While many long-time TTRPG gaming groups have experience playing many different systems (because once you get a good group you don’t want just one setting or system, but you want to explore all the stories out there that your creative and fun group can stumble into) there are also groups who pretty much grew up on 5E.
Even our Sunday group, while 5E wasn’t the first edition for everyone, it was a return to TTRPG for several players, first-time for me, and was the sole format we used for the first 4-5 years. But we’ve since branched out, because there is an incredible world of TTRPG to explore out there!
Whether you’re understandably jaded from the OGL blues, looking for a new system to play at your table, or just need a change of pace for a different story – the following are (more) 25 great alternatives to D&D that provide many classes, stories, settings, for your table to explore. All it takes is checking out some of these other wonderful TTPRG systems that are out there.
Best Fantasy TTRPG Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons
There are many great fantasy systems for when the corporate overlords who control D&D sprint headlong into destroying their system by pushing it all online into a microtransaction online hell (again), there are actually plenty of amazing fantasy TTRPG systems more than willing to step up and continue to provide that amazing fantasy-adventure roleplaying experience.
We will provide pros and cons for each system, but please don’t let the cons scare you off. “Precautions” might be a better word as I’m a fan of all my experiences with these systems and for the right tables, right DMs, and right stories they can provide an amazing amount of fun, great adventures, and even better memories.
I’m just committed to giving you the best information possible, and want to include the potential good and bad of all of them.
So let’s dive into these systems so you can find the one right for you!
Pathfinder & Pathfinder 2E
System in a Sentence: Spiritual successor to D&D 3.5 and the premiere Fantasy Adventure alternative to Dungeons & Dragons.
This is a bit of a cheat as it’s two systems in one, and in fairness they could each get their own space as the original Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2 are very different systems with very different setups. However, there’s no denying that Pathfinder has been the “other” major fantasy system since 4th Edition, and 4E was so unpopular that many at that time considered Pathfinder to be the new king of the hill when it came to TTRPG as well as the obvious spiritual successor to DnD 3.5.
Pathfinder is a much more number crunchy system, which makes it less beginner friendly than 5E but if your table has been playing 5th Edition for a while then they have enough of a handle to dive in deeper. This system also allows for much more because you have the ability to customize into anything you can imagine.
Players in the same class actually look, feel, and perform differently, something that can be hard to pull off in a D&D groups where the customization options are limited at best.
There is also a fully fleshed out economy for gold, magic items, pirate ships – it’s been thoroughly mapped out. This gives players in these systems the ability to delve much deeper into the world and takes some of the heavy lifting off the DM so they can concentrate on story instead of market prices.
Not many fans know this, but when Critical Role started, they actually started with the Pathfinder system before converting to 5E.
Pathfinder 2E is along the same lines, but there are some distinctive differences. Some players like the new iteration better, while others don’t. There are some pretty neat mechanics that give a lot of flexibility without
Pros of Pathfinder
- Character builds can be customized in very specific ways many, many times better than 5E (if you can dream it, you can build it)
- Full magic economy implemented
- System creates environment where equipment, magical items, scrolls, and gold are more consistently exciting and important
- Pathfinder is known for having some of the best writing in adventures or stories related to their TTRPG systems
Cons of Pathfinder
- Much more math-intensive and number crunchy vs 5E
- A lot more to keep track of than 5E
- Running combat well is hard and it takes time to learn balance for a new DM to the system
Dresden Files (Run on Fate System)
System in a Sentence: Modern magic, wizards, supernatural beings, Fey, and creatures from horror fiction exist the modern day world a la the Dresden Universe based on the books by Jim Butcher.
Fans of author Jim Butcher will be very familiar with the adventures of Harry Dresden and the incredible modern magic/modern fantasy setting his books have created. There are Fey, Vampires, Monsters, Warlocks, Otherworldly threats, and nasty ghouls, among many other potential threats, right out of the modern high fantasy system.
Players can be a Fey, a Wizard, a Specialist (a type of Wizard who can only do a very narrow, but focused, magical ability), a normal human with more fate chips, or just about anything the DM allows within the world. This leads to some pretty interesting teams and because the Fate System uses the mechanics characters are very story based and you can develop truly unique characters.
Fans of this series will enjoy the TTRPG makeup around this world. Those who don’t know the series will still find a deep world of magic, supernatural dangers, and the dangers of these forces in a modern world while so much of it has to be kept secret. It creates a unique and living world with some incredibly interesting takes on traditional mythological monsters.
These campaigns can be incredibly different depending on what the DM runs and it can play like a political intrigue game of Vampire, a series of Delta Green/Monster of the Week campaigns crammed into one plot, or something completely different. It’s a versatile and fantastic world and a TTRPG that I’m looking forward to diving into once again.
- The core book is very entertaining, especially for readers of the book, but the “guide” works even for those who don’t know the series
- Provides a rich and deep backdrop to use the Fate System in
- Works as a great TTRPG whether or not you’re familiar with the Dresden Files book series
- Organization in the book is terrible. All the information is there, which is a plus, but the organization is often baffling
- The magic system is a bit complicated, and since it’s a major part of the system/world that’s a problem
System in a Sentence: You come from dragons. The dragon blood in you wakes up and now you grow from weakling to nearly invincible god-like tanks.
