by Mike Shea on 2 December 2013
It's the perfect time of year to dig deep and give the gifts of RPGs to your friends and family. Instead, maybe you want to get something special for yourself and now's a good time. While everyone else is arm-wrestling for a Playstation 4, we tabletop gamers can relax, step back, and look at some of the awesome new RPGs that have come out this year. If you're buying a gift for a friend, a spouse, a family member, your game master, or simply for yourself, this guide will give you a handfull of ideas for what you may want to pick up.
You wouldn't think the iPad is much of a product to talk about when we're talking about RPGs but the huge move towards digital products makes the iPad Air an extremely powerful device for RPG GMs and players.
The iPad Air is a perfect device for reading full-page PDFs in a high resolution. It's much lighter than previous versions and fits easily into our backpacks when we're off to a convention. Even one with 16gb of space can still hold hundreds of RPGs and the 10 to 12 hours of battery life means it will run all day.
Almost all RPG products now have digital versions. Dungeons and Dragons seems to be the exception, although D&D Classics has pushed out tons of classic D&D adventures and sourcebooks to PDF. These PDFs look fantastic on the iPad Air.
The iPad Air's fast processor also makes it possible to render large PDFs like the 13th Age and Numenera PDFs without noticing any quality lag. On slower tablets, you'll see the page show up fuzzy and then clear up over time as the tablet renders the page. On the iPad Air, the pages come up in perfect quality almost instantaneously.
At $500, the iPad Air isn't cheap. Beyond its use as an excellent RPG reader, it's also a fantastic tablet computer.
We fans of Dungeons and Dragons are sitting in a weird time. D&D Next isn't out yet and 4th Edition appears to be mostly unsupported. I can't really recommend buying 4th edition products anymore unless you know that you and your group want to stick with it. There are plenty of great products for 4th Edition but its reliance on online tools and the complexity of the system makes it hard to recommend.
If you do love 4e style gameplay but want something faster to run, consider the 13th Age PDF or 13th Age hardcover. I've written a 4e Player's Guide to 13th Age as well as a review of 13th Age so I won't repeat that all here. 13th Age is an excellent d20 fantasy RPG with fun storytelling elements, powerful PCs, and fast combat. Give it a look and pick it up for yourself or your favorite 4e GM.
If you're looking for a more universal story-focused RPG that's perfect for single-session games, consider Fate Core. Built on a ten-year foundation, Fate Core refines the main concepts of RPGs into a clean world-neutral system. Though some of the concepts will be new, once GMs figure it out, it's a great system for old and new players alike. You can download Fate Core to see if you like it and then either pay what you want for the Fate Core PDF or buy the Fate Core hardcover.
The makers of Fate Core also produce Fate Accelerated, a streamlined version of Fate that's perfect for one-shot games. Like Fate Core, you can download Fate Accelerated and then pay what you want for the Fate Accelerated PDF or pick up a bunch of of copies of the Fate Accelerated hardcopy for your friends. At $5 each, they make for a fantastic give-away gift.
Both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated use some funky dice. While you can manage it with normal D6s, you can also pick up some new Fate Dice to give away along with your copies of Fate Accelerated.
If you're looking for an alternative story-focused take on the traditional fantasy RPG, take a look at Dungeon World. Based on the Apocalypse World system, Dungeon World narrows the fantasy RPG down to defying dangers and making moves. It's an opinionated view of what playing an RPG is all about and, with an excellent set of character sheets and GM references, makes for an excellent convention game as well. Even if you never run the game itself, the GM advice in the book is fantastic and well worth the price. You can pick up either the Dungeon World PDF or the [Dungeon World harcopy] for yourself or your favorite GM.
We're sitting between a lot of great versions of our fantasy RPGs right now. It's a good time to invest in accessories and aids that cross system boundaries. Good poster maps are always useful whether you're playing one of the many versions of D&D, Pathfinder, 13th Age, Fate Core, or just about any fantasy RPG. The three D&D map packs; Shattered Keeps, Vaults of the Underdark, and Haunted Temples contain six maps each giving you 18 poster maps for about $30. It's hard to beat a deal like that. These maps may not be in print forever but they will be useful for years to come so pick up a set and hang onto them.
Pathfinder Flip Mats are also a good accessory for a variety of RPGs. The Basic Terrain Multi-Pack contains four blank maps of different colors for stone, street, grass, and water areas. They're a perfect addition to your GM Go Kit.
Of course the best gift you could give any GM is the gift of time. While time travel is something best left to a Time Lord, you can give them a copy of the Lazy Dungeon Master and help them learn how best to prepare or not prepare for the games they run.