Non-D&D Tabletop RPGs
Obviously, between writing the Spells, Swords, & Stealth series and the D&D podcast with my fellow shitshows, Authors & Dragons, I am a fan of Dungeons and Dragons. It was my first tabletop RPG, and I’ve been playing for 18 years now. My D&D habit is older than I was when I started. Wow, did not realize that until just now.
When you game that frequently, eventually everyone needs some variety. That urge has led my various groups to trying out new systems through the years. Some were total busts, but others offered something fun and interesting you couldn’t get, or at least not in the same way, from D&D. Today, I wanted to introduce you all to a few that have stuck with me through the years, in case you’re looking to try something different next time the party wipes.
Mutants and Masterminds
For this first one, we’ll make a near-lateral move. If you’re familiar with D&D, M&M won’t be too hard to parse. It’s a tabletop RPG in which you play superheroes (or villains) in a world full of them. Rather than going on grand quests, you stop crimes, hunt for villains, and try not to knock down too many buildings. Playwise, it’s a very different experience than D&D. In D&D, you tend to be proactive, finding the hidden dungeons and treasures. With M&M, you become more reactive, since many “crimes” will happen suddenly elsewhere in the city, forcing you to respond or ignore them.
On the design end, while I do enjoy M&M, it is by no means a balanced system. Making broken characters is super easy, I’ve done it by accident, and I’m hardly a min-maxer. To get the most out of this game, you need to go in aware that things will likely have to be changed from rules-as-written. If you’re the Dungeon Master (DM), set that expectation early. Tell your players that things will probably need tweaks as exploits appear. And, by the same token, don’t use those same exploits for the enemies. If it’s too strong for the players, it’s too strong for their opponents.
This is a fun game, but one I would recommend to a stable gaming group capable of rolling with change as needed.
The setting of this one, at least for purposes of this entry, is largely irrelevant. Savage Worlds is in here for its mechanics, above all else. Rather than run on a D20 system, SW works on multiple D6s that have the power to “explode” (meaning you count it and roll that one again) on rolling a 6. I won’t go into the entire system here, but the core of it is that because the whole thing is highly malleable based on the situation, Savage Worlds is ideal for any setting you don’t have a system for.
Want to do steampunk nightmare alien invasion? There’s (probably) not a system for something that specific, but you can run that game in Savage Worlds. It’s how we’ve done superhero games, variant urban fantasies, sci-fi, basically any concept that won’t easily fit in an existing box, Savage Worlds can handle.
The flip side of this is that because the system itself is thin, it’s on the DM to add depth to the world and characters. Here, since your system is doing very little of the heavy lifting, the pacing, plot, and ways to interact with the world are all on you.
Given its relative ease, I would recommend this system for new players; however I’d suggest they work under an modestly experienced DM.
Star Wars D&D
Yeah, I know what the title of the blog is, so sue me. This one gets an exception. To start with, rather than being based off the current D&D edition (5th) this one was derivative of 3rd edition, which was (and is) many players’ favorite. That said, it has a few major system changes than do make it feel unique to play, even before one gets into the setting.
For what could have been a cheap re-skin of the existing D&D system at the time, this project shows a shocking amount of work put into it. There’s depth of lore, characters, mechanics, gadgets, ships, it truly is a fully fleshed out Star Wars D&D game. On a personal level, I prefer actual D&D, but having a passionate DM made playing in these games a load of fun. If you are into to Star Wars, this game is going to give you exactly what you’re looking for.
However, make sure you have the right DM for this project. Star Wars is different from D&D in a lot of ways, and capturing those differences in the world and setting are part of what make it unique. Find someone who loves both the source material and gaming as a whole, you want a DM putting their all into this one.
This system is best for modestly experienced players and GMs, probably ones who really like Star Wars.
Everyone Is John
We’ll close with a quick personal favorite. For the times when you want to have fun with your friends, but aren’t in the mood for sweeping epics and grand adventures, Everyone Is John is the perfect fit. Games are usually quick, no characters or continuity typically follow from one game to the next, and each one is guaranteed to be different by virtue of the other players.
The system is simple, as it has to be for quick games. The premise is that you are one of John’s obsessions, fighting for control of the body. Your goal is to enact your obsession as many times as you can, scoring points. That’s the basics, and the rest really comes from the players. The point of these games is watching shit go off the rails, and if you want to see how that works then I suggest you not skip an upcoming Side Quest, because we’re the canaries in the coal mine for all of you.
I would recommend this game to new players and DMs, as it is very easy to learn. I’ll also caution that while there is nothing inherently obscene about the game, given the directions it often goes, this might be one best enjoyed by older players.