While interviewing Christine Prevas for The Players of D&D, we got to talking about other popular tabletop role-playing systems. D&D might be the most well-known tabletop RPG, but there are plenty of others. I asked Christine about what else is out there—which may better suit the gameplay you enjoy!
Different Genres & Types of Setting
Christine Prevas: Two of my favorite systems—both of which have spawned dozens of hacks in different genres and are great starting points for exploring the world of role-playing games beyond D&D—are Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and Blades in the Dark by John Harper.
Apocalypse World is set in an unforgiving post-apocalypse where all of the players work together to define the details of the setting, and it includes character types like the Battlebabe, the Gunlugger, the Hocus (a mystical cult leader), and the Savvyhead (a mechanic or inventor). It’s very narrative-driven, so it’s great for people who really like to tell a story and may not like to do a lot of math. It has more streamlined mechanics than D&D, and instead of earning experience points and leveling up by killing and stealing things, you earn experience by playing up your character’s flaws and acting on your character’s relationship history with the others in your group.
There are games based on Apocalypse World—collectively known as Powered by the Apocalypse games, or PbtA—in all kinds of genres: The Sprawl is a cyberpunk game about criminals fighting from under the heel of capitalism, Dungeon World is a D&D-esque fantasy game that focuses less on combat and more on the decisions that come around it, and, a personal favorite of mine, Monster of the Week, which I play on my podcast The Unexplored Places. It’s a Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural-esque monster-hunting game with a huge range of character types to play.
Blades in the Dark is an industrial-fantasy heist game about daring scoundrels and the various factions they piss off, which uses heist-movie-style flashbacks to execute aspects of the heist so that players don’t have to spend hours planning or account for every possible contingency. For games about tangled allegiances, pissing off powerful corporations, and playing competent criminals trying to get out of tough spots, Blades is a ton of fun. Just like PbtA, there are games in other genres which used Blades’s Forged in the Dark system, like the sci-fi Scum & Villainy, in which you play a group of intergalactic space criminals, or Mutants in the Night, mentioned below.
Genres for these games don’t just range from the obvious either: there are some incredible games in genres you likely wouldn’t guess have games, such as Brandon Leon-Gambetta’s Pasión de la Pasiones, a game based around the telenovela genre.
Types of Gameplay
Christine Prevas: There’s also a wealth of games that use different kinds of gameplay than D&D — games designed for two people, games designed for one-shots instead of long campaigns, and story games that don’t even use dice at all!
For instance, if you’re more into relationships and romance than you are into fighting dragons, Star-Crossed by Alex Roberts uses a Jenga tower instead of dice to represent the tension between two characters who should not be together, but want to nonetheless. It can be played in absolutely any genre, with any combination of characters.
This isn’t even to mention smaller games: with Kickstarter’s recent Zine Quest month of RPG zines just wrapping up, and the excellent work of groups like @rpgdesignfrog on Twitter who are hosting and boosting game designs for RPGs around certain themes, a huge surge of innovative and unique games are being put out right now. If, for instance, you really like mecha anime, the Emotional Mecha Jam on itch.io, hosted by designers Takuma Okada and John R. Harness, resulted in over 150 brand new games, most of which are completely free to try out, and all of which address different needs and different kinds of stories than D&D.
Inclusive Games by LGBTQ Designers and POC
Christine Prevas: A ton of indie games are made by queer designers and designers of color, which makes them more inclusive by design. For example, Avery Alder’s Dream Askew is a game about a queer community after the collapse of civilization, and characters are encouraged by their character sheets to have diverse gender identities; not only “genderfluid” or “masc,” but “void” or “ice femme” or “butch queen” or “raven.” Its partner game Dream Apart, by Benjamin Rosenbaum, is about the community and mythology of a Jewish shtetl in the Eastern European countryside. These games use a “no dice, no masters” system which puts all players in even positions of authority regarding the story they’re working to explore. Mutants in the Night by DC is a futuristic Forged in the Dark game about mutants struggling for survival as they work to fight back against the enforcers of their oppression.
Games like these are designed to tell the kinds of stories we often try to tell with D&D, but rather than having to work against a legacy of sexism, racism, and homophobia, they open up new grounds for play in which marginalized identities are not only accepted, but centered.