Tabletop RPG releases 2021: 10 upcoming roleplaying games you should play
Prepare to lose yourself in some of the most exciting RPGs arriving in the next 12 months.
The world of tabletop roleplaying games is an exciting one at the moment. From beloved RPG series receiving a fresh coat of paint to entirely new games being released, the next year is looking to be a particularly excellent one for fans of tabletop roleplaying. The joy of RPGs is that they offer creators and players so much flexibility with which to explore their ideas. Whilst there are plenty of existing franchises seeing releases in 2021, there are even more fresh-faced roleplaying games making their way into store shelves, offering never-before-seen worlds and gameplay systems for players to experience.
When it comes to different genres, the current roadmap for upcoming RPGs provides a wide variety of tones and settings to suit any player's fancy. Whether you’re looking for the next fantasy world to fall into, aching for the tense atmosphere of a horror setting or want something a little more unusual, this list contains roleplaying games that cater to all sorts of themes and moods. Some of which you wouldn’t usually expect to be found within a tabletop roleplaying game.
Best upcoming RPGs 2021
- The One Ring RPG 2E: Return to Middle-earth in the long-awaited second edition of the Lord of the Rings RPG.
- Wanderhome: Live a peaceful life as gentle woodland creatures in an upcoming fantasy RPG about pastoral lifestyles.
- Urban Shadows 2E: The next edition of the modern horror roleplaying game adds some exciting new features to entice players.
- .dungeon: An adorable-looking game about making friends online that draws from World of Warcraft and Digimon.
- Syndicult: From the dungeon master of Critical Role, Matt Mercer, this RPG looks to provide a world filled with mafia families and magic.
- Monster Care Squad: Inspired by the likes of Studio Ghibli, players look after the unusual creatures populating a fantasy world.
- Arc: Time is running out in this upcoming roleplaying game that sees players attempting to save the world from an apocalyptic event.
- Batman: Gotham City Chronicles - The Roleplaying Game: Featuring the famous DC comic-book hero, as well as his many allies and adversaries, fans of the Dark Knight should look forward to this.
- Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall: Fight to keep your family safe from persecution and hopping vampires in this horror RPG about the Chinatowns of 1920s America.
- King Arthur Pendragon 6E: The classic fantasy RPG from the creator of RuneQuest sees its sixth edition more than 35 years after the original.
Considering how many tools are available to help you play RPGs with others online - as well as the extra time players might have now - there’s arguably never been a better moment to get into roleplaying games. The bevy of tabletop RPGs set to be released over the next year is definitely worth getting excited about. It’s time to figure out which of these 10 upcoming roleplaying games you should play for your next big campaign.
1. The One Ring RPG 2E
The roleplaying game adapted from Tolkien’s iconic fantasy universe returns
After it was cancelled due to “contractual differences” between publisher Cubicle 7 and Sophisticated Games - the licence holder for tabletop adaptations of Tolkien - fans are finally seeing the release of the second edition of The One Ring RPG. Based on the landmark fantasy novels by JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, The One Ring 2E was initially set to be released between the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, alongside its D&D 5E-compatible spin-off Adventures in Middle-earth.
Luckily enough, the franchise has since changed hands and is now owned by Free League, the publisher behind Tales from the Loop and the Alien RPG. Focusing on the region of Eriador - which contains some locations that fans of the books might be familiar with, such as the Shire and Rivendell - the Second Edition will continue the core gameplay mechanics of the original, whilst adding some improvements and tweaks to set it apart. Players will still be rolling a d12 whenever they want their character to do something, but the second edition will also feature new open-world aspects found in other fantasy RPGs such as Forbidden Lands.
Another change will be the time period in which The One Ring 2E take places, moving the narrative on by around 20 years from the original setting of the first edition. Players will be able to experience the roleplaying game through a starter set that will feature playable versions of characters from the Lord of the Rings books themselves. Otherwise, players will be able to make characters from cultures not found in the previous edition, as well as look forward to a new version of the previously cancelled adventure module Moria - The Long Dark. Fans of the series and newcomers alike can expect this next entry to arrive in early 2021.
