The Best of Fantasy RPGs: Beyond D&D

White dice in the sunlight

Dungeons & Dragons stands as a towering monolith in RPGs, its name synonymous with fantasy adventuring and epic storytelling. For decades, D&D has not only dominated the landscape of fantasy RPGs but also shaped it, introducing countless players to the joys of crafting narratives, exploring mythical realms, and embodying heroes of their own making. Its widespread appeal and cultural impact are undeniable, with its lore, mechanics, and settings becoming the gold standard by which many other games are measured.

Yet, beyond the shadow of this colossus lies a vast field of other fantasy RPGs, each with its own unique worlds, stories, and systems. These games extend an invitation to adventurers willing to explore beyond the familiar confines of D&D, offering new adventures and storytelling experiences that range from the hauntingly beautiful to the thrillingly bizarre. While D&D has undoubtedly set the standard, the RPG universe is vast and varied, brimming with alternative games that promise to take players on unforgettable journeys through uncharted lands.

From the dark and gritty alleyways of urban fantasy settings to the sprawling epic landscapes reminiscent of high fantasy classics, and even to the intriguing blend of genres where magic meets technology or historical fiction, these RPGs provide a broad canvas for creativity and adventure. They challenge players and Dungeon Masters alike to venture into new territories, to learn new rules and systems, and to engage with stories that diverge from the traditional paths.

We invite you to open your mind to the possibilities that lie beyond the realms of Dungeons & Dragons. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of tabletop roleplaying looking for your next grand adventure or a newcomer seeking alternatives to the D&D universe, we will introduce you to a selection of fantasy RPGs where fantasy comes alive in myriad forms, offering fresh landscapes for your adventures, characters, and tales.

What Separates Other Fantasy RPGs?

Diversity in Design

One of the most exhilarating aspects of delving into fantasy RPGs beyond Dungeons & Dragons is the sheer diversity of worlds, themes, and mechanics at your fingertips. Each RPG system and setting offers its unique flavour of fantasy, inviting players and Dungeon Masters to explore realms far beyond the classic medieval European landscapes often associated with D&D. This diversity not only enriches the roleplaying experience but also broadens the scope of stories that can be told, the characters that can be embodied, and the adventures that can be undertaken.

Moreover, the appeal of fantasy RPGs is not limited to traditional fantasy settings. Genre-blending worlds where fantasy meets science fiction, horror, or even historical fiction open up new avenues for storytelling and character development. In these settings, players can wield magic in a cyberpunk city, confront eldritch horrors in a Lovecraftian universe, or navigate the political intrigues of a fantasy version of Victorian-era Europe. These genre-blending worlds offer a unique twist on the fantasy genre, allowing for stories that defy conventional tropes and embrace the unexpected.

The mechanics of these diverse RPGs also play a crucial role in defining the gameplay experience. While some games may focus on intricate combat systems and tactical depth, others may emphasize narrative-driven mechanics that prioritize storytelling and character development. This mechanical diversity allows players to choose a system that best suits their playstyle and the type of story they want to tell. Whether it’s a dice-heavy game filled with strategic combat or a more narrative-focused system that encourages creative problem-solving, there’s an RPG out there that fits every preference.

Cultural and Thematic Exploration

The realm of fantasy RPGs is a mosaic of cultures, mythologies, and narratives, offering a rich tapestry of experiences far beyond the typical Eurocentric settings. Many RPGs delve deep into themes and worlds inspired by a diverse range of cultures and mythologies, inviting players to embark on journeys through settings inspired by Asian, African, Mesoamerican, and many other traditions.

This thematic diversity does more than simply provide new backdrops for adventures; it enriches players’ understanding and appreciation of different narratives, traditions, and ways of viewing the world. By stepping into the shoes of characters from these varied settings, players gain insights into the values, conflicts, and stories that shape these cultures. This exploration fosters a broader perspective on fantasy storytelling, highlighting the universal themes that unite us across cultural divides while celebrating the unique differences that make each tradition compelling.

Community and Collaboration

Exploring new RPGs opens the door to vibrant communities of gamers and creators. Each RPG system has its own dedicated community, where players and Dungeon Masters share their experiences, tips, and stories. These communities can be found in online forums, social media groups, and local gaming clubs, providing a wealth of resources and support for both newcomers and veterans.

