The best indie tabletop RPGs of 2021 include Wanderhome and .dungeon

Tracking the landscape of independent tabletop role-playing video games can be frightening. New titles appear to drop every other day, and they all reside on reasonably unknown shops like Itch.io and DriveThruRPG. Those platforms’ curation and discoverability functions are a far cry from something like Steam, and as an outcome, looking for a brand-new indie TTRPG can seem like a lotto system for both gamers and developers.

However the effort of keeping tabs on the indie TTRPG scene is constantly worth it. The style landscape that lies beyond the shadow of Dungeons & Dragons is interesting, strange, and relatively unlimited. Some video games bend and twist the circulation of recognized conventions into strong shapes with brand-new locations, while others turn over rocks just to reveal a little however dynamic setting crawling with motivation.

This list of video games, provided in alphabetical order, wants to draw in some attention to 5 brilliant specks in a regrettably crowded sky that numerous tabletop gamers might have ignored. Some are the conclusion of the last years’s worth of patterns, while others are standouts in emerging subgenres. Still others require the pastime to question its long-held Western affects and check out the shape of stories released from deep-rooted tropes.


ARC: Doom Tabletop RPG

If the armageddon were on your doorstep, would you hurry to welcome it with a weapon in hand and a curse on your lips? Or would you fret away the minutes on the clock as they counted down towards your upcoming doom? ARC: Doom Tabletop RPG, the latest video game from designer momatoes, includes both. The stories informed with its tight, narrative-focused engine are sustained by seriousness and built on the structure of valuable minutes.

ARC mechanizes this stress with a real-world timer that counts down to completion of each video game. ARC’s End ofthe world Clock is set at the start of a project and advances in genuine time. A four-hour project is actually just 4 hours long. Gamers all of a sudden have a really genuine action economy to deal with. Brief rests, which go by in the blink of an eye in other systems, suggest taking 5 real-world minutes far from the table as another critical narrative minute slips beyond the occasion horizon.

Spells and capabilities might likewise need gamers (not characters) to carry out routines, such as closing their eyes for 3 minutes to acquire Real Vision or accepting every ask for half an hour in order to sway a guard’s mind. This melding of point of views, along with a perfectly created, genre-agnostic ruleset, makes playing ARC seem like an ice bath — bracing and stimulating.


CBR+PNK

A sample of the two pamphlets required for CBR+PNK, with dark art ringed with yellow.

Image: Emanoel Melo

I’m as stunned as anybody else to discover a cyberpunk video game on my list in 2021, offered the popular culture oversaturation that just recently reached its zenith with the messed up launch of Cyberpunk 2077. Emanoel Melo’s lean and suggest CBR+PNK makes its location by not overstaying its welcome.

Totally consisted of within 2 tri-fold handouts, the Blades in the Dark-influenced RPG produces lightning-quick bursts of dystopian gameplay. It attains this by focusing the action on the one last job carried out by a desperate group of hackers. Teams are either pressed to their limitations by their business oppressors, or possibly simply rolling snake eyes one a lot of times in a desperate, desperate gamble to come out on top. Gamers discover their characters at their least expensive, and utilize cinematic action to check out the how and why of a terrible end.

Like other likewise influenced video games, CBR+PNK utilizes flashbacks that tend to approve characters the secrets to brand-new and unanticipated entrances. Digital corruption permeating into their equipment and a breakneck pacing indicates groups need to roll with the punches. Options won’t get simpler, and there’s just a lot gritting the group’s cumulative teeth can take in the past something breaks. However that’s the entire point. CBR+PNK merely doesn’t enable itself the time to navel look, making it my preferred method to engage with this specific design of category fiction.

CBR+PNK

Rates taken sometimes of publishing.


Playing .dungeon is a particular experience that flexes the typical conception of function playing even as it tries to take shape a time when guidelines mattered less than having a good time with your pals. The world of Annwn appears created to stimulate playing mid-2000s MMOs, where GameFAQs were sacrosanct and online connections were a landline call away from dissolution. Whatever ends in file extensions, and discrete experiences can be slotted into .dungeon’s guidelines like mods.

Character avatars let your wildest high school visions run widespread, however it’s the video game’s character classes that take the program by connecting real-world actions to in-game accomplishments. For instance, the Hacker can conceal a dice roll from the GM or include the outcomes of a d20 to their roll as soon as per session, while the Mage utilizes circled around words and expressions from a real book to work magic in the digital world. Tattoos become summons, compliments become buffs, and the party’s bard can create a personalized mixtape for extra effect.

Suffusing all this charm is a mood of fleeting bliss, and .dungeon sessions often feel like tapping into halcyon memories that hurt to remember in the very best way. The group must narrate how their time together ends as soon as each campaign comes to a close. That could mean naturally drifting apart, returning to school after summer break, or showing up on the last day of play before the servers are finally shut down.

.dungeon

Prices taken at time of publishing.


Gubat Banwa

Three warriors with tattoos crouched in the woods. The light is wan and yellow, but the trees are green.

Image: Makapatag

The elevator pitch for Gubat Banwa is wuxia fiction by way of classical Filipino folklore, leavened with a heavy dash of Fire Emblem. And while that description alone makes it one of the best mashups I’ve read all year, it still doesn’t capture the loving attention to detail and the dedication with which designer Makapatag has crafted this rich and satisfying tabletop experience.

A love letter to the much-maligned 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons and the style of tactics video games that inspired its combat, Gubat Banwa devotes a considerable amount of its pages to actions, positioning, and related effects. It knows there’s an audience hungry for crunchy combat and it sets a mean buffet for that crowd. Those less inclined to gobble up the next XCOM should pore over the dozens of evocative character concepts such as swordfish-straddling warriors, flower necromancers, and the deadly musicians known as Strifesingers.

If positional advantages and damage affinities are the wheels of this game, its narrative engine is a catalyst instead for melodrama and politicking. The most dramatic actions are usually those most likely to succeed, and epic enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies storylines are its bread and butter. Gubat Banwa utilizes the heightened emotions of aristocratic, beautifully dressed warriors locked in eternal conflict to channel an adoration for Filipino history. It defies any reductive framing of the Philippines and its folklore even as it provides player resources for depicting the game’s cultural ties with both accuracy and respect.


Wanderhome

Wanderhome respectfully demanded the attention of the indie RPG community in 2021 like a grandparent that wouldn’t let you visit without providing a hot meal. Jay Dragon of Possum Creek Games took a framework of wholesome traveling — using an adjective nearing dangerous levels of misapplication — and delivered a treatise on post-violent roleplay far deeper than its veneer of bee farmers and anthropomorphic animals would initially suggest.

Built on the Belonging Outside Belonging principles first established by Avery Alder in Dream Askew and Dream Apart, Wanderhome cuts both dice and game masters from its calculus of play. Instead, players use simple questions to establish characters that are equal parts earnest and melancholy, safe in the knowledge of who they are until another traveler awakens an insistent yearning within them.

As I said in my review, it is all too easy to play Wanderhome as a cozytime simulator — not that such a tack is by any means wrong. But what elevated the game and earned its reputation was its quiet insistence that conflict takes many forms, and that the scars of violence needs to not quickly recover. After all, a grandparent’s knowledge springs from experiences both fond and haunting.

Respectable reference

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.