It’s no secret that Dungeons & Dragons by Wizards of the Coast is the world’s most popular tabletop RPG. The DnD franchise is poised to continue to grow, as its online presence expands and continues to get more spinoff video games.
However, things aren’t all sunshine and roses at the moment. The recent OGL controversy has inspired some longtime players to boycott the game until Wizards makes their licensing policies more friendly towards independent creators.
That being said, there are many alternative games to DnD that don’t always get the spotlight they deserve. For whatever reason, if you’re looking for an alternative game to play, here are a few options to keep the dice rolling on game night.
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Best Games like DnD, Ranked in No Particular Order
Let’s jump right into our picks for the best alternative games to Dungeons & Dragons!
1) Pathfinder 2E
Starting off the list is Pathfinder 2nd Edition by Paizo, a game directly derived from the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5E ruleset. If you’re looking to essentially play DnD without playing DnD, this is a great solution and the best choice out of all available games.
Pathfinder also adds a lot of depth to several formulas in DnD and makes a few things (noticeably combat) a bit more clear. Character creation also has more options, with different ancestries (Pathfinder’s version of races) being more customizable.
2) Call of Cthulhu
Based on the dark mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, the Call of Cthulhu RPG by Chaosium is an absolute classic dating back to 1981. Players take on the role of “Investigators of the Unknown,” oftentimes just normal people unwittingly pulled into a horrifying mystery. Instead of a Dungeon Master, there is the Keeper of Arcane Lore (which is essentially the same thing).
What makes it even more interesting is the system’s usage of percentile dice. Instead of the classic d20, there’s a range of 0–100 that players can roll. Skills can be improved, but hit points effectively stay the same. There’s also a sanity meter that wears away as the player characters discover more about the world’s true nature. It’s not uncommon for a character to end up in a mental institution, effectively ending their story.
Call of Cthulhu isn’t for the faint of heart, but that may be a good thing depending on your playing group.
LANCER by Massif Press is a “mud-and-lasers” gritty mech RPG inspired by several science fiction classics and the splicing of different successful TTRPG systems. If your playgroup wants to go sci-fi and are fans of mecha, LANCER might be the game for you.
Some of the highlights of LANCER include its deep mech customization system, range of character backgrounds, and immersive lore. As a bonus, LANCER is of the newer games on this list, growing from its roots and crowdfunded by a loyal fanbase.
If you’re hankering for a real, gritty mecha experience, look no further.
Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games may need no introduction. Incredibly highly rated and even worthy of its own successful video game adaptation, Gloomhaven certainly has left its mark on the gaming world.
One of the unique systems in Gloomhaven is that it doesn’t use a Dungeon Master equivalent or any dice. Instead, players immerse themselves in the evolving campaign as they use class cards to accomplish more and more difficult scenarios. Everything needed to play the game comes right out of the box. All 95 maps can be assembled with the included terrain tiles, and multiple classes are able to be unlocked.
It’s a truly special game and highly recommended if it’s within your price bracket.
5) Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Another fantasy TTRPG, Descent: Journeys in the Dark by Fantasy Flight Games seeks to streamline the experience by presenting a playgroup with pre-made characters and an established campaign.
One player takes on the role of the antagonistic Overlord while up to four others select a hero and begin their quest through all manner of treacherous terrain. This game is superb for those looking for a more plug-and-play style of TTRPG that requires a little less homework.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the game is too self-contained, though. With expansions and consistent fan made content, Descent: Journeys in the Dark has more to offer than its base set. In fact, many believe that the real fun begins after the first journey.
6) The One Ring
Based on the works of JRR Tolkien, The One Ring RPG by Free League Publishing seeks to emulate the world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as accurately as possible on the tabletop. By all accounts, they’ve done a stellar job.
The divide between Dungeon Master and player is present, but the two phases of play are unique. The party goes between the Adventuring Phase, designed to simulate the difficult travel across Middle-Earth, and the Fellowship Phase where players get to choose how to spend their downtime.
The One Ring is a well structured RPG that is currently in its second edition. If you’re looking for a true Lord of the Rings experience, look no further.
Another all-time classic, Shadowrun, originally published in 1989 by FASA, has been entertaining gamers for years with its combination of sci-fi and urban fantasy. Now under the umbrella of Catalyst Game Labs, Shadowrun is on its sixth edition.
The most unique part of Shadowrun might be its setting. In the near-future setting of 2080, mystical creatures have returned to the earth completely disrupting the power structures of the once only human society. Megacorps control most of society, oftentimes helmed by dragons in human form. Magic and science blend in this world, allowing for players to create characters like elves or dwarves and specialize in the mechanical or arcane.
Classes don’t exist like in DnD, but the handbook details some archetypes to help players understand what is possible in the skill allocation system. Instead of a d20, players roll a number of d6s in accordance with their skill level in a certain field.
The most open ended experience on this list, GURPS by Steve Jackson stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. The appeal of GURPS is that its system is transferable to any kind of world its game master can imagine. Rulesets exist for fantasy, sci-fi, historical, horror, steampunk ect.
Players utilize a “point-buy” system instead of rolling for stats. This allows for a high level of control in character customization. Similar to Shadowrun, GURPS uses d6s for its skill checks. Uniquely, players hope to roll as low as possible.
While not the recommendation for someone totally new to TTRPGs, GURPS is a fantastic option for someone looking to create and test a brand new setting.
9) World of Darkness
A series of role-playing games, first by White Wolf Games and later by Paradox Interactive, World of Darkness is, from a sales perspective, second only to DnD. In its gothic horror setting, World of Darkness includes the ability to play as various creatures of the night, including vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and others.
The game master (or storyteller) in World of Darkness focuses more on narrative than on combat. This supports the general feel of the game, which centers around the personal stories of the player characters.
World of Darkness is highly recommended for any playgroup that wants a darker, roleplaying rich experience.
10) Dragon Age RPG
The Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin is based on the video games of the same name. Bringing the vast world of BioWare’s award winning franchise is no easy feat, but the Dragon Age RPG does this by crafting the dark fantasy setting and using the Adventure Game Engine.
Players take on the traditional fare of race and class types and roll using a unique set of d6s. Also unique is the ability to perform “stunt” actions whenever doubles are rolled.
If you’re looking for a darker version of DnD with interesting and immersive game systems, look no further.
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We hope you enjoyed some of these DnD alternative games! Let us know about any of your TTRPG recommendations and make sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for more regular content! We’re looking forward to making more lists like this!
Happy (tabletop) gaming!