The best tabletop RPGs are in the middle of a fierce comeback. Thanks to shows like Stranger Things and Critical Role, the hobby has never been more popular (the use of D&D's world in the latest Baldur's Gate video game hasn't hurt either). Crucially, it's easier than ever to get into. That means the TTRPG-curious can start adventuring with little more than a pen, paper, and the press of a button.
But where should you begin? If you've been hoping to give the best tabletop RPGs a go but feel intimidated, we've got you covered. No matter whether you're a greenhorn or storied veteran looking for something new, this guide has recommendations to suit you. And because we're living through the TTRPG golden age, you'll be able to find a system for almost any interest. Swords and sorcery? Sure thing. Sci-fi star-trekking? You bet. Superhero action? Absolutely. There's never been a better time to get involved.
To help you save money along the way, our bargain-hunting software is also on-hand to find the cheapest offers for the best tabletop RPGs. Because these prices are updated automatically on a regular basis, you can be sure that you're getting the best deals available right now.
Wondering how we choose which products to feature in this list, on the other hand? We'll only ever spotlight items that our writers, freelancers, and colleagues have had extensive hands-on time with. That means we truly believe in the tabletop RPGs below, and will never suggest a game we wouldn't use ourselves.
Benjamin's been writing about tabletop RPGs professionally for over four years, and has been running games for almost as long. Although he has the most experience with D&D, he's led players through many of the products below as a Game Master.
Best tabletop RPGs - quick list
Want to start rolling dice as quickly as possible? No problem - here's a quick rundown of all the best tabletop RPGs. To find out more, simply click on the link below each entry.
The best tabletop RPG overall
Besides being the most well-known tabletop RPG out there, D&D also happens to be one of the best. A comprehensive system, countless pre-written adventures, and the freedom to create your own worlds keeps it at the top.
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The best tabletop RPG for beginners
Although it's not as well known as its peers, the Index Card RPG is a masterclass in beginner-friendly mechanics. Easy to get into but capable of immense depth, it's a good choice if you're new to tabletop RPGs.
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The best fantasy tabletop RPG
It doesn't get more 'fantasy' than Lord of the Rings, and this adaptation somehow manages to capture everything that's great about Tolkien's stories. While there are fewer pre-written adventures, it's the perfect sandbox for fans.
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The best sci-fi tabletop RPG
If you'd rather take to the stars and explore beyond our solar system, this entry ticks all the boxes - and then some. Both comprehensive and engrossing, it's well-supported with expansions that can enrich your story.
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The best crime tabletop RPG
You'd struggle to get through most tabletop RPG lists without stumbling across Blades in the Dark. This gritty adventure rises above its counterparts thanks to a slick action system that cuts down on tiresome 'what-ifs.' A tight criminal fantasy with fresh gameplay, this is a stunner.
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The best horror tabletop RPG
Few movie monsters can match the xenomorph in terms of skin-crawling creep-factor, and this system knows exactly how to leverage them to best effect. Thanks to an intuitive and well-designed set of mechanics, it's also very accessible.
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Best tabletop RPG overall
For many gamers, 'tabletop RPGs' and 'D&D' mean the same thing. And that's hardly surprising. Besides being one of the oldest games in the business, it's also the most popular. Particularly now - there's been a resurgence of interest thanks to shows like Stranger Things and Critical Role. Basically? It should be your first port of call if you want that traditional pen-and-paper experience.
Although they have their flaws, you can't overemphasize how much of an impact Dungeons and Dragons books have had on the industry either; they're the gold standard in terms of classic roleplay, world-building, and mechanics. Plus, the franchise has built a wealth of content to explore with infinite possibilities on-tap. Want to make your way through dusty old tombs or travel the stars in a Jules Verne-style space adventure? You can do that. Yes, other TTRPGs are better at specific things like roleplay or combat, but few provide as well-rounded an experience as D&D.
✅ You want the quintessential tabletop RPG: If you're after a classic pen-and-paper experience, it doesn't get much better than this. D&D is the benchmark, and it'll give you a feel for everything the best tabletop RPGs can offer.
✅ You want something well-supported, with lots of players: Because D&D is the biggest TTRPG around, it's by far and away the best supported. There are loads of ready-made adventures that are easy to get into, and countless players who want to try them.
✅ You want to make your own world: Thanks to a vast library of worldbuilding inspiration, D&D is a great fit for anyone that wants to create a fantasy kingdom of their own.
❌ You'll be running the game and don't want lots of prep: Unfortunately, D&D is pretty demanding on whoever's leading the session. Although using prewritten adventures will help, you'll still need to do a lot of prep ahead of the game.