Have you ever wanted to be a powerful dragon? Fireborn is a modern setting urban fantasy system where you are playing the reincarnation of a dragon. You’re human, but you inherit a bunch of dragon abilities that make you more fearful mythical beast than human. This is a dynamic d6 system that is very easy to learn.
The system is designed to be easy to learn, it sticks out from any other system any of us have ever played, and gives a really fun experience for a campaign that is certainly going to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Go from squishy human to living reptile god among men. It’s a fascinating take on a modern dragon story and is the type of TTRPG campaign you might not break out every year, but it’s a change up for an experienced group that can end up memorable and undeniably fun.
- You get to play super powerful dragons
- Rare “Players are super powerful” system that gives a great change of pace
- Simple setup for character creation
- Easy to learn system
- Book is generally well laid out, though there are some sections that require an online look up
- If you love a challenge as a player, you can easily build a min-max that the DM won’t be able to do much against – which some players love but others might find boring
This was one of the systems that was brought up during an Unqualified Experts episode as Braden’s favorite non-D&D TTRPG system. Check out the video for some crazy stories from the last Fireborn campaign that brings them right into the spotlight.
Blades in the Dark
System in a Sentence: A story-driven system that is set in a city reminiscent of 1800s London that delivers the all-important question: do you want to go on a heist? Or how else will your group of rogues make their fortune in a world stuck in eternal night?
There are many amazing TTRPG systems out there, but a few really caught attention during the 5E OGL mess as masses of players leaving 5th Edition, and possibly Dungeons & Dragons completely, and Blades in the Dark is one of two systems not named Pathfinder that popped up an awful lot.
Blades in the Dark was funded via a very successful Kickstarter campaign from the folks over at Evil Hat, and introduces you to the city of Doskvol. An urban fantasy setting that took heavy inspiration from 1800s London, this city is both familiar and different, and creates a very specific mood based on the disaster of this world – which put the world in a perpetual state of night.
Your group is a band of rogues, smugglers, and other miscreants used to working in the shadows, and the game heavily focuses on how your group wants to grow. Is it just getting more smuggling contracts, becoming a top criminal guild, building a territory you control, or something else altogether?
Blades in the Dark uses a d6 system that is versatile and easy to use. There are great resources to help the DM with plenty of ideas for confrontations, challenges, or even plots/sub-plots. Further, it’s a system where you don’t all have to veer towards Lawful Good because all of you are rogues, miscreants, and n’er’do’wells. In other words – you get to have fun as the shadowy side of society.
- Very team focused TTRPG
- When run well having fun really isn’t dependent on the success or failure of any mission – a good failure can be surprisingly fun
- Great d6 system easy for players to pick up on
- A unique contribution to the TTRPG space
- Very DM heavy – can be a touch overwhelming for relatively new DMs
- Not beginner-friendly for DMs
- Niche system – not tailored towards lawful or good aligned parties or the fans of traditional “adventuring heroes” RPGs
Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC)
System in a Sentence: Ridiculously funny and fun fantasy-adventure game with the weirdest dice yet as you take your multiple level 0 players and see just what happens. A game that’s big on randomization so you know not to take it too seriously as you enjoy a very different style of game.
Create three Level 0 characters that you roll randomly for stats and attributes, put them through a heavily randomized and challenging dungeon, and see who comes out strongest from leveling up…or who just survives. Mechanics will seem familiar yet Dungeon Crawl Classic allows nice little spins on old mechanics by allowing magic duels, burning of stats to boost power in the moment, and luck is a stat – so no need to homebrew rule that one!
They’re even kind enough to provide their quick start rules for free! You can click here for the free Dungeon Crawl Classics PDF.
Critical Hit and Critical Fumble tables are interesting, and add some fantastic extra spice to these dungeon adventures. How good is your luck? How bad is it? What’s your awesome bonus thanks to your luck roll and will it save you?
This is a fun spin on the fantasy adventure and while many might hesitate to do the default multiple 0 Level party setup, I actually found this to be an amazing experience at the gaming table and highly recommend it as at least the occasional one shot.
- Hilarious and fun game that creates a crazy low stress atmosphere for a game
- Game is intuitive and easy to learn – especially for players with a D&D background
- Unique spin on just about everything while remaining entertaining and easy to learn
- Might be better for one shots or short runs early on
- Not everyone enjoys the random stat rolling
Great Video Explanation of DCC by Bob the World Builder
“Old” Dungeons & Dragons, aka D&D 3.5 or AD&D
System in a Sentence: Expanded D&D universe that is very number crunchy but endlessly versatile, considered by many long-time players to be the best overall system Dungeons & Dragons ever made, gave birth to Pathfinder.
If you grew up on 5E, 3.5 is going to feel like an entirely different system. It’s number crunchy, you can be incredibly specific in your builds, it’s versatile, and you need to know how to power crawl because 5E might be shooting warning shots, but 3.5 is trying to machine gun down your entire party for a TPK every chance it gets.
There’s also the benefit that you’re not giving money to Wizards of the Coast if you’re (rightfully) angry about many of their recent moves. These books are an old school system – they’re all published and over a decade out of print. Find them, find the free PDFs online, or an old school DM who has all the 3.5 books and prepare for an experience.
