After more than a decade of going on and on about the “board gaming renaissance,” it’s safe to say that tabletop role-play is finally having its moment in the spotlight. But while Dungeons & Dragons’ OGL fiasco has clearly lit a fire under many players eager to make a change, the fact of the matter is that a sizeable cohort of writers and designers have been toiling away at excellent games for years now. Their tireless efforts have yielded a bumper crop of excellent, some might say genre-defining, TTRPGs. Just like board games, a few modern classics have also cropped up: Look no further than The Quiet Year and The One Ring, both making their second appearance on this list.
Just as before, Polygon asked nearly two dozen writers, designers, presenters, actors, and personalities from around the world of tabletop gaming to share with our readers the TTRPGs that made an impact on them and their players this year. Here’s what we found.
City of Winter
Linda Codega, Ennie Award-winning entertainment journalist
My friends and I still talk about the weekend we spent playing City of Winter. With lightweight rules but a heavy emphasis on the kind of ephemera usually reserved for much crunchier games, creating space for this game is almost as important as who you chose to play it with. Characters travel along a cloth map that illustrates a landscape with only barest indications of topography; the focus instead relies on themes of assimilation, diaspora, and — most importantly to the narrative — baggage. As a family of immigrants (bound by blood or by choice), players describe their home, their traditions, and then, as a darkness comes from the west side of the map, they leave it all behind, choosing what traditions and rituals they pick up from the places they visit and what they hold on to from their homeland. As far as games go, there are probably very few out there that require such a strict fidelity to the road laid out before you, but City of Winter uses this structure to facilitate the kind of deeply resonant character arcs and development that many role-players crave in their games. An astoundingly complex game, bringing your best stories to the table will leave you with a sense of loss and belonging that seem to walk together, hand in hand.
Dead After Dinner
Jason Morningstar, owner, creative director, and lead designer at Bully Pulpit Games
Jenn Martin’s game Dead After Dinner combines the relentless procedural revelation of For the Queen with Knives Out-style murder mystery, and it is endlessly hilarious. Everyone is part of a miserable family stuffed with resentment, somebody is getting killed, there will be uncomfortable questions, and a murderer will definitely be revealed. Or will they? Dead After Dinner is a truly pick-up-and-play murder mystery that will delight you and your scenery-chewing friends.
Tim Hutchings, game designer and academic
The best game I’ve played this year is a tie between Desperation by Jason Morningstar and Orestes’ Choice by Susanne Vejdemo. Desperation is a card-driven TTRPG with a marvelous mechanic: Players draw a card with a bit of spoken text on it and then assign those words to one of the characters in play. It is so dang smart and makes for rich yet tight storytelling as the cards force new contexts for the actions of the characters.
The game comes with two dark American Gothic-flavored scenarios: a starving Kansas town locked in a brutal winter and a cursed fishing boat lost in the north Pacific. The faux woodcuts by Jabari Weathers and Brennen Reece are wonderful to look upon and convey the game’s tone as much as the flavorful card text.
My best game experience was Orestes’ Choice, a LARP by Susanne Vejdemo. It’s the first heavy-duty chamber LARP I’ve played since the pandemic; it reset my brain and helped me remember what I value in play. Players continuously swap roles as they play through a very queer Greek myth in which young Orestes returns home and must decide whether to kill his treacherous mother and father-in-law. Never have I planned a murder with such erotically charged practice stabbing.
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Thilo Graf of AAW Games
I run and play a ton of different RPG systems, but precious few have had such a tremendous and lasting impact on my design and games as Dungeon Crawl Classics by Goodman Games.
With aesthetics influenced by all-time greats like Leiber and Moorcock, volatile magic, a relatively flat power curve for a d20-based game, and an emphasis on the skill of the players, as opposed to primarily rewarding the crafting of effective builds, DCC is a joy to run and play. It is not as much of a heroic power fantasy as D&D 5e or Pathfinder, but neither is it as minimalist as many old-school games. With fickle gods, mutating magics, lucky scoundrels, and ferocious fighters, DCC feels like playing through a Bal-Sagoth or Eternal Champion song. It’s also easy to pick up if your group has any experience with D&D’s third edition or Pathfinder. DCC rocks! Its focus on simple, impactful rules was a core design inspiration for the (almost system-neutral) Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking for 5e, a book I wrote with Douglas Niles and Stephen Yeardley. It warms my heart to know that DCC authors, judges, and players use the book as well!
