Since the 1970s, tabletop roleplaying games have enticed players with their promise of memorable, paper- and dice-scattered evenings that use the magic of shared imagination to summon up heart-racing adventure. Not many games can capture the same sense of social and narrative collaboration as a top-notch tabletop RPG, and once you find that special title that ignites your imaginative fire, there’s no turning back.
For too many people, tabletop RPGs are merely synonymous with the heavy hitters like D&D or Pathfinder – but, after decades and a recent mainstream resurgence, there are now more tabletop roleplaying options than ever before. With systems to conjure up any sort of fictional universe you can imagine, from war-torn medieval kingdoms, to grim sci-fi noir, to anthropomorphised mouse mercenaries, there is literally an RPG for anyone – so many, in fact, that finding your next investment for game night can be quite the hunt.
Thankfully, Wargamer has you covered. Whether you’re a crunchy combat crusader or a narrative- and social-led wordsmith merely seeking a fine tale, we’ve rounded up a list of the best tabletop RPGs, offering suggestions for all walks of roleplaying life.
We’ll cover choices for veterans and newcomers, options for both quick one-shots and lengthy campaigns, and detail the unique features that set each killer RPG apart from the rest. So, then, just what roleplaying royalty are we dealing with?
THE BEST TABLETOP RPGs
- Blades in the Dark
- Night Witches
- Cyberpunk 2020
- Mouse Guard
- Warhammer 40K: Wrath & Glory
- Legend of the Five Rings
- Mörk Borg
- Call of Cthulhu 7E
- Star Wars Roleplaying Game
- Dungeons and Dragons 5E
Blades in The Dark
Blades in The Dark is a twisted 19th-century heist game where players take on the role of scoundrels, looking to complete ‘scores’ with their crew. Set in the fictional gothic, industrial city of Doskvol, the RPG launches you into an exciting crime-caper gameplay style, having you face off with rival crews while avoiding the law.
Smaller than life: The best D&D miniatures
At the same time, you must try to survive volatile Victorian back alleys, where ghosts roam, and lowlife citizens are ready to stab you in the back. But despite its exciting setting and enjoyable heist movie tropes, what truly makes the game so successful is its fast, easy-to-pick-up game mechanics and unique character choices.
From its ‘flashback’ system to the option to play as a ghost after a character’s death, Blades in The Dark constantly rewards you for inventive roleplay and imaginative thinking, while requiring little setup preparation. Working for both one-shots and lengthy campaigns, this RPG will suit those seeking to get stuck into a detailed story, with minimal prep time.
Buy the rulebook: Amazon
Creator Jason Morningstar (the designer behind popular card-driven storytelling game Fiasco) has splashed a heavy mix of history and combative tension into this WWII tabletop RPG.
In Night Witches, you and your friends will play as pilots in the Soviets’ famed all-woman air force, bombing Nazis during the night and navigating the politics and relationships of the male-dominated Red Army by day. Although most RPGs are now accessible for first-timers, if you are a history buff and want to pitch into your first tabletop experience, Night Witches is really one of the best you can find.
Get rolling: Move your RPG group online with our Roll20 guide
The game has two distinctive modes built into its night-and-day cycle. At night, you engage in deadly aerial combat, making strategic decisions as a team to complete missions in your two-person aircraft. During the day, you are a roleplaying master, avoiding NKVD interrogation and getting ready for the next night’s combat sorties.
Night Witches makes it easy to figure out if you prefer combat-heavy or narrative-focused RPGs, since it ably simulates both styles – letting your group discover what kind of roleplayers they truly are, all while enjoying the game’s strikingly well-done war story.
Buy the rulebook: Amazon
Meet the 33-year-old tabletop RPG that inspired 2020’s biggest videogame release, Cyberpunk 2077. Cyberpunk 2020 brings you all the gritty, neon style and action that have carved out this genre’s spot in mainstream popular culture for many years. The game is fast, pretty brutal and all about those stylish, 1980s retro-futuristic aesthetics.
Cyberpunk is full of narrative potential, offering tons of dystopian inspiration
Players can take on a number of classic cyberpunk tropes, choosing from classes including the world-hacking netrunner, Mad Max-esque nomad and more. With cyberware, mechanics for losing your very humanity, and a terrifyingly detailed world, the Cyberpunk RPG is full of narrative potential, offering tons of dystopian inspiration for both players and GMs to sink their teeth into. The game also has some of the best combat roleplaying you can find. Every confrontation in Cyberpunk 2020 is fast and cinematic, making it easy to live out your Blade Runner fantasy.