- Whatever you want to make you can make because there are so many feats, so many premiere classes, so many options for how to build and level up your player character
- This is college level old school TTRPG for players who enjoy 5E but have wanted something deeper, make characters more detailed, or wanted a bigger challenge
- Fully fleshed out and complete system means more feats, more items, more classes, etc..
- A fully structured economy, something woefully missing from 5E
- A very different game that allows a Fantasy Adventure world that feels dangerous because it is
- Overall power level feels higher
- 3.5 was very number crunchy and it’s a very different game – much more akin to Pathfinder than 5th Edition, has a ton of rules to keep track of which requires a very knowledgeable DM
- 3.5 books won’t be nearly as available as other systems
- You generally need to pre-plan your entire character’s build from start to finish, which is a lot of upfront work and can take some of the joy of level ups out since it’s all pre-planned
- Versions 3.0 and 3.5 aren’t fully compatible – there can be transition issues
- Can be very hard to break into as a relative TTRPG beginner
Coming Soon: Daggerheart
One of the best things to come out of the OGL debacle and Wizards of the Coast burning an unfathomable amount of good will with their community is the emergence of multiple competitors more than happy to create an amazing new fantasy system to compete with them rather than be held hostage again in the future. Keep in mind, this is the same way we ended up with Pathfinder during the 4E debacle.
Daggerheart is the longform fantasy adventure system that has long been rumored to be developed by Matt Mercer and the folks over at Critical Role, and will almost certainly be an instant competitor to Dungeons & Dragons on full release. Their team is full of people who actually play TTRPGs, have been players and DMs, as well as talented game designers and storytellers.
It’s hard to believe this won’t be a good system and won’t instantly be one of the biggest competitors. The official announcement was here, and more information will be sure to come out after demo playtesting at Gen-Con 2023 as well as with further releases. There’s a lot of excitement around this fantasy based system that is “Designed for long-term high fantasy campaigns.”
I have little doubt that by the time we get to Season 4 of Critical Role we’ll be seeing Daggerheart front and center and I’m curious to see how this system plays as an alternative to D&D. I’ll be keeping an eye on this and continuing to update this section in the future.
Coming Soon: Project Black Flag
Kobold Press was one of the first to jump to finding a permanent alternative to WOTC sources after the entire OGL debacle, and considering how much of their business is built on being a marketplace where capable writers and designers can share their adventures or custom work, it made sense they would do this.
Project Black Flag was born, and is their effort to create a permanent fantasy adventure system that is widely available in book form for use now and in the future, built off of the 5E skeleton system but expanded for the full array of classes, monsters, rules, and fixing/tweaking many of the current complaints with 5E to make the system more flexible while filling in areas that needed to be addressed/updated and weren’t.
This is going to be clearly inspired off of 5E, but it will be Creative Commons meaning it’s always open to players, designers, and the public to draw inspiration from or make materials for, and since 5E was the most popular TTRPG system ever from sheer number of players (and was beginner friendly), that’s not a bad thing.
Having a “fixed” and improved version of 5E that will always be open to creators to use – that’s a definite win for the TTRPG community and makes this a great alternative for those who love 5E but have a bad taste in their mouth with the attempted massive power grab that Hasbro/WOTC attempted in the space.
Coming Soon: MCDM – Matthew Colville’s New TTRPG System
Matthew Colville has a reputation as a storyteller and outstanding game designer, and he is bringing those skills, and the skills of those in his company, to the work of designing a high fantasy RPG system that meets their needs more than the current available systems on the market. Considering the respect that Colville has in the space and his vast experience as a DM and storyteller in many systems, he certainly has the experience, knowledge, and ideas to put together a great system that offers gamemasters what they’re looking for.
The original video announcement is here, and you can feel the excitement pouring through the video. While Daggerheart and The Valiant System have been getting more press recently, this is not a system I’d sleep on. It’s one that high fantasy adventure fans will want to pay attention to and put on the shortlist of systems to try out.
They are live-blogging their design of this new heroic fantasy RPG on Patreon so those supporting Colville will be able to watch the entire process as the system is built from the ground up, developed, and prepared for play testing which is a very interesting and intriguing thing.
Best Flexible TTRPG Systems Not Dungeons & Dragons
Most TTRPG systems are based around a genre or a setting, but there are some interesting exceptions. Certain TTRPG systems are designed specifically with versatility in mind. They may or may not come with a genre to start but be open to others, or they might be there with the most basic of mechanics that can then be applied to any setting the DM wishes.
For those of us who are huge Steampunk fans, and very aware of how few Steampunk TTRPG systems there are, a flexible system like this can result
Fate & Fate Core System
System in a Sentence: The versatile base rule system that can run in any time, any genre, or any game system using player-chosen Attributes and +/- Fate Dice to help or hinder their chances of success on each roll.
Fate is the ultimate low rules, high versatility system. Characters are drawn up using some basic aspects that describe your character and certain basic bonuses to very broad skills. This system is outstanding for simple but solid mechanics that work with any system and can easily be homebrewed by the DM to be more complex, if needed.
There’s a reason many great TTRPG systems use the Fate Core system for mechanics including The Dresden Files, Houses of the Blooded, Atomic Robo, Diaspora, and Age of Arthur among many others.
