2017 – Best RPG – Winner

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Five RPGs enter…five RPGs leave, because this isn’t the Thunderdome. There is only one winner though.

Until I’m allowed to pit RPG systems against one another in a series of trials, each more deadly and insidious than the last, candidates are instead judged based on how much of an impact they had on the gaming world, what they brought to the table (top), and which ones look like they could handle themselves in a fight.

While there were many fantastic nominees, in the end only one could be chosen to be the destructor form of Gozer the Gozerian, so come and join us as we separate the giant marshmallow men from the Slavitza Jovans.

Now you know this. This is a fact you cannot escape from.

The Finalists

Starfinder – Paizo

In the year of the Sci-Fi RPG, there’s no doubt that Startin derived has made a huge splash. It’s Pathfinder, with tweaks, in space, sure. But those tweaks are fairly substantive, and they change the game, giving us a glimpse of what a revised Pathfinder might look like. Streamlined, but with added emphasis on customization. Starfinder gives players the tools they need, including a starship, especially a starship, to put the galaxy at their fingertips.

Cthulhu Dark – Graham Walmsley

Cthulhu Dark puts the horror back in cosmic horror. This is not a game you play to tell a story of investigators overcoming the minions of the elder gods in two-fisted action with Tommy guns, dynamjte, and spells. It’s a game of investigators losing themselves. Losing the fight. Of dark settling in,  and the terrible costs you’ll pay to keep the light flickering a while longer. If you want to run a horror game, if you want to ruin something that feels like Lovecraft’s stories–as opposed to something that makes you fight Lovecraft flavored villains, this is the game for you. And for me. With lush settings like Cyberpunk Cthulhu Mumbai, and 1849 London, and so on,  this book really changed the way you can think of a horror game.

Blades in the Dark – Evil Hat Games

Blades in the Dark may be the best Powered by the Apocalypse game out there. It sets out with a very clear goal in mind and executes it perfectly. And that goal: creating the feeling of running a gang of scoundrels and ne’erdowells, is one that we don’t often see. This is truly a game about an ensemble–the gang itself has a character sheet. Characters have these checklists that they have to take care of between missions that squeeze character development out of them–which sounds terrifying but is actually great. It’s a new twist that puts regency rogues in the hands of your players.

Tomb of Annihilation – Wizards of the Coast

Then of course there’s the Tomb of Annihilation, which is my favorite of the published adventures that D&D has put out. It’s easily the best of the bunch, with its characters that are full of love and humor, with quests that understand what it is to threaten players of characters, not just characters. This book is something special–if you want the archetypal D&D experience, this is a great place to start. Full of memorable moments, this campaign seems designed to showcase the fun and the drama you can have playing D&D.

Tales from the Loop – Free League/Modiphius

Now we come to our number one finalist. This could easily be my new favorite RPG. We reviewed it only last week, but Tales from the Loop has made quite the impression this year. It delivers masterfully on the experience of one of those kids on bikes moments, packing it full of mystery and mundanity. When you sit down to play this game, got won’t realize how important a scene where kids get picked on by bullies can be, or how much a simple dinner with your dad–especially against a backdrop of robots and dinosaurs. But it makes those little moments shine and gives you a road to role playing you never knew you wanted.

The Winner

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything – Wizards of the Coast

Of course there can only be one winner. And Xanathar’s Guide is a huge update for D&D. Introducing new subclasses, spells, and feats for players–while at the same time finding ways to make the smaller, less rules intensive stuff like a description of how to use tools or a random background generator matter to the game even more than those things–Xanathar’s Guide is a phenomenal showing. It is what an RPG expansion should feel like. WotC is on guard against power creep, careful to keep story and character at the heart of the book, and they subtly get you b to refrain the way you think about each of the classes. Xanathar’s Guide sparks creativity and immersion in unexpected ways. As our RPG book of the year, it should.

I cannot recommend any of the bonds on this list hard enough. They’re all amazing, and deciding was tough enough as it is. With even more incredible releases lined up for next year, it is going to be a rocky road–full of cochise, ice cream, and deliciousness. You’d do well with any of these books–or take the challenge to play each of these games at least once in the new year.

What’s your top RPG for 2017?

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is great.

    Tales from the Loop looks fun.

    • Kabal1te

      I like that we are finally seeing good supplements for 5e, the slow pace of release though is I think to the games detriment. After the insane pace of 4Es releases I think they are almost afraid to put out supplements.

      • marxlives

        Probably just more about getting it right the first time and building community trust.

      • Red_Five_Standing_By

        The problem with 3.5, PF and 4E is that they suffer under the sheer amount of bloat that WotC and Paizo shoved out there.

        I always find it interesting that D&D puts out a small number of books a year yet it is consistently top of the charts for RPGs. The brand name plays into this, for sure, but therei s still something to said for quality over quantity (especially after 2 years of Paizo topping the charts while 5E was being worked on).

