2019 marks the first year I joined the TechRaptor tabletop crew, and overall it's been a pretty incredible year for roleplaying games. From beginner-friendly releases by some of the biggest names in the business to surprise hits from Sweden, there's been a lot to look forward to and bring to the table.
With so many fun and interesting new game systems coming out, it was a real challenge to narrow the field down to the top six with the rest of the tabletop writers and editors. But no matter the bells and whistles, heavy rules or story-based gameplay, in its essence a tabletop roleplaying game is all about sitting down at a table (wooden or digital) and sharing an incredible story with friends. To that end, these six 2019 RPG releases shone brightest.
Here’s the list of nominees (and here’s the list of nominees for all categories):
- Alien: The Roleplaying Game (Our Preview)
- D&D Essentials Kit (Our Preview)
- Pathfinder 2nd Edition (Our Preview)
- Starfinder Beginner Box (Our Preview)
- Symbaroum (Our Review)
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set (Our Preview)
Reader's Choice - Pathfinder 2nd Edition
Travis: It's no surprise that our readers chose Pathfinder Second Edition as their Tabletop Roleplaying Game of the Year for 2019. Pathfinder has been extremely popular, not to mention extremely well-supported, for years. The new edition makes the game something it's never been before: easy to get into as a new player. Second Edition retains all of the look and feel of Pathfinder, but it streamlines play in a way that makes the game both approachable and exciting.
Paizo Inc. has been known for their ongoing support of their game systems, so players can look forward to years and years of content to come, not to mention years of 1st edition content that is easy to transition forward to mesh with this new version. If you are a new player, there has never been a better time to get into Pathfinder than with Second Edition, and if you are a long-time player there is plenty to be excited about going forward.
Symbaroum: Karvosti - The Witch Hammer
From the Review of the core RPG:
"Symbaroum is a roleplaying game that truly rewards players investing in, and being curious about, the world their game takes place in. It wouldn’t do at all to show up to a new game of Symbaroum and say “I’m a Goblin Assassin, why am I in this tavern and how do I know the rest of you?” This game book begs to be read. It’s the kind of book you don’t stop thinking about."
Giaco: Symbaroum's newest adventure, Karvosti - The Witch Hammer, hit shelves this past Spring, and it opened up the world of Davokar (where the game takes place) by describing, in detail, the harsh and exciting cliffs of Karvosti. Included with the release was The Witch Hammer, one of the most thrilling adventure campaigns I've ever read, which sees players taking part in an epic treasure hunt. This 80-page adventure is full of political intrigue, exploration, and thrilling combat, and it rewards players who do their research and invest in (and read about) the world they're entering. Like I mentioned in the blurb above for the core RPG, this adventure would not go well for players who plopped themselves in the story without doing any homework, and that just doubles back on the charm of this game. If you haven't yet checked out this brooding Swedish RPG, now's the time. As for the core game itself, Symbaroum really was the big surprise of the year for me. I couldn't help but be completely absorbed by its rich backstory, compelling illustrations, and moody tone.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
From the preview:
"The level of detail in the Starter Set is amazing. But it can be overwhelming so a lot of preparation is required to work out where you want the adventure to go as a GM. The character sheets are fantastic and give the players a huge amount of scope for roleplaying. Playing this over several sessions would be incredible."
Adam: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has been my favorite RPG system since its 4th edition release by Cubicle 7. It captured everything I love about the Warhammer setting and perfectly matched levels of rules/mechanics with detail and enjoyment.
The Starter Set box is an awesome introduction to WFRP 4th, but not necessarily roleplaying in general. If an experienced games master picks up the set, he could run a campaign lasting several sessions easily, just with the information in the box. For less experienced GM’s the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. That doesn’t stop it from being a stellar product and the production quality alone is enough to justify the purchase. If you’re looking for a fantasy RPG then you should check out WFRP and the Starter Set is the perfect place to start.
Alien: The Roleplaying Game
From the First Look:
"...in the timeline of the game, almost no character’s seen a Xenomorph, and most don’t even know they exist. As the GM, I teased out that gulf between player and character knowledge, watching my players squirm in their seats when they found fresh acid burns on the ship as, simultaneously, their characters wondered at its origin. They were terrified, and played at times with hands over faces, and… in the end… isn’t that what a proper horror RPG is all about?"
Giaco: When I wrote this first look at the starter set of Alien: The Roleplaying Game, the full rules of the game hadn't yet been released. All that was included in the Cinematic Starter Kit were the core rules of the game, and rules for the "Cinematic" mode of the game, which is supposed to be played as a short single- or two-session game meant to play out like and evoke the terror of the films. You give your players pre-generated characters, you tell them who they trust and who they hate on the ship, and you set in motion the plans for their terrible demise. In ways reminiscent of Call of Cthulhu, it wasn't a question of if your character would meet a horrifying end, it was a question of when (and... with grisly relish... how).