Sharing experiences and strategies with fellow gamers can enhance your understanding of the game, provide new ideas for campaigns and characters, and even lead to lifelong friendships. Moreover, participating in these communities fosters a sense of belonging and shared passion, reinforcing the idea that fantasy RPGs are not just about individual adventures but about coming together to tell stories that resonate across the gaming table.

Personal Growth and New Experiences

Venturing into new RPG systems is also an opportunity for personal growth and development for both players and Dungeon Masters. Learning new rules and mechanics, adapting to different storytelling techniques, and embracing creative problem-solving within new constraints are all part of the adventure. These challenges push individuals to expand their understanding of what roleplaying games can be and to develop new skills that enrich their gaming experience.

For Dungeon Masters, exploring new systems can enhance their narrative flexibility and world-building prowess, encouraging them to think outside the box and design more engaging and immersive campaigns. Players, on the other hand, can discover new aspects of roleplaying they may not have experienced before, such as different approaches to character development, teamwork, and strategy. This process of learning and adaptation can reignite one’s passion for RPGs, providing a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm for storytelling and adventure.

The exploration of new RPG systems and settings is also a reminder of the vast potential for creativity and discovery that lies at the heart of roleplaying. It challenges us to not settle into comfortable patterns but to continually seek out new experiences that can inspire and delight. Whether you’re drawn to the tactical depths of a new combat system or the narrative richness of an unfamiliar world, each game offers a chance to grow as a gamer and a storyteller.

Discovering New Fantasy RPGs

Beyond the well-known realms of Dungeons & Dragons lies a multitude of worlds waiting to be discovered, each offering its unique blend of storytelling, adventure, and challenge. The RPGs we’re about to explore are gateways to new experiences, opportunities for personal growth, and sources of endless inspiration and enjoyment.

So, lets dive into the list of recommended RPGs. These games promise to help us discover new worlds, embrace new challenges, and embark on adventures that will redefine your love for roleplaying games.

Classic Fantasy RPGs

Classic Fantasy RPGs are ones that stay true to the heart of what makes Dungeons & Dragons the most popular fantasy RPG. They focus on the most central themes of the genre, adding a few twists to make them fresh while remaining familiar. These RPGs are a great way to explore new worlds while still retaining the most common expectations for fantasy fans.

Pathfinder (Paizo Publishing)

Pathfinder, often hailed as D&D 3.75, was developed as an evolution of D&D’s 3.5 edition, filling the gap for players seeking an alternative to the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Its creation marked the beginning of a new era in fantasy RPGs, offering a system that retained the depth and complexity beloved by fans of its predecessor while introducing its rich universe and lore. Pathfinder’s mechanics are widely hailed as a solid framework that supports detailed character customization and a wide variety of magical and martial exploits. The game’s setting, Golarion, is a tapestry of diverse cultures, intriguing politics, and ancient mysteries, offering endless possibilities for adventure and exploration.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Cubicle 7)

Experience the dark and gritty world of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a game that stands apart for its emphasis on grim realism and perilous adventures. Set in the Warhammer Fantasy world, this RPG plunges players into a setting where the forces of Chaos threaten to overrun civilizations, and heroes are forged not by destiny but by survival against overwhelming odds. The game’s mechanics reflect its dark tone, with a career system that emphasizes the development of characters through their professions and a critical hit system that brings brutal realism to combat. The rich lore and detailed setting make Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay a compelling choice for players looking for storytelling depth and a world teeming with danger and intrigue.

Legend of the Five Rings RPG (Fantasy Flight Games)

Explore the mythical realm of Rokugan with Legend of the Five Rings RPG, a game inspired by Asian myths and samurai tales. This RPG immerses players in a world where honour is stronger than steel, and the seven Great Clans vie for power and influence over the empire. The mechanics of Legend of the Five Rings focus on storytelling and character development, with a unique dice system that adds a layer of narrative choice to the resolution of actions. Players must navigate the complex social etiquette of Rokugan, where a misplaced word can be as deadly as a sword strike. The game’s emphasis on honor, duty, and the conflicts between personal desires and societal expectations offers a rich narrative experience unlike any other.