Plus, your character won’t suddenly make a T-pose and jump 100 feet in the air during a casual motorbike ride, or project their genitals through their trousers midway through a key narrative scene. You know, unless that’s something your group’s into. We don’t judge.
Probably the cutest entry on our list, Mouse Guard throws you into the charming world of David Petersen’s award-winning comic book series of the same name. In a world with no humans, mice have built a medieval European civilisation, which is continuously under threat from predators, an underground weasel syndicate and even the weather.
Players become Mouse Guards: rangers that protect the territories across Mousedom, fighting in the wilderness, leading wars and interacting with other adorable townsfolk.
The paths less travelled: Read our Pathfinder classes guide
The game engine uses the Burning Wheel roleplaying system, which makes the character creation and combat portions feel incredibly detailed and (to be honest) requires a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, the Sourcebook offers step by step guides, solving tons of questions that new players might have, all while treating them to Petersen’s phenomenal illustrations on every page.
Mouse Guard has you take on the role of a very small hero facing a giant world, amplifying the hero’s journey narrative that we all know and love when playing RPGs. It’s a game for everyone, easy to pick up, and one that (once you get used to the system) can be shared with the whole family.
Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory
Having grown continuously from its beginnings as a miniatures wargame in 1987, Warhammer 40k is understandably massive, full of depth and (let’s face it) pretty intimidating for newcomers. However, Cubicle 7’s licensed standalone RPG, Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory, is perhaps the best introduction to 40K’s gargantuan setting.
The story is set in one solar system, so you don’t have a galaxy of 40k lore to learn
Set in the 41st millennium, with the militaristic techno-fascist Imperium in control, humanity finds itself in a perpetual war against all the galaxy’s other races (as well as countless renegade human factions, and worse besides). If you like sci-fi with dark stories and heavy themes, and are ok with basically playing as a villain whatever you do, then Warhammer 40K will be right up your alley. Wrath and Glory takes place in one solar system, with a live, local storyline already in the offing, making roleplay feel more focused and letting players fully explore what the Warhammer 40k setting can offer, without feeling overwhelmed by an entire galaxy full of lore to contend with right away.
It also comes with an updated D6 dice mechanic replacing the previous Warhammer percentile system, making general combat and checks easier, faster and more user-friendly. Wrath and Glory offers more narrative opportunities than any of the past incarnations of 40K roleplaying and is, all in all, a solid choice for sci-fi and/or horror fans who love combat-centric RPGs.
Legend of The Five Rings
Fantasy Flight’s Legend of The Five Rings RPG (set in the same universe as the Legend of the Five Rings card game) lets players take the role of a disciplined samurai in a world full of territorial rivalry and Asian-inspired mythos. Picking one from seven clans, you face off in duels, fight massed battles, and slay demons in the pursuit of domination and honour.
At its core, it’s a cinematic RPG that prioritises character building and extreme detail, meaning it can be a challenge for GMs to initially keep track of – but it’s truly one of the most rewarding RPGs for character-centric players. The game also has a unique elemental attribute system that puts a spin on typical checks and gameplay choices.
Luck of the draw: Learn how to build a Magic: The Gathering deck
However, given all the information you need to absorb, if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, the feudal Japanese aesthetic, or rampant orientalism, this probably isn’t the game for you.
On the other hand, if you’re a lover of mythology, a player who forms unhealthy attachments to your characters or loves strategically building them up, Legend of The Five Rings will most likely become a fast favourite.
Buy the rulebook: Amazon
Let’s make one thing clear: you’re going to die. A self-described doom metal album of a game, Mörk Borg ain’t for the faint of heart – in its apocalyptic world, the rules are light and the consequences for simply existing are heavy.
A game trimmed of all the fat, hyper-focused on what makes RPGs fun
Created by a couple of ingenious, deeply disturbed Swedes named Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr, Mörk Borg is filled with serpent-worshipping cultists, insidious cannibals and deadly miseries. GMs roll daily to determine if a horrifying prophecy will be fulfilled, and once seven have occurred it’s game over. If you’re thinking this sounds like the bleak, macabre, occult energy of a scandi horror flick, in RPG form, you aren’t far off. With its dark aesthetics, medieval nordic setting and headbanging character classes like ‘heretical priest’, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if you’re a fan of heavy metal music, you’re going to be a fan of Mörk Borg.
