d20 List: Top 9 RPG-esque Games

It’s my (Drew)’s turn to roll the dice and pick a topic. I am a huuuuge fan of Critical Role. For those of you not familiar, Critical Role is an Internet Series of professional voice actors who stream their Dungeons & Dragons game each week (you can find their YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpXBGqwsBkpvcYjsJBQ7LEQ). I don’t ever watch it live, but I watch the on demand playback while I’m playing video games or working on homework.

This season (they are in their second campaign), the PCs have formed a group called the Mighty Nein. I might have been watching the latest episode while I rolled for this week, and when it came up Nine, I knew what the topic was going to be. Since they play D&D, I decided we should come up with our top RPG -esque games. These can be RPG systems, or game books, or board games, but they have to tell a story. Here are my Picks:

  1. Dungeons and Dragons– The grandaddy of them all. I could write a whole book on D&D (in fact, I’m toying around with the idea for one) but it has provided me the most memories of any game on this list. We started playing 3.5e, but switched over to 5e when it came out. I’ve played in one off games and longer campaigns. I’ve avenged fallen friends and changed the fate of kingdoms. I’ve failed to prevent a Godkiller from being summoned and I’ve seen numerous Critical Rolls and Fails. I can’t wait for my daughter to get old enough so that I can run games for her and my wife
  2. Fiasco– This is a great, game masterless RPG that puts you in a crazy scenario straight out of a Cohen Brothers film. This is a great choice for people who want to get together to tell stories and see craziness happen, but may not be able to commit to a campaign.
  3. Tales of the Arabian Nights– This was my intro to this genre (at least on the board game side of things). It’s fun for a night of people who enjoy story telling and the setting, but I definitely play it for the experience and not for the “game” aspect.
  4. Fabled Lands Game Books– These are Choose Your Own Adventure books on Steroids. There are 7 in the series, and you can jump between books depending on where your character goes. You maintain stats, inventory and statuses as you encounter monsters, traps and dungeons.
  5. Four Against Darkness-Another set of dungeon crawl books, the base book was given to me as a gift from a friend. I haven’t had time to play much, but the little bit I did gave a great dungeon crawl experience quickly without much rules overhead.
  6. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire– I have a love/hate relationship with this RPG Series. I love the rules and how it implemented successes and failures (you could use them to narratively describe the actions a player was taken) but I had a really hard time DM’ing in this because of the setting: there is so much material that you want to stay true to (or at least I did) I always felt I was going against the source.
  7. Ambush! – This is D&D, wargame edition. In this game, you roll for a squadron of soldiers (they have stats as well as equipment points) and then take them through a series of mission in WWII Europe. This was my first foray into solitaire wargaming, and many consider it one of the best solo wargames ever created.
  8. Target for Today – In Target for Today, you control a B-17 (or other models of bombers) flying missions in WWII Europe. You generate your squad and guide them through missions, trying to get both your bomber and crew to survive 25 missions. The narrative this game provides is amazing, but be warned: there are not a ton of decisions to be made. You’re really rolling dice against a number of tables.
  9. Detective/Chronicles of Crime – These are the only ones I haven’t played, but in these games you take the role of a detective and try to solve crimes. It’s a deduction game, but you do progress through missions that tell an ongoing story. (I included both because they came out at the same time, and I own both).

Ryan: I’m really surprised that I had a bit of trouble making this list out. I really like RPG’s and board games that bring those elements to the table. Maybe I am too harsh on what I consider RPG-like, but finding 9 games was more difficult than I expected. I decided games with a good narrative and often having you play a character worked best, but not all are 100% like that, as you’ll see.

I did misread Drew’s suggestion for this topic, and I thought that meant we wouldn’t choose RPG’s. I am a huge fan of RPG’s although actually playing them has been an issue. A quick couple I really have had fun with over the years are D & D, Toon, Happy Birthday Robot, Star Wars (Wizard’s first d20 edition.), and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

I am fascinated by systems, so others that I haven’t played but really wish I could find time to are Fiasco, Fate Accelerated (Dresden Files particularly), and Blades in the Dark.

  1. Fog of Love– A great game where you play as one of 2 people who are dating and starting a relationship. The game also encourages a little role playing to get into your character a bit more. There isn’t much of a win condition, so it can end however best fits the story.
  2. Gloomhaven– The story part of this one isn’t necessarily as strong as some (Although we’ve only played a couple of times, maybe it gets going later.), but the combat definitely feels like D&D style fights.
  3. Runebound– This one feels a little less story based too, although you can create a bit of a story as you go along. The player progression and XP make it feel like character building. I’ve only played the first 2 editions, so I can’t speak of the newest version of the game.
  4. TIME Stories– This one is almost all just story. But a really neat story with some puzzle solving involved, so I feel like it qualifies here. I know I loved the strong story telling aspect, although I’ve only gotten to play the base scenario.
  5. Tales of the Arabian Nights– Another story driven game, but you craft some crazy stuff here. The Choose Your Own Adventure aspects make me feel a little less RPGish than some, but it’s hard to argue with the story driving the game.
  6. Stuffed Fables– A really neat family game that has simple combat, but a lot of fun combat with some decisions to help shape your story. Feels like a great intro to RPG’s for kids.
  7. Descent– Pretty similar to Gloomhaven, but a simpler game. Still fun and enough story to qualify, and is something I need to get to the table more often.
  8. Star Wars: Imperial Assault– See Descent, but with the Star Wars universe to carry the story.
  9. Roll Player– It’s the least story involved of the group, but the most RPG-like, although it’s the setup, not the story. You make a character by manipulating dice to score the most points, but you are giving these dice to D&D style attributes.

There you have it, our top 9 RPG-esque games. Have you played any of these? Any systems or games we overlooked? Let us know in the comments below, and may all your rolls be 20!

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