Waiting on TTRPGs from Critical Role or Chris Metzen? Here are some of our favorite indie Tabletop RPGs in the meantime
This week, former Blizzard Senior Vice President of Story & Franchise Development Chris Metzen announced the formation of Warchief Gaming — previously a gaming club and now a development studio for tabletop games — and on the same day, Critical Role announced the formation of Darrington Press, which will also be focusing on tabletop game development. TTRPG developers are in an interesting phase right now, with Actual Play streaming having created a new interest and demand for role playing games.
Now, of course there the old goliath companies like Wizards of the Coast, who put out Dungeons and Dragons or Paizo, the makes of Pathfinder and Starfinder. You should absolutely be aware of them. But there are a lot of companies out there making games, and some of those games deviate from the standard high fantasy mold of games like D&D and Pathfinder, or approach the genre in refreshing new ways. Here’s a list of a few to watch out for if you’re looking to check out some different games. Maybe in a few months companies like Darrington Press or Warchief Gaming will also have some cool games for us all to play.
Where fantasies are born
Evil Hat Productions
Some companies have a very diverse portfolio of games on offer, and Evil Hat Productions is absolutely one of the most diverse out there. From games like Agon, which is a Greek myth inspired island adventure game, or Blades in the Dark, Evil Hat serves as a way for smaller developers to get their games into print and sold. One reason I always keep an eye on Evil Hat is that they have a guarantee that if you buy a hardcover RPG book from your local store, Evil Hat will give you the PDF for free, which is incredibly useful for gamers like me with disabilities that make extensive use of PDF files to compensate for difficulty reading.
Evil Hat isn’t as monolithic as big publishers and they often serve as a means for smaller studios or developers to get their products into brick and mortar stores. One of my favorite Dungeons and Dragons settings is Karthun, created by Brian Patterson, and you can find it on the Evil Hat site.
I really like Magpie Games. They’re using crowdfunding to help make their games, which allows them to make pretty unique experiences like Masks, a game I love and which I’ve reviewed here. Ever since I was introduced to Masks by a friend, I’ve been a huge fan of the game setting and the Powered by the Apocalypse system that Magpie used for it, going out of their way to customize it to really work for a teen superhero milieu in a way that most Supers games would be too broad to work for. I also find Root: the RPG interesting and fun, and I’m looking forward to picking it up.
Monte Cook Games
Both for Cypher System and Invisible Sun as well as the impact Monte Cook himself had on the industry — one of the people behind the design of 3rd Edition D&D, he soon stepped out from his role to start his own company, which produced the Ptolus setting and the Arcana Unearthed/Evolved line. Since then, with other developers like Sean Reynolds, Bruce Cordell and Shanna Germain, Monte Cook Games has developed into a remarkably productive company despite its’ relatively small size. Like other independent RPG companies, MCG makes a fair amount of use of crowdfunding to get their projects to market.
One of the grandpappies of the hobby, we have of course talked about Call of Cthulhu here before, and that’s a big part of Chaosium’s history in the field. But it is not all of Chaosium’s output — games like Pendragon and its offshoot Paladin bring the mythical Camelot and the peers of Charlemagne of the Song of Roland to life, while games like Runequest and 7th Sea present unique and different approaches to fantasy roleplaying, and it’s hard to talk about role playing over the past 40 years without talking about Glorantha, or the various Call of Cthulhu spin-offs, some of which are put out by completely different companies. In their own way, Chaosium is as big an influence on RPG’s today as Wizards of the Coast.
Pelgrane started back in 2000, which was 20 years ago, and oh my word do I feel old saying that. In the years of their existence, they’re produced games using their GUMSHOE system such as Esoterrorists and Night’s Black Agents, as well as games like 13th Age, which is quite frankly one of the most novel and well conceived takes on fantasy role playing I’ve seen. Talents like Rob Heinsoo, Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite have all worked for Pelgrane, and turned in some of the best work of their careers in the process.
Born from the early 2000’s OGL movement based on the 3rd Edition of D&D, Green Ronin has moved well beyond its roots to produce some of the best games of the modern era such as Blue Rose, Mutants and Masterminds, the Fantasy AGE system, Modern AGE, and a lot more. Their Freeport setting was one of the first settings made for Dungeons and Dragons as an OGL product, and it currently exists as a Fantasy AGE and D&D 5e setting as well as licensed products such as A Song of Ice and Fire, the Dragon Age licensed game, The Expanse and these licensed settings have often led to the creation of whole new systems. Chris Pramas started Green Ronin back in 2000 (it was a big year for RPG companies, and in many ways comparable to what’s happening now) and they’ve put out some amazing work in the 20 years they’ve been in operation.
There are other game companies worth mentioning, and I’ll likely come back to this topic, especially as 2020 keeps unfolding. We hope to see companies like Warchief and Darrington make waves in the industry, too.
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