Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons

DM DaveLast year, I received the D&D Red Box and Dungeon Master’s Kit as gifts and managed to scrounge together some friends interested in giving this (4th edition) Dungeons & Dragons thing a shot. I had been interested in trying my hand at the Dungeon Master role for a while and was glad for the opportunity.

Well, we just wrapped up the included adventures, most of our time being spent playing through Reavers of Harkenwold. While we had a reasonably good time, I can’t shake the feeling that D&D may not be the best fit for our group.

What’s wrong with D&D?

It takes time for new and/or casual gamers to wrap their heads around D&D’s way of doing things. The latest edition (4th Essentials) definitely streamlined many elements, but its core still consists of attributes, from which derive modifiers, which then conditionally apply to rolls using six different kinds of polyhedral dice. This latest edition also introduced character powers that tended to add complexity.

I wouldn’t call it rocket surgery, but in my experience it’s enough to interfere with the fun. Especially for casual gamers like us.

What else is out there?

D&D is basically the only pen-and-paper RPG I’ve known. The only other tabletop RPG I’ve played is still essentially D&D.

As it turns out, there are lots of pen-and-paper (aka tabletop) roleplaying games out there. The more I think about it, exclusively playing D&D is like restricting yourself to a single series of roleplaying video games (say, Final Fantasy).

So I did a little research and found lots of good candidates. There are themed games like Serenity RPG, Trail of Cthulu, The One Ring. There are also generic systems like Savage Worlds that can be used with any setting (scifi, horror, Victorian, apocalyptic, steampunk, western, etc).

And the winner is…

Baratheon vs TargaryenFor our group, my money is on A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying (SIFRP), based on George R. R. Martin’s popular series of books.

Here are the main reasons I think SIFRP is a good fit for us:

  1. Takes place in a richly detailed, believable world, unlike generic D&D fantasyland. Bonus: many of us are already familiar with it from the books and/or show.
  2. There’s more than just combat. You can be a major player in the so-called “Game of Thrones” without ever lifting a sword. Unlike D&D, SIFRP has mechanics built around intrigue that make non-combat characters totally viable. (Though it’s a dangerous place, so having at least a dagger handy is prudent.)
  3. Players collaborate to build their own House all their characters belong to. I think this has real potential to draw players into their characters. I think everyone’s sick of the ‘your characters met in a tavern’ hand-waving that usually happens in D&D.
  4. Simpler core rules. If you have a score of 4 in Fighting, you roll four d6s to determine the success (and damage) of your attack. That’s the gist of it. And it’s all d6s, all the time.

An updated edition was recently released, and they’re planning to release a Starter Set later this year. Since we’re taking a break for the summer, the timing may be perfect. There’s even a free Quickstart PDF for groups to try it out.

Wizards of the Coast is also working on the next version of D&D. I like the direction it’s headed, but I still feel like we’d be better off with something else. And “D&D Next” won’t be out until 2013 anyway.

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5 thoughts on “Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons

  1. I’m interested to try something new next year, and a SIFRP fascinates me. I’ll have to read through the rules and see if I can get a feel for what the game would be like.

    I agree that D&D was often lacking flow for our group – too much time spent staring at our character sheets.

  2. Just a thought. How workable is it to alternate DMs? I was thinking it would be good for you to have a character to play next time, but never having DM’ed before I don’t want to commit to being in charge every night.

    1. Good idea. Lots of groups alternate DMs, actually. And a new game is probably the best time to change it up. I have a feeling being the Narrator in SIFRP is a little different than being the DM in D&D… we’d all be learning as we go.

  3. Dylan

    As long as I can get all the best items and spells and dragons!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😉 But seriously, I’ve just started the Game of Thrones books so unless I hate them, this could be really cool to try.

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