These are our picks for the top 20 RPGs of the last ten years. These are the games we felt were the best, and the ones we had the most fun playing. We prefer lighter rules, role-playing over combat, and games with novel mechanics and settings, so keep that in mind.
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20. Star Wars (Fantasy Flight Games)
Star Wars is awesome, and that's the only reason this game managed to stay on the list. Star Wars role-playing is the adult equivalent of playing with Star Wars toys.
This game isn't as good as West End Games Star Wars game. Mechanically and aesthetically this is a better game just by virtue of being released decades later. What I mean is I don't think this game is as good in 2020 as the old Star Wars game was in 1995.
My biggest gripe though is the FFG business model. This isn't one game, it's three. Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny, which are all compatible with each other. And they use proprietary dice.
It's a thing FFG does. They don't just sell you an expensive game, they sell you the parts of the game piecemeal at a more reasonable cost. Once you're finished you've paid $400+ for a game that's less fun than another one that costs less than $100.
Like everyone else, I also buy into their moneysinks when they make games that appeal to me, but I'm not happy about it. The Star Wars license, coherent game mechanics, and high production value score them the 20 spot, but we aren't giving them more than that.
19. Feng Shui 2
Feng Shui 2 is a game based on Hong Kong action movies. The original Feng Shui was a cult hit that everyone either gushed over endlessly, or went on about how it was way overrated, but as far as I can tell no one ever actually played it.
The new edition does what just about every new edition does. It has better presentation than the original, better organization, and some changes to the mechanics.
Ultimately Feng Shui 2's a fairly rules lite game with a lot of emphasis on combat. The character creation options are pretty narrow, and they're even more limited than in the original game.
The main draw of Feng Shui 2 is its setting. The mechanics aren't bad, but they're dated and nothing special. The game is more geared towards the occasional one-shot or adventure running a handful of sessions than an extended campaign.
18, Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition
Mutants and Masterminds is a Superhero RPG that uses a very modified version of the D20 system.
The 3rd edition of the game makes some substantial rule improvements over 2nd edition, and at this point it's pretty much the best Superhero RPG ever made.
3rd Edition is the same game as DC Universe, but without the DC license. The two games are 100% compatible, so Mutants and Masterminds pretty much has a supplement that adds the DC universe into the game.
Technically Pathfinder was released at the very end of 2009, but we still think it belongs here and a 2nd edition just came out a couple months ago.
Pathfinder is based off D&D 3.5 rules, and was marketed to fans of that edition after the release of D&D 4th edition. It's the 2nd most popular TTRPG after Dungeons & Dragons, and since its publication has been the only game to ever outsell D&D.
I've played some Pathfinder, I've had fun with it, and it's very well made and presented. It's only rated 18 because it's not the kind of game any of us here at Polyhydra particularly like. It's crunchy, it has a lot of rules, and it's very combat focused. If that's you're thing though, Pathfinder is an excellent game and there's no shortage of fans to play with.
16. Tales From the Loop
On the surface Tales From the Loop looks like a generic Stranger Things RPG. It kind of is, but it's also a lot broader encompassing all sorts of movies and YA novels about 80s kids having speculative-fiction adventures.
It offers two different settings, a Swedish one and a Boulder City, NV one. I grew up in the 80s and I grew up in Las Vegas, and the things the game gets wrong about Boulder City and the 80s irks me a bit, which is why I can't bring myself to put it any higher.
But if you're born after 1990 and haven't lived in southern Nevada, the game should be fine.
15. The Dresden Files
The Dresden Files is an RPG based on the Dresden Files novels, an urban fantasy series about Harry Dresden, a PI/Wizard who solves supernatural cases.
The game uses the Fate system, but the Dresden Files core books contain all the rules needed to play.
The Dresden Files is hugely popular. I enjoyed playing it a lot, so did everyone I've played it with, and as far as I know none of us are fans of the Dresden Files books. We would probably have enjoyed the game even more if we were.
14. Shadowrun 5th & 6th Editions
The original Shadowrun encapsulates what the 90s were all about more than any other RPG. Shadowrun is cynical, dystopian, amoral and anti-capitalist in direct opposition to the materialism, corporate greed, hypocrisy, and shallowness that defined the 80s. Also in Shadowrun computers and retro fashions are cool.
The new editions of Shadowrun thankfully retain everything that made the original edition so 90s, but they also update the setting so it's current with the technological advances of the last 30 years. Seriously, playing the first edition today takes a lot of suspension of disbelief.
Also the game is still about rolling lots of D6s. If rolling a ton of D6s doesn't appeal to you, you probably aren't Shadowrun's target audience.
13. The Laundry
The Laundry is an RPG based on the Laundry Files novels. The Laundry Files is best described as a modern Lovecraft-inspired spy comedy about a secret government organization that stops Chtulhu-esque stuff.
For the game mechanics Cubicle 7 licensed the BRP system used in Call of Cthulhu.