Buy The One Ring RPG: 2E is available to purchase yet.
Relax, make friends and explore in a gentle world of pastoral beauty
Sometimes it’s good to have a break from the intense action provided by a lot of RPGs in order to sink into a setting that favours a more laid-back approach to roleplaying. Introducing Wanderhome, a game about enjoying a quieter life filled with natural wonders and long-lasting friendships. Wanderhome is an RPG that wants to shift the focus of roleplaying away from the combat-heavy experiences found in games such as Dungeons & Dragons 5E, and towards a more explorative or relationship-building focus.
Inspired by the likes of Studio Ghibli - the film studio behind animated classics such as Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro - the author of the Moomin books, Tove Jansson; and Redwall writer Brian Jacques, Wanderhome invites players to kick back and take things a little easy. Taking place in a pastoral land called Hæth, it’s a rules-light RPG all about telling smaller stories about the lifestyles and habits of a society of humanoid animals called the Kith. Players can become different types of Kith with various aspects, hobbies and occupations to pursue. Whether you want to create a snake, shrew, fox, rabbit or any other kind of animal you can think of, players are not restricted by their creature type.
The creator behind Wanderhome, Jay Dragon, has specialised in designing RPGs that offer their players a more accessible ruleset, alongside ways to express themselves through roleplay. The designer’s Venture and Dungeon is an RPG duo about a group of high school kids who play D&D around their everyday lives, whereas Sleepaway focuses on the trappings of a classic slasher horror scenario. Considering their previous releases, it’s safe to say that you should be excited about Dragon’s latest roleplaying game when it arrives next summer.
Buy Wanderhome from backerkit.com.
3. Urban Shadows 2E
Supernatural mysteries are afoot in this modern imagining of classic horror creatures and tropes
Cityscapes populated by vampires and ghosts is nothing new in the world of pop culture, let alone roleplaying games - where the likes of Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse have cemented themselves as beloved urban fantasy RPGs. However, it’s debatable whether Vampire, Werewolf and the other World of Darkness roleplaying games handles the genre right, as the universe has come under fire for its regressive depiction of certain minority groups and topics such as mental illness. Perhaps it’s about time that players had a new modern supernatural RPG to enjoy - one that takes a more nuanced approach towards representation.
Luckily enough, Urban Shadows is getting a second edition in the coming year. Inspired by the Dresden Files books and TV show The Wire, the original game was based on the Powered by the Apocalypse system and saw players entering a metropolitan world inhabited by all sorts of dangerous, horrifying and fantastical beings, which players could choose to become themselves if they so wished. This new edition will introduce a downtime phase for players to use to interact with the characters in their group, as well as NPCs across the city. They’ll also be able to visit hub areas connected to each of the different types of supernatural characters found in the world.
As in the first edition, players will still be rolling 2d6 and adding an appropriate modifier whenever they attempt to perform an action, but they’ll have some new and updated playbooks to build their character with. Considering that the studio behind the upcoming RPG also published the popular superhero title Masks, as well as the unusual Bluebeard’s Bride, Urban Shadows 2E is worth keeping an eye on. If you haven’t had a chance to try out this exciting supernatural RPG series just yet, you’ll get your opportunity to give it a whirl later in 2021.
Buy Urban Shadows 2E from backerkit.com.
This upcoming RPG takes the concept of playing online and turns it into a pen-and-paper game
Playing roleplaying games online has become a lot more popular, no doubt in part thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic making it difficult for players to meet in person, but also because it’s a lot easier to run RPGs over the internet now. With video calling services becoming widely available and platforms such as Roll20 and D&D Beyond, as well as the more recent Role, exploring worlds through your screen is a much smoother experience. It’s not surprising, then, that this is the year we’ll be seeing an RPG heavily inspired by online gaming and how it’s helped to connect people across the world.
