheart Symphony, you can break into people’s minds, which you’ll then explore via a dungeon themed around their personality. Within these eerie dream dungeons, you can steal their secrets.
Here’s the setup: you are a normal person, struggling in a modern city. You might be a single mother, or an eldery woman struggling to keep afloat in turbulent times. Within the darkest corners of the city, a void rages inside an abyssal citadel. It is shaped by the worst predators of the city, granting them terrible power. As a rebel, you’ve taken it upon yourself to throw yourself into the void, take back that power and bring it to your community.
You’ll jump between the shadow nightmare world of the castle - where blood and epic combat await - and standard mundane reality. Your character will be shaped around one of seven playbooks, including archetypes like the Harlequin or Heretic. Additionally, you’ll have a covenant, a bond themed around a tarot card that strengthens your adventuring party.
Although it’s a standalone RPG, Voidheart Symphony is based on rules that Illes developed in her previous titles, Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and Rhapsody of Blood.
The digital edition of Voidheart Symphony is slated to land with Kickstarter backers in July 2020, while a physical version including the covenant card deck and print book will be coming in October 2020.
8. Vaeson: Nordic Horror Roleplaying
While there are plenty of horror board games around, horror RPG titles are less prolific. You’ve got your Call of Cthulhu and rules-light storytelling RPGs like Dread, but what if you’re looking for something a little more out there (and less tentacled)?
This is where Vaeson, a roleplaying game steeped in Nordic folklore lurks. It’s set in the aptly-titled Mythic North, an alternate reality where all the myths of old are real. While industrialised cities exist, all know not to wander too far into those deep, dark Scandinavian forests. For there exists a gamut of horrors, from ghosts to giants and dragons. More specific to the region are beasts like the Neck, who lure women and children to a watery doom with their enchanted violin, or Mylings: unbaptised children that sing into the night and will clasp onto the backs of lone wanderers, begging to be buried in hallowed ground.
You’ll each make a character with the ‘sight’, an ability that lets you see beyond the everyday, before heading out to remote villages to uncover the mysteries of the land, while also building your own group headquarters and can hire staff to research in either the laboratory or the library.
In terms of mechanics, Vaeson uses the Year Zero Engine, which you may have tried out in roleplaying games like Mutant: Year Zero. It’s from publisher Free League - who are behind Alien: The Roleplaying Game and time-travelling adventure Tales from the Loop.
Vaesan: Nordic Horror Roleplaying smashed its goals on Kickstarter last year and is estimated to land in May 2020.
9. Electric Bastionland
From Chris Macdowell, the creator of strange industrial RPG Into the Odd, Electric Bastion looks set to be very unique indeed.
You play a treasure hunter in the city of Bastion, joining other luckless weirdos in a desperate bid to pay back your colossal debts. Flavours of eccentric include the Prize Breeder, who can wield two twin lap-crocodiles; an urban safarist, who finds adventures for rich thrill-seekers in the streets of Bastion; and the somewhat sinister amateur amputator, who can get their own filthy ferret to help with all those unlicensed medical procedures.
Instead of the usual magical spell casting prevalent in roleplaying games, characters use reality-warping tools to wield power, or have picked up unusual tools through their training or heritage, like the urbalist, who can witness secret messages from the city when jacked up on hallucinogenic herbs.
Electric Bastion Land has been made with accessibility in mind, it uses a d20 rolling system that draws from three stats - strength, dexterity and charisma - and the setting is comprised predominantly of ‘spark’ tables, which list random events, characters and more based around its central themes.
The Electric Bastionland RPG is due to land with Kickstarter backers in April 2020.
10. The Yellow King RPG
Enjoy some detective work with a dash of cosmic horror in the upcoming The Yellow King RPG from Pelgrane Press, known for its long-running tabletop fantasy RPG 13th Age.
The Yellow King RPG is inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ short story collection The King in Yellow, which comprises a range of weird decadent tales that explore madness, despair and the supernatural in ways that influenced the works of Cthulhu creator himself, HP Lovecraft.
The first stories of the set are loosely linked by mention of a cursed play and a malevolent entity known as The King in Yellow. Across its four RPG books, first instalment Paris sees players being absinthe-swigging art students tasked with investigating mysteries involving everything from gargoyles to alien royalty. The second takes place in an alternative reality during the great European conflict of 1947. You’ll play soldiers trying to stay alive, while exploring weird mysteries generated by the King and his daughters. Meanwhile, final books Aftermath and This is Normal Now take place in 2017, with players being former partisans and ordinary people respectively.
The Yellow King RPG also includes the Absinthe in Carcosa sourcebook, a scrapbook that compiles a mix of fictional public domain sources and sinister ramblings, along with an original ebook novel titled The Missing and The Lost by The King in Yellow RPG designer Robin D. Laws.
Laws invented the GUMSHOE roleplaying system that simmers beneath The King in Yellow. A system of mechanics focused on investigation, it’s powered other Lovecraftian games including Trail of Cthulhu.
The King in Yellow started shipping to Kickstarter backers in December last year before seeing a full release at the start of February.