I struggled to find a great Steampunk World among TTRPGs the first time I started looking, and Fate was the first viable system I found that worked extremely well since the setting was up to me – they just took care of the skeleton of game mechanics so I could design everything else for my specific game around that.
Some variation of the Fate Core system is what many of us use in order to run a one shot at our tables because it’s so adaptable and easy to learn.
- Hands down the most versatile TTRPG system around and can be adapted to any genre or world
- Very easy to learn
- Creates an opening setting where DM works with players to figure out their perfect starting traits, which is great since players fit into the game well and the DM understands the ins and outs of the player characters at the table
- Understanding how Fate works opens up many fantastic
- Since the system is so versatile it is also incredibly barebones meaning the DM needs to do a lot of work to flesh out the game world – not recommended for first time DMs
- Requires a DM who can run a story-heavy game
One shining example of how flexible the Fate Core system can be is from the old Tabletop episode by Wil Wheaton where one of the creators (Ryan Macklin) runs a one shot for Wil and two of his friends, and this was a stunningly good session that shows how diverse this system can be and how outstanding a story a good DM and table of players can put together.
System in a Sentence: A sophisticated rules-light, story heavy system that is extremely flexible and while famous for use in the famous Numenera series is versatile enough to be used for any genre or setting. Lauded for being simple to learn but with the ability to become increasingly customized and sophisticated.
The Cypher System is heavily set on narrative and story, providing a solid framework with rules that can be applied to many different settings or genres while acting as a skeleton that gives basic support to a DM and lets them more fully fill in the details as they see fit. Cypher doesn’t quite have the widespread attention as the Fate system, but it is a system that is very well known because of its debut in Numenera and has been used in many other systems since.
It’s undeniably one of the top names that comes up when you want a story/narrative driven TTRPG starting with a concept sentence and then building out from there for character creation. For creative types and those who love playing a variety of characters, or who find many other systems restrictive when they have an idea for a character, this is a great system to create the player character they have envisioned!
- Character creation is fast, versatile, and fairly streamlined, even for newbies
- Fast and engaging combat system
- Ideal for narrative focused campaigns
- Dice allow for variations of success versus a plain win/lose setup
- Single use “cyphers” are a neat mechanic
- Very expensive for a print version of the rulebook
- The lack of defined skills allows for more versatility but can prove a challenge for even a relatively experienced DM
- The sheer difference in “magic” and “leveling up” systems are going to be hard for long-time power gamers in other systems to adjust to
Over the Edge*
System in a Sentence: Crazy campaign world in the craziest city/island where fringe science, conspiracy theories, paranormal activity, weird science, and a libertarian hell/Big Brother surveillance system all come together in a weird, weird place. Anything could potentially be legal…if you have a license for it.
Over the Edge is craziness incarnate. Some TTRPG systems might have magic. Others might have weird science. You might find a niche one that focuses on paranormal activity or conspiracy theories. There are great dystopias out there. Over the Edge crams them altogether and then adds a d6 system that includes optional rules that make successes with something bad happening or failures with something good happening not only a possibility, but likely.
This creates some wonderful group storytelling that can lead to wonderful, wacky, crazy, or intense moments that will have the table howling with laughter while fully invested in the crazy story that is unfolding in front of them. The (in)famous car chase 0 session with my Saturday group is still talked about 4 years later.
This is a system that won’t be for everyone but for the DMs/groups who love it, this will be the type of system they have been dreaming of. At worst, it’s 100% worth looking at the dice roll mechanics and variations thereof.
*One way our group has really enjoyed some one shots or even longer campaigns is by copying the dice system from Over the Edge with one or two specific rules on how the DM can ask for rerolls vs when players can reroll. This has led to some wild games, and is similar to how DM Dale Friesen ran this system on Loading Ready Run’s fantastic TTRPG series “Spring Break.”
- Very simple yet versatile 2d6 dice system
- Perfect setting for weird modern setting
- Makes a great setting for a potential clash of various styles, characters, or genres
- Versatile in the hands of a good DM
- Crazy world, can be a bit much for groups or DMs that need more structure
- Requires DMs to make some supporting home rules for each game
- The book is great if you enjoy crazy, often indecipherable if you’re trying to get a grasp on the system
Best Science Fiction TTRPG Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons
There are an amazing array of science fiction tabletop RPG systems out there, and these can vary incredibly from one another. Many of them are extremely dystopian, though that’s not necessarily always the case, and these can vary immensely from the expansive universes of Warhammer which have 5 separate books (and systems/mini-systems within that universe) all under the broader umbrella to dystopias that only go as far as Mars, to Earth-centered adventures focused on the Cyberpunk genre.
Warhammer 40K Universe
System in a Sentence: Everything is war, and you’re going to die thanks to the most terrifying thing you can imagine. Until a worse problem comes up. Until an even worse problem replaces that one. Until and even worst problem replaces that one. Oh god, is that a Hive Fleet?
The Warhammer Universe is one broad universe full of lore that is a large umbrella system that actually splits off into five sub-systems:
- Warhammer Dark Heresy
- Warhammer Rogue Trader
- Warhammer Death Watch
- Warhammer Black Crusade
- Warhammer Only War
I am most familiar with Only War and Dark Heresy as these are the two systems in the Warhammer Universe that were run in campaigns I played in, while I’ve heard nothing but good things from my group from past Rogue Trader campaigns they also ran. So I personally know much more about these systems than the others, but there are certain truths about the Warhammer universe that are going to hold up across systems.
