Monday, December 28, 2020

Death Bat's Top Five RPG Products of 2020

 In this painfully irritating year we all had at least one form of entertainment that sustained our minds despite the convergence of the maelstrom that was 2020: gaming. And amongst gaming even tabletop gaming managed to survive, thanks to online virtual tabletop experiences! As such, since it is once again closing on the end of the year I thought I'd take a moment to highlight the best stuff I managed to snag and enjoy this year. The list this year almost suffers from too much good stuff to pick from, as a lot of really fine books for tabletop gaming came out this year:

#5: Pathfinder 2E Advanced Player's Guide

This tome contained much-needed additions to ancestry and class as well as three new classes and a ton of support material that provided a signficant bridge between the end-state of PF1E and the current state of PF2E. It's not that the core book was missing anything; rather, it's that 2E has that long haul to get to the same "useful content" state that 1E had already achieved. That said, the new material in the new APG was a great addition to the game. 

#4: Cypher System's The Stars Are Fire

The second expansion for Cypher System from the "Your Best Game Ever" Kickstarter was an amazing book, a comprehensive resource for running a range of SF genre games in the Cypher System. The approach taken breaks down genre necessities, tropes and expectations and handily outlines how to handle all of this in Cypher terms. 

#3: Traveller: Behind the Claw

The only thing better than a general purpose scifi toolkit is a dedicated campaign book focusing on prominent border sectors of Imperium Space: Deneb and the Spinward Marches, in the Traveller universe. This book is really referee-friendly, and provides an excellent resource for sandbox gaming in a region rife with potential conflict. Also, maybe it's just me, but this book was surprisingly fun to read and not as dry as some other Imperium setting books have been in the past.

#2: Arcana of the Ancients (5E)

This tome, along with it's two sister volumes Beneath the Monolith and Beasts of Flesh an Steel, comprise three volumes on introducing the high-science fantasy of Numenera to D&D 5E. The three books can collectively serve as direct campaign resources or the toolkits for a GM to do their own thing with the concept. The material meshes well while bringing distinctly Numenera/Cypher concepts to 5E, and if you've been intrigued at the world of Numenera but couldn't convince your players to try out the Cypher System then this resource is a sneaky way to get them in to it. Alternatively, it's a lush resource of additional building blocks for making decidedly non-Tolkienesque fantasy in 5E, too.

#1: Call of Cthulhu 7E: Malleus Monstrorum Volumes I and II

I've been using the PDFs to supplement Cthulhu for months now, but the print editions finally arrived in time for my Xmas present, so lucky me! This two volume set provides a fantastic full-color reinvention of the original 6th edition version of the same, but now with just more, more and even more Mythos goodness. An invaluable resource for Call of Cthulhu 7E keepers and a worthy set for any Mythos collector.

Honorable Mention #1: Alien RPG

Technically Alien RPG came out last year, but I acquired it at the beginning of this year (iirc) and it also released a Starter Set and a boxed campaign (Destroyer of Worlds) that only enhanced how good this game was at representing its source material. As a long time fan of the series (both through better and worse; the Alien franchise has had its fair share of stinkers) it is impressive to see how the Free League team tackled a reconciliation on the many and varied alternate and contradictory takes on alien Canon (and non canon), and managed to produce a game that feels like it might manage to surprise and entertain. 

Honorable Mention #2: Cypher System's Godforsaken

The only reason I felt like I couldn't include this is I haven't finished reading it yet, but it is already clear that Godforsaken does a fine job of escalating Cypher System into the realm of a full fantasy game, no doubt just in time for the upcoming revamp of Ptolus next year. I'll be using it soon for an actual Realms of Chirak campaign, too, as well as revamping my Ensaria campaign, which is a Cypher world I have run some campaigns in themed around the idea of a fantasy realm that is in fact a lost colony world.

Overall though, this was a pretty amazing year for new RPG books, despite the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. Hopefully next year will be better for game developers and publishers alike, as well as gamers everywhere. 

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