It’s an RPG trimmed of all the fat, hyper-focusing on core elements that make tabletop roleplaying fun. Combat is fast, and players only have four stats, with no throwaway abilities cluttering up their sheets. Anyone can use magic via sacred scrolls, and the game’s rules are loose enough to encourage freewheeling and hilarious roleplay.
Call of Cthulhu 7E
Buy the rulebook: Amazon
A cosmic horror and investigative saga that will almost certainly end in your character going insane, Call of Cthulhu 7E is one of the most well-known and beloved tabletop RPGs on the market.
Originally published by Chaosium in 1981, the game takes place in the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s endlessly popular cosmic horror novels, and turns players into investigators, travelling through a 1920s setting full of paranormal and mind-bending mysteries.
Parental advisory: These are the best board games for adults
If you like great battle-axe-wielding characters and solving your RPG challenges via brawny combat, Call of Cthulhu probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. Playing as a squishy investigator, you won’t so much be fighting hulking monsters, as engaging in a battle of wits with them, rolling desperate, quick-thinking skill checks to escape their clutches. The rules can get detailed, but Call of Cthulhu is a must-play for horror fans.
It’s also worth noting that even if you don’t succumb to Lovecraftian madness, you will probably die nonetheless, making it the perfect game for one-shots, or groups who love getting to grips with an RPG’s rules through multiple playthroughs – and don’t mind rolling up multiple new eccentric turn-of-the-century weirdos over the course of a campaign, to replace the characters lost to the Great Old Ones’ machinations.
Star Wars Roleplaying Game
Another Fantasy Flight title, the Star Wars Roleplaying game has you step into a galaxy far far away, joining a crew of heroes travelling the (apparently incurably) war-torn galaxy that once belonged to George Lucas.
RPG SYSTEM TIP
Look out for starter sets! Custom RPG systems like Burning Wheel can be daunting to learn, but it's easier than you think - and a starter set contains all the materials you need to ease into learning the rules and mechanics.
The game is broken up into three distinct modules: Age of Rebellion, Edge of the Empire and Force and Destiny. Age of Rebellion sees you taking up the insurrectionist cause, becoming a rebel fighter in their guerilla war against the Empire. Force and Destiny (if the name didn’t clue you in) treads the Jedi path, having your characters learn the way of the force. Finally, in Edge of the Empire, you take your cues from Han Solo or Boba Fett, smuggling, bounty hunting, and essentially swindling your way across the Outer Rim.
No matter which of these games you choose, they’re smoothly compatible with one another, as they all share the same core rules and mechanics, meaning you can easily cross over between the modules and engage with the ‘full experience’ – if your wallet can stretch to all three sourcebooks. The general game mechanics are simple, and perfectly capture the fast-moving, unrestrained gameplay you’d expect from a Star Wars RPG.
Dungeons & dragons 5E
Buy the starter set: Amazon
We can’t be forgetting the noble, 46-year-old granddaddy of all RPGs, now, can we? Often credited as the original tabletop RPG, Dungeons & Dragons has thrived for decades and seemingly just gets better and better with every instalment.
Combining strategy with some flashy magic and charismatic heroes, sword-and-sorcery folks searching for a fantasy-based RPG will struggle to find a better all-rounder than this stone-cold classic. With easy character creation reminiscent of the first edition, and simplified game mechanics, D&D 5E feels both retro and entirely novel.
Although long-time players may be itching for more stringent rules, there is no denying 5E’s mass appeal. With faster combat, increased immersion, and more space for imaginative storytelling, it’s understandable why this edition is the most-played version of D&D to date.
Get back to class: Roll up a hero with our D&D classes guide
If you are looking to get into tabletop RPGs for the first time – or a budding Game/Dungeon Master, keen to make your first homebrew campaign in a flexible environment where inspiration, tried-and-tested structures and ready-made assets are all plentiful, D&D is a superb place to start.
With a straightforward game system and vast, yet accessible fantasy worlds, it’s easy to get inspired and excited, as you launch into adventures full of battle-scarred orcs, bloodcurdling monsters, and flamboyant sorcerers.
Just don’t forget to pack an adventurer’s kit – where you’re going, you’ll need it…