Turn Order’s Favorite “Specific” TTRPGs

Some tabletop roleplaying games try to do it all, to serve as a system of guidelines for any kind of story you could want to tell. But for every GURPS or Fate, there are a dozen games with more narrow goals. Perhaps they’re vehicles to play in a specific setting or perhaps they aim to emulate a genre, but they definitely aren’t one-size-fits-all. 

A lot of us here at Turn Order find that we prefer this style of game for a few reasons. 

There end up being a lot fewer rules and pages to read when the game designer isn’t attempting to cover every eventuality in every story. You get straight to the point with tools you’ll actually use. This makes life easier for both gamemaster and players. 

These games also provide a more “curated” experience. The creators put up walls and furniture for the players to decorate and move around, rather than an empty field in which players must build their own house. 

Besides, if one system fits every game, why buy a second TTRPG?

All that being said, the concept of a “specific game” is pretty broad! Here are some recommendations from the writers behind Turn Order for games that aim to do something specific and do it well. 

Credit: T. Shield Studios


Spellbound Kingdoms is a fantasy RPG, but one with an incredibly specific concept. It’s a world where the tropes of fantasy fiction are made explicit and textual. Where they are normally non-diegetic (existing outside of the fiction) in this game they are diegetic (existing within it as part of the fictional world created) and explicitly so – those living within the world know it and respond appropriately. In this world emotion, hope and passion have actual genuine power to the extent that true enough love can render someone immortal. In order to keep their rule secure, the kings and nobles of the spellbound kingdoms institute a horrifying dystopian police state, where emotion is illegal. Those who dare dream are hunted down and have their passions removed by magical secret police in reeducation camps. 

You’re the rebels trying to overthrow the king. In terms of rules, this concept is baked in at the ground level. Difficulty of action isn’t determined by what you’re doing but where you are. In the worst most oppressive kingdoms, the Doom (the difficulty of all your actions) is higher. In the few free cities, the Doom drops massively and they become wild and chaotic places where everyone can successfully swing on a chandelier and swashbuckle about the place. It also has one of the most unique and interesting combat systems in an RPG, using flowcharts to represent fighting styles with a hidden choice bluff system so you’re trying to learn and predict your enemies. 

Broken Rooms is an RPG where some people feel like the world is wrong and broken and they don’t fit in it, and slowly discover they all started feeling like that at exactly the same time on the same day. These people are potential nearsiders, dimensional travelers, able to travel across 12 alternate worlds. Each world is experiencing an apocalypse that began at the moment their lives fell apart. All of these worlds are doomed, but as they travel them, the nearsiders learn about themselves, work through their own losses, and grapple with the question of what to do when everything is going to end regardless of your actions. Suffice to say the vibes have just gotten stronger over the years. The game has a pretty standard mechanical core, but the powers available to travelers are based on how many of the earths they’ve visited, so it strongly encourages you to explore. But ultimately, it’s not a game about rolling dice. It’s a game about trauma and grief and the weird cryptic imagery packed into the setting material. Broken clocks and the number 13 and so many other unpleasantly ominous touches permeate the writing.

Credit: Wet Ink Games


Many TTRPGs are concerned nearly exclusively with the individual. They might follow their trials and travails, their loves and losses, their life and death, but few concern themselves with the people that remain in their wake. Those other individuals that must continue the work, until they too meet their end, all for the sake that eventually, the chain might end. All that sacrifice might finally pay the red price demanded by the heaving and horrible hunger of that great leviathan, war. 

In my experience, Never Going Home by Wet Ink Games captures this narrative in a manner that few others even approximate. Set within a version of World War 1 where the veil between madness and reality grew painfully thin, players portray individuals within a unit of soldiers. When those first individuals lose themselves, whether to madness or violence, the player simply assumes the role of another within the unit, and the story proceeds. The mechanics (and the +ONE system itself) are tailored to encourage this terrible fatalistic momentum in every aspect of the game, begging at your players to burn their characters like tinder to keep everything going for just one more moment. 

Magic exists, in the form of whispers, but each spell and power makes terrible demands of the wielder. Each casting winnows them down further and further, until they finally wander off into the fog of no man’s land, never to be seen again. Violence is brief and brutal and demands the sacrifice of precious cards that players have earned throughout their journeys. At its core, Never Going Home is about sacrifice, and it’s a bloody good time with a table that isn’t afraid to explore its heavier themes.



FIST calls itself a “paranormal mercenary roleplaying game” and well, yeah. That’s what it is, and there’s not much to be done outside of that. It’s a game about Cold War era espionage and special operations, part Metal Gear and part Delta Green, all with the added caveat of the players being mercenaries untethered to a specific nation. There’s no attempt to be general: everything is structured around the mission and the immediate aftermath in a way that creates a satisfying cycle of play that can build up to something even better. Also, the character creation section is only one page, for what it’s worth. 

Credit: Mongoose Publishing


Paranoia is one of those games that was ahead of its time. Released in 1984, it presents a dystopian future that would go on to inspire other wildly popular properties like the Fallout franchise. In the world of Paranoia, there are only two things that your friend The Computer hates more than communists: mutants and members of secret societies. Of course all of the players begin play as mutant members of secret societies. But they aren’t the same kinds of mutants, nor members of the same secret society. 

