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Bookish TTRPGs to Try at Your Next Game Night

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K.W. Colyard

Contributor

Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

Dungeons & Dragons is the most famous role-playing game on the planet by far, but the TTRPG landscape is vast — so much so that most games are nothing at all like D&D. If you’re looking for a great indie or offbeat game to try out with your group, these bookish TTRPGs are a great place to start.

Following the controversy surrounding Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast’s plans to alter the franchise’s Open Gaming License in January 2023, many TTRPG players began to explore other options for their gaming groups. Paizo’s Pathfinder was a popular choice — the publisher sold eight months’ worth of hard copies of its Core Rulebook in two weeks — and independent TTRPG creators took to Twitter in attempts to raise their own games’ profiles.

I’ve endeavored to include as many bookish TTRPGs from small creators as possible here. There are a few recognizable franchises and publishers, but my intention here is to shed some light on tabletop games you didn’t know existed, but that are the most inspired by your favorite books.

With that being said, this list is far from exhaustive. There are myriad TTRPGs for book nerds out there, and I’m only scratching the surface here.

Many differently colored dice with a TTRPG character piece
Courtesy of Pixels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/3857512/

Bookish TTRPGs to Try at Your Next Game Night

Dream Askew, Dream Apart by Avery Alder and Benjamin Rosenbaum book cover

Dream Askew, Dream Apart by Avery Alder and Benjamin Rosenbaum

Part of the Belonging Outside Belonging system, Dream Askew and Dream Apart take players inside two very different worlds. The first, in which societies are falling one-by-one across the globe, is perfect for lovers of post-apocalyptic literature and climate fiction. The second takes place in an eastern European shtetl surrounded by hostile forces both human and fantastic, and will appeal to fans of When the Angels Left the Old Country, The Wolf and the Woodsman, and Tevye the Dairyman.

Bubblegumshoe by Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite, and Lisa Steele book cover

Bubblegumshoe by Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite, and Lisa Steele

If you read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, this one’s for you. Based on the GUMSHOE system, Bubblegumshoe puts players in the roles of high-school sleuths — or a bunch of meddling kids, if you will. With a prefabricated setting and a trimmed-down set of GUMSHOE rules and mechanics, this game is ready to go right out of the box.

Campfire: Anthology Horror Storytelling by Adam Vass, Will Jobst, and Trevor Henderson box art

Campfire: Anthology Horror Storytelling by Adam Vass, Will Jobst, and Trevor Henderson

Although it has more in common with Creepshow and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, this system will delight horror readers just the same. With collaborative game sessions lasting only one or two hours each, Campfire is perfect for groups who can’t meet regularly, but want to tell great stories together.

Discworld Roleplaying Game by Terry Pratchett, Phil Masters, Paul Kidby, and Sean Murray, edited by Steve Jackson book cover

Discworld Roleplaying Game by Terry Pratchett, Phil Masters, Paul Kidby, and Sean Murray, edited by Steve Jackson

GURPS is one of the best-known TTRPG systems around, and its fourth edition forms the basis for the Discworld Roleplaying Game. You don’t need any other resources to play this title; you don’t even have to be familiar with GURPS! This is a must-have for Discworld fans looking to get a little silly with their role-playing.

Dune: Adventures in the Imperium by Modiphius Entertainment book cover

Dune: Adventures in the Imperium by Modiphiüs Entertainment

Modiphiüs has its hands in pretty much every kind of tabletop gaming there is, from board games to wargames. In addition to publishing games based on Star Trek, Alien, and Blade Runner, Modiphiüs also offers this game of political intrigue, which includes a how-to guide on creating your own noble House.

Inhuman Conditions by Tommy Maranges, Cory O'Brien, and Mackenzie Schubert box art

Inhuman Conditions by Tommy Maranges, Cory O’Brien, and Mackenzie Schubert

Because of how different Blade Runner is from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I’m fully prepared for people to insist that Inhuman Conditions doesn’t count as a bookish TTRPG. With that being said, this is a fantastic two-person game with five-minute-long sessions you can fit in anywhere, and any fan of witty repartee — or, you know, Blade Runner — will love it.

Roll for Novel by M. Kirin book cover

Roll for Novel by M. Kirin

Roll for Novel takes “bookish TTRPG” and cranks it up to 11. This game will literally help you write a book. From idea generation to plot twists and more, this M. Kirin title has a little bit of everything a writer needs. That applies to the aspiring author who’s never written a novel before and the writer knee-deep in the weeds alike. Best of all, whatever you create using Roll for Novel is 100% yours — no royalties or attribution required.

Thirsty Sword Lesbians by April Kit Walsh book cover

Thirsty Sword Lesbians by April Kit Walsh

Lesbian fantasy might as well be its own sub-genre at this point. (I’m not complaining.) Billed as a game full of “angsty disaster lesbians with swords,” Thirsty Sword Lesbians seems tailor-made for fans of Samantha Shannon and Tamsyn Muir. The game comes with several pre-generated settings to choose from, but there’s nothing stopping you from staging your campaign in the world of your favorite LGBTQ+ fantasy.

The Walls Will Swallow You by Will Uhl book cover

The Walls Will Swallow You by Will Uhl

It only takes a couple of hours to play a complete game of this House of Leaves-inspired TTRPG. Want to know if you’d survive the night in a malevolent haunted house? All you need are a few household objects, some dice, and a pack of playing cards to get started. And the .PDF, natch.

The Warren by Marshall Miller book cover

The Warren by Marshall Miller

Watership Down fans would do well to take note of The Warren. Here, players take on the role of sentient rabbits, their children, and their children’s children. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path TTRPG that has generational storytelling built right in, this is the game for you.

We Deal in Lead by Colin Le Sueur RPG book cover

We Deal in Lead by Colin Le Sueur

Directly inspired by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, We Deal in Lead lets players live out their gunslinging fantasies at the table. In true Roland Deschain style, this game can be played solo or with your ka-tet. Also available is Watch & Warrant: a six-track EP that includes songs like “The Ghost Town of Lud” and “High Moon.”


For more bookish TTRPGs, check out this list of book-based games and these fantastic non-D&D titles. Be sure to take this quiz to get a tabletop game recommendation based on your reading habits!