The Universe is at war, the very fabric of space is being torn open by a hellish demon plagued space known as “The Warp,” and there are no good guys. Just “probably not as bad” bad guys.
In most systems (exception of Rogue Trader) you’ll be aligned with the Imperium, at least in the beginning, and you will have to navigate war, chaos, politics, and hopefully not see something as terrifying as a Demon Lord or a Tyranid Fleet, because that’s probably a TPK. Warhammer is like an entire Universe built in a Post-Apocalyptic Universe that is struggling as it wrestles with one potential Apocalyptic extinction event after another.
This is a Grim Dark d100 high casualty system where every choice has consequences, and dangers often have to be balanced against one another. If you don’t have a Psyker on your team, you’re incredibly vulnerable to many dangers you’re likely not well equipped to handle. If you do have a Psyker on your team, he might rip open the warp by accident and spawn a demon lord that kills you all.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Welcome to the universe of Warhammer 40K!
Warhammer started out as tabletop wargaming and the RPG ended up expanding off of that.
If you want to learn more about the massive rabbit holes of Warhammer 40K lore, I highly recommend this YouTube channel, which is the best I’ve found and took me from being relatively indifferent to the system to a huge fan burning dozens of hours watching these outstanding videos.
- Fun d100 system that provides very interesting classes, races, and professions
- Large array of Skills, Traits, and Abilities allows for an incredibly diverse array of builds
- Heavy combat systems can be a lot of fun, especially with a DM who knows and understands the deep lore of this universe
- Different systems under the umbrella have different power levels – so there’s a 40K system for high power or low power, depending on what you want to run/play
- Easy to build up an expansive universe where surviving characters become future NPCs
- Getting many of the original books is very hard if not impossible – many are out of print and collector’s items
- A very number-heavy system in character building, can take a little time to get used to how leveling works
- Each system under the Warhammer umbrella has different quirks that can confuse players of another Warhammer system the first time
- Very combat heavy system despite being high casualty – can be a plus but a few bad rolls can mean needing to remake multiple characters in the same campaign – a very labor intensive process
System in a Sentence: Paizo, creators of Pathfinder, create a detailed Science Fantasy system that can provide disappointed Spelljammer fans with a wonderfully detailed TTRPG system to space adventures using a very familiar feel of play to Pathfinder players…but in an entirely newly opened up universe.
Another one sentence summary of this system is “Pathfinder in Space” as Starfinder has long provided a great setting with space combat, ship to ship combat, and while the rules and mechanics will be familiar to any Pathfinder player, Starfinder also streamlined those processes to make it easier for new players to jump right in.
Starfinder is a great system for your next space adventure, and opens up entirely new settings, adventures, and realms of possibilities as you can see all the fantasy races and more while in space, blending science fiction and fantasy adventure.
- Fully developed “Fantasy Adventure in Space” system ready for DM and players’ imaginations
- Streamlined from Pathfinder mechanics to be more welcoming to players less familiar with “crunchy” systems
- Great system for dealing with all combat scenarios in space
- Built out economy, items guides, etc, but still room for DMs to customize
- Some tables will find the much more free-form systems like Fate and Cypher for futuristic campaigns
- There are differences in the mechanics that might throw off Pathfinder players (like 5 foot steps no longer being a free action)
- Still built around the idea of dungeon crawling, just with a different
System in a Sentence: Your consciousness is uploaded to a mainframe, now choose a body as you try to live in a post apocalyptic galaxy where AI has gone rogue and wiped out most of humanity in this horror science fiction TTRPG.
Eclipse Phase is a science fiction TTRPG that is versatile and oh man can it be next level weird and unique. Want a party that looks like it comes out of a fevered Hunter S. Thompson fever dream but in space? Welcome to Eclipse Phase.
Your body isn’t permanent. Your body has a chip, and that chip is you. Because of that you can be a clone, you can be put into cybernetics, into a dolphin or other animal, or maybe even something else entirely. This is a strange dystopian future that brings Cyber Punk to a real level that can be both crazy and deep science all at once.
Because of this, character creation is where this system really and truly shines.
Eclipse Phase was Nathan’s choice in the above video of favorite TTRPG systems, and he does a good job talking about the system and the sheer variety that it allows for.
- Incredibly unique system that lets you make one-of-a-kind characters
- Released by creators so you can download it for free right off the website (no purchase needed)
- The system is designed to be open to homebrew
- Creates an interesting in-game universe in a small enough area to not be overwhelming
- Moderately crunchy system
- Requires a lot of little tweaking to get the system to fit with any campaign
- Requires a very active DM to run well
System in a Sentence: An incredibly grim dark post apocalyptic survival game where every single campaign ends the same way: with the end of days, the end of your characters’ lives, and the end of the world – Campaign Over!
A rules light d20 system, Mork Borg means “Dark Castle” in Swedish, which is appropriate since this world is heavily inspired by the Swedish heavy metal and death metal scene. This is an incredibly dark game where the world is ending, there are prophecies and inquisitions – each pointing to the other as heretical and evil, and if you’re lucky you’ll live to see the end of days.
