Staff Picks | 20 Sided Top 20 Indie RPGs
Favorites for Free RPG Day 2019
Free RPG is almost upon us and roleplaying games are on our mind. Games such as D&D and Pathfinder get love all year round, but Free RPG Day gives us a chance to celebrate independent content creators and games. Some of our favorite indie games have been introduced to us through Free RPG Day and other sources that celebrate games outside the mainstream.
In this blog, we’d like to extend the introduction and cover (in no particular order) Twenty Sided’s Top 20 Indie Roleplaying Games!
The game that helped popularize one of the most popular indie systems, the Powered by the Apocalypse System, Dungeon World is a must try for anyone jumping into indie RPGs.
Dungeon World especially evokes the familiar feel of fantasy games, taking you through dungeon crawls and bombastic battle. However, Dungeon World takes the familiar d20 system of Dungeons and Dragons and strips it down to a more free-form experience, freeing you and players up to explore new themes.
Check out other games that are Powered by the Apocalypse:
The Quiet Year
Most RPGs capture the story of a unique cast of characters, but The Quiet Year breaks pace and tells the story of a unique place. Together, you and up to three friends will create a map of a strange land in the throes of post-apocalyptic peacetime, working to craft a civilization before the mysterious Frost Shepherds arrive. You are armed only with where your story begins - the close of a difficult era - and where it will end - the arrival of the enigmatic newcomers. The rest is up to a deck of 52 cards which guide you through setbacks and successes alike, and your own imagination.
This small framework instantly activates creativity, making The Quiet Year one of our favorites for worldbuilding or for more thought-provoking play.
Sometimes it’s fun playing noble characters with heroic tendencies. But when you’re in the mood to play scumbags and criminals, Fiasco has you covered.
Often likened to a Coen Brothers film, Fiasco is a character driven RPG with no DM or prep needed! You’ll work together to build relationships between other people, events, and objects, culminating in a comically convoluted web of character motivations, a perfect roadmap for a compelling and hilarious story. Halfway through the game, you’ll roll for a strange omen to guide your character towards the end of the story, and then they’ll have to face the consequences of their actions…
One of our favorites games for when a player can’t make it to your usual campaign, Fiasco is incredibly unique, wholly hilarious, and accessible to players of all levels.
Kids on Bikes
Kids on Bikes thrusts you into an adventure in the vein of Stranger Things and E.T., as inhabitants of a small town struggling to reconcile strange happenings. Something Kids on Bikes does incredibly well is putting the focus on building the relationships not only between characters, but between their town as well, crafting rumors and secrets that may come into play. The players share control of powered characters (kids with mutant abilities, crash landed aliens, soft-spoken Sasquatches, and more!), giving the Game Master a role more akin to moderator.
Kids on Bikes has been a Twenty Sided favorite since it was introduced at Free RPG Day in 2018. We love that the game rewards failure as an opportunity for growth and focuses on relationships in such a way as to create compelling character arcs that leave players feeling fulfilled.
Blades in the Dark
Blades in the Dark throws you into the underground world of smugglers and scoundrels, immersing you in a distinct world that expertly combines industrial, paranormal, and fantasy elements. Blades in the Dark seeks to focus on the needs of the story over the luck of the roll, and the Game Master and players all have say in what actions are inherently successful and which needs rolls. Most actions are at least 50% likely to succeed, but a failure is a guarantee that your situation is going to worsen.
Blades in the Dark scratches our Steampunk itch while maintaining our freedom over the story, making it another free-form favorite!
Microscope flips roleplaying games on its head, focusing entirely on the creation of a completely new and unique world! Craft histories, landscapes, and customs; build civilizations just to bring them crashing down; defy the laws of space and time and create your own. Microscope is a perfect game for a session 0 of any game, giving you and your players control as you craft a world you can then explore. Whether you’re a Game Master, a game designer, a writer, or just interested in worldbuilding, Microscope is an exercise in creativity.