That RPG is called .dungeon (“dot dungeon”). It takes the essences of massively multiplayer online video games such as World of Warcraft, alongside classic isekai anime such as Digimon, and combines them into a roleplaying game about exploring an online world. This world may be called Anwnn, but it’s basically a facsimile for the internet - which the players’ characters explore in order to build ‘connections’ with the other people inhabiting its many corners. These connections serve as the game’s version of hit points, with the characters’ relationships being put on the line whenever they might run into trouble. .dungeon is an RPG about building friendships - and perhaps more - between its characters, so combat doesn’t really take centre stage.
When players are faced with tests, they must roll a die against whatever they might be going up against - whether that’s another player character, an NPC or an aspect of the game’s world. Characters have various traits that will be affected by whichever class the player chooses for them, with those options being drawn from social deduction game Werewolf. Available classes include the Beast - who can transform into the pets they might own in the real world - and the artist, who helps to build connections through their creative endeavours. If you’ve enjoyed playing RPGs online, then .dungeon is definitely worth looking out for this year.
Buy .dungeon from Project Nerves.
The debut roleplaying game from the dungeon master behind Critical Role
Matt Mercer has been creating story arcs for RPGs for a very long time now. When it comes to writing professionally, the actor and DM has already dipped his toes in the water with the release of Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount - an official sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons 5E based on the world Mercer had created for season two of Critical Role. If you’re not familiar with Critical Role, it’s a show that sees Mercer playing dungeon master for a party of characters played by actors who have all performed voice work in various video games, including Laura Bailey (Gears of War 5), Travis Willingham (World of Warcraft: Shadowlands) and Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us Part II), among others. The show has become hugely popular in the five years since it first aired, with an Amazon animated television series on the way and a slew of board game spin-offs.
Those spin-offs are being released by Darrington Press, the same studio behind the upcoming RPG designed by Mercer, entitled Syndicult. The roleplaying game has been described as focusing on a city inhabited by a cabal of rival gangs, who also happen to be able to harness magical powers. Whether players will become a member of these magically inclined gangs or be tasked with taking them down has not yet been confirmed. The RPG will feature some pretty standard stuff, including storytelling mechanics driven by dice rolls and characters being able to use magical abilities.
Despite the lack of available details, getting excited about Syndicult is entirely justified considering Mercer’s aptitude for world-building and confidence as a dungeon master. It takes a lot to keep campaigns running for as long as they do in two seasons of Critical Role, yet Mercer has managed to keep an audience of hundreds of thousands captivated each week - which is probably a good indication that he can produce a compelling roleplaying game. However it turns out, you can prepare for Syndicult’s arrival in Q3 2021.
Syndicult isn't available to purchase yet.
6. Monster Care Squad
Give some ancient creatures some much needed TLC in this roleplaying game
Some RPG ideas are instantly arresting because of how unusual they sound. Upcoming roleplaying game Monster Care Squad is an example of this, considering that it’s a game about looking after an ecosystem of powerful mythical creatures. Players are often so used to murdering monsters in RPGs that the concept of actually looking after them seems like a rather novel one. Inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation company responsible for some of the best animated films ever made - such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke - Monster Care Squad invites players into the world of Ald-Amura, a land populated by ancient beings whose usual gentle nature has been corrupted.
As the heroes of Monster Care Squad, players will be investigating the emergence of a mysterious substance called The False God, which may well be the culprit behind the creatures’ strange behaviour. Throughout the fantasy RPG, player characters travel across Ald-Amura’s various towns in order to find information on how to help the local monsters with their blight. Using this newfound knowledge, the players must devise a plan of how they can cure the afflicted being, before confronting the creature in question and attempting to quell its rage. Should they succeed, the players may be gifted with some abilities by the monster - which they can use to aid the next creature they might find.
