Other RPGs You'll Love
Dungeons and Dragons is the grandfather of Tabletop RPGs. Bar none, it is the uncontested king of its domain. If you know of any roleplaying game, it’s probably the one you know. But it does not stand alone. There are many, many others that followed in Gary Gygax’s footsteps and designed other, unique game systems. What’s more, these games often involve different mechanics or settings that make them specifically suited to particular styles of play. While D&D will always hold a special place in our hearts, we submit these other RPGs that we think are worth your time. Who knows? One of them could become your new (second) favorite system!
Blades in the Dark
The Heist is a classic story setup that Hollywood has used time and again, and for good reason! The story of a small but talented crew of highly-skilled specialists taking on seemingly insurmountable odds is a gripping premise, and no RPG system incorporates the elements that make up a good heist story better than Blades in the Dark!
In Blades, the players portray the role of a team of “scoundrels” who have formed their own criminal “crew.” The crew will find itself constantly rubbing elbows with the law, other criminal organizations, and other factions within their area of operations. They will need to manage their reputation, their heat, their relationships with other kingpins, and their personal vices if they want to survive in the cutthroat underworld.
While the game’s system could be played regardless of its setting, its mechanics assume the presence and absence of many popular fantasy tropes. Rather than juggling these elements, the game encourages you to play in its own setting of the city of Duskvol, a dark, industrial, steampunk city filled with ghosts, electronic pseudo-science, and demonic magic.
While D&D players will be familiar with many of the concepts in Blades, two of the more unique mechanics at work in the game are Clocks and Flashbacks. Clocks are a way of tracking the progress towards goals in the game. Whether that be healing a wound, picking a lock, establishing diplomatic relations with a rival, or the time remaining before the alarm is sounded, players and the Game Master use clocks to raise tension and log advancement.
Ocean’s Eleven and similar movies begin the heist while showing us, the audience, very little of the actual preparation that went into it. This is so that there are twists and turns left for the final hour of the scenario, where it is revealed that the masterminds were well-prepared for even the least likely eventualities. Blades mimics this with the Flashback mechanic, which allows scoundrels to have prepared “in advance” for problems that the players could not have seen coming. It is a powerful and immersive mechanic that lets the players’ characters seem intelligent, capable, and badass!
If you’d like to step outside being the adventuring heroes and the thought of playing morally dubious ne’er-do-wells in a godforsaken city ready to take absurd risks for the sake of carving out a life of relative fame and comfort sounds like a good time to you, there is no better system than Blades in the Dark!
Blades in the Dark is a relatively new game, and there is currently only one book or PDF that you need to run the game. No expansions or alternate sourcebooks needed! The Rulebook is available for only $20 (half the price of a single D&D book) and contain everything you and your entire group will need to play. The book is filled with great, evocative art, and owning your own hardcover copy to pass around the table is worth an extra $10!
Call of Cthulhu
While H. P. Lovecraft may have been a hugely problematic guy, the mood and mythos that he created is some of the best existential horror out there! If you’re down for an unsettling game filled with discomfort and slowly building terror, this is a great game for you.
CoC is designed to portray you as a skilled investigator, a regular person with talents that lend themselves to discovering and dealing with the unknown. The game sets you up as a relatively helpless and small force trying to simply survive and delay the inevitable arrival and domination of forces far beyond your understanding and ability. The creatures and forces you contend with are impossible for you to contend with on your own, but you must also battle your own mind as the secret truths of the uncaring universe threaten to break your mind and drive you mad! Unless you play Pulp Cthulu, which sets you as a more capable sort of modern adventurer (like Lara Croft, Sherlock Holmes, or Richard O’Connell. Pulp gives you a prayer of facing down the incredible with your wits, wiles, or weapons, rather than simply trying to survive it.
Unlike D&D, there are no classes to help identify or pigeonhole a character. Instead, you are able to customize your character from the ground up! Whatever you want to be good at or bad at, you have complete control over. Everything from research to exploration to combat is reduced to skill rolls, and every character has the same opportunity to fine tune these skills to fulfill their player’s vision.
One of the larger differences between D&D and CoC is the Sanity mechanic. While D&D has the frightened condition that may make your character temporarily wary of something, your character has a chance of going hopelessly mad when faced with alien entities and unspeakable horrors. Your investigator’s rational mind may break when presented with the unthinkable, and even if you manage to hold yourself together in the moment, they’re often less likely to do so in the future. The game follows the party’s descent into madness as they become increasingly aware of the awful truths of the universe, and the true scope of their infinitesimal influence in the face of the eternal.
In CoC, you are not expected to encounter enemies and emerge victorious. Maintaining your character’s life and sanity are your priorities, and you may find yourself making difficult roleplay decisions in order to achieve your goals. If you care very little for the war-game aspect of D&D and don’t mind your hero losing or compromising now and again, this is a great game to try out!
The Basic Rules for Call of Cthulu are available online for free, and include a trimmed-down version of the classic beginner’s adventure. But this game has years and years of history to it. There are countless pre-written adventures complete with detailed handouts, unique creatures, and interesting NPCs that you could run or simply use for inspiration if you’re willing to shell out. There is also a strong online community around this game and its themes that you can discover for fun, support, or ideas!
And Many More
There are SO many great RPGs out there that we wanted to highlight only a couple at a time. We’ll return soon with more awesome systems for your consideration! Be sure to tweet us if you want to see your favorite featured in the near future!