Dungeons & Dragons and the various flavors of fantasy are the most popular fields of role-playing. But 2016 was a great year in the rest of the field as well. Here are our favorite five, in no particular order.
Finally, a role-playing game that does time travel right.
In Timewatch, you play agents of an organization devoted to preservation of the time stream. This is a game that allows you do every trick and wrestle with every problem you’ve seen in a time travel movie or book. You can have a future self come and set a useful trap. Change the past, and you will fade from existence. Oh, and no one knows who or what precisely controls the organization known as Timewatch.
Beyond the moving between space and time, this RPG gives you all the tools you need to bring in almost anyone or anything into the game. You could play a game fighting psychic velociraptors trying to prevent the asteroid from hitting Earth, bringing about the fall of the dinosaurs and the rise of humanity. You could play a game of time bandits ripping through history stealing everything that isn’t guarded by a centurion or bolted down. You could play a group of Timewatch agents on a punishment detail, like preventing all the time vigilantes who try to kill Hitler.
Who hasn’t wanted to be a detective? And as we all get older, grayer, and closer to death, who doesn’t want to go back and be a teenager again, all red with acne and awkward with unspent sexual energy?
Emily Care Boss’s Bubblegumshoe fuses those two drives into one great game.
Create your own town! The GM and players together make a network of friends, family, and foes to fill it. And then there are the mysteries to be solved. Because the game is one of life in high schools, there are incredibly important skills, such as Grownup Face, which is how you get teachers to buy your BS, and social combat, in case that guy who hangs out by the gym isn’t interested in Grownup Face. You heard me right. At last, there are rules to explore the savage world of primate violence that is a high school cafeteria.
People can at first find the idea of creating their own setting to be daunting, but in my experience, players get very involved in a town they helped create, and player investment is one of the most important parts of having a successful game. If you’ve never put together your own shady suburbia before, give it a try with Bubblegumshoe.
Delta Green 2nd Edition
Delta Green is quite simply one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. Its first two supplements occupy the first two spots on DriveThruRPG’s list of best RPGs and supplements.
The game takes the world of HP Lovecraft and hits the fast forward button. What have the monstrosities that wait beyond time and space been doing with the past 80 years? Nothing good. A segment of the US government, known simply as Delta Green, has risen up to meet the challenge. Delta Green agents fight and die to buy one more day for their children on this spinning ball of spit and mud that we call home.
The first edition of the game was steeped in 90s paranoia and conspiracy. The second edition of the game updates Delta Green to the 21st century, to a world of terrorism and modern technology. The game also has boss new rules streamlining skills and combat.
You can start your service by picking up the Agent’s Handbook, which has all the rules you need to start playing. I’ve even been informed by secret sources within Delta Green itself that we can expect a full-on assault in the form of Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game sometime in 2017…
Ryuutama is a Japanese role-playing game written by Atsuhiro Okada and translated by Andy Kitkowski and Matt Sanchez.
Ryuutama takes place in a fantasy world where everyone, at some point in their life, goes traveling and has adventures. And these adventures, as it turns out, are the most important things that happen in the world because these adventures generate stories, and stories are the only thing that baby dragons can eat! Dragons created the world so feeding them is important. Furthermore, interesting stories taste better, so dragons have an interest in putting problems in the way of travelers.
In addition to the fun & clever conceit of the game, Ryuutama evokes the feel of slow-paced, beautiful, anime. The game has been described as “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail,” and that’s about right.
The art in the book is also stunning beyond belief.
In an interview with Geek & Sundry, Andy Kitkowski said we can expect a number of supplements for Ryuutama in the future, including rules for sea travel, scenario hooks, a card deck, and Ryuutama Director’s Cut, which will be “A collection of essays about the background of the game, and in-depth interviews with the designer about his inspiration behind the various aspects of the game. If you like ‘Director’s Commentary’ on your favorite movies, this is basically the RPG design version of that.”
The cool as chrome cyberpunk genre has produced a number of successful role-playing games. You can now add The Sprawl to that list. The Sprawl takes cyberpunk attitude, flavor, and setting and adds to it the mechanics and ethos of the Powered by the Apocalypse Engine.
The problem with most cyberpunk games has always been that they tend to generate an awful lot of rules. You need rules for hackers, rules for cyberware, rules for drone operators, rules for combat, etc. But Hamish Cameron takes all of these concerns and simplifies them vastly using the Apocalypse Engine.
Hamish also takes the structure of a cyberpunk adventure, and makes it a part of the game. Characters are always hired for a job, prepare for it, do it, and then try not to get killed by their employer.
Hamish said we can expect more for The Sprawl in the future. He’s planning a book of settings, a book of missions, a gothic-cyber setting named The Necropolis, and also (ahem) a book where “rifts in the fabric of reality have let magical energy into the cyberpunk future transforming some people and allowing others to harness supernatural powers.”
What is your favorite indie game of 2016? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy Arc Dream Publishing by Dennis Detwiller.
Other images courtesy Evil Hat Productions, Kotodama Heavy Industries, Arc Dream Publishing, Pelgrane Press, and Ardens Ludere.
Ben Riggs speaks five languages, and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to man, animal, and werewolf alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points Podcast, available on iTunes or Libsyn.