Dungeons & Dragons
Mike Haracz, corporate R&D chef and host of Heroes’ Feast
I’m lucky enough to be in the seventh year of a homebrew Dungeons & Dragons campaign, one I play with friends locally in the Chicagoland area. Our campaign is called The Heartsguard Saga, and it’s based off Deven Rue’s map of a place called Euphoros. My players are at around level 15 and I frequently give them a variety of amazing and unique gear that I’ve dreamed up all on my own... which they go on to forget they have, and never use. We used to play in person, but since the pandemic I run the game virtually online from my house. I put a camera hovering over my gaming mat, and make a labeled grid for the players so they call out, “Move me from A5 to B10.” During important rolls, I even make my players face their camera toward their dice for added suspense!
Petrana Radulovic, entertainment reporter
I’d wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons since I was in high school, but I never knew how to get into it. Thankfully, in the doldrums of 2020, someone I knew knew someone who knew someone (that’s literally what the connection was) who was interested in running a game. That kicked off my D&D career, but was this year that everything finally clicked in my brain and it went from a hobby I enjoyed to one that I spend every free minute of my spare time thinking about.
Part of it is finally having reliable groups. After some initial shuffling of members, in 2023 I’ve been blessed to have not one but two separate D&D groups, both with enthusiastic members who are committed to at least trying to meet regularly. And yes, part of it is Baldur’s Gate 3, which helped me to understand some of the more complicated D&D mechanics and just generally made me very excited about combat in a way I never was before.
I’ve still yet to actually have a game in person! My groups are spread out across North America, but I’m hoping to manifest an in-person session soon. Here’s to 2024 being an even better D&D year for me.
Eating Oranges in the Shower
Sam Dunnewold, Dice Exploder podcast
The Golden Cobra challenge is always a deep well of exciting (and free!) new larps from the bleeding edge of the hobby. This year, like a song that’s stuck in my head, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Eating Oranges in the Shower by Hazel Anneke Dixon, a game about exactly what it sounds like. You play as members of a group chat who discover the /r/ShowerOrange subreddit, a real community dedicated to the “liberating” act of eating an orange while taking a shower. You each decide to try this out for yourself before returning to compare notes, and because it’s a LARP, you actually go do the thing.
This game is so strange and delightful, not to mention delicious. The principal act is compelling on its own. It feels forbidden somehow, even as it’s obviously harmless.
But Dixon also captures something ephemeral and nostalgic about what it’s like to be in a niche online community and group chat, and the magic of making discoveries in those spaces. On an increasingly centralized internet, that experience has become rare, and I miss it.
Everest Pipkin, game and software developer
I’ve heard Exquisite Biome described as “Spore for the kitchen table,” and if that isn’t a great pitch I don’t know what is.
Coming from Caro Asercion (game designer) and Si Sweetman (illustrator), Exquisite Biome is in the world-building TTRPG tradition, but it focuses specifically on ecological biomes and the creatures that populate them. Through short generative prompts tied to a deck of playing cards, you build and witness the lives of animals far beyond the edge of our own world. Playing Exquisite Biome feels a little bit like being David Attenborough on an alien planet.
With beautiful, evocative art and short, easy-to-parse rules, Exquisite Biome is my go-to “what if we made up some weird little guys and set them in motion for an hour” game. And truly, what higher calling is there?
Fetch My Blade
Anthony Joyce-Rivera, game designer and Diana Jones Award Emerging Designer 2023
Did you know you can play one of the best tabletop RPGs whenever you want, without any scheduling nightmares or unfeasible time commitments? You can when you play Fetch My Blade, a solo journaling role-playing game created by Kelly Tran and Ethan Yen!
In Fetch My Blade, you role-play as a friendly or fierce dog of a retired legendary sword master. Create your character by choosing one of six dog breeds, including shih tzu, corgi, mastiff, border collie, husky, and chihuahua, or select your own! Determine three truths about your master and aid them when a mysterious stranger challenges them to a duel. It is up to you to go on a perilous quest of your own to retrieve your master’s fabled weapon in time for their final duel.
Throughout this transformational quest, you use three six-sided dice to resolve mechanics for racing against time, overcoming treacherous encounters, and uncovering new truths about your master’s shrouded past. Embrace your inner doggy, buy this 17-page game, and begin your adventure today! Swiftly now — your master’s fate is in your paws!
