Dungeons & Dragons is the most widely played tabletop RPG globally, and part of that has to do with how approachable the 5th Edition rules are. I currently run five different 5e games as I’m both a huge fan of the game and it’s a system that most new players have at least heard about. The core rulebooks are easy to find online and in almost any game store, and sets of polyhedral dice can even be purchased in stores like Walmart and Target now.
There are so many other RPG systems out there other than 5e, many just as good or even better. Growing up with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition, I was only aware of a few, one of them being Steve Jackson Games’ G.U.R.P.S. As I got a bit older, I dabbled a bit in White Wolf’s Storyteller System with games like Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and Wraith: The Oblivion. There was a time where I played a bit of Shadowrun, with its d6-based system.
There’s a whole lot more out there these days ranging from rules-light narrative systems to ultra-crunchy, numbers-based systems. There are systems that use Jenga towers, cards, dice, coins, candles, and almost anything else you can think of. I’d like to share five systems with you that I enjoy that can help you get started in the wonderful world of tabletop RPGs beyond D&D.
Created for Numenera, an RPG that rose in popularity very quickly when it first hit the scene. Now powering several different RPGs, you can also get the Core Rules in their own, settingless book. Cypher is mid-weight and more focused on narrative than rolls, though it keeps the dice chucking frequent enough for fans of shiny math rocks. Encounters tend to be quick, though it’s important to know that the system isn’t as combat-focused as D&D 5th Edition, so it may not be the way to go for Game Masters looking to run games with that focus.
Fate Core, known for its use in the Dresden Files RPG, is speedy and lightweight, using special dice called Fate or Fudge Dice that contain 2 plus signs, 2 negative signs, and two blank sides. Standard d6 can also be used as well, so there’s not much need to spend any extra money if you don’t want to spend extra money if you don’t want to. There’s also Fate Accelerated and Fate Condensed, both truncated rule sets. The best part? All Fate rules are available free and legally on fate-srd.com.
The Year Zero Engine is used in RPGs as Mutant Year Zero, Tales From the Loop, Vasen, and the Platinum Pawn winning and one of my personal favorites, Forbidden Lands. With a good focus on narrative play and dice rolling, it’s a d6 pool-based system where only 6’s count as successes and 1’s count as failures. Players can push their luck by rolling again, thus compounding their chance for failure. Sleek and flexible, games using the system are not ones to miss.
First seen in Apocolypse Word, Powered by the Apocolypse is a very narrative RPG system where the game master and players use special Moves to take actions in the game. One of the coolest aspects of the system is how the players can control the story in a tug-of-war game with the game master to create something really awesome collaboratively. The basic rules are free and some extended move lists, so there’s no reason not to try the system. I was first introduced to the system with Dungeon World, but there are literally tons of games out there that use it due to its ease of customization and extension.
A minimalist RPG system that only requires 3d6 and characters fit on an index card, the Tiny D6 engine is fast, fun, and made for incredible stories. There’s a wide variety of games using the system, such as Tiny Dungeon, Tiny Supers, TIny Wasteland, Beach Patrol, and more so, there’s something out there for everyone. Suppose you can’t find a game that interests you; it’s easy enough to use the system for whatever your heart’s desire. The community is also extremely active, always creating and releasing new content.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.
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