Modern Takes on Fantasy

As we transition from the classic landscapes that have defined the genre to more modern interpretations, we see the blend of traditional elements with fresh, innovative mechanics. These contemporary RPGs stand on the shoulders of giants, drawing inspiration from the rich history of fantasy gaming while pushing the boundaries of what a fantasy RPG can be. Let’s explore how these games have reimagined fantasy roleplaying for a new generation of gamers.

13th Age (Pelgrane Press)

13th Age represents a bold evolution in the realm of fantasy RPGs, skilfully blending the high fantasy traditions with innovative mechanics. Designed by D&D veterans Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, this game takes the familiar tropes of dragons, dungeons, and heroic quests and injects them with modern design philosophies. One of its hallmark features is the “Icon Relationship” system, which ties characters directly to the world’s powerful factions and leaders, creating dynamic storylines and adventures. Additionally, the “Escalation Die” mechanic speeds up combat and rewards strategic thinking, ensuring that battles are both fast-paced and deeply tactical. 13th Age encourages narrative freedom and creativity, making it an exciting option for players and Dungeon Masters looking for a system that supports epic storytelling with a contemporary twist.

Dragon Age RPG (Green Ronin Publishing)

Set in the rich and darkly compelling world of Bioware’s acclaimed video game series, the Dragon Age RPG invites players to explore the continent of Thedas, a land rife with conflict, magic, and intrigue. This RPG captures the essence of the Dragon Age universe, from its complex politics and racial tensions to the ever-present threat of the Blight. The game’s mechanics are designed to reflect the dark, gritty feel of the setting, with a focus on character development and moral choices that can have significant consequences for the world and its inhabitants. The use of the “AGE” system, with its three six-sided dice and stunt mechanics, allows for exciting combat and storytelling opportunities, making the Dragon Age RPG an engaging experience for fans of the series and newcomers alike.

Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok (Pendelhaven)

For those drawn to the sagas and myths of the Viking age, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok presents a world where the end times are upon us, and the fate of the cosmos hangs in the balance. Drawing heavily from Norse mythology, this RPG eschews traditional dice in favor of a unique “Rune” system, where players draw and cast runes to determine the outcomes of their actions. This mechanic not only adds thematic depth to the game but also introduces a layer of strategy and unpredictability that mirrors the capricious nature of the gods and fate itself. With its focus on epic storytelling, heroic struggles, and the rich lore of Norse legends, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok provides a distinctive take on fantasy roleplaying.

Fantasy Meets Other Genres

Exploring the realms of fantasy RPGs reveals a fascinating trend: the blending of traditional fantasy elements with other genres to create innovative and captivating game worlds. This cross-genre fusion introduces players to settings where the boundaries of imagination are expanded, and new storytelling possibilities emerge. Here are a few standout RPGs that masterfully combine fantasy with other genres, creating unique and immersive experiences.

Shadowrun (Catalyst Game Labs)

In the world of Shadowrun, the futuristic landscapes of cyberpunk collide with the mystical forces of fantasy to create a universe where magic and technology intertwine. Set in a near-future Earth where the return of magic has awakened mythical creatures and given rise to powerful mages, Shadowrun offers a richly detailed setting that explores the interplay between cutting-edge tech and ancient arcane powers. Players take on the roles of shadowrunners, mercenaries who navigate the dangerous underbelly of megacorporations and magical threats. The game’s mechanics support a wide range of character customization and storytelling possibilities, from high-octane cybernetic enhancements to spell-slinging sorcery, making Shadowrun a definitive choice for fans looking for a genre-bending RPG experience.

Blades in the Dark (Evil Hat Productions)

Blades in the Dark transports players to the haunted, early industrial city of Duskvol, where fantasy meets heist fiction. In this game, players form a crew of daring scoundrels seeking to make their mark on the shadowy underworld, navigating the dangers of rival gangs, ghostly hauntings, and the city’s oppressive regime. The innovative “Forces in the Dark” mechanic allows for dynamic and fluid storytelling, emphasizing player agency, teamwork, and the consequences of their actions. With its focus on criminal enterprises, stealth, and the occult, Blades in the Dark offers an energizing twist on fantasy RPGs, perfect for those seeking a darker, more narrative-driven gaming experience.

