James D’Amato is a real game podcaster, game designer and author of the Ultimate Guide to RPGs Series published by Adams Media. For 10 years he recorded sessions of hundreds of different role-playing games for he A drink a podcast.
After the rollercoaster ride of the recent Dungeons & Dragons OGL debacle, many fans of tabletop RPGs are looking to try something different. Many are unaware that other TTRPGs exist, and those who do realize that there are thousands of alternatives large and small on the market. Either way, it’s hard for players and gamemasters to know where to start. If your only TTRPG experience is D&D, The thought of learning a new system is quite daunting. When you choose something new, you want to be sure you’ll like it.
Consider that D&D is a complex and layered game that appeals to fans at different levels. Some like the crunch of a dense spell list or stat block, and this story isn’t necessarily for them. Instead, this list was created for people who come to the table specifically for role play. If you like creating characters and backstories, finding dramatic hooks, exciting dialogue and satisfying characters, then there is something for you here!
To make things more digestible, we assign statistics to the games on this list.
Mid session: The average duration of a single session.
Difficulty: This tells you how difficult it can be to pick up this game for the first time if you’ve only played D&D.
Crunch: This tells you how mechanically complex a game is. For reference, D&D 5e would be ⚫⚫⚫⚫⚪ on this list.
EXP: Learning some RPGs will actually make learning others easier. A game with a high XP stat can be a gateway to dominating dozens or hundreds of others.
Where to buy: Please note that although we have included links to where you can buy these games online, all of them should also be available at your local friendly game store.
for the queen
Designed by Alex Robertspublished by bad hat
Mid session: 30-90 minutes
for the queen is a simple and easy to learn game with amazing depth. Teaching the rules is actually included in the table setting, which only takes about 10 minutes. There are no game masters, stats or dice, your character may not even have a name! Still, this game is a compelling character study and a beautiful role-playing experience.
Follow a ragtag entourage escorting their monarch on a secret diplomatic mission to eventually end a war. Each member of the group was chosen for a reason: they love the queen. To play, players simply draw cards from a deck of open questions. Based on their answers, they slowly learn more about their characters, the queen, and their relationship. Somewhere in the deck is a final question: “The queen is under attack. Are you defending her? Although the answer to that question may seem obvious, most games are loaded and filled with shades of gray.
If you love exploring backstory, playing with emotionally charged relationships, and agonizing at dramatic crossroads, then for the queen it’s the perfect place to expand. There are dozens of successors to the queen games, so if you love it, there’s a lot more to discover.
Designed by jason morning starpublished by Bully Pulpit Games
middle session: 1-2 hours
Following the model of the films of the Coen brothers, failure is a brilliant distillation of improvisational techniques transformed into an RPG format. The latest iteration of Jason Morningstar’s design uses cards to help players define their characters through their relationships and desires, then encourages them to make wild mayhem. failure it opens up a very different style of roleplaying than found on most tabletop D&D. You are not meant to protect your character and watch it grow. You are destined to burn everything and enjoy the drama that erupts from the flames.
start with the Dragon hunter game in the master box, but there are dozens if not hundreds of failure games available from Bully Pulpit and other vendors.
sword thirsty lesbians
Designed by april kit walshpublished by bad hat
Mid session: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: For players ⚫⚫⚪⚪⚪, for GM ⚫⚫⚫⚪⚪
If you’re a big fan of the “adventurers facing danger” format for RPGs, but want to enjoy the messy character relationships, then sword thirsty lesbians it’s for you! He has all the swords and sorcery of D&D, but places equal weight on fostering tense character relationships.
sword thirsty lesbians is a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG. It uses regular six-sided dice, and the odds favor intermediate results, called “mixed success” rolls. With mixed success, a GM can push or pull the head of the table action, pushing new complications into the mix. Pre-generated character playbooks offer clear and tasteful capabilities while allowing for minimal customization.
PbtA games have a slightly different game philosophy than D&D, so you’ll have to read and feel around the table before it clicks. But once you get the hang of the format, it really sings. As an added bonus, learn to play sword thirsty lesbians will teach you the PbtA format, which opens up literally hundreds of games in dozens of genres. A perfect gateway to the wider world of RPGs!
passion of passions
Designed by Brandon Leon-Gambettapublished by magpie games
Mid session: 2-3 hours
passion of passions is another PbtA game with a very unique concept and design. Emulates the dramatic and extravagant stories of soap operas. Every movement in passion it drives the characters to make big decisions with big emotions. Instead of using statistics, Gambetta has players build their dice pool by answering questions, so a character’s abilities change based on what happens in the story. Players are encouraged to start big to go even bigger later.
Compared to sword thirsty lesbians above, the unique design of passion it could make it difficult to take advantage of the experience and move on to other PbtA games. However, this game can teach you a new kind of fun.
Designed by Steve Kenson, Jack Norrisand Chris Pramas; published by green ronin
Mid session: 3-4 hours
blue rose bills itself as a “romantic fantasy” RPG, designed to emulate the work of Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey rather than JRR Tolkien and Fritz Leiber. It uses Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine system, which puts mechanical weight into both combat and role-playing. The Stunt Point system allows scrollers in RPG scenes to feel as tactically satisfying as throwing a well-placed fireball.
If you like solid character choices in D&D, blue rose you can scratch a similar itch. However, that comes with the challenge of learning a rather complex game system. There are a number of games that use the AGE system, including the dragon age TTRPG and the upcoming TTRPG based on NK Jemisin. the fifth season.
Chuubo’s amazing wish engine
Designed by Jenna Katerin Moran, self posted
Mid session: 3-4 hours
Chuubo’s amazing wish engine is a literary RPG inspired by Studio Ghibli with a really wild name. Jenna Katerin Moran is known for designing rich, complex and completely dense games. of Chuubo there is no exception. Despite not having any dice, the ledger is over 500 pages. be without dice, of Chuubo It is based on resource management. Players choose where to succeed instead of rolling to find out if they succeed. The rest of the game is about moving forward with XP earned from completing missions, emotionally affecting other players and satisfying the structure of the story. At first glance, this game seems predetermined and restrictive, but as you learn how it works, it reveals itself as a carefully constructed open canvas.
of Chuubo it’s scary to learn, and there aren’t many games based on it. However, if you love literary themes and emotional stories, or have spent some time reading fanfic or role-playing games on forums, of Chuubo it could be a profound experience for you.