        An additional reason why D&D does not shove product out the door is because the whole department was gutted. D&D had a sprawling team back in 3.5 and 4E but Hasbro has slashed and slashed to whittle the team down to a core few. Less people, means fewer writers, which means fewer products can be worked on and released simultaneously.

        • Matthew Pomeroy

          mostly its brand name, 5th has decent products, but it certainly does not deserve many accolades, its a pretty lazy system overall.

          • zeno666

            Lazy system? Please elaborate.
            I’m considering moving from Pathfinder to 5E due o number crunching not doing it for my group.

          • Matthew Pomeroy

            I could explain it, or if you have scribd you could get a free pdf of the rules (or I guess I could skype them to you) but when I say lazy, I mean that the rules are so simple in some areas that if there is not a quick easy answer, it just doesnt bother,. I will say this, if your party prefers quick over granular, they may like it, but me and mine cant stand “advantage/disadvantage” or that virtually the entire game is linked to your “proficiency” stat in such a way that you can make a 1st level mage a better fighter than a first level fighter. As a DM I felt incredibly restrained by the system. my skype is matthew.pomeroy1 if you wanna hit me up I can provide much more detail/some stuff I have for it. thanks!

          • zeno666

            Thank you for the info. Will look through the rules before I buy for sure

          • Matthew Pomeroy

            yeah I dont want to sound overly negative, but its definately one of those acquired tastes to run.

        • marxlives

          In a wierd term it lowers cost and prevents bloat. Which can be a problem. Console market ran into the same issue in the Atari days. I am kind of hoping the miniature market doesn’t run into the same issue. I could see a purposeful scaling back and more investment into digital property as a market wide response to prevent that sort of issue if the miniature consumer base does not grow. Luckily GW, Catalyst Games, and even PP disappointing (but hopefully not last) attempt to get into the digital marketplace shows that surviving as a game company is really about diversifying your IP into multiple assets.

    • af

      Tales from the Stranger Things looks cool. I dig the art style.

  • af

    Most articles about Starfinder here at BoLS have very few comments, if at all. I understand and support mentioning lesser known games, but in this case the number of Starfinder articles seems completely out of touch with how (un)interesting the regulars seem to find the game. If I remember correctly, people who do bother to comment mention it’s highly derivative of Pathfinder.

    So how can it be in a finalist list for RPG of the year? In which way has it made “a splash”?

    Or is the game actually played a lot, and has actually made a splash beyond the advertorials from BoLS?

    • miniwar monger

      Totally agree. There has been a gazillion systems released in 2017 that were more interesting than Starfinder.

      Its a generic system that doesnt bring anything noteworthy to the table and doeant have much in the way of character.

      Probably its just here because Paizo.

      But then again, its BolS RPG of the year nominations. So dont expect too much.

      • Red_Five_Standing_By

        Yeah Starfinder doesn’t seem that innovative. I was really hoping for a preview of what Paizo wants to do with Pathfinder if and when they get around to releasing a second edition.

      • marxlives

        Maybe not in the mechanics but I think it is a bit of Specialist Gaming Syndrome SGS. GW stopped supporting SGs because they didn’t sell, so an entire market was built around SGs, so GW starts opening SG support. WoTC kills Dark Sun, Planescape, Spelljammer etc. So entire markets are built around those markets and are successful. Basically, don’t surprised if you see Spelljammer come back in 2018.

    • marxlives

      It is tough, I mean part of the beast is that BoLS is a GW news forum first, not a rip but it is the biggest and longest running hobbyist minigame out there. Then other miniature games second and then RPGs third. Trying to gauge RPG popularity here is like reading Dragon mags to gauge what the miniature market looks like. Best way to see how a game is doing is just going onto different online retailer sites and see what they have on the page and support by giving it a splash of the metadata treatment. It won’t speak for your local scene but globally or nationally online retailers wont carry things that don’t sell.

  • dave long island

    Sorry maybe I missed something. But you state that “5 RPGs enter…. There is only 1 winner though”… So you list off the 5 finalists, which are: Starfinder, Cthulhu Dark, Blades in the Dark, Tomb of Annihilation and Tales from the Loop. But then you give the winner, which isn’t among the 5 finalists???.. So, there were 6 entries? Or… LOL.. .I’m confused. If there are 5 entries, wouldn’t you discuss the 5 entries and then provide the winner, and then you could I suppose explain why it won or something. But you wouldnt state that there are 5 finalists, and… Whatever, LOL…

  • Tom Evans

    My personal favorite book this year has to be The Adventurer’s Almanac by Goodman Games. It’s just a great Calendar loaded with adventure seeds and idea for adding a calendar into the game of your choice. It’s system agnostic and loaded with great seeds and logjam busters.

    • marxlives

      Can’t know it, Goodman Games is solid. Metamorphosis was my jam as a teen.

    • af

      That’s pretty cool! I didn’t know something like this existed.

      I really like the idea of having some sort of source material for ideas, but nothing really tied to game mechanics. Game mechanics is the easiest part anyway, and anything too busy is probably not good to play.

  • zeno666

    Where is Kult?