❌ You want a game that excels at the specifics: It's great that D&D is such a jack-of-all-trades, but the downside is that it doesn't ace any particular thing. For specifics (like a crime thriller or stealth experience, say), you'll find better options elsewhere.
❌ You want deep combat: Anyone hoping for a more in-depth combat system may be disappointed by D&D. Its battles work well, but they lack the depth and crunchiness of other systems.
How it works: Unlike the best board games, there aren't just players of the game - you also have a 'Dungeon Master' who acts as a referee and storyteller for everyone else. They're responsible for setting the scene, describing what happens, judging rules, controlling non-playable characters, and running enemies in combat. Think of it like an interactive ghost story (the kind told around a campfire at night, where it's all about atmosphere) and you won't be far off.
Gameplay: Once you've decided what species your character is going to be (ranging from the familiar to the weird), you'll assign scores to attributes like Strength and Charisma. You'll then settle on a 'class.' These are real classics, and almost every other RPG has nicked them in the decades since D&D launched. You know the kind - we're talking warriors, rogues, and wizards.
As for mechanics, almost every action involves rolling 20, 12, 6, or 4-sided dice. Whenever you want to do something (be it picking a lock or crossing swords with a bandit), you'll roll a dice and add your character's relevant attribute score to the result. If you beat a target number decided by the Dungeon Master, you've succeeded! If you fail... well, things might get ugly. Everything else is usually decided through roleplay, whether it's describing what your adventurer does or voicing them yourself.
The result is an elegant and intuitive system. Sure, other games handle specific aspects better because they explore them in more depth. But generally speaking, D&D's a good all-rounder with lots of versatility.
Where to start: If you want to try D&D, what you should get will vary depending on how you'll be playing. Are you hoping to just play the game? You'll be fine with the free core rules, one of the official pre-generated characters, or the Player's Handbook.
It's a different story for anyone wanting to run games, though. They should make a beeline for the new starter set, the Essentials Kit, or the free Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign. The first two ease you into D&D with everything you need to play, while the latter is a great little adventure that captures everything great about Dungeons & Dragons in general (though you'll need to buy a set of dice separately if you go down this route).
- Read more: Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set review
Best tabletop RPGS - for beginners
If you're new to the best tabletop RPGs and have no idea what to do with a d20, this clever system by Runehammer is a great place to start. Designed with accessibility in mind, Index Card RPG is about getting into the action as quickly as possible. You won't need to dust off your math skills in order to play, either; its mechanics are streamlined and emphasize ease-of-use.
That's because the book simplifies actions by consolidating tasks into categories that always use the same kind of dice. This results in much less rules-confusion where players pause the game so they can look up how much damage a particular attack should do (we can never remember which dice are used for certain weapons in D&D, so not having to scan spreadsheets is a blessing in our eyes). When combined with no-fuss character creation and a straightforward health system inspired by video game 'hearts', you can be playing Index Card RPG in an impressively short amount of time.
Much of that comes down to the book's conversational tone; it's much easier to read than other TTRPG tomes. However, this doesn't mean it's boring. Instead, Index Card classes feature clever twists to help them stand out alongside left-field player options like ghosts carried within a suit of robotic armor. What's more, it's home to not one but five settings (the fantasy-themed Alfhiem, starship-focused Warp Shell, supernatural western Ghost Mountain, superhero romp Vigilante City, and prehistoric Blood and Snow). In short, the system can be used for almost anything you're able to dream up. That makes it a great example of everything this hobby is about.
- Read more: Index Card RPG review
Best tabletop RPGs - best fantasy
There's a reason why Tolkien's work continues to be the framework for (and inspiration of) countless fantasy settings today; it exemplifies everything great about the genre. And although capturing its tone can be tricky, this system from Free League passes that test with flying colors. Whether it's flawless production design using Tolkien's signature red notifs, a reluctance to go overboard with monsters and magic beyond the books' scope, or elaborate pencil illustrations that look like they've been stolen from the sketchbook of Alan Lee, The One Ring nails Middle-earth in every way that counts.
Its mechanics are elegant and easily understood, too. Along with dividing skills into three categories (Strength, Heart, and Wit), they all feature clear 'Target Numbers' that you have to beat when rolling for a challenge. This makes things very straightforward even if you've never played a tabletop RPG before.
Sure, it's lacking in pre-written adventures at the time of writing (there's only the starter set and one dedicated book of adventures, 'Tales From the Lone-Lands'). But there's more than enough material on-hand to create your own adventure. The beginner box and core rulebook are crammed with details on the northern kingdoms of Middle-earth, so you won't ever be struggling to find inspiration.