Wesley “Nox” Crowe, aka Noxweiler Berf, creative director for Hunters Entertainment
Doug Levandowski and Yeonsoo Julian Kim’s Home drew me in immediately, and has been one of my most recommended tabletop role-playing games. If you know me or my work, then the fact that it’s a horror game probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It’s a haunted house exploration simulator that can be played with a full table of players or alone as a solo journaling experience. It uses custom tarot cards and a whiteboard to track your character’s progress as they dare to shine a light on the chilling danger of a variety of potential scenarios full of ghosts and other dark entities.
The action is propelled through the use of the custom tarot cards — the Night Deck — which are filled with prompts that require the creative interaction of players. Each round, players take turn as the director of the story and guide the narrative forward using the guidance of the cards to describe and draw each room of the haunted house that they are exploring. The game encourages collaboration in determining the story’s direction and does a remarkable job of steering the action forward without a single game master putting forth the often large amount of preparation that role-playing games usually require.
As the game progresses, characters collect wounds and push past the terrors that await them and work together to resolve the mysteries at the root of each horror. The solo mode of the game plays just as smoothly as the group experience, leaning on the prompts and player’s imagination to create a journal documenting the character’s harrowing encounter.
I can’t recommend it enough. Grab a copy of the PDF, turn down the lights, and start mapping your own haunted house!
The Luminant Age
Sen H.H.S, TTRPG writer, cultural consultant, sensitivity reader, and Diana Jones Award Emerging Designer 2023
I became an immediate fan of Luminant Age after being invited to be a contributor. What caught my eye at the start was the Four Humanities ancestries named Blood, Clay, Silk, and Horn. This year, many of my Thursday mornings have been a whirlwind of weird as our playtest party encounter teleporting flickrats, heal via esseweaving, and get hunted down by cultists in stryx bonemasques. The city we’re in, Ourichor, is built on giant oil-rig-like platforms in the open ocean. There are no sun nor stars, but three moons... that you’re allowed to see.
Also, did I mention the predominant religion featured, the Angelites, memorialize their dead by preserving their eyeballs? You can even wear them as mourning jewelry.
This Pathfinder 2nd edition-compatible setting has been as enchantingly addictive as the fictional ichor that propelled Ourichor into the renaissance era that the project is named after. While there are only two exquisitely illustrated supplements on creatures and equipment available currently, I recommend those with a love of the unusual to keep an eye out for more in the years to come, such as the upcoming Paragons of Luminant Age that introduces NPCs and explores their motives through the four moons.
Marvel Multiverse Role-playing Game
Cody Pondsmith, general manager at R. Talsorian Games and co-author of The Witcher Tabletop Roleplaying Game
As a role-player, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a good lightweight superhero RPG. I’ve tried quite a few but had yet to find one that really hit the mark for me until I tried Marvel Multiverse Role-playing Game. I have to say, I was initially dubious about this game but it has blown me out of the water. The game is utterly devoted to giving the players the feeling of playing a hero in the Marvel universe with tons of cool powers and power categories based on key Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and the Hulk. The system is easy, streamlined, and really carries the four-color comic book flavor. Probably one of the coolest aspects of the game is that while there is an exhaustive list of Marvel heroes and villains at the back of the book, you can create your own hero with their own power set and use that “bestiary” of heroic and villainous figures as allies and enemies in your own heroic adventures. For those of us who’ve always wanted to make their own X-Gene Mutant, Spirit of Vengeance, or Spidersona, this is a must-have book that will bring hours of enjoyment.
Masks of the Masks
Jeff Stormer, Party of One podcast
Superhero comics, for all their many flaws, remain my life’s great passion. That’s why, of all the games I’ve played this year, the one I want to shout about from the rooftops is Masks of the Masks by Hazel Amber Goswick. The game is an incredible piece of art: a tabletop RPG presented as a fully illustrated comic book, an homage to Bronze Age superhero stories just as Watchmen did, that critically explores and examines the violence inherent in its medium. It’s an absolute joy to behold as you flip through it; you can feel the love, consideration, and attention to detail dripping off of every move and every panel. Then, in play, it’s a revelation; a brilliant blend of Belonging Outside Belonging and Powered by the Apocalypse that builds on some of the luminaries of both systems to create something that just sings. Plus, it has some of the most wicked advancement mechanics I’ve run into in years, that both add to the play experience while heightening the ever-looming sense of dread and tragedy that’s so essential to comics of that time period. Cannot recommend enough.
