Dungeons & Dragons (also known as D&D, or DND) may be one of the best-known tabletop roleplaying games , but even with its beloved lore and massive fanbase, the game has its problems that mean it won’t be the best TTRPG For everyone.
Here we’re highlighting games that you might want to try if you’re put off by Dungeons & Dragons – whether that be its complexity, genre, racial stereotypes, or not wanting to commit to a long-form campaign. You’ll hopefully find something here that can scratch your TTRPG itch.
Don’t think of these as just D&D alternatives, though – they’re great games in their own right and worth a play even if you adore the medieval fantasy behemoth too.
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A drawback of Dungeons & Dragons can be that you always need a Dungeon Master – or more generically a Game Master – who controls every NPC and the world the players interact with. If you don’t have someone in your group who wants to take on this task, you can’t play. Gloomhaven takes that control for itself and frees you and your friends up to be the players in the game's fantasy world full of classic dungeon crawl experiences.
In this there are compromises, Gloomhaven is only playable for one to four people and your choice of actions is limited to what the game can account for – it’s also pretty pricey to boot – but if you want to get the Dungeons & Dragons experience without a DM, it’s one of the better ways to achieve that.
It’s hard to definitively say any one game is the best non-fantasy TTRPG out there, but Cyberpunk is up there as one of the greats. Cyberpunk Red is the most recent in the series but you might also want to try out Cyberpunk 2020.
Set in a glitzy dystopia that Cyberpunk 2077 players will find familiar, the earlier-set Cyberpunk Red throws players headfirst into a world of gunfights and hacking as they take on the gangs and corporations of Night City in both the real world and the net.
Just be sure to run a session zero – a chill discussion for players to say what themes they are/aren’t comfortable with. This is a good idea for any TTRPG but particularly with Cyberpunk Red as it can tackle many of life’s darker aspects that some might want to avoid.
If you want to know more about the game, read about the time we played Cyberpunk Red.
Blades in the Dark
Set in a gloomy, industrial world, Blades in the Dark has several aspects that make it stand out from Dungeons & Dragons, but the one we’re highlighting is that you don’t need a regular group to be able to play – though you will still need a GM.
A campaign for any TTRPG is a commitment, requiring you to set aside regular hours to continue the adventure. But for people with busy lives that isn’t always possible. Blades in the Dark and its crew-based system lets each session be its own contained mission and gives the GM plenty of opportunity to scale up or down the scope of a heist depending on how many players are free to take part.
Sure your character won’t personally get any stronger if you can’t play for a bit, but your base will get upgraded and your crew will feel more competent even if you miss a session or two.
- Blades in the Dark can be bought digitally here
- You can also find everything you need to play for free on the official website
Monster of the Week
This Powered by the Apocalypse game - where all actions are decided by the roll of just two six-sided dice - is one for players who want to experience a Stranger Things style-story with terrifying monsters in a more modern setting.
Monster of the Week is a game that strips away the sense of power you have in Dungeons & Dragons, making every single enemy feel like a genuine threat that could kill your characters or at least horribly injure them. Rather than facing hordes of monsters, players should be tackling only one or two over the course of each session – or even several sessions – learning their target’s weaknesses and fighting them with the best tools they can find.
The GM also has time to focus on their villain and create complex missions for players to solve beyond just ‘defeat this thing’. There’s also plenty of opportunities to throw in non-monster stressors, giving characters real-life problems that might not gel with their monster hunting side-gig.
- A digital version of Monster of the Week can be found here
- All the resources can be found for free on the official site
The Witch is Dead
The final game on our list is by far the most simple, all the rules fit onto one side of A4. Appropriately called a One-page RPG, The Witch is Dead takes a more silly approach to fantasy – turning players into woodland beings who are getting revenge for their Witch mistress. You only need one ten-sided die too!
The Witch is Dead is a game that takes just minutes to set up and can be finished in only an hour if you want it to, but can stretch a little longer just as easily. Key parts of the world and all the player characters are decided by rolling on various tables and the game’s simplistic system lends itself really well to anyone who wants to create a game in a different setting.
Because of its setup, The Witch is Dead is also great for novice GMs, as you won’t have to build the whole adventure from scratch.
- The Witch is Dead can be picked up digitally here and it's pay what you want
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