Expanding Horizons: RPG Alternatives to D&D

I love Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been obsessed with the Swords and Sorcery genre for basically my whole life. Medieval fantasy is my jam, but there’s a lot to be said for branching out and trying something new. So I’m on a mission to play more games! I’m on the hunt for fun, immersive experiences that allow for long-term adventures with friends (all the things I love about D&D). The fam at Girls’ Game Shelf had some amazing suggestions to get me started, and I’ve found a few more that I’m excited about too. Check them out below, and stay tuned for more in-depth tips and tricks for each one as I get the chance to play through them!

GOOD SOCIETY

This first is one that I’ve had my eye on for quite a while, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to actually dig in to it. Good Society by Storybrewers Roleplaying is a rich and charming dive into regency life. Inspired by the works of Jane Austen, the game lets you collaborate with the Facilitator (Gamemaster) and fellow players to build a story of scandal, romance, and intrigue, just like the novels. Gameplay relies heavily on roleplay, character creation, and player creativity. It’s an original system that really celebrates the source material, with opportunities for secret relationships, gossip mongering, even letter writing! They’ve also got expansions for magic, swordsmanship, and upstairs/downstairs drama.

I’m excited for this one because I can be intimidated by intense roleplay. I’m honestly a lot more comfortable with combat and quests. But in Good Society, the words are the weapons and it makes it so much easier for me to jump in without feeling self-conscious or stuck. I usually get distracted by other things in D&D, romance isn’t usually a big part of my play style, so I’m curious to experience a system where that takes more of the spotlight. The art looks gorgeous, and I’m a fan of the novels, so, really, this is long overdue.

BRINDLEWOOD BAY

Here’s a fantastic game introduced to me by the brilliant Monique. Brindlewood Bay by Jason Cordova is inspired by Murder, She Wrote, and it is bursting with the same cozy charm. It brings the players into the “Murder Mavens” book club and helps them create their own unique Maven, an elderly widow defined by a specific style and hobby. Each of these women then work together to solve a series of mysteries plaguing their sleepy hamlet, getting closer and closer to a dark and terrible secret. The system looks extremely simple and approachable, utilizing a few six-sided dice and a classic Murder Mystery story structure for each adventure. The campaigns are designed to be episodic, each session is its own contained adventure, but they also contribute to the arc of the full mystery.

Here’s what Monique has to say about it:

“I love Miss Marple. I am an incredibly huge fan of the 2004-2013 series in particular. So when I was asked to play a game of Brindlewood Bay, I was on board 100%, to live out my dreams of retiring to a sleepy little village, and solving gruesome murders.

I played two one shots, and fell in love with the setting, even though we never got close to touching on the paranormal aspect, it only made me want to play the game more.
I love how TTRPGs give you a chance to see and act through another person, in another world, and this game was incredible. I loved having to be cunning, clever, and strategic about investigations, rather than just “hit it hard, kill the thief, gain reward” of many other games I’ve played.
This game felt, not only sincere, but was absolutely riveting. It was great at encouraging the party to investigate, and then meet up together again, with the special group moves, and the individual ones. I loved my retired University librarian who was a competitive birder, and socialite. I loved being able to give her life, vitality, and energy that we don’t always give to the older people in our lives. I loved being able to focus on a kind of character overlooked by society and rarely introduced in gaming.”

Who can resist that? I love the idea of gameplay that encourages individual character development along with group collaboration, I cannot wait to try it.

MOUSE GUARD

Another game that I’m long overdue to try. This is one of AnnaMaria’s favourites, so I’m very excited to include it. Mouse Guard is based off the comic series of the same name, co-created by the series author David Petersen and Luke Crane. It’s an epic fantasy world where the players become members of the Mouse Guard, a team of heroic mice that serve and protect the scattered settlements of mice throughout the realm. These noble characters go on missions for the good of the community, braving the dangers of the elements, predators, and even mouse politics. Gameplay is based on the Burning Wheel system, utilizing pools of six-sided dice to determine the success or failure of skill checks. As a lifelong fan of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, this game has pretty much everything I could ever want. I love the Burning Wheel system’s focus on “Instincts” and “Beliefs” for detailed character creation and immersive roleplay. It also has the perfect amount of lore. D&D can feel a little overwhelming at times, with decades of lore and supplementary materials, it’s hard to know where to start. Mouse Guard has a rich and storied history, but the comic series, while extensive, is still manageable enough to consume if a player wants to (and oh gosh do I ever).

Here’s AnnaMaria’s take on the game:
I’ve been a longtime fan of works like Wind in the Willows and Redwall, so it only took a glance at the Mouse Guard jacket to entice me to play. In addition to a rich, colorful world (in what other setting can you live under a beehive?!), the mechanic is unique. Instead of just a series of physical engagements, challenges of all types can be negotiated through the system – can we give a rousing speech to change the townsfolks minds? Can we work together to make an elaborate drainage system to divert a flood? And being able to ‘level up’ through teaching each other skills. A MouseGuard campaign is more than a series of loot engagements – its a tapestry of rich story, companionship, and the challenges of negotiating adventures when you’re four inches tall.

And here are a few more titles that I’ve had on my list (some for years!). Very excited to actually jump in:

MALL GOTHS VS. VISIGOTHS

This game pits players against each other, some as ancient warriors, some as spooky 90s teens. A delightfully weird work by Lucien Kahn, Mall Goths vs. Visigoths is part roleplaying game, part dating sim, with a highly detailed open world (open mall) setting. Super easy system to jump into, so you can get started with the angst and the romance right away.

THREADBARE

The game that introduced me to the genre of “stitchpunk”, Threadbare by Stephanie Bryant gives players the opportunity to inhabit misfit toys trying to make it in a post-human world. It’s a simple Powered by the Apocalypse system and depends heavily on Game Master and players coming together to build the world and the story of the game, so you can make it any kind of game you want. I’m super intrigued by the option to “bio-hack” characters by repairing or adding enhancements to your “toy self.”

MONSTERHEARTS

Another Powered by the Apocalypse game, Monsterhearts by Avery Alder is my chance to live out my supernatural teen soap opera dreams and I cannot wait. An unflinching portrait of the chaos and confusion of high school life, where an unreturned crush is just as traumatic as a werewolf transformation. As a Buffy/Sabrina/Vampire Diaries/etc fan, I’m really looking forward to exploring this one.