by Mike on 15 January 2024
Over 2023 I've been lucky to look at a lot of various tabletop roleplaying game products and I wanted to give you a list of my favorite five for 2023.
First, I have some disclaimers. I didn't see everything published and I didn't even read everything I've received. I'll likely find new gems in all the stuff I've picked up the further I get into them. Second, this list is just my opinion. If you disagree, that's totally cool. If you have favorite products not on this list, that's also cool. We each get to decide what we love.
Without further waffling, here are my favorite five RPG products of 2023.
Wow. Shadowdark. This book nails its intentions of "old school style, new school sensibilities." Anyone familiar with 5th edition D&D can easily understand the stripped-down mechanics of Shadowdark but its style of play is very different from 5e. Shadowdark is grim. It's dark. Characters die...a lot. The characters struggle with inventory. They struggle with travel. But they mostly struggle to stay in the light. I've been running a regular Shadowdark RPG for seventeen weeks now and my players and I love it. I ran it with the original I6 Ravenloft and thought it fit perfectly with the classic 1st edition D&D adventure. Shadowdark is an opinionated RPG. It's not about clean character arcs, deep background stories, or character growth over a campaign. It's about diving into dangerous holes in the ground and finding treasure before you're murdered by a bugbear.
MCDM's monster book exploded on Kickstarter and the results do not disappoint. Flee Mortals is what I like to call an opinionated RPG book. It wants to do certain things a certain way and it focuses on those things. Monsters in Flee Mortals all have unique and interesting things they do. Many of them can replace monsters you'd typically find in a core 5e monster book but not all of them. I don't really think of it as a replacement to a core monster book the way I think of the A5e Monstrous Menagerie. It has the best examples of Matt Coleville's "action oriented" monsters and a unique style for creating and running minions. I'm clearly biased in my opinions of Flee Mortals – I had the awesome opportunity to write the vampires in here along with consulting on the book's encounter building guidelines.
Cubicle 7 got a lot of praise for the exploration system they put into the Adventures of Middle Earth roleplaying game. They took that experience and put it into the more world-neutral Uncharted Journeys. This thick book focuses on creating and detailing exploration scenes, encounters, and journeys. It has a section on the four roles characters can take while exploring but the bulk of the book focuses on the details of various regions and tables of potential encounters for different types of beats like "a chance meeting", "monster hunt", and "a place to rest." It's a big book with a lot of ideas so it's best used to help you fill out scenes during prep – not during play. With hundreds of different potential scenes, there's a lot to dig into in this book.
Zobeck Clockwork City is a book put together from the previous material Kobold Press published on the city of Zobeck from their Midgard campaign, stretching back to earlier Pathfinder material and including stuff from Warlock magazine. It's an awesome city sourcebook adding life and depth to this central city in the world of Midgard. If you're planning on running Midgard and beginning your campaign in Zobeck, this book is an excellent resource to fill it out.
Kobold Press revised their first book of monsters and updated them into the new style we're seeing for 5th edition monsters. But, more importantly for me, the new book is printed on beautiful glossy paper instead of the more rough matte paper of the original book. The old paper didn't carry darker colors nearly as well as the new one. The new monster designs are great, but if you have the old one, you don't need to buy the new one unless you really want to. If you don't have it, however, Tome of Beasts 2023 is an excellent book of monsters.
Our hobby is rich with awesome products, these days. I don't think there's ever been a better time to enjoy the full breadth of what the TTRPG hobby has to offer. Keep yourself open to RPG material from lots of different publishers. These five products are only a small sample. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the wealth of materials so many creators have to offer.
Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Use the Lazy DM 8 Steps At the Table and Vault of Shune – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 17 Lazy GM Prep.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
Share this article with your friends using this link: https://slyflourish.com/favorite_books_of_2023.html
Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.
This site uses affiliate links to Amazon and DriveThruRPG. Thanks for your support!