Not excited about D&D Next? Then check out these cool alternatives…

D&D Next This morning I had a conversation on Twitter about the fact that bloggers don’t really seem to be excited about D&D Next anymore and what alternatives to D&D I would recommend. Since 140 characters are always a bit too short to explain things thoroughly I decided to turn this into a post.

When I read the first playtest rules WotC provided us with I was positively surprised. D&D Next feels more like a retro clone with some 3E elements than D&D 4th Edition, which was a welcome change from my point of few. I was cautiously excited about D&D Next back then. My excitement waned WotC stated that D&D Next was still very far from release and the way they conducted playtest surveys worried me. I felt they just answered wrong and totally irrelevant questions. But that’s probably subject for another post. What matters is that at this moment I don’t need to get my hopes up for D&D Next when there are so many cool games out there to play.

Since we are looking for alternatives for D&D I will talk about games that allow you to run games in the fantasy genre. A list of all possible alternatives would be beyond the scope of that post. Check out the review category here on the blog for some examples.

WR&M Let’s start with some free games. I hope you don’t mind I start with the game I designed myself: Warrior, Rogue & Mage. WR&M is a rules-light roleplaying game that uses the iconic classes of the fantasy genre as attributes. The system itself is actually classless and allows you to create a wide variety of characters. Aside from the 40-paged core rulebook there are a couple of supplements that expand on the rule system. The game can be downloaded for free from my Stargazer Games site.

Another game I wholeheartedly recommend is d6 Fantasy. I fell in love with the d6 System back in the day, when a friend introduced WEG’s Star Wars Roleplaying Game to us. D6 Fantasy is basically a variant of the Star Wars ruleset tailored for the fantasy genre. The d6 System or more precisely “OpenD6”  is now available under the OGL and d6 Fantasy, d6 Space, and d6 Adventure are now available for free on RPGNow. The d6 System is not really that crunchy, but if you prefer your rules to be ultra-lite check out MiniSix, which is also available for free.

I also have to mention Dungeonslayers created by my good friend Christian Kennig. For the longest time this old-fashioned German roleplaying game was only available in German or in the old 3rd Edition. But luckily the 4th Edition which greatly expands on the original game without making the rules more complex (the core rules are still about 20 pages long) are available for free for a while now. If you are looking for an old-school experience using modern rules, you should check it out.

Ok, I wanted to focus on non-D&D stuff but I think I should still mention that there’s a plethora of D&D retro clones out there and usually the PDF version of the rules are free. I am not really an expert in this subject, but I like both Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Swords & Wizardry.

WFRP When it comes to commercial games, there are a few titles I usually recommend. If you have the chance to pick up a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition (which has been out-of-print for ages now), don’t hesitate. It’s still one of my favorite games to date. The core rulebook really includes everything you need to play (aside from dice of course) and even though the system has its issues it’s perfectly playable. WFRP 1E’s version of the Old World is very grim and gritty and IMHO a welcome change to most squeaky-clean high fantasy settings. Check out this post to learn about the differences between the three editions of WFRP.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Burning Wheel and Barbarians of Lemuria. I haven’t played either and I only own the latter, but I still wanted to mention both. What I love about BoL is that it’s the perfect Sword & Sorcery game. If I ever had to run a game inspired by Conan I would probably use BoL. Another cool Sword & Sorcery RPG is Shadow, Sword & Spell by my friend Richard Iorio of Rogue Games. The 12° System it uses has its quirks but its definitely easy to play and run. A big plus is the fact that the setting has been clearly influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.

Cthulhu Dark Ages If you are a fan of percentile dice systems, I can recommend Legend by Mongoose. It’s their latest version of the Runequest system and works pretty well. I have to admit that especially the combat is a bit crunchy for my tastes and I definitely recommend the use of a good GM screen to make things easier for the GM. But if you can handle D&D 3.5E or Pathfinder, Legend should pose no problems for you. The PDF version of Legend sets you back just $1 and all the supplements are pretty reasonably priced as well, so it’s definitely worth a look. I also thought about using Chaosium’s Cthulhu Dark Ages for running a fantasy game. This might sound odd at first, but I definitely think it should work.

Last but not least there are a lot of generic games out there that should handle the fantasy genre pretty well. GURPS comes to mind as well as Savage Worlds Deluxe, and Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium. The latter is actually pretty close to the aforementioned Legend but suited for all genres.

There are of course countless other great fantasy games out there that you could check out while you’re waiting for WotC to get D&D Next done. Listing all of them would be an almost impossible task, but I ask you, dear readers, to post your thoughts on the subject in the comments below. What non-D&D fantasy games do you recommend and why?