Or if you roll badly you’ll start with 1 hit point. Probably don’t need to guess how well you’re likely to do in that scenario when it’s end of days (new character sheet, please!). The art in this book is stunning and some of the best I’ve ever seen. It very much blew me away when I saw it for the first time and this is a super interesting, rules light system that lets you fight it out in an increasingly dark world where something new and terrible afflicts the entire world at the beginning of every session until you see the very end.
- Stunningly beautiful TTRPG book that is artistically a wonder
- If you love dark, very dark, systems it doesn’t get much darker than Mork Borg
- Massive amounts of 3rd Party content
- Less stress on a DM because expectations are set – you’re all going to die and it’s probably 6 sessions or less based on dice rolls!
- Main rule book is missing some critical information such as guidance about travel over land or hunting, things that are covered in later releases
- This will be far too dark for some groups
- The core book was so rules light that generally most players agree some of the early supplements are needed to fill out important rules to run a Mork Borg campaign
System in a Sentence: You live in a crazy dystopian future city controlled by Friend Computer where you play the role of loyal Troubleshooters who must follow the rules, report all traitors, mutants, and Communists, and don’t forget, knowing the rules without proper authorization is a capital offense!
Friend Computer knows best, Friend Computer has tasked you and your compatriots with an all-important trouble-shooting mission, and Friend Computer expects you to navigate the rulebook it’s illegal for you to know, survive the monsters and dangers (failure by dying is illegal and punishable by death), and report fellow players to the GM “Friend Computer” when you have evidence they are a mutant, traitor, or Commie.
While there is a “serious” mode to play Paranoia, this is relatively new as the main system is built around more comedic aspects of this world that includes secret societies, security clearances, an ultra paranoid computer in a dystopian city, and more.
I’ve never actually seen or experienced this system outside of a one shot, but it is possible and that would lead to a very interesting campaign, for sure. Great change of pace RPG experience, and one that can be a lot of fun with a group that can play off each other well.
- Truly unique system, there’s nothing quite like it
- Great comedy potential with an entire system built around that
- Great way to change up things between ultra serious campaigns
- Has a unique take on the post apocalyptic dystopia
- Better for one shots than long campaign
- If your group is more LOTR than Monty Python, they might not enjoy it
- Can be very free form and without structure, which can be fine for some groups but disastrous for others
System in a Sentence: The newest Cyberpunk TTRPG designed to coincide with the new Cyberpunk video game as your party traverses a world of Dark Future where technology did not deliver on its promise of a better world…but might it open opportunity for the right daring party?
The future is…a mixed bag to be sure. Cyberpunk Red is the update from the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG system and fills in the gap between the world of that system and the one that appears in the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. This system streamlines a lot of what would now be considered very number crunchy or “too much” from the original system, though it’s still a bit more involved than something like Fate of 5E.
Cyberpunk sets you in a world of biological enhancements, computer chips that can be implanted in your body, and the Matrix, Johnny Mnemonics, and more are all part of everyday life. Well, for a crack group of specialists like yours. Whatever your particular flavor of cyberpunk sci-fi, a good storyteller has plenty here to keep their players busy.
Great system to dive into if you have a great science fiction story in your head that would work in this style of universe.
- Will hit with fans of grim-dark Science Fiction
- Provides great material for the cyberpunk genre
- Pretty streamlined for a dystopian science fiction system or earlier Cyberpunk RPGs
- Connects world of Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077
- Excellent update to specific classes, defining who they are and what they can do
- It’s a fun system set in a world that makes sense to William Gibson fans
- System feels old. It’s an update of the previous system, but it doesn’t show a lot of the progress of mechanics and concepts that other TTRPGs have adapted over the last 25+ years of game design
- Combat system is a bit “meh” and could use some spicing up
- Some won’t like the connecting of TTRPG and video game worlds, preferring to be able to get all their lore from one source
- The cover rules don’t make a lot of sense
Best Horror TTRPG Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons
Who doesn’t like a good horror story? There are several systems that are based on horror, or at least supernatural stories featuring traditionally horror story figures like werewolves, vampires, and more. Sometimes you want to howl and the moon, hit the courtly intrigue of vampires, or join a team of humans fighting against the terrifying supernatural dangers hiding in the dark.
Call of Cthulhu System
System in a Sentence: High casualty Lovecraftian Eldritch horror where the sheer knowledge and experience with otherworldly horrors eat at your sanity as a deeper understanding of the universe leads to nothing but existential horror and the insanity that reality brings.
Call of Cthulhu is all about the fighting to prevent the unleashing of Eldritch horrors and is unique in that these often take a mystery approach but also players are faced with the reality that they are very human, very killable, and they only have so much sanity. Often the further you get into the mystery, the lower your sanity falls and that can cause all sorts of interesting problems and wonderful gameplay experiences.
Call of Cthulhu is a system that understands eventually the Eldritch Lovecraftian horrors will eventually win, that the terrifying reality of the Universe might someday extinguish what hope remains in the blissful ignorance of most of humanity, but it whatever time and place you are
Fun Fact: Call of Cthulhu is actually the most popular TTRPG system in Japan, and it’s not even close. It’s one of the few places where not only is 5E not king by pure number of players, but it actually gets trounced!