Collaboration and cooperation seems to be the aim of the game with Monster Care Squad, as there’s even a way for the games master to play along with the party called the ‘Mentor System’ - where the GM provides the players with the extra support they might need. The RPG is one that favours storytelling, relationship-building and positive character interactions over everything else, which fits in nicely with its themes of nurturing and healing. For a feel-good experience with an incredibly stunning artstyle attached, consider giving Monster Care Squad a go when it launches next November.
Submit a late pledge for Monster Care Squad from Kickstarter.
Race against the clock in a real-time RPG about stopping an incoming apocalypse
Roleplaying games released in recent years have shown that you can do some really interesting things with mechanics that break the fourth wall. RPGs such as Alice is Missing - a game where players interact entirely within a WhatsApp chat room - or Sleepaway, which combines roleplaying with hidden role mechanics, have proven that there are plenty of fascinating ways to tell stories. Arc is an upcoming RPG that embraces this sentiment by presenting its players with a real-time experience, where players are racing to act against an actual time limit. In the world of Arc, the apocalypse is on its way and it’s up to the players’ characters to stop its arrival - or face the consequences if they cannot.
How long players have is down to the game master’s own discretion, with each completed session or amount of time being noted down on the ‘doomsday clock’. Once this clock has been filled, the apocalypse takes its toll and the players are left to deal with what remains of the world. Even though much of Arc’s storytelling is focused on the players’ attempts to stop the apocalypse from happening - whether by exposing a dangerous cult or interfering with the plans of a nefarious individual - there are still plenty of options outside of this narrative as well. Should the players fail to stop the apocalypse, the GM can choose to rewind time to give them another chance, or alternatively they can continue the tale in this new world - which presents some really fascinating possibilities for storytelling.
The game itself has players rolling a d6 whenever their character attempts to perform a certain action, with the aim being to get under a target number formed by adding the character’s skill and approach scores in the relevant areas. Failing to roll under this number can result in the player having to contend with certain complications, which are decided by the game’s GM. By building bonds with their fellow party members, characters can acquire bonuses to certain actions they want to perform. It’s even possible to cast spells in Arc, with the options often leaning towards the absurd or ludicrous. If you’ve ever desired to save the world from a terrible disaster against the clock, then Arc is certainly an RPG to look out for in 2021.
The Kickstarter campaign for Arc is set to launch in Q4 2020.
8. Batman: Gotham City Chronicles - The Roleplaying Game
Become the night in this official roleplaying game based on the tales of the Caped Crusader
The world of Gotham City has continued to captivate audiences for decades, with Batman remaining one of the most popular comic book characters ever created. Batman: Gotham City Chronicles - a board game released by Monolith, the studio behind the upcoming RPG - serves as the inspiration for this particular roleplaying game. Just like the board game, the city itself is the focus of the Batman: Gotham City Chronicles RPG, with player characters having to decide whether they are on the side of justice or if they have more nefarious goals. Should a player want to make a lawful character, they will also need to choose how that character upholds their moral code - whether they operate as part of the Gotham City Police Department or as a vigilante acting alone.
Batman: Gotham City Chronicles - The RPG will use a similar d20 system to Dungeons & Dragons 5E. Much like the Dark Knight himself, there appears to be a lot of mystery surrounding this roleplaying game. However, a core rulebook for the title, called Gotham’s Heroes, has been revealed, which will be followed by four other books - including the Gotham City Guide, a reference tome concerning the history and lore behind the Batman universe. Another announced book is Gotham City Chronicles for the Gotham City Chronicles RPG (a rather bizarre naming convention), containing various scenarios for players to experience.
The identities of the two remaining campaign books for the RPG are yet to be unmasked, but could involve some settings outside of Gotham’s city centre - possibly Arkham Asylum - or storylines from Batman’s storied comic book history. There is concept art for the roleplaying game that contains classic characters from the Batman franchise, such as Catwoman and The Joker, meaning that longtime fans can expect to encounter some familiar faces during their time in Gotham. Safe to say, if you’re an admirer of the vigilante and have dreamt of stepping into his shoes - or even The Joker’s, for that matter - then Batman: Gotham City Chronicles - The Roleplaying Game should be on your radar.
