BEYOND D&D: POLYHEDRAL EDITION
Written by: Shrimp Fried Dice
Wanting to try new games, but still want to use all those glorious dice sets you've collected over the years? Shrimp Fried Dice has written this wonderful guide to games that are like D&D, but not!
If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard “I’d like to play something that’s not D&D but at least feels like it.” I’d have maybe like, a fiver, but the point is I get it! D&D is likely going to be the gateway game into TTRPGs for a lot of people, and the high fantasy aesthetic is very appealing, but sometimes learning a whole new rules-heavy system is overwhelming, and you maybe just want a more streamlined experience. Maybe you want the opposite, more rules and more management, or perhaps you yearn for ‘old school’ RPGs! Maybe you feel a bit iffy on how Wizards of the Coast have been acting over the last year or so and you’re looking for potentially greener pastures. All these reasons are valid for still wanting the “D&D Feel” but wanting something different.
Throughout writing Beyond D&D, there’s been plenty of suggestions that let the dice take a backseat (Most of the games mentioned in the Beyond D&D on Queer Games come to mind!), so this article is for people who want to make the best use of all their shiny click clacks!
A doom metal album of a game
Starting strong with MÖRK BORG, which describes itself as “a pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy RPG” inspired by heavy metal, with intense gothic themes and a grimdark outlook. It fits in with other OSR (Old School Renaissance) Games, often characterised by surviving despite the odds with squishier characters facing off against powerful foes. There’s a marked lack of ‘canon’ world-building, or flowery descriptive language, making it super easy to incorporate into a lot of scenarios and worlds. The system itself is incredibly flexible, makes use of a full 7 piece polyhedral set of dice, and above all else wants the players to be rolling more than the GM. To play is tense, you never quite feel like you’re going to make it through, but this element of challenge, chance and grimy aesthetics makes dungeon crawling a lot of fun!
The other huge bonus with Mork Borg is the homebrewing community that surrounds it - a game constantly championed by its fans. There are plenty of resources out there of committed fans showing off how easy it is to get this game going, which is always a green flag.
Forge Your Legend!
For all the truthers out there who keep begging their players to try Pathfinder, this is for you. Pathfinder 2e has recently been remastered following Paizo’s decision to switch to their own gaming licence, the Open RPG Creative License (ORC). Without getting into the weeds of Pathfinder 2e and its origins, the best way to describe it I feel is like a far more in-depth and mechanical D&D 5e. It has a high fantasy feel, but across the content they offer, you can be led on adventures ranging from building Kingdoms, to something more akin to a survival horror or even a beloved magic school setting.
Pathfinder 2e, much like Mork Borg, is constantly growing with frequent new adventures, new player content and a constantly thriving feedback loop between the designers and the players. It also benefits from a vast array of fascinating classes and some of the most imaginative ancestries (think ‘races’ from D&D) I’ve seen on offer in a fantasy RPG. If you like D&D 5e, you’re probably going to like Pathfinder 2e, some of the names are a bit different and the curve to learning the terminology is a bit weird, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s somehow more freeing to have more rules with what you can do within the realms of possibility.
Strange Adventures in Small Towns
Ok, so this is a bit of a left-field turn on the originally laid-out preface, but stay with me! Kids on Bikes is a highly collaborative storytelling system originally inspired by the likes of Stranger Things. What it lacks in high fantasy elements, it makes up for with pure charm, and adaptability (You could so easily find a high fantasy setting working with this system)! In comparison to the other examples and even D&D 5e itself, it is a lot lighter on rules with a heavier focus on character building, world building and sharing stories with one another. However, like the other games in this article, it still uses the same 7 polyhedral dice, and you will get a good amount of use with each of them! You use the dice by assigning them a stat each, the higher the die you assign the stat, the better you are in that area. It’s a fun shake up to the other 2 systems prior and makes good use of the full click-clack set!
There are more versions of kids on bikes too! Kids on Brooms offers a ruleset to make a game in a magic school setting, with the additions of magic wands, broomsticks and ways to create a variety of tensions from fighting monsters to dealing with mean teachers; and Teens in Space - A space opera but you probably aren’t the most genre-savvy considering you’re teenagers. This last one introduces a fun array of species suggestions, spaceships and the epic highs and lows of, well, teens in space!
Fast! Furious! Fun!
Finally, Savage Worlds: this game is a comprehensive generic ruleset that can be applied to a vast array of settings. Similarly to Kids on Bikes, you allocate your dice to certain attributes during character creation to designate your skill levels so you really do get the most out of your sets! Savage Worlds shines in two particular aspects of note: its character creation and combat rulings.
For its character creations, Savage Worlds, while letting you enact your heroic fantasies, still encourages you all to consider flaws (known as Hinderances) which adds another dimension to roleplaying. Due to it being setting agnostic, there truly is no limit to the combinations, and the rulebooks supply handy rules for creating your own aspects within the games ruleset. For it’s combat (Sidenote: It’s not just combat, but you definitely see it most here), you end up using playing cards, poker chips and you teeter between feeling the most powerful you can while staring down perilous situations. One rule that I encountered first in Savage Worlds and I’ve seen move around in 5e House Rules is the exploding dice rule- If you roll the highest number on any given die, you roll again as it “explodes”, increasing your total. You can keep going for as long as you roll the highest number, making the total all the more powerful.
As it goes, these alternatives to D&D 5e are all vastly unique in their own ways, and they all set themselves apart. One thing of note is, with the exclusion of Pathfinder 2e, they all have way shorter and more concise character sheets, streamlining the information which might be of interest to people too! Convincing a player group to play a new game can be challenging, but having a starting point of games that give the addictive D&D feel could be a slippery slope into the wide world of TTRPGs!