Tabletop role playing games (RPGs) have enjoyed increasing popularity ever since Dungeons & Dragons was released in the 1970s. D&D is a game in a fantasy setting and many of the early games that were released afterwards also had fantasy settings. But not all games chose place characters in foreign worlds. There are some games that choose to instead imagine characters in an alternate history of Earth. The following are the best tabletop role playing games set on Earth.
Shadowrun – This FASA game is set in a near future that assumes that magic exists in the world and has always existed. But, while it has always existed, the power of magic ebbs and flows, thus the history of our world is much as we know it and technology has developed at the normal pace. In fact, since the game is set a little in the future, technology is even further along when magic grows strong again. Thus you have a game set in a world with orc, trolls, and dragons that drive cars, fire machine guns, and have computers built into their head. An additional twist to this world is that corporations have grown strong enough to practically be governments. It is a complex world that pits the players as semi-outlaws trying to survive in a corrupt system. Of all the RPGs ever made, it has one of the best stories and world settings. The game play system is a touch clunky, but the 4th edition rules solve a lot of problems of earlier editions, finally making the game play as good as the setting.
Adventure / Aberrant / Trinity – This White Wolf creation imagines that human beings developed unusual powers as early as the 19th century. These powers grew and changed over time. Some powers corrupted their hosts entirely, while the gifted learned to fully control other powers. The three games form a trilogy that tells a single complex story that runs into the far future. You can play in any game and tell a single story or even run a campaign that spans all three games a time periods. The flavor of the game is designed to be dark but hopeful, and it lives up to that well. The system itself has many of the flaw common in White Wolf games, though not quite as bad as those found in the World of Darkness. Aberrant is by far the most broken of the three games, but that is fine if you intentionally are trying to run a high powered game.
Heroes Unlimited – This is one of many of a large series of Palladium games. This particular game combines elements of many of the other sourcebooks, though you can always add in features of other games, like Ninjas and Superspies or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness to enhance your game. If you prefer ultra-realism, this is the game for you. It is predominantly on Earth with no meaningful changes to history, though with the existence of super powered beings. The game’s ties to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story also make it appealing to fans of the series. The system is a weak d20 clone that is quite clunky, though also exhibits a few truly unique and innovative ideas. Don’t play it for the game play. Instead, play it if you really want near unlimited potential in character creation, ultra realistic details, and a tie to comic book characters.
Feng Shui – Most games set on Earth try to be rather serious, telling an alternate, and usually much darker, story about our world. Feng Shui goes the opposite direction. It is a light hearted game based on Chinese action films. Powers, abilities, skills, and concepts all reference the roots of the game. Some enemies are mooks which you can pulverize with just a punch or a kick or even a witty quip, while recurring villains seem to have the nine lives of a cat. The game exists fully in the real world, just one that has an international shadowy underworld and occasionally physics that only make sense on a movie screen. If you take the game seriously, you won’t have any fun. But if you simply enjoy the insanity, the game is a blast.