- Ratchets tension and suspense very well because of sanity system
- Allows players a break from the “superhero” or “super human” format of many systems
- Great for mystery, suspense, or cosmic horror
- Flexible as far as time and settings – the horror is always there so adjust to the campaign you want to play
- Because characters are very human, requires very judicious use of dangers to avoid a TPK
- Tends to be intrigue, investigation, or very story based versus action based (again, this can be a plus but it won’t be for every group)
- Very easy to accidentally TPK a party as an inexperienced DM (to the system)
Vampire The Masquerade
System in a Sentence: Embraced into the life of undead Kindred (don’t use the V-word!) you find yourself embroiled in a game of political intrigue, deception, skullduggery, and sometimes outright supernatural violence during these dark and dangerous nights.
Vampires are one of those creatures that have endless allure, and so it seems only appropriate that there is an entire TTRPG system based around the mythology of perhaps the most popular of all undead. This is a system incredibly rich in lore from where all vampires (called kindred in-game) come from, to the various eccentricities and abilities of each clan, unique strengths and weaknesses, political propensities, and a game that is all about the politics, the intrigue, keeping up the appearance of The Masquerade to protect you and the others from the Second Inquisition – human hunters looking to wipe you all out.
If you want a sense of how these can play, I strongly recommend heading over to YouTube and looking at L.A. by Night and Seattle by Night, both run by Jason Carl. L.A. by Night is an excellent multi-season campaign that is an exceptional “conventional” game and Seattle by Night is that for a table that also leans towards the funny and laid back. Both entertaining AF.
- One of the best political or intrigue based systems out there
- Very rich lore that builds a great world and gives many options for different styles of vampire to play
- Interesting mechanics that make physical, mental, and even social interactions another form of combat
- Wonderful modern horror setting
- A very unique system, which is great, but also means unique dice, mechanics, and interactions that will take time to learn
- Not everyone is inherently tuned into an intrigue-based system
- Very adult-oriented, not every group will be comfortable running this system
Monster of the Week
System in a Sentence: Outstanding TTRPG set up in the “Creature Feature” or “Monster Episode of X-Files” setup where the party starts with unique relationships, group dynamics, and abilities to tackle each week’s challenge.
Monster of the Week is an outstanding system by Evil Hat Productions and Michael Sands in a modern setting where monsters and the supernatural exist. Set up perfectly to be a weekly episodic type campaign, or one you can run a longer plot line over while dealing with weekly supernatural problem.
This system is much more story driven than using dice, though both come into play, and all players have certain shared actions (called “Moves”) they can take while each class provides its own Moves. Only one person is allowed to be any given class, and the character creation is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a system. You choose most of your traits, but then the table works with you to figure out how all of you have pre-existing relationships with one another.
This leads to some great story telling. It also creates a group with a reason to adventure together, with existing group dynamics, and then you go into a system that is great. This system makes it easy for good story telling, combat can be fast and fun, and it really encourages out of the box thinking.
- My favorite system for character creation I’ve run into, especially because of the group dynamic filling in relationships
- Classes are entertaining and very distinct from one another
- Versatile system can lead to incredibly different games from the same system or even from the same DM
- Fun, perfect for long-term campaign or weekly filler whenever the main DM can’t show up that week
- While versatile there are some limits to backstories for extra creative people because of how character creation and the system works
- While this can work for longer campaigns it is built with an eye to a more episodic setup
Werewolf: The Apocalypse
System in a Sentence: Werewolves are the most terrifying to other supernatural creatures, and you play as Garou (werewolves) on a desperation mission to fight the corrupting influence of the Wyrm in all its forms…on this plane of existence or any other.
Werewolf is a d10 system where you get to play the part of werewolves, self-called Garou. This World of Darkness system is in the same world as Vampires, Ghosts and Ghouls, and others. Werewolves are unique in that their attacks skip superficial damage. That makes them terrifying to other supernatural beings used to being able to take bullets, stabs, even attacks from other supernatural beings and hold their own, but Garou are loved, feared, and hated – and with a complex history that backs up all those feelings.
The DM has a rich lore to pick from and many ways to unfold a campaign where your pack is on a mission whether it’s to protect the dying Life Tree, hope to strengthen Gaia’s waning influence, or to burn out the corruption of the Wyrm. Maybe there’s a group of vampires coming into a city hard, maybe demon possessions have begun occurring indicating something is wrong, but you are the hunters of other supernatural scourges and that means every fight can mean some serious bad juju.
- Fun d10 system that is easy to learn
- Decent lore that introduces many different types of creatures in this world
- Can create a great action-packed campaign for a change of pace from the political intrigue of vampire
- Going to inherently be combat focused (can be a pro or con) which can make some campaigns feel the same
- Some people find the Auspices a bit restrictive during character development
System in a Sentence: You are with a government organization dedicated to dealing with the spooky stuff. And your level of support is…less than helpful in most cases as you don’t have a budget because ya’ll don’t exist. Technically.
Delta Green is like X-Files where you get “support” by which I mean you and your fellow agents have your various skills, backgrounds, and full-time jobs that come together to hopefully make a balanced team that can get things done while investigating the strange phenomenon going on in an area.