Since then, Free League Publish has sent over the full game for review, including rules for "Campaign" play, where players build a character from scratch and attempt to level up and survive out in the wilds. This ruleset completely transforms the experience of playing Alien, and as the GM (or "Mother") I can't wait to take my players out into the unknown. We'll talk more about it in the near future, but character creation is extremely straightforward, the leveling system is completely innovative (XP is based on group consensus), and I find myself looking more to Prometheus and Alien: Covenant than the rest of the franchise for inspiration. The sense of wonder, of discovery, of charting out into the unknown is intoxicating, and it will leave you wanting to explore more... regardless of the fact that space is a cold, cruel place full of terror.
Third Place - Starfinder Beginner Box
From the preview:
"I’ve reviewed and tested several roleplaying starter packs/beginner sets recently and the quality of the products, along with how entry-level friendly they are is very pleasing to see. The Starfinder Beginner Box is no exception. It is a fantastic product in terms of getting people into the game. It is very focused on the use of the map and miniatures/standups for the beginners' scenario. All of the components are great quality, and there is more than enough to go well beyond the starter scenario, including character creation, which is fantastic in a beginner box."
Adam: What I liked so much about the Starfinder Beginner Box was how much variety there was in it in terms of player experience. The initial scenario was aimed very much at beginner roleplayers or those new to Starfinder, but the options after that take give a lot for experienced players to work with.
It’s a fantastic introduction to Starfinder, but also to roleplaying in general, for both players and Games Masters. Starfinder itself is a very polished system and if you’re looking at picking it up, this is where to start, following up with the Core Book afterward.
Second Place - Pathfinder 2nd Edition
From the preview:
"At this point I'm quite impressed with Pathfinder 2e, and I can't wait to get it to the table so that I can see if the streamlining works as well in practice as it seems to work on paper and in my head. I already have a group of 3 (relatively new) players lined up and ready, so I'll be sure to follow up with my thoughts after playing a few sessions. The folks at Paizo, Inc have certainly trimmed the complexity quite a bit, but it will take some time behind the screen chucking dice to see if it has effected the depth of the game at all. I really liked the direction they took with Starfinder and, even though they obviously share some of the same genetics, I'm excited that this system is different enough, and appears to be intuitive enough that I'll be able to run both games without getting bogged down in a quagmire of overly complex, unsatisfying rules. Numerous other changes that I haven't even touched on, such as a completely re-balanced economy, help give Pathfinder 2e it's own personality, and I'm excited to become more familiar with the ins and outs of this system."
Travis: Pathfinder Second Edition is even more fun, and easier to play than first impressions hint at. This game is going to be a staple at our gaming table for years to come. The flow of the game, ease of play, and downright fun you have while playing put it right at the top of my favorite RPGs of all time, and it's a serious contender to take the top spot in time, once the game grows and gets all of the splat books, adventures and various other goodies that Paizo is known for.
First Place - D&D Essentials Kit
From the preview:
"To say I was blown away by the structure, composition, and presentation of the Essentials Kit is an understatement. This is perhaps the company's clearest and most concise introduction to the game they've ever produced. It's so accessible, attentive to new players, inventive, and exciting that it even has me, a long-time veteran of the game, raring to dive into the box with a brand new group of players."
Giaco: I've been Dungeon Master-ing games of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition since it was in open beta testing over five years ago, and this new Essentials Kit, which teaches the basics of the game and gets players rolling into a pre-made adventure, has been the biggest surprise for me since the Player's Handbook. I spent years running introductory games of D&D for new players at my local shop in Brooklyn, NY, and teaching people to play the game has become both a passion and an expertise of mine. What the Essentials Kit gets so right is the sense of wonder in playing a game of D&D. It's a big world, full of an overwhelming amount of options, and by focusing the ruleset and choices to a highly curated sampling, it only ignites more curiosity in new players. After playing through the Kit, they want to know what other kinds of characters they could be, they want to know what other kinds of adventures are out there. Put simply: the D&D Essentials Kit makes new players want to play more D&D, and what could be better than that?
From all of us on the Techraptor Tabletop Team, thank you so much for reading along this year. We hope you played some incredible games, read some surprising new rulesets, and continue gaming well into the new year and beyond. Here's to 2020, we hope you'll join us for new adventures.
Did you play a tabletop RPG you think deserved a spot on this list? Do you agree with our top picks for the year? Let us know in the comments below.