Last year around this time, I began my list of hotly anticipated tabletop role-playing games by saying the industry existed “in an interesting space,” and the same could be said as we plod into 2023. All you need to do is trade discussions of international logistics and NFTs with concerned whispers and louder dissent against Wizards of the Coast’s Open Gaming License, a draft of which is is spreading panic among smaller creators.
That being said, there is no better time to swing the TTRPG spotlight onto titles created by individuals and those teams not tied to established publishing routes — the land of provocative convention-busters, earnest artistic expression, and flat-out cool ideas that contain neither dragons nor dungeons. In no particular order, here are seven upcoming games to keep firmly on your radar in 2023.
What do you get when you throw Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) rules, and complicated queer relationships into a design blender? The surprisingly delicious answer is Rae Nedjadi’s Apocalypse Keys, a slick and stylish vehicle for telling stories wherein diverting the apocalypse may require the player-controlled Omen Class Monsters to embrace the facet of themselves everyone fears most.
The playbooks (a sort of pre-built character class typical to other PbtA games) at the heart of each character focus on the barely understood powers and emotional connections between the outcasts who have formed a sort of found family within the occult secret organization known as Division. Who covers your back as you wade through the depths of hell? Who do you trust to pull you back from the brink of oblivion?
Koriko: A Magical Year
In the campaign description for Koriko: A Magical Year, designer Jack Harrison claimed the emotional beats and touchstones of Kiki’s Delivery Service had wormed its way into his heart over the countless times his young son watched the Studio Ghibli film. Once expressed through Harrison’s contemplative creative sensibilities, the result is tarot-based solo tabletop game about a single year spent abroad by a young witch as they discover their place within a wider world.
Ostensibly cribbing much of the film (and Eiko Kadono’s original novel) for flavor, Koriko’s gameplay borrows more from JRPGs and Sims-style video games as players chronicle four distinct seasons of life in letters back home. Decisions should feel as though they gradually carve a unique narrative sculpture for each player, and Harrison claims the book will be robust enough to make good on that promise.
Koriko: A Magical Year is currently available to pre-order through Backerkit.
Rebels of the Outlaw Wastes
I was sold on Rebels of the Outlaw Wastes the moment the design team listed My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days as an inspiration. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered the tabletop RPG’s dustpunk aesthetic and post-apocalyptic setting came attached to a game engine that tells players to slap stickers onto the character sheet when they earn new skills.
Sometimes a play group simply wants to stick it to the man by racing scrapyard autos across a post-climate collapse landscape deep in the clutches of doomer fascism, swinging guitars, guns, and middle fingers out the window. Sometimes the rules can be familiar enough — a mixture of Blades in the Dark and Powered by the Apocalypse, here — but shine thanks to the novelty of decorating your character sheet with sticky little badges that I can’t believe more games haven’t yet adopted.
The second solo tabletop RPG on this list asks its players to write entries in a journal as they traverse the streets of, well, inscrutable cities. Heavily inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities and its meditations on existential topics framed as visits to foreign metropolises, Inscrutable Cities will lean heavily on the writing of award-winning author Julian K. Jarboe as it provides players all the world-building material and situational prompts they need to explore.
Inscrutable Cities doesn’t get more complicated than a coin flip, instead leveraging the innate imagination of its players as they wander the shared dreams within its pages. Possum Creek Games, the company behind Wanderhome and the upcoming Yazeba’s Bed & Breakfast, has accepted publishing duties, and it has a well-established track record with games that trade more in narrative than mechanics.
Inscrutable Cities will be available for pre-order soon through its Backerkit crowdfunding page.
Songs for the Dusk
The idiosyncratic nature of tabletop RPGs means that an absolute banger of a game can cook away on some corner of the internet for years before you discover it. Such was the case of Songs for the Dusk, a Blades in the Dark-inspired title that swaps out the steam- and ghostpunk vibes for something closer to the struggle to build community and foster hope in the post-postapocalypse that we last saw in Wanderhome.
Lead designer Kavita Poduri has spent several years refining the world and ruleset and is reportedly planning a crowdfunding campaign for the physical edition in the spring of this year. If you dug the mission-based cohort storytelling of Blades but wished there were more cat people, ancient vine-choked ruins, and fantastical magic, then Songs for the Dusk is here to impress.
More information about Songs for the Dusk can be found on its Itch.io page.
The core team behind acclaimed dungeon minion-simulator Wicked Ones are currently producing a new tabletop RPG that sounds a heck of a lot like Monster Hunter but with colossal automatons instead of Rathaloses (Rathalosi?) and Deviljhos. The world of Relic is filthy with Titans, most of which are the direct or indirect product of humans’ greed for natural resources and war. But they have survived their creators and must be hunted down by small, elite teams in order to bring some measure of peace — or, at least, atone for past sins.
Sessions of Relic adopt a cinematic feel and will be reminiscent of hunts from the recent Monster Hunter video games: Titans must first be tracked in the wilderness, and successful hunts spring from a mixture of tactics, traps, and choosing your battlefield wisely. And with three settings spanning as many books, the designers have prepared no shortage of potential adventure.
Relic is currently accepting late pre-orders through its Backerkit page.
OK, yeah, I hear you asking: But what if I want my monster hunting to come with a healthy dose of self-loathing and descriptions of rot? Well, the crackerjack designers at Rowan, Rook and Decard, responsible for Heart, Spire, and editing Kieron Gillen’s DIE RPG, are delivering an answer in the form of Hollows. The monsters are massive, the heroes are tainted, and their weapons are all hateful, telepathic simulacra of toxic masculinity.
Hollows is a left turn from what we’ve broadly come to expect from the U.K.-based team. It’s heavy on the tactical combat in a similar manner to its earlier work in Unbound, to the point that it utilizes a grid. The massive enemies will telegraph their attacks in the style of Dark Souls bosses, and everyone is tracking the minutia of moment-to-moment positioning to determine who emerges from the blood, mud, and dross victorious.
Hollows is still in playtesting, and the team is playing its cards close to its chest for now, but expect to hear more about this Hunt: Showdown-meets-Bloodborne tabletop RPG later this year.