The Monster Overhaul
Stu Horvath, founder and publisher of Unwinnable, author of Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground
The Monster Overhaul, by Skerples, reimagines not just the monsters, but the very notion of what a bestiary can and should be. The book is divided into 20 categories, each containing 10 critters that hew to a theme. The categories are unusual: There is “Dragons,” of course, but also “Summer” and “A Wizard Did It.” “Summer” monsters include the Froghemoth and Pyromancers. Some of these may sound similar to classic D&D monsters, others are entirely new. Tables galore help build and flesh out encounters. “Summer” has a set of generic swamp hexes; other entries have lairs and dungeons. There is an entire flowchart table for populating a megadungeon. Every page of this book is designed to make the reader think about monsters, how to make them feel new, or to recontextualize them, or to simply subvert player expectations. Like all great RPG supplements, The Monster Overhaul not only offers answers for these questions and more, it also teaches the reader how to continue answering them long after these published tables and suggestions are exhausted. A monstrous achievement that should be on every GM’s shelf.
Bonus: Reach of the Roach God
Reach of the Roach God is the hardcover high-watermark of A Thousand Thousand Islands (ATTI), a series of zines, that presents a system-agnostic setting inspired by the folklore of Southeast Asia. Odoyoq, the roach god, senses new ways it can insinuate itself into the lives of non-roachkind. The three schemes are presented as both traditional adventures and as collections of facts — about the setting, about the people living there and their motivations, about the desires of the god and the machinations of its agents. Events will quickly throw a small village, a monastery, and a necropolis into chaos. Two gazetteers and a sourcebook on the roaches follow, giving the GM ample material to expand the campaign. All this is wrapped in Munkao’s fantastically disgusting artwork. His vistas and cultural portraits are gorgeous, but when he brings his talents to bear on feelers and chitin and filth, the results are revolting in the best possible way. Sadly, this is likely the final installment in the ATTI series and unlikely to be reprinted, so get this book while you can!
Kayla Dice, Rat Wave Game House, author of Terminal and Transgender Deathmatch Legend, Diana Jones Award Emerging Designer 2023
Figuring out what to talk about proved trickier than I expected. A lot of the things I played this year were playtests or previews for things not out yet, which would feel more like a humblebrag than a recommendation, or were my own games which were great to play but would feel a bit weird and self-indulgent to suggest as the “best.”
A really pleasant TTRPG memory I had from this year was playing Monsterhearts for the first time in three years. This was one of the first games I ever played (for ages afterwards I kept calling playbooks in every game “skins”). I played a one-shot with some friends I was reconnecting with and we mostly group game mastered. We played a gang of messy screw-ups who didn’t hugely get along, my character had traded her old gender to the fae over the summer, and we tried to investigate a potential monster hunter, a NPC most of our characters found too cool to talk to. There was a gag about someone doing a club remix of “Danny Boy” at a memorial service and the group chat with those friends is still named “Danny Boyz (The Pipes, The Pipes).”
Jasmine Bhullar, writer, content creator, executive producer of DesiQuest
Of the games I delved into this year, although several afforded hours of entertainment, I felt myself repeatedly returning to one in particular. Although Mörk Borg was released in 2020, it was only in 2023 that I happily stumbled upon it and was able to somehow get a table together to run a game. The book itself has a stunning and distinct art style that immediately transports you into the doom metal fantasy of the setting; but that’s only a small part of its allure.
Unlike many TTRPGs that one merely has aspirations of playing one day, Mörk Borg does everything in its power to make the game easy to run. Although it’s a short read, no line is wasted. Even item descriptions are dripping with hints at nefarious deeds one must have done to acquire them. The optional classes are an absolute delight for those of us that savor the idea of playing the unsavory. From the esoteric introverts that choose to make their hovel far from prying eyes to the unfortunate discarded-at-birth cutthroats who’ve had to scratch out a living any way they can, there is something for everyone. There is always the option of creating something more tailor-made if none of the classes are appealing, but I appreciate that Mörk Borg offers beginner-friendly ideas and archetypes to help you create something that fits right into the gritty setting. Furthermore, in the process of putting a game together, I found a glut of free online tools from dungeon generators to NPC character sheet generators that made game prep a breeze. I find myself coming back to this game again and again with each game session only giving me ideas for future campaigns. I know I’m not alone in this feeling given the number of Mörk Borg-compatible games that have sprung up this year, from Pirate Borg to Chris Lockey’s upcoming Abyss of Hallucinations.