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

11 thoughts on “Not excited about D&D Next? Then check out these cool alternatives…”

  1. There’s the Dragon Age RPG for when you don’t want to take it too seriously but want an old school style with a couple of shiny new bits thrown in. I really enjoy playing and my group has taken a break from Deadlands to play some sessions of the Star Wars Dragon Age hack that is really quite fun if you’re also not too exited about the FFG Star Wars game not coming out properly for a while. (Do you remember when they would tell you about a game and then sell it to you soon after? I thought that worked well, but apparently it’s no longer fashionable).

    If you don’t like simple then I see that there is an open playtest for the new edition of Rolemaster but I haven’t had a chance to read through that yet.

  2. 13th Age is one that is coming out by end of year. It really captures the ‘old school’ D&D flavor rather well, and is authored by some of 3E and 4E’s team, with multiple successful Kickstarters for expansions and splatbooks underway.

  3. You hit a very good cord on this article. There are so many other games out there, that it’s hard to think of D&D 5e being very compelling. There’s the OSR games, there’s games like WRM, there’s the FATE based games, there’s a dozen or more games that are descendents of the other big systems (RM/SM, HARP, Warhammer FRPG, WH40K now has an RPG, etc.). There’s so many other things going on, that it’s not such a big deal for there to be a new edition of D&D. It’s not like 12 years ago when the industry was in decline and 3e was needed to revive things.

    And, ironically, the legacies of 3e have a lot to do with why 5e isn’t a big deal.

    Legacy #1: the OGL. That brought in so much new blood to the market that a lot of today’s big players didn’t even exist 12 years ago. And several of them started as d20 compatible game makers … and moved on when WOTC went to 4th edition (which isn’t/wasn’t OGL’ed … IMO, one of the reasons why 4e hasn’t done as well).

    Legacy #2: This is where WOTC really shot themselves in the foot, for the good of the industry and the hobby. Unlike 1e and 2e, they didn’t kill 3.5e the way TSR killed 1e and 2e. They sold it. Why care about 5e, when you can still play the most successful of the editions so far, as it continues to thrive in the market? IMO, the _biggest_ reason to not care about 5e … is Pathfinder. If you want to play the mainstream fantasy RPG that has years of legacy support and is “the lingua franca” of the RPG world… that’s no longer D&D, it’s Pathfinder. So, why care about 5e?

    Legacy #3: Related to #2: WOTC basically removed themselves from the center of the industry by selling that “center of the industry” to Paizo. 4e basically had to compete with “the world’s most popular Role Playing Game (with the name filed off and replaced)”. They set themselves up to fail. And now they’ve turned the actual D&D brand into an “also ran”… and they’re going to be fighting an up-hill battle against Pathfinder (again), as well as fighting against all of the other “also ran”s that are now their peers (as opposed to being companies that were riding WOTC’s coat tails, as they did during the 3e era).

    First, WOTC creates an entirely new and revitalized RPG market with themselves as the dominant player in that market, as well as creating opportunities (via the OGL) for indies and hobbyists to put out legitimate work that can find an audience (thanks to the internet having risen up a few years earlier). Then they give away their position as the center of the market, letting those other new-blood companies gain more market dominance. And now they’re fighting to be relevant again. It has to be one of the biggest self-imposed market reversals in business history. Not as big as IBM’s creation of the PC leading directly to them losing the computer industry to the suckers they thought they were conning into writing the PC’s OS (expecting that they (IBM) would throw that OS away in a few years) … but a very similar reversal (with IBM:Microsoft :: WOTC:Paizo).

    I want to see what WOTC is going to do with 5e, but the game not only sounds like it’s going back to a lot of 2e-isms (4 classes, for example) … it also feels to me about the same way that the RPG market felt in 1989, when 2e was released — there was so many other (non-D&D) interesting things going on in the industry, at that time, that I barely noticed 2e’s launch. I bought the core books, and promptly forgot about that brand for 11 years.

    Lets hope that the Indy market, and companies like FFG and Paizo, manage to keep their momentum.

    1. Not to pat myself on the back, but the more I think about what IBM did to throw away the computer industry dominance they had before 1982, almost giving it to Microsoft on a silver platter… the more it fits exactly how I feel about how WOTC squandered their market position. 4e is the “OS/2” of RPGs. IBM so arrogantly thought that “everyone does what we say, in the computer industry” that they will blindly throw away their completely useful (if flawed) platforms and follow us into the new era. Instead, people stuck with what they had, and OS/2 flopped.

      I wont argue about the actual merits and flaws of DOS+Windows vs OS/2 (nor the merrits of 3.5/3.75e vs 4e as actual game mechanics) … on that level the analogy isn’t actually as solid. It’s more about how, from the day IBM let Microsoft keep ownership of DOS, all the way up through the nearly complete decline of IBM as the center of the computing industry … it’s almost exactly how completely and thoroughly WOTC bungled things by selling 3e to Paizo.

      And, again, it was for the benefit of the hobby and industry. Keeping 3e alive, in Pathfinder, was great for all of us… even if you’re not a Pathfinder player, it has kept a market momentum in the industry, around an edition of the game that is completely and amazingly 3rd party friendly.

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