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When you think of tabletop roleplaying games, you will no doubt think straight away of Dungeons and Dragons. It is the only tabletop game to get any recognition and showing in other media such as TV and film. Even The Big Bang Theory wouldn’t delve past D&D. But that says more about their so-called ‘geek consultants’ than anything else.
You may start with D&D, and by all means it is a great starting point. But it is by no means the only thing on the roleplaying menu. Whether you find D&D too easy, too hard, too crunchy or fluffy, or you just don’t like medieval fantasy, there’s a game out there for you. Don’t worry. Although you may have to start as the Game Master. Better check out my other tips for that.
What’s the advantage of running Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG? Why, the fact that everyone and their dog knows what Star Wars is. They know what the planets look like, what the ships do, they know if they’re a smuggler they think of Han or Lando, they know if they’re a bounty hunter they recall Boba Fett or Hissing Lizard Toe Nail Guy (Borsk to those super fans).
Getting your players to buy into Star Wars is considerably easier and somewhat less intimidating than going for the traditional fantasy swords and sorcery route. What’s more is that FFG’s mechanics might fit better too. They use a dice pool system, meaning that you collect certain dice for a roll, and roll everything together. Then from the results you can determine not only your successes or failures in doing what you wanted, but it can add more advantages or disadvantages to the situation. Think of Luke Skywalker shooting the wall panel to lock the door, only to realise he’d fried the bridge controls. That kind of dramatic turn would be cruel for a DM to impose, but if the dice pool demands a disadvantageous result, then you’re free to come up with these kind of cool and memorable moments with your players.
FFG also used to publish games in the Warhammer franchise, which now belongs to Ulisses North America. This carries the same advantages as using the Star Wars universe. If your players and you are big Warhammer fans, or can just about tell the difference between a Space Wolf and a Imperial Fist, this system could be fun. Taking some inspiration from the tabletop war game itself, the 40k roleplaying games (as well as the fantasy one) add a lot more crunch (i.e. more rules and mechanics) to combat. Think tables to determine what happens when you crit a certain body part with a certain type of damage.
FFG released many different versions too covering all sorts of characters from the 41st millennium, including rogue traders, agents of the inquisition, space marines, Imperial Guard and servants of Chaos. The new system Wrath and Glory will be adding xenos as well, and a way for multiple power levels to work together. If you feel D&D combat is just not gritty and in-depth enough, then give this a go.
Blades in the Dark
Moving towards the lighter side of rules, Blades in the Dark is a kickstarted game by renowned and constantly be-flat-capped game designer John Harper. If you’ve ever played Dishonored or read The Lies of Locke Lamora, then you’ll feel immediately at home in the Victorian electric-punk, canaled city that this game takes place in. The players are a gang of thieves and ner-do-wells, competing with others to climb up the power ladder by completing scores and accruing money and assets.
The game system is pretty great for newer players to understand. Borrowing a lot from the Powered by the Apocalypse system (see below), the mechanics are easy and flow nicely, allowing players to collaboratively tell a story. Players will need to use more than swords to reach their goals, leveraging contacts, ghosts and their mental health to push themselves to attain victory. Edgy and cool.
Powered by the Apocalyse
Powered by the Apocalypse is seen as the flat white to D&D’s black coffee. It’s lean, it’s cool, and there’s plenty of people who go on about how great it is. Dungeon World will always be one of my favourite systems I’ve never played, because the simplicity and DM sections are incredible. If I want someone to experience roleplaying games, I give them a Dungeon World character sheet, and they’re up and running in minutes, with a totally improvised adventure that’s relevant to them and their character.
This system covers a lot of settings, such as post-apocalypse, cyberpunk, fantasy and more. The mechanics are simple. Roll 2 six-sided dice. If you get 1-6, you fail what you intended to do. 7-9, you succeed, but with a consequence. 10-12, you succeed, no problem. There’s not much in terms of leveling up, more mechanics to exploit, or god-like level 20 abilities like in DnD, but it’s lightweight, fast, and I promise you will not get questions every five seconds about the endless rules, because there aren’t any.
Lasers and Feelings
John Harper is back with his one-page system! Concentrating a system’s entirety onto one page is not only a great concept for a quick game or one-shot, but it forces the designer to make it a dead simple premise. In Lasers and Feelings, you roll to randomise a Star Trek-esque mission, come up with some quirky characters for your players, and you’re off. The players will use either lasers or feelings to overcome their obstacles – AKA their logical and technical prowess, or their emotional intelligence. Honestly if your normal D&D players have a go at this, it’ll blow their minds wide open to the opportunities of roleplaying games. They may even bring some of it back into D&D next time.
So there’s some alternatives to D&D. I’m not as loyal to it as a system since I actually played both Star Wars and Warhammer 40k games before it. It’s definitely got it’s positives, but if you’re struggling to keep interest, or not feeling that next campaign, consider changing systems, or do a one-shot when you’re missing players or people’s significant others are around. A game of Dungeon World may convert some of them.