Luke Crane's Burning Wheel is the game that got us into tabletop roleplaying games that weren't for all intents and purposes Dungeons & Dragons. It exemplifies role playing games as idiogames. It is a system of conflict resolution that facilitates collaborative storytelling. It makes drama happen whether you want it to or not. Burning Wheel isn't for every gamer, nor for every game. But, if you want to play out a gritty, dramatic, medieval story, there are few games that serve the purpose so well.
Jared Sorensen's Action Castle is a modern take on old computer adventure games like Zork. Distributed turns, many players controlling one character, multiple endings: one would be hard pressed to say that this is not, in some sense, a "role playing game." It is an idiogame in a classic sense.
There are now many more games in the Parsely Games series. Action Castle was just the beginning.
Lady Blackbird is on the run from an arranged marriage to Count Carlowe. She hired a smuggler skyship, The Owl, to take her from her palace on the Imperial world of Ilysium to the far reaches of the Remnants, so she could be with her once secret lover: the pirate king Uriah Flint.
HOWEVER, just before reaching the halfway point of Haven, The Owl was pursued and captured by the Imperial cruiser Hand of Sorrow, under charges of flying a false flag.
EVEN NOW, Lady Blackbird, her bodyguard, and the crew of The Owl are detained in the brig, while the Imperial commander runs the smuggler ship's registry over the wireless. It's only a matter of time before they discover the outstanding warrants and learn that The Owl is owned by none other than the infamous outcast, Cyrus Vance.
How will Lady Blackbird and the others escape the Hand of Sorrow?
What dangers lie in their path?
Will they be able to find the secret lair of the pirate king? if they do, will Uriah Flint accept Lady Blackbird as his bride? By the time they get there, will she want him to?
This is a game where backstory is written in play. it starts (and often ends) in media res. Star Wars Firefly, with a touch of steampunk.
Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard is an alternate history western role playing game centered around deeply religious frontier communities. Players are "God's Watchdogs" who move from settlement to settlement, well, settling disputes, as well as keeping the faith. Absolutely powerful within their communities, they are faced with difficult choices and drastic consequences.
Shock: Social Science Fiction is a role playing game about the "shocks" of future and culture. In a distant space opera, how to we interact? What issues matter (or don't)? Is it a world of sex, or a world of space battles? Distributed GMing. Multiple characters for every player. World building. Shock asks difficult questions. Designed by Joshua A.C. Newman.
Mouse Guard is a simple, elegant role playing system that easily tells the kinds of stories in the fantastic Mouse Guard comic. If you enjoy that comic, you will enjoy this rpg. If you haven't read that comic, you should probably start.
Mouse Guard involves turn taking, novel character creation, a mechanical cycle of seasons, and interesting character development. Challenges use a generic system that encourages clever storytelling and survival drama. It's a great game to play with children, but easily scratches an adult role playing itch.
Indie RPG Spotlight - Dread
Dread is a special role playing game. It doesn't use dice or cards for conflict resolution. It uses a Jenga tower. The mechanics of this lead players into the careful buildup of tension, the punctuated climax (where someone typically dies), the backing off, and the resumed slow build. In a sense, this role playing game elegantly uses its rules to emulate the structure of that particular tension-driven style of horror story. It is an excellent example of mechanism design, in the sense that the rules are designed to lead players toward a particular outcome regardless of their individual intents or abilities.
Well, aside from their abilities at Jenga itself.
Rym and Scott of GeekNights presented "Beyond Dungeons & Dragons" at PAX Australia 2013. (They've previously presented this at ConnectiCon 2008, PAX Prime 2008, PAX Prime 2009, PAX East 2010, MAGFest X, and dozens of other conventions). This is a short excerpt from that full lecture, spotlighting one of the specific game examples they used.