With such limited funds and having to solve supernatural problems while also hiding these truths from normal citizens, you will find many conflicts with past agents, with supernatural entities looking to harm you – or seduce you with a deal, and with having to pull your everyday credentials only to have your supervisor in the FBI or ATF ask you “WTF are you doing in X?”
It’s an entertaining modern twist on the X-Files and a very different feeling from Monster of the Week or Call of Cthulhu, slipping into a perfect little niche to give fans of monster-based TTRPG systems
- Can have a very episodic plot or long-term arch for running a game
- Perfect for one shots or a “pick up, put down” type of system
- Leveling up through failures mimics real life experience
- Good system for recovering stress vs the long-term permanent sanity damage
- Books are quite expensive compared to similar systems
- The pretense of having support while not actually having support makes sense but is a solid miss for many players as far as plot/playstyle
- You need a pretty good DM to connect backstories, story lines, and keep one adventure from blending into another
System in a Sentence: An open system that emphasizes story, speedy deadly combat, and storytelling. Similar to Cypher System or Fate in that it can be applied to many genres but often is used with horror, post-apocalyptic, and grim-dark stories because of the design to fast and deadly combat.+
Savage Worlds is interesting because it’s a relatively generic rule system, but published with many modules that make many people associate the entire system with those adventures. From a post apocalyptic Old West full of demons and supernatural beings (Go Deadlands!) to Weird Wars and Vampire stories, there’s a lot here.
Savage Worlds brings in a deck of playing card and chips known as “Bennies.” These bring in wild cards that allow players to get rerolls, focus on good roleplay, and otherwise give the DM lenience for giving a second chance or going the other way and encouraging a risky move in exchange for another.
Dealt cards determine who goes first in combat as both the NPCs and the players get cards which determine how quickly (or slowly) they go. It’s an interesting system that adds some nice wrinkles, and there’s a lot of decent content out there to make for interesting campaigns in multiple settings.
- Generic rule base makes this a fairly flexible and adaptive system
- One of the best systems for a post apocalyptic setup where you want the mechanics, but want to create your own lore
- LOTS of additional content made built around this system
- Interesting wrinkles that set this game style apart from others
- Some of the systems/iterations using Savage Rules are much better than others
- Bad draws from the deck can cause a party to be steamrolled, or goes vice-versa and makes a challenging fight not so much
- Finding the perfect character sheet for your campaign can be a challenge
Completely Different & Original TTRPG
Some TTRPG systems are just…different. Don’t fit neatly in a genre or are a storied/setting offshoot that uses a pre-existing system. Maybe they’re designed for one shots or introduce a setting that is so unique that it deserves its own section. These are off the beaten path of tabletop RPG systems for one reason or another, but
Toon the RPG
System in a Sentence: It’s a Loony Toons world and you are playing as cartoon characters in a (likely) comedy based campaign where all the crazy physics of a cartoon world apply.
Steven Jackson published TTRPG system focusing on comedy where you all make up cartoon characters to play and dive into a world of slapstick, questionable physics, and the full range of Ace (not Acme, who said Acme?) products. An action that is enjoyable and funny can be straight up approved by the DM as is addressing the audience because “breaking the 4th wall” is encouraged.
Since players are cartoon characters this system can get off the rails in a hurry and lead to some amazing off the wall adventures that provide a wonderful short-term experience.
We had a blast running a loose version of this for a Twitch one-shot which you can find here starting roughly around the 25 minute mark. It was wonderful chaos and a system we will be revisiting again.
System in a Sentence: Simple one-page TTRPG system where all of you are bears, real life bears, about to pull off a heist.
Simple, funny, to the point, and who doesn’t love a good heist? Adding in the fact you are all bears can add a degree of humor and zaniness that takes a good one shot to the next level.
The free PDF is here and players who enjoy the experience can take it for free or donate in appreciation to the “designer” who will even admit that calling them a designer for the simple but wonderful setup for a one-shot.
Houses of The Blooded
System in a Sentence: A Swords & Sorcery heavy fantasy system focusing on mastering one’s domain through mechanics emphasizing fate.
Designed by John Wick, Houses of the Blood is all about creating a fantasy system that focuses on the aspects of a fantasy world that is generally ignored or uncovered in normal Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. This means aside from a large section for game masters that emphasizes the different story aspects to consider and run in this game, it has systems for Romance, Art, Revenge, Courtly Intrigue, and systems for long-term seasons and goals.
This is a fascinating system and while it’s not right for every table, it’s an outstanding read and something very different that could be a gem of a strange and new world for the right table.
Our full review of the Houses of the Blooded system is coming soon!
Tales from Jade City: Tales from Kausao City
System in a Sentence: Steampunk setting using the Fate Core mechanics system, you and the rebellious stand ready to defy the oppressive council through intrigue, through trickery, and even combat armed with martial arts and the main source of Jade that powers the Steampunk society, it’s time for an uprising.
This is another one of those TTRPGs that caught our attention out of left field and creates a fantastic world that is rich in lore, feels alive, and creates wonderful systems for weapons combat, hand-to-hand combat, and active group chaos. Martial Arts meet interesting combat, politics, and Steampunk (a genre I love and there just isn’t enough of in tabletop gaming) and the setting of this world is one that is fresh, different, and gives the Game Master plenty to work with – and players plenty to enjoy!
Our full review of the Tales from Jade City system is coming soon!
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.