I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic
Madison Durham, writer and journalist, staff writer at Reviewed
To me, some of the most joyful moments in tabletop gaming come from the experience of creative collaboration — the magic of making something new with friends, be it a narrative, a character, a world, or in this case, a city. I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Asercion is a GM-less city-building game, played between a group of two to six people with a stack of index cards and your favorite writing utensils. The whimsically illustrated rulebook lays out the tools by which you’ll lay bricks for your city, weaving together your ideas and your fellow players’ to establish Landmarks, Residents, and Neighborhoods, all on a quest to find the city’s true names. It’s a beautifully simple game, guided by a Compass, which can be anything — literally. It’s almost impossible for me to capture the magic of this game with words, because each session we played was so entirely unique, from the verdant turtle-city in the sky we built out in stages to the haunted shell of a city we later used as our D&D setting. It’s a perfect game full stop, but especially for those seeking to rekindle their creativity, or simply to sit down and create with friends.
Erin Roberts, writer, teacher, and game designer; Diana Jones Award Emerging Designer 2023
“I laughed so hard my face hurt.” —me, 10 minutes after my first session of Triangle Agency
I love a game with style and a clear, fun point of view, so I’ve been a fan of Triangle Agency since I picked up its player guide in beta form earlier this year (to prep for writing a published adventure for the game). Written in the form of a cheerful, slightly threatening employee handbook, the Field Agent Manual guides you through the creation of your supernaturally powered character, then gets you ready for your role finding and containing Anomalies that threaten the nature of reality. After your team’s morning meeting, of course.
Beyond the style of the materials, though, playing the game was an absolute blast. The mix of mundane life, weird occurrences, and corporate BS created a fast-paced game experience that was playful and easy to understand (just count those threes!), got every player invested in our characters and each other (even in a group of total strangers), and allowed the whole table to lean into both the strange and ridiculous nature of life. This year, it was just the kind of joy that I needed.
Taylor Moore, of actual-play podcasts: Worlds Beyond Number, Fun City, Rude Tales of Magic, and Oh These Those Stars of Space
2023 was a personal tabletop gold mine. We finally got Brennan Lee Mulligan’s first official 5e homebrew; I discovered tabletop meetup hub and game master meat market StartPlaying.Games, where you can, as I have, hire a handsome Scottish man to D&D dominate you and your friends every week; and I played a ton of my new favorite party game, As You ’Wich. It’s a dead-simple hand-builder that, for me at least, boils down to convincing your nephews to eat disgusting sandwiches (hair, mustard, and broken glass on marble rye, absolutely not toasted). But the fresh grand dame of my tabletop world is Triangle Agency, a gleaming, razor-sharp new TTRPG that feels like a cross between The X-Files, Annihilation, and playing Control with the Robert Anton Wilson mod turned on.
In Triangle Agency, you are super-abled agents investigating and stopping ontological anomalies from destroying reality, with mechanics that feel like the platonic ideal mix of analytic crunch and grand narrative weirdness. And my god, it is gorgeous, with jaw-dropping art and design that puts it on the same shelf as Wanderhome and Mörk Borg. The full game ships early in 2024, but you can get the digital rules and start playing right now, for the low, low price of “whatever you think is appropriate.”
Charlie Hall, senior editor, tabletop
I firmly believe that tabletop role-play should always take into account the audience that sits down at the table to play. That’s part of the reason why I hate best-of lists for this particular category of games in particular. What difference does it make if something scores highly on some arbitrary rubric if it doesn’t resonate with the people in your community? And so I look at year-end lists like these as a kind of menu, boards of fare that clever game masters can use to pick just the right flavor for a given table.
For me this year was all about reconnecting with the other dads in my neighborhood after years spent locked inside during the pandemic. I spun up a Discord that we used to organize friendly games of Call of Duty’s DMZ mode, organized a few visits to the local brewery to catch up make new connections, and generally just tried to get awkward, middle-aged men accustomed to seeing each other socially again. One night I decided to bust out Twilight: 2000, and it was an instant hit.
Twilight: 2000 is a game about surviving in the aftermath of a fictional nuclear conflict in the heart of Europe. It’s an alternate history where the Cold War went hot, swallowing up an entire United States Marine division. Players take on the role of soldiers and other hangers-on just trying to make it out alive. The heady mix of dice-driven gunplay and a playing-card-style encounter creation makes it easy to run. But the fun begins even before that with character generation, which uses old school randomized tables to simulate an entire military career. If you’re looking to get your video gaming buddies around the table for something that doesn’t require a headset or shouting down pre-teens in a glitchy public lobby, the all-inclusive starter set comes highly recommended.