Therein lies the rub: you’ll need to leverage all of the talents and connections you have to survive the (probably suicidal) tasks you have been assigned by The Computer, but are constantly fearful that your deviancy will be discovered and reported, which will in turn lead to your inevitable demise. But don’t worry, you have clone back-ups, so being executed for treason is at times merely an inconvenience. There’s nothing ground-breaking about Paranoia‘s rules, it’s a d10 and d100-based game. But what it does better than almost any other game that I’ve played is deliver gonzo. I mean, one of your character’s core attributes is “chutzpah.” Things that happen in the game are ridiculous. Things your character is being asked (forced?) to do by the Computer are ridiculous. The crazy plans that you and your fellow players hatch will be ridiculous. And you will have a blast doing them.

Although Red Markets is ostensibly a game about trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse, at its core it is a game about economics. The author himself described as “a poverty simulator with a zombie theme to keep it from getting too depressingly real.” One of the core precepts of the game is that everything costs you something. Even doing nothing costs you something. Like say in your travels as a band of scrappy scavengers you come across some folks trapped in a broken-down RV by a bunch of zombies – you could blast those zombies from afar with guns relatively easily, but bullets are a precious resource. You could save your bullets and go in with melee weapons, but that’s a big risk because one of your party might get bitten. Or you could just continue on your way and leave those hapless souls to their fate, in which case you’re probably going to take a hit to your Humanity attribute because, well, you are a heartless bastard and that has consequences too.

In that sense, Red Markets could almost be described as “Opportunity Cost: The Game.” Mechanically, game play is pretty light (it’s a 2D10 game), but there are a couple of clever bits here. Negotiating the terms of a job is a fun little mini-game that lets all of the PCs be involved in different ways, and the “vignette” system is a fun and inventive way to encourage roleplay outside of the context of “don’t get eaten by zombies.” It gets to the core of why the characters are doing what they are doing and gives some mechanical teeth and in-game consequences to their interactions with their NPC loved ones. Also, there’s something that is utterly terrifying about the way some of the zombies are depicted in the game. While the slow, mindless, shambling zombie hoards (“Casualties”) are present, “Vectors” (the fast zombies) are scary as hell, because you know you might be just one or two bad rolls away from a TPK. And don’t even get me started on “Aberrants.” Shudder.

No other game I’ve ever played has delivered a sense of sheer desperation (while still being, you know, fun!) as Red Markets. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Credit: Laughing Kaiju


By far the most specific TTRPG I’ve ever experienced, The Zone nearly jumps the fence into a guided storytelling game rather than an RPG. As a big fan of Annihilation and its sequels, algorithms serve me ads for this game frequently and for good reason. The Zone tells the story of a crew heading investigating some kind of anomalous area. The nature of the mystery is different each time, following the whims of the players, but one thing stays the same: you play to die. No more than one character will survive. 

 Once players make characters structured from some classic sci-fi tropes, they lay cards in a spiral, then flip them one by one to reveal options for prompts to describe each new location. Players take turns as the “director” of this “movie,” describing a few scenes at each location while also playing their characters in the world. “Fate” cards, placed at random on top of the location cards, mark the points in the story at which characters will die, but you don’t know who dies where until you get there. However, you also can’t die until you get to your card. If you attempt a difficult action, you’ll have to draw a “not so easy” card to see how it goes… and there’s a very big chance the zone will mutate you in some way, mentally or physically. The tables to figure out how you mutate are fantastic, and it will happen more than you think. 

This GM-less body horror one-shot exploration experience sounds a bit daunting, but the game includes some easy tools to agree on tone and plenty of prompts so your turn as Director doesn’t require you to invent more than you want on the spot. The virtual tabletop version is good for online play, so it’s easy to sit down with no knowledge of the game and have a visceral, spooky evening with your friends. 

Credit: Good Luck Press


For some reason, in the last four years, we’ve been playing games online more. Not enough games actually consider this in their design or pitches, and one of the few exceptions is This Discord Has Ghosts In It. Virtual tabletops are fine, voice calls are fine, but these are replicating the process of having a physical table in front of you or being in the same room as each other. Sometimes they do the maths for you or act as a nifty character keeper, and that is neat, but we really should be considering the online format from the ground up, and working out how it can make games bigger, instead of restraining them.

This Discord Has Ghosts In It is played in a Discord server. It comes from Good Luck Press, and the minds of Will Jobst and Adam Vass (two pals of mine, I’m biased). You’ve been invited to a haunted house, full of ghosts. It’s technically a bit more like an online LARP. It’s also asymmetrical. The Investigators are trying to solve the mystery, and can only speak in the voice channels, and Ghosts can only type, and can also make new channels.

This game is charming, creepy and innovative, a breath of fresh air in a playspace that sometimes feels haunted by big games with dungeons and dragons and levels and spells and stuff. Even the stuff that claims to be ‘different’ is pushed through the lens of the play culture. TDHGII is just completely, violently different and more games should push the boundaries of design space like it, and the consider the vector in which they are played as something that can empower them to excellence.

Goonhammer has a longer review of This Discord Has Ghosts In It here.

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