The Laundry is essentially Call of Cthulhu, except much lighter and more humorous, and you get to play as a spy. Thematically it kind of reminds me of the 5th season of Angel when they took over Wolfram and Hart.
Bottom line, it's a lighthearted Call of Cthulhu game using the BRP system. That should make it a must play for most people.
12. Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
Call of Cthulhu has appeared on other lists we've done, because it's one of the biggest and most influential TTRPGs of the 80s and 90s. Putting aside Travellers Sci-Fi setting, Call of Cthulhu was the first that wasn't about killing monsters and looting their valuables in a fantasy setting. Call of Cthulhu is the first RPG that wasn't really combat focused. It broke RPG trends and expanded the medium into completely novel places. It was the first game that showed us that RPGs could be so much more than what was first envisioned by the creators of D&D.
The 2010s brought us the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu, which is the game's biggest revision since probably ever.
7th edition holds up against the high production standards of modern RPGs by big name publishers, the game is organized really well, and it has some Quality of Life improvements to the mechanics, but this is still your grandfather's Call of Cthulhu game. And that isn't a bad thing.
The 7th edition is everything fans could want from Call of Cthulhu, and more than any of us ever expected to get. Call of Cthulhu has always been a wonderful game, and 7th edition repackages in a way that makes it palatable to modern gamers and makes it easier to get to the table.
11. Doctor Who
I'm not a huge Doctor Who fan. I'm at best a casual fan who grew up watching the fifth doctor. but later in life realized the fourth was better. Still I think Cubicle 7 did an amazing job creating a game that perfectly captures everything the show is about.
The game has rules for combat, but it encourages non-violent solutions. Intelligence, quick thinking, creativity, and persuasion, not violence, are usually what's needed to win the day.
The game is also dripping with theme. It's full of information about Doctor Who and his universe, and there is an entire sourcebook for each of the different doctors going over everything about their period on the show. Even if you never plan to play this game, if you're a Doctor Who fan you'll probably still enjoy just reading through the sourcebooks.
10, The Strange
The Strange is an game about people who have figured out how to walk out of our dimension and into another. These other dimensions vary in size, some are filled with automatons, others have gained sentience, and these dimensions could be based off of our fictional works.
The Strange has interdimensional traveling players taking trips into whatever movie, TV show, book, or any other type of fictional universe the GM decides to place them in. It's a pretty cool concept.
The game uses the Cypher game system first used in Numenera, which is solid.
9. Fate Core
Fate is a generic RPG system based on the Fudge system. Released in 2013, Fate Core is the latest iteration of the game, revising and updating the 3rd edition rules.
Fate continues Fudge's legacy of being a generic freeform system that can play anything, but it also takes a lot of the legwork out of trying to build a homebrew system from scratch with Fudge. In addition to being a complete system by itself, it's used as the rules system for a lot of other popular games, including our #15 pick the Dresden Files.
Bubblegumshoe, as the name implies, is based off the Gumshoe game system. The Gumshoe game system is fairly rules lite, but has some cool mechanics centered around clues and mysteries.
Bubblegumshoe pretty much takes the Gumshoe detective game and reskins it so that it's now about high school sleuths, like Veronica Mars, the Scooby Gang, or Nancy Drew.
And that's pretty much the game. It's about high school kids solving mysteries. If you're not already sold on how awesome this game is, this isn't the game for you.
7. Red Markets: A Game of Economic Horror
Red Markets is a game about surviving a zombie apocalypse. Actually it's a game about surviving the zombie apocalypse while poor. Actually it's a game about surviving being poor under crushing capitalism. Also there's a zombie apocalypse so its less depressing.
It's rare to find an RPG that manages to make a statement and maybe teach something about the world that's also a good game, but Red Markets nails it.
Players aren't heroes, they're impoverished and hustling to try to make enough money to survive and retire in safety, but poverty is a cycle that's hard to break, and the PCs are risking their health and literally killing themselves for a modest dream that's probably not achievable, and all the while everyone's too busy fighting each other for whatever scraps are left to change anything.
6. Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
I'm not a 5e fanboy, but I'm also not going to hate on it just so I can seem cool and different. I grew up during 2E, so my hatred for D&D is well justified.
Honestly 5e is bloated by rules and so held back by legacy mechanics it would be better if they just gutted the thing and started over. The game focuses too much on combat, and it encourages min-max builds over role-play.
However it's amazing what WotC have done with 5e. WotC set out to make D&D more inclusive and expand the RPG market, and although they were helped a lot by 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things, and the rising tide of geek culture over the last decade-and-a-half, they largely succeeded. D&D is more popular than its ever been, the RPG market is exploding because of it, it's trending among tweens and teens, and it's brought a lot of adults to the table who otherwise wouldn't be here.
5e is also the one RPG you can almost always find a group to play with.
