09 December 2017

Roleplaying Games Besides Dungeons and Dragons

Six roleplaying game rule books displayed on a wooden table: Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire: The Masquerade, GURPS, Paranoia, and Traveller.

I was playing Say Anything with some friends recently. The basic idea behind this game, for those who don't already know, is that the players take turns being the judge, and the judge reads a question off one of the cards in the deck (the questions always refer to the judge; for example, 'What is my favourite brand of beer?' or 'Where in the world would I like to travel that I haven't already been?'). The other players write down possible answers on small dry-erase boards. The judge decides and secretly records which answer best applies. The players then vote on which answer they think the judge chose. They get points for voting for the answer chosen by the judge, and the person who wrote the answer chosen by the judge gets points as well.

On one of John's turns, he read the question, 'What game do I think is most overrated?' There were several good answers, but the one he chose was Dungeons and Dragons. The reason he gave is because there are many roleplaying games (of varying levels of quality) in existence, but so many people (even many gamers) have never heard of any of them apart from D&D (or, these days, Pathfinder, which was based on D&D so may as well count as D&D anyway).

John went on to describe how whenever he talks to people and tells them that he enjoys playing roleplaying games, they always respond with, 'Oh, you mean like Dungeons and Dragons?'

He went on to describe how annoying it always is to have to explain, 'Well, yes, it is like Dungeons and Dragons, but it's not like Dungeons and Dragons because the system is different, the setting is different, the object is different...' Because of that, because of how tired he gets having to tell people that he doesn't play D&D because there are so many other and (in his opinion) better RPGs out there, he ranks D&D as the most overrated game.

The ubiquity of D&D

This is a phenomenon I've noticed myself many times. I have had similar conversations with several people. I've described many times how I'm not a fan of D&D because it lends itself to a more hack-and-slash style of gaming than the story-based games I prefer. As I've said before, I don't disparage those who do like that style of play in general, or that game in particular. Everyone has their preference, and I won't hold it against anyone if they like something different than I do.

But it is disappointing that so few people are aware of other games. Even in the 'Gamer Finder' group that my local board game cafe has set up on Facebook, the vast majority of people looking for other players are interested in one game only: Dungeons and Dragons. A few other games have popped up in that group on occasion (There's a guy that sometimes gets one-shot games of FATE Core in that group, and I myself have managed to arrange a one-shot Paranoia game through that venue), not to mention the odd board game that happens there. But at least half (maybe more) of the posts in that group are specifically for some version of D&D.

A few examples of other games

Even if you want to stick with the fantasy genre, there are plenty of titles from which to choose. You can stick with established settings, like the various Lord of the Rings systems (Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Role Playing or Decipher, Inc.'s Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game being two examples) or Modiphius's Conan: the Roleplaying Game. Or you can branch out into new fantasy games (such as Earthdawn, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, Tunnels and Trolls, or HeroQuest, to name just a few). Heck, even Shadowrun is basically a merging of Dungeons and Dragons with the cyberpunk setting.

Alternately, you can explore other settings. Cyberpunk 2020 lets you play in the world of, well, cyberpunk. There are many space-travel games, from existing franchises such as the Firefly setting or the various renditions of Star Wars and Star Trek, to original games like Blue Planet or Fading Suns. There are games for westerns, espionage, historical gaming, military campaigns, and many more options besides. You can even play in a bizarre setting, such as the world of Bunnies and Burrows. And if you can't decide, you can always go with a universal game such as Hero System or FATE Core. There are even ways to blend genres, such as with TORG or by designing your own setting using various GURPS sourcebooks.

And there's no reason you have to take your games seriously, either! Plenty of comedic roleplaying games exist, such as Tales from the Floating Vagabond or Toon.

The influence of system

The setting isn't the only concern in selecting a game. The mechanics have a significant effect on the type of game you play. Those interested in the traditional power trip will want games with lots of crunchy bits, like Vampire: The Masquerade or Twilight 2000. Players more interested in dramatic tension and/or character development may tend towards more free-form games like Talislanta or (in more extreme forms) Fiasco.

The system can also help with the tone. Some games actively encourage the horror feel (like the aforementioned Call of Cthulhu). Others encourage players to play powerful, competent characters (like FATE), whereas others are more customizable and allowing of low-powered characters for games with a more gritty, powerless, or beginning-level feel, if that's what you're looking for (GURPS is great for this).

And this is just a small sampling of the hundreds of different tiles that exist.

The point

The point being, when it comes to roleplaying games, there is so much more out there than just Dungeons and Dragons. Limiting yourself to that one system is like refusing to play any board game other than Settlers of Catan. Which wouldn't be nearly so irksome to me if it weren't fellow gamers that were unwilling to try (or worse, completely unaware of) any other roleplaying game.

If you've never tried anything other than D&D, I strongly encourage you to branch out and try other games. If you decide to continue playing D&D in addition to any others, or even if you decide you don't like any others and go back to playing D&D exclusively, that's fine. As long as you've given them a fair chance.

But I think that will be all for today. Go forward, try new games, explore new horizons, and above all,

Game on!

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