Batman: Gothan City Chronicles - The Roleplaying Game isn't available to purchase yet.
9. Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall
Survive the perils of the restaurant industry and creatures that hunt in the night in this horror RPG
The premise of Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall is undeniably an interesting one. In the game, the players manage a restaurant business during the day and battle vampiric monsters in the night. Created by Banana Chan - one of the writers behind RPG Kids on Bikes - and Sen Foong-Lim, co-designer of party games including Junk Art and Rock, Paper, Wizard, Jiangshi is inspired by Chinese folklore and the experiences of immigrants living in Chinatowns in the US during the 1920s. Player characters in the horror RPG are all part of a family unit, but may identify with a different generation, depending on whether they grew up in China or if their entire lives have been spent in the US.
The differences between these generations - how well they speak, write and understand English and Mandarin, as well as the cultural values they possess - is part of what drives the game’s narrative. Another important aspect to the RPG are the instances of racism that the family might experience at the hands of the white Americans that visit their establishment - which are presented with sensitivity and tact by the game’s rules system. Besides these very real-world problems, the characters will also have to face supernatural terrors in the form of Jiangshi - vampires that bestow nightmares and steal the life essence, or Chi, from their victims.
The characters’ bonds with one another and the affection they have for their family members is what helps them to fight against the various issues they face in the roleplaying game. By making time for moments with each other and helping one another to achieve their current ambitions and hopes, the players’ characters can protect themselves against the dreaded threat of the Jiangshi and make their restaurant a thriving part of their community. It’s fantastic to see more roleplaying games that are willing to tackle difficult subjects like racism in a nuanced way, whilst providing players with a setting that they’ve likely never seen in a tabletop game before. Expect to experience this unique and horrifying RPG sometime in the near future.
Buy Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall from backerkit.com and drivethruRPG.com.
10. King Arthur Pendragon 6E
Immerse yourself in a beloved fantasy setting with the latest edition of this classic RPG
King Arthur Pendragon is an RPG series that’s been going since 1985, continuing to provide the tabletop world with opportunities for escapism for nigh on 35 years. Instead of simply offering yet another combat-focused fantasy RPG, Pendragon is unique in that it leans far more into the complex political side of being a knight. Becoming a member of the king’s court involves more than just hacking your way through brigands in Pendragon - it requires player characters to ponder their position of considerable power and how best to use it.
The RPG might use a d20-based system like D&D 5E, but gameplay in Pendragon is vastly different in that players will not only be attempting to roll under a difficulty rating - instead of over it - they’ll also be engaging in a lot more battles of wit and charm, than those of strength. As knights, player characters must uphold a strict moral code throughout their adventures across the country, which can sometimes cause conflict whenever a situation happens to clash with that code. Arguably the most interesting element of Pendragon are the length of the stories players and the GM can tell - with campaigns able to stretch across multiple generations - and what players can do outside of their quests.
Once a player character has had enough of travelling and adventuring, they can choose to settle down and start a family. There are options to construct a homestead, run a farm and even marry a partner and have children - not something you see often in roleplaying games. Players can even continue their adventures as one of their own heirs.
This upcoming sixth edition will contain revisions that have been worked on for a long time, with the game’s creator - late RuneQuest designer Greg Stafford - considering this new version to be the “ultimate edition” of the RPG he is said to have considered his masterpiece. A one-shot scenario called The Adventure of the Great Hunt has already been released for the game, alongside quickstart rules, which Stafford first wrote back in 1991. Whilst a release date for King Arthur Pendragon 6E is yet to be announced, you can expect to hear more about the game in the coming months.
King Arthur Pendragon 6E isn't available to purchase yet. Buy the latest edition of King Arthur Pendragon from Chaosium.