5. 13th Age
The first time I was shown 13th Age I tossed it aside, because it looked like D&D and if I feel like playing D&D, I might as well just play D&D. Then I looked inside and the game said it was created by people who worked on D&D 3.5 and 4e. If I want to play D&D, but not actually play D&D, I'll play Pathfinder.
Then I finally gave this game a chance, and if I ever want to play D&D or Pathfinder, I'd much rather play this.
There are reasons to play D&D and Pathfinder over this. Both have a lot more supplements, including some iconic ones with D&D, but 13th age does have a respectable amount of supplements. Also D&D and Pathfinder are much more popular so it's easier to find players. And anyone who thinks combat is the best part of an RPG or likes crunching the numbers on their builds, 13th Age is probably going in the wrong direction for you.
Other than that though, 13th Age is thematically a lot like D&D. But the mechanics are more eloquent and designed from the ground up to be simpler. There's a much stronger focus on role-playing and the narrative, and combat is designed to be played quickly. The game still manages to offer a lot of options for character builds, and it puts a big focus on balancing the character types against each other.
13th Age has pretty much replaced D&D and Pathfinder for me. It's all of the good stuff those games have to offer, and a lot less of the bad.
Timewatch is a game about being a time cop and fixing issues in the timeline, much like that movie Timecop, or the underrated cartoon Time Squad.
When I heard what this game was about, I kind of lost interest. I played some time travel homebrews based off generic systems about 20 years ago, and they always seemed good in theory, but never turned out well.
Then I gave this game a chance and it really surprised me. It's based off the Gumshoe system, which is good. And the setting is really good for a time travel game. Usually they're just like, 'all of history is your setting, go play.'
Timewatch lets you play as anything in history that you want, and anything in the future or some weird alternate dimension that you can imagine. You can play as literally anything, which is awesome.
The real thing that drew me in though is you're just not fighting other time travelers and trying to fix the timeline. There are also alternate timelines with alternate histories, some of which are really alien and out there, and some of which are on the verge of collapsing and are trying to push the prime timeline into their future to save themselves.
The setting is just so open ended that it opens the door for so many different kinds of creative adventures and stories and elevates this game to being about so much more than just enforcing time law.
3. Ryuutama: Natural Fantasy RPG
Most of the games on this list I took one look at and hated on principle until I sat down and played them, and it wasn't until after I played them, or at least read through their rulebook, that I realized how awesome they were.
Ryuutama is not one of those games. The moment I saw Ryuutama, I was interested. Before I was a sentence into what the game was about, I was in love with it.
Ryuutama takes place in a pseudo medieval European world as seen through the lens of Japanese culture. The player characters have all been hit by wanderlust, and so they set out to explore this world. The game is about their journeys, their adventures, and the friendships they make along the way. Ryuutama is a generic JRPG done as a tabletop game.
Ryuutama leans rules lite and pulls a lot of conventions from JRPGs to make the game mechanics easier to understand., One unique aspect of the game is that instead of having its own setting or having the GM create the world, there are rules for the GM and players to work together to create the world.
Playing Ryuutama is just pure joy. It's the exact opposite of a crunchy grimdark fantasy game. It's a narrative happylight fantasy game.
2. Forbidden Lands
When Forbidden Lands was first recommended to me, my first impression was, "Why should we play this when we can just play D&D or any of the dozen other fantasy RPGs we already know the rules for."
My second impression was, "This looks like grimdark. Yuck."
Then I sat down and read the rules and oh my god I love this game. Over thirty years ago when I read the D&D Basic rules for the first time, this was the game I was promised that I've never gotten.
Forbidden Lands comes with its own setting, but the rules are designed so that if you want to use them in a homebrew setting you can. The Forbidden Lands setting is good, but nothing spectacular.
What sells the game is everything else about it. The rules are eloquent and as simple as they can be without trading in too much depth. The game uses cards and maps to simplify the rules as much as possible, and it draws heavily from open-world CRPGs, so players familiar with those games will pick it up faster.
The game's system is also designed to focus more on role-playing and narrative gameplay than combat and stats, and it encourages player agency. The game does away with the traditional quest giver and other TTRPG tropes and instead pushes for a sandbox approach where players get to decide what they want their adventures to be about.
It's a must play game, and it's a great alternative to D&D as an introduction to the hobby. It's much more friendly to new players, much lighter on the rules, and it's more about the story and player freedom and less about fighting and looting.
Numenera was the first game to use the Cypher game system. It's a solid system. The game's not at the number 1 spot because of its mechanics though, but they are good mechanics.
Numenera just has an amazing setting. It's a medieval fantasy setting, but it takes place a billion years in the future. It's known as the ninth world, since eight previous civilizations have reached a technological peak and then collapsed. Magic exists, but its really the technology of these past civilizations that are too advanced to be understood.
I'm probably not doing the setting justice with my description, but you can get an idea of what it's about, and it's an amazing game.