Gameplay Options Besides Dungeons & Dragons
Updated: Feb 6
Most of us love the tabletop roleplaying game known affectionately everywhere as D&D. However, the TTRPG world is currently being rocked by controversy surrounding Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro, the owners of D&D. Their changes to the existing Open Gaming License (OGL) have seen an exodus of subscribers from D&D Beyond, and even from the game of D&D itself. We here at Headless Hydra Press are moving on from most of our 5E content and we'll be making content for various other TTRPG licenses out there. You may be thinking to yourself that you don't know what else you'd play, or you may understandably be feeling empathy for the owners of local game stores who stand to have their sales cut drastically and still want to support them. Of course, you're still free to play D&D to your heart's content if you don't mind all this nonsense but consider trying one of the other multitudes of game systems out there available for purchase. We can give you a rundown on some of the basic ones we enjoy to help you out and to weather the deep freeze coming D&D's way from many consumers.
EDIT: After I'd written this article, D&D revoked its plans to alter the OGL - so who knows what the future holds. However, some folks want to take a break from playing for a while and explore other games, so that's where we're coming from.
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Pathfinder 2nd Edition.
Naturally, most fans of D&D love the fantasy setting and that's why they play Dungeons & Dragons in particular. So, is there another, similar fantasy game out there? Well, if you've been around the block a few times you probably already know about Paizo's Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Pathfinder is a beloved or loathed (depending on how much you enjoyed D&D 3.5E) direct competitor to D&D, and as such it will be the likeliest landing spot for those wanting a break from D&D. The good news is that in most cases, if you've played D&D, you won't have too difficult a time transitioning to Pathfinder. If you're a DM, then the rules are a bit extra but nothing you can't handle given a little time. Pathfinder 2nd Edition has been around since 2019 and Pathfinder in general has been around since 1996.
If you want to be a little adventurous and take a break from the fantasy settings of D&D and Pathfinder, there's always Starfinder - which takes place in the same universe as Pathfinder, only in the far future. Starfinder is very adaptable to anything that Paizo produces and brings a science fiction element to your table that is sure to be enjoyable to fans of Alien or Warhammer 40k. Grab a few friends and have D20 adventures in space. Starfinder has been around since 2017.
Alien the Roleplaying Game.
If you're a fan of science fiction or future settings for your TTRPGs, and you also happen to be a fan of the Alien movie franchise, this game is definitely for you and it's one we've had a ton of fun with recently. Published by Free League Press, Alien the Roleplaying Game is action focused and rules light, letting the roleplaying and narrative take the spotlight, resulting in some real dynamic stories. With expansions being released, now is a great time to get into the world of Alien. Alien the Roleplaying Game has been around since 2018.
Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play.
If you want to play fantasy, but you're not sold on Pathfinder - maybe Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play might be more to your liking. Published by Cubicle 7 Games, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play is set in the same universe as Games Workshop's popular miniatures wargames Warhammer and Warhammer 40K. Warhammer approaches TTRPGs in an interesting way where characters can find arteries severed, limbs mangled, and heads flying using their unique combat system. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play has been around since 1986 and is currently in its 4th Edition which was started in 2018.
Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game.
Maybe you want to go completely left field and play a TTRPG centered around characters from Marvel Comics? Well, look no further if you need your superhero fix because while this hasn't been fully released yet, it should be soon, and you can still get the playtest rule book on Amazon, which we played. In the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, create your own superhero or use an existing hero (or Anti-Hero) from the Marvel Comics Universe. With the popularity of Marvel Snap lately, I could see people jumping on board this game, published by none other than Marvel Comics. The game play isn't focused as much on leveling your characters as it is on telling an exciting, collaborative story with friends and I personally love that. Marvel's publication release date is supposed to be for June 2023.
Vampire: The Masquerade.
If your games feel like they need to be injected with a little goth attitude, maybe consider trying out a dark, moody, roleplay heavy TTRPG such as Vampire: The Masquerade. Taking on the role of a vampire in a mostly modern setting, you will live a life among humans as a vampire within a clan of your choosing. Engage in clan wars as a vampire or indulge your human side by attending a goth rave in Seattle - your imagination is the limit. Vampire: The Masquerade has been around since 1991 and is in its 5th Edition now which was published by White Wolf Publishing in 2018.
Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok.
Do you enjoy Vikings? Do you like the idea of playing a TTRPG where even in death, there are game mechanics for your characters to still be involved in the ongoing story from beyond the grave? Do you like to use Nordic runes instead of dice? Then look no further than Pendelhaven Press' Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok. The sun and the moon have been devoured and the gods are reinforcing Asgard against the coming of the Giants. Will you heed the call of war? Fate of the Norns has been around since 1993, and its newest incarnation has been in print since 2013.
If you want a little bit of science fiction blended with fantasy, and Starfinder doesn't fit the bill for whatever reason, consider giving Shadowrun a try. Set in a world of Dwarves, Elves, and magic but in a futuristic setting much like that of the movie Bladerunner, you will be engaged in heists or other missions sometimes referrred to as "shadowruns" with a team of operatives specializing in various abilities. Want to be a Dwarf with a knack for hacking (aka "decking")? How about a Troll street samurai? What about a half-orc combat mage? Live those fantasy/sci-fi hybrid fantasies with Shadowrun. Shadowrun has been around since 1989, and its newest incarnation, Shadowrun: Sixth World by Catalyst Game Labs was released in 2019.
The thing about GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) is that it is a game system designed to go with absolutely any scenario or game setting you can imagine. So, if none of the above choices tickle your fancy, maybe consider trying GURPS and forging ahead with your own custom campaign or one of the many pre-designed ones that Steve Jackson Games has available already. Want to be a pirate sailing the high seas? Want to be a covert operative during the Cold War? Want to be an artificer in a steampunk setting? With GURPS, you can do basically anything you want. GURPS has been around since 1986, and the current Fourth Edition has been in publication since 2004.
Legend of the Five Rings.
Have you ever wanted to play a game where you take on the role of a Samurai who wields otherworldly, supernatural abilities? Look no further than Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying by Fantasy Flight Games. In the game, you pick one of the seven clans to belong to, and as a samurai you uphold the Code of Bushidō, a code that demands samurai ignore their own desires in favor of justice, loyalty, and honor. This could be a nice break from traditional western fantasy TTRPG play, and of course using unique action dice, and a saving throw system based on the five rings (which represent the five elements). Legend of the Five Rings has been around since 1995, and the current Fifth Edition has been in publication since 2018.
Now, to be clear, there are so many more games out there. These were some favorites of mine I've played at one point or another in my time on this earth, but you can find a TTRPG version of almost any nerdy property you wish to, or even other completely original IPs. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, Fallout - you name it, it's out there. The point is, no matter how you personally feel about the whole WotC situation and your future investment in D&D as a game, there are so many more games out there looking to be tried. Don't keep all your proverbial eggs in the same basket! - Joe