Over the last several years tabletop RPGs have been in something of a renaissance. Where before the lion's share of a small pool of players was monopolized by the World's Most Popular Game, we've seen an explosion of both players and awesome indie RPGs.
Unfortunately this also means a lot of folks are going to be paralyzed by choice. Lucky for you, your old pal Spencer (that's me) is here to give you some places to start on your journey into indie TTRPGs.
You may have seen this one around as it's a certified megahit, but Lancer is a mechs and mud RPG with both incredible theming and a distinct separation of combat and conversation. This may seem limiting but as you'll quickly find out, this structure makes play sessions flow really easily.
If that's not enough to whet your appetite, Lancer's exceptionally well supported. Not only is there the main rulebook, the developers have also released an online character generator/tracker, several expansion books, and just recently a starting adventure to teach the game. Now, I haven't gotten a chance to play this new starting module (as of writing it's literally days old) but a quick perusal gives off the impression that this $15 book is just about everything you could want in learning to play Lancer.
If sci-fi isn't for you, then jump into the "industrial fantasy"of Blades in the Dark. This ruleset and setting are possibly the best married you'll see today. The city of Doskvol is dark and fully realized with just enough structure to inspire GMs and not enough to get in the way. This of course feeds into the game's core structure of rolling based on the strength of your position and being able to run "flashbacks" to backfill character story/ events. Every adventure becomes precarious where your party is just skating by on the skin of their teeth.
Like Lancer, Blades in the Dark strikes a perfect balance between narrative opportunity and crunchy dice rolling that makes it an easy recommendation
Ok those recommendations were kind of serious. What if you want something that's just a little sillier? Tunnel Goons bills itself as an "Analog adventure game for nice people" and if that vibe appeals to you then you can stop reading and grab a copy. If you need a little more convincing, this game is possibly as rules-light as you can get. My physical copy clocks in at a whopping 2 pages, and has everything you need to make a little goober to run around and adventure with.
The rules here are mostly an excuse to hang out with your friends, and every roll is determined by 2 6-sided dice and a simple modifier. That's it. Speed to roleplaying is the name of the game here and this simple setup means your GM can be as creative as they want in terms of setting.
This one's probably the most personal recommendation of the lot today, as it's my favorite TTRPG I've played over the past few years. Mork Borg is a black metal old school revival RPG where characters aren't expected to last long. It's set in a dying world of gods and monsters, with the rich holing up in their castles and the poor (read: Player Characters) left to die terribly in the mud.
All of your rolls here are simple, with characters dying so frequently the stats rarely get high so you're mostly advancing through gear. These weapons can all fit on a single (immaculately designed) page and basically all use distinct damage dice. Now, did I mention the design of the book? It is, and I am not being hyperbolic here, the single best looking TTRPG book I've ever seen in my life. Mork Borg has a trademark neon yellow which clashes beautifully with the pitch black accents that make up the other main half of the design. But this isn't just a high visibility bumblebee, each page comes with a unique visual style that really puts the design over the top.
If that's not enough for you, the version we host here on itch.io is the "Barebones" edition of the game which is a free plaintext version of the core book, so anyone can get started.
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I would add Heroes of Adventure to this list.
A complete system with 3 books available for free!
I'd be remiss if I didn't do a little self promotion here. We make really grungy horror and post apocalyptic tabletop RPGs.