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Four Fantasy Games That Aren’t D&D

So, in the last month or so, Wizards and its adjacent organizations have been involved in some serious issues around race, sexuality, and some stuff I will not reprint here because wow did their vetting process fail to pick up on some red flags. Their responses have been weak, milquetoast affairs that do nothing to actually address anything, and several well-known podcasts and live plays have publicly announced that they are moving away from 5e D&D as the basis for their games and shows. So, what are the options out there? What non-D&D, and non-D&D-esque/based games are there out there for you? Let’s talk fantasy games!

None of the games on this list use the OGL, or are associated similarly with D&D. So no Pathfinder, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, or Low Fantasy. These are fun games, and I strongly recommend the latter two as alternates if you must play in the mode of D&D, but this listicle is all about games that take a genuinely distinct path.

Please remember that none of these games on this list are “perfect”, because that’s highly subjective; and not all their publishers have spotless records. The games that are listed here will get full reviews at a later date. With that out of the way, let’s hit the list!

Fantasy AGE
This game has been building up in the background of the RPG world since 2015. Based on the award-winning Dragon Age game mechanics, it uses 3d6 and a unique “stunt” system for its mechanics, and offers a flexible character creation system based around three broad archetypes, Mage, Rogue, and Warrior. The core book is an all in one affair, meaning you only need it, some paper, pencils, and six-sided dice to get going. It’s on a slow development cycle, but has a decent set of peripheral books available to help you develop your game and world. The GM Screen set for this game is second to none and I can’t recommend it enough.

Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Core Book: Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook
Recommended Peripherals: GM Screen, Companion, Bestiary, and Campaign Builder’s Guide
Cost: $$
Electronic and Physical
UPDATE! There’s a New Edition!

Tiny Dungeon 2e
A fun minimalist game, Tiny Dungeon 2e is an all in one book that spends a scant 86 pages on the stuff you need to use to play, and then over 100 on one page micro settings! This system uses the TinyD6 Engine, and that means 2d6. It makes a fun and firm break from the conventional list of playable races, and offers an easily approachable game for all levels of play. As a minimalist system, you have some to be flexible when running and playing. The peripherals for this game are in the form of playing card size items, monsters, and so on, adding a fun dimension to the game and a straightforward way to track things.

Publisher: Gallant Knight Games
Core Book: Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition
Recommended Peripherals: Bestiary Deck, Treasure Deck
Cost: $$ and $ (card decks)
Availability: Electronic and Physical

Maze Rats
Taking minimalism to an entirely new level and at the same creating an amazing dungeon crawler comes Maze Rats. This is an OSR fantasy game that fits on six standard letter size sheets of paper in landscape orientation and is a great little game. There’s a lot of GM prep involved in it, but it’s fast and easy, allowing you to quickly craft up adventures. Character and monster creation is extremely free-form, but there’s also some great guidelines built in. Its brevity can be daunting, but it’s fast to pick up on and if you’re wanting to keep it simple, this is the game to do it with. It has no peripherals, but works just fine without them.

Publisher: Questing Beast Games
Core Book: Maze Rats
Recommended Peripherals: n/a
Cost: $
Availability: Electronic and Physical (if you print it out)

Trophy Gold
Do you like horror? Do you like fantasy? This is the game for it. Trophy Gold is an incredibly atmospheric game that was developed from Trophy Dark, a game where there was no hope and your characters were doomed. Trophy Gold is slightly more upbeat, in that you’re not necessarily doomed, but things will get dark before you see the light again. Each adventure in this game is called an Incursion, with the baseline idea being that the players are treasure hunters. There’s never enough treasure though, and the deeper your incursion goes, the greater its corrupting influences. Running this game is challenging to start, but once you have the swing of it, it’s engrossing and immersive on levels other games can’t touch.

Publisher: The Gauntlet and Hedgemaze Press
Core Book: Trophy Gold
Recommended Peripherals: Hearthfire (in Gauntlet Codex Hearthfire)
Cost: $
Availability: Electronic and Physical (if you print it out)

Final Thoughts
The dominance of D&D over the genre of fantasy gaming, and more broadly in tabletop roleplaying, is generally regarded as being unassailable. This isn’t fact though, only perception. There are a plethora of games out there that do what it does and more. We’re at another juncture in the hobby’s development where we have an opportunity to explore other games seriously as opposed to continuing to support a game that’s taken over 45 years to figure out that maybe, just maybe, biological determinism and essentialism is a not great idea and contributes to real-world issues and racist narratives; while at the same time burning out and mistreating a brilliant Black creator. These four games are the tip of the iceberg, and represent alternative games unrelated to D&D that I own and have experimented with. There are others, notably Quest, that are stepping up particularly hard.

There is one thing I’m certain of though. Wizards is playing the waiting game. They know that the media cycle is passing quickly. They know that the fervour is dying down. They’re watching as their beholden creators, who cannot afford to speak out, continue to produce material for the DM Guild and live plays on Twitch and YouTube. If we let this go, if we fail to act and to push to diversify the hobby in terms of systems and games used and played, we are effectively complicit in giving D&D its “unassailable” status. Try other games. For the health of the hobby, we need to.

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