- Read more: The One Ring Starter Set review
Best tabletop RPGs - sci-fi
You don't have to know Starfinder is the sci-fi followup to Pathfinder to enjoy it. You just have to like laser swords and ship combat and strange alien species and, ideally, a wee bit of fantasy mixed in with your sci-fi.
Starfinder uses a familiar array of stats to modify your usual D20 attack and ability rolls, and it also leaves the door open to bringing in straight-up space dwarves and space elves if you can't stand to role play without them. However much you want your campaign to feel like Pathfinder in space, new ideas like character themes - which emphasize your place in the galaxy, not just how you fight - and the health/stamina system ensure Starfinder plays like a game of its own.
It's also streamlined… a bit. Starfinder's core rulebook is still a meaty 528 pages. At least they're a well-designed and lavishly illustrated 528 pages. One last word on Pathfinder: its relatively new second edition hasn't had quite the same enthusiastic adoption as its first edition so far. We'll keep an eye on Pathfinder 2E to see if further updates stir up more interest, but for now we feel more confident continuing to recommend Starfinder.
Best tabletop RPGs - crime
Blades in the Dark is the most focused game on this list: it's the story of a gang of scoundrels who try to carve out their own piece of a big, dirty city. The details of who they are and how they go from small-time crooks to bosses of the underworld (or die trying) are up to you. It may sound limiting - and certain game mechanics, such as territory acquisition, feel more like a board game than a TTRPG - but Blades in the Dark pushes that narrow remit to its fullest potential.
The fresh way Blades in the Dark thinks about RPG systems is encapsulated in the 'engagement roll' for any given mission. Rather than letting players get bogged down in the limitless what-ifs of planning for a fictional situation, the game master asks a few questions, builds a dice pool using the answers, and then you cut straight to the action using the roll's result. Additional details can be added in-medias-res via flashback scenes.
We haven't even gotten into how much we love the balancing act of Position and Effect, pushing players beyond leaning exclusively on the biggest numbers on their character sheets, but that would take up a thousands of words. The basics of it is that you should absolutely have Blades in the Dark on your shelf.
Best tabletop RPGs - horror
You don't 'win' in this adaptation of the horror franchise; you just survive. And even then, your odds aren't great. As a certain android once said, "I can't lie to you about your chances. But you have my sympathies".
This nihilistic, against-all-odds mentality is alive and well in the Alien tabletop RPG. Actually, it's one of the best translations of the source material on shelves right now. This isn't an adventure of derring-do or indestructible heroes. It's a desperate last stand where you're hopelessly outgunned, and that makes it unusually compelling - not to mention terrifying. The xenomorphs it revolves around really are perfect killing machines here, and being able to survive an encounter with one (even the smaller, more vulnerable variety seen throughout Aliens) is an achievement.
That's because this game wisely leans into the stress, tension, and large body-count of the original series. As an example, its 'cinematic mode' offers pre-generated characters in a high-lethality scenario where you're likely to die a sudden, very unpleasant death. These poor souls come with conflicting objectives as well (like covering up Weyland-Yutani's faults or capturing a sample) to make roleplay even spicier, so expect to second-guess your companion's every move. If you're used to being a near-invulnerable paragon of good in D&D, it's a breath of fresh air as a result. As our review points out, "knowing beforehand that characters can and will die frees both designers and players to make full use of horror elements".
- Read more: Alien: The Roleplaying Game review
Best tabletop RPGs - FAQ
What is the most popular tabletop RPG?
The most popular tabletop RPG is easily Dungeons & Dragons. Along with being one of the oldest games in the business, it being used in everything from Critical Role to Stranger Things (not to mention a big budget movie with massive names attached) has catapulted it even further into the public eye.
That's not to say it's necessarily the 'best' for everyone, though. There are plenty of alternatives out there, and they excel in areas that D&D doesn't always do as well.
Where should you start with tabletop RPGs?
If you're completely new to tabletop RPGs, you can't go far wrong with Index Card RPG or The One Ring Starter Set. Both are superb introductions to the hobby and are easy to get your head around, so greenhorns can be rolling dice in no time.
The D&D starter set or Essentials Kit are also brilliant places to begin. They explain the rules in an easy-to-understand manner while also providing a pre-written adventure to play through.
What is the best alternative to D&D?
If you're keen to avoid D&D but want to remain rooted in the world of fantasy, we'd recommend starting with Pathfinder or The One Ring. The former is based on an older version of Dungeons & Dragons so retains a lot of its best bits without the baggage, while the latter nails the tone and sense of adventure from its inspiration.
As for sci-fi, Starfinder is an excellent choice. This is made by the same people behind Pathfinder and has been very well-received. Meanwhile, Alien: The Roleplaying Game is an excellent choice if you want something creepier.