Rowan Zeoli, actual-play journalist and Polygon contributor
It’s a near-impossible task to get a consistent group together, so solo TTRPGs have become my primary method of gaming. However, the barrier for me is finding a game with a balance of narrative and mechanics that isn’t overwhelmingly crunchy, but also isn’t open-ended to the point of choice paralysis. For me, Project ECCO found that balance.
A story of time travel and cosmic horror, Project ECCO is easy to get into and relatively quick to play (three to 10 hours per game). Between the hundreds of narrative prompts, unlocking various time travel “devices” (coins, dice, tarot cards, etc.), and the absolutely stunning layout, this is one of my favorite TTRPGs, period.
Played in the pages of a yearly planner, Project ECCO hits every beat of a good time-travel story: time loops and timeline divergences, a shady and controlling Time Travel Agency, and an unknowable cosmic Entity consuming spacetime. As you play, you (literally) burn through the days of your planner, creating an artifact, marked and changed by the telling of your agent’s story.
For an example of gameplay and a masterfully produced actual play, listen to the Project ECCO miniseason of My First Dungeon with game designer Elliot Davis.
The Quiet Year
Em Friedman, associate professor of English at Auburn University and Polygon contributor
Look, The Quiet Year appeared not once but twice on last year’s roundup, I know. Jay Dragon praised its elegance and Keerthi Sridharan noted the way their game group used it as a prologue (as Friends at the Table and The Adventure Zone have popularized), and it’s a standard early on in my TTPRG class. But for me it was the standout game of this year because after running it for my niece (then 4) and nephew (8), my nephew asked that I run “the skulls game” for his entire class. While not intended for a dozen grade schoolers, it turns out the mechanics of The Quiet Year — which ensure everyone gets to have their turn unimpeded by the commentary of others, ritualizes dissent and discussion, as well as having a glorious sheet of blank paper to draw the zombie chicken monster friend of your dreams — turned out to be a perfect framework to imagine how to work together. All that, and it fits in my pocket.
What Dust Remains
Danny Quach, Digital Thiccness, TTRPG writer, designer, and performer
Despite my generally sunny disposition, big smile, and boisterous laughter (as well as being deemed the internet’s emotional support himbo), I love all of my emotions — the good, bad, and ugly. I love emo/screamo/post-hardcore music and exploring the darkness through lyrics. I love the gothic and macabre, finding comfort in losing something you once had. I love horror movies and the inherent queerness of being an outcast being pushed to their limits. And I love games that explore themes of melancholy and loss. Enter: What Dust Remains by 2022 Diana Jones Emerging Designer award winner Bianca Canoza — aka Momatoes. Taught by the designer herself, I got to play this at Big Bad Con 2023 with two other strangers who quickly became co-collaborators in this tragic world we built in under two hours that told a story of a legacy that wasn’t quite within reach. Impassioned and intriguing card-prompted questions along with focused, intense moments of dice rolls that helped move the story along, What Dust Remains challenged me to discover, explore, and sit in moments of despair and desperation and had the whole table contemplating what parts of us are we going to sacrifice to leave a legacy that would be bigger than we could ever be behind.
Connie Chang (they/he/she), game designer, actual-play creator, and game master for Transplanar RPG
Earlier this year, I searched for the perfect system to kickstart my new actual-play campaign with three “must-haves” in mind: a vivid world, rich character options, and simple but punchy rules. Through sheer accident (providence?), I stumbled upon The Wildsea by Felix Isaacs and Mythworks — and it was love at first sight.
In this game, players embody wildsailors: swashbuckling adventurers who traverse a strange and vibrant world made of fantastical vegetation. The character generation process encourages delightfully bizarre concepts like pinwolf-taming sharpshooters trapped in amber, omen-speaking moth chefs, or even collections of a thousand spiders wearing skin suits. The mechanics are structured around a d6 dice pool system with bands of success that generate interesting outcomes no matter what you roll.
The beautifully illustrated rulebook not only allowed me to add my own twists, but actively endorsed it, with multiple sections dedicated to alternate ways of running encounters and ideas for creating your own unique lore. My players and I had an absolute BLAST playing The Wildsea both on and off stream, and we were stoked (but not surprised!) when it won an Ennie this year. If you’re looking for a narratively focused game with an imaginative world and mechanics that inspire cinematic play, then give The Wildsea a shot!