The experiment continues in Microscope Explorer, giving parameters to jumpstart creativity and offering exercises to try out new systems of rules. Three new games also help you explore different aspects of your unique world!
Both Microscope and Microscope Explorer have been used in creating content for our home games and games we run in the store, so we can’t recommend it enough!
Misspent Youth gives you the opportunity to indulge in some healthy anti-establishment rebellion. The game centers around a group of Youthful Offenders working together and rising up against The Authority (the Game Master). The structure of the game not only ensures a clear beginning, middle, and end, but that the individual characters will work well together as a group to take down the bad guys.
We love the element of world building that comes with Misspent Youth, as players work together on crafting their own unique dystopia and the villian they must conquer.
Parsely is a unique party game that invokes the old school text adventures of the 1980s! One player acts as the computer, responding to questions and actions posed by the players, who each have one command at a time to move their character closer to success. Parsely is a stream-lined, goal-based, and cooperative roleplaying game less about relationships and more about the act of telling a story and completing a quest. With only one command before the next player continues the line of action, you’ll find yourself fascinated with where the story goes!
Read our interview with game designer Jared Sorenson for a fun look into Parsely’s roots and gameplay, and see why we think it’s one of the most clever group roleplay games we’ve played.
Fall of Magic
Fall of Magic chronicles the beautifully haunting story of a group of people travelling to the land of magic to save Magus (and magic itself). This story is easily rivaled in beauty by the components of this map game. A large scroll unfurls to reveal a gorgeous map screened by hand - it is across this map that your characters will travel.
With no prep or Game Master needed, Fall of Magic is a fantastical journey into a world of magic and inspiration, and the captivating components will provide a deep sense of satisfaction as the story comes to a close.
In Ryuutama, characters that are typically written off as unimportant NPCs - minstrels, merchants, farmers and the like - decide to leave behind quiet lives in the name of adventure! Ryuutama’s system not only places storytelling over rules, it launches the Game Master’s role into that of helpful observer, as they play the watchful half-dragon that can help them along their path.
Ryuutama is a special combination of beautifully simple themes and rules, and charming artwork that make it an especially pleasing game.
Mars Colony is one of the rare RPGs built especially for two players. Each player will take on the role of either the protagonist or antagonist, acting as the colony’s savior or the root of their distress. The players will explore the politics of establishing a new human colony on an alien planet in under two hours, toeing the lines between honesty and deception, admiration and contempt.
Mars Colony 39 Dark goes deeper, exploring the perspective of the people, desperate to change her colony for the better amidst political scandal and burgeoning violence. Both games have simple rules to help create a compelling story.
The tables have turned. No longer are you the invading heroes, rushing into the unknown of a dungeon to take down monsters and recover treasure. Instead, play as the guardians of these forgotten places, meditating in between battles upon all that you have seen and heard, slowly piecing together who and what you once were.
The Skeletons is a meditative and melancholic journey of self discovery that offers roleplayers an opportunity to play from the other side of the typical skirmish.
Another game introduced to us at Free RPG Day in 2018, Lotus Dimension is a RPG that takes place in a futuristic world in which strange portals have opened, granting access to strange, new realms. Play as one of the brave few who explore these realms, boldly taking adventure as it finds you.
Something unique about Lotus Dimension is its emohasis on nonviolence. As a stranger to new realms, you avoid violence as often you can, seeking to learn and explore without causing harm. This stretches players to problem solve and exercise creativity when encountering trouble, and provides an interesting roleplay experience.
Bits and Mortar
We would be remiss if we discussed indie roleplaying games without also mentioning Bits and Mortar. Bits and Mortar is a site that we and other retailers work with to provide free pdfs of many independent games. Bits and Mortar’s mission is to support independent retailers such as us and provide our customers with pdf versions of the games they buy, as well as printer friendly accessories for your favorite games!
Many of our games come with free PDF versions, courtesy of Bits and Mortar, so during our RPG celebration, we would like to also celebrate them and all they do for independent businesses and gamers.
Written by Johnni Medina