Iron Kingdoms (Privateer Press)

In the world of Iron Kingdoms, magic and machinery collide to create a setting where steam-powered technology stands alongside sorcery. This RPG transports players to a land of industrial innovation, political intrigue, and constant warfare, where powerful factions vie for control and mercenaries wield both spell and musket. The lore of the Iron Kingdoms is rich and detailed, offering a variety of cultures, histories, and conflicts that provide a backdrop for countless adventures. The game’s mechanics reflect its setting, with a unique system that integrates magical abilities and technological gadgets, allowing for dynamic character customization and combat. For those fascinated by the blend of fantasy and steampunk, Iron Kingdoms offers a compelling world filled with endless possibilities for exploration and conflict.

Anomalous Subsurface Environment (OSR games)

For adventurers who delight in the unexpected, the Anomalous Subsurface Environment presents a fascinating blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. This megadungeon setting plunges players into a bizarre underground complex where remnants of advanced technologies coexist with magic and medieval weaponry. The dungeon’s levels are filled with strange creatures, alien artifacts, and enigmatic puzzles that defy conventional fantasy tropes. Embracing the ethos of Old-School Renaissance (OSR) games, the Anomalous Subsurface Environment encourages exploration, creativity, and a sense of wonder, as players uncover the secrets of a world where the lines between science and magic blur.

Fantasy RPGs With Deep Lore

The allure of fantasy RPGs often lies not just in the mechanics or the thrill of adventure, but in the depth and richness of the worlds they invite us to explore. These settings are more than mere backdrops for the narratives; they are vibrant, living entities with histories, cultures, and conflicts of their own. Let’s journey into RPGs known for their rich settings and lore, each offering players a unique experience steeped in detail and atmosphere.

Symbaroum (Free League Publishing)

Symbaroum beckons adventurers into the heart of Davokar, a vast, primordial forest brimming with mystery and danger. This RPG stands out for its dark, atmospheric world that combines the beauty and majesty of nature with the lurking threats of corruption and ancient evils. The lore of Symbaroum is deep and immersive, drawing players into a complex narrative of fallen empires, warring factions, and forbidden magic. The forest of Davokar itself is a character, filled with secrets waiting to be uncovered and ancient ruins that hold the keys to power and peril. Symbaroum’s mechanics emphasize storytelling and exploration, encouraging players to delve into the depths of its lore and discover the truths hidden in the shadows of the trees.

RuneQuest (Chaosium)

Set in the mythic world of Glorantha, RuneQuest stands apart for its emphasis on culture, religion, and the pervasive magic that infuses every aspect of its Bronze Age-inspired setting. Glorantha is a world where the gods are real, and their myths and conflicts shape the lives of all who dwell within it. The game delves deep into the cultures of its various peoples, their rituals, and their relationships with the divine, offering a richly layered narrative experience. RuneQuest’s mechanics underscore the importance of these elements, integrating them into character development, magic systems, and the unfolding of the story. For players and Dungeon Masters seeking an RPG that offers a profound exploration of myth and magic, RuneQuest provides a journey into a world where every action is imbued with mythic significance.

Unique Systems and Gameplay

While the setting of a fantasy RPG lays the foundation for immersive storytelling, the mechanics and systems underlying each game shape how stories unfold and how players interact with the world and each other. This section explores three RPGs renowned for their unique systems and gameplay, each offering distinct approaches to roleplaying that set them apart from traditional fantasy RPGs.

Savage Worlds (Pinnacle Entertainment Group)

Savage Worlds is celebrated for its flexibility and adaptability, designed to accommodate a wide array of fantasy settings and genres. What sets Savage Worlds apart is its streamlined system that emphasizes speed of play and ease of use, allowing Dungeon Masters and players to focus on the story rather than getting bogged down by complex mechanics. The system’s core mechanics, including the innovative use of different dice types for skills and the “bennies” system for influencing the game’s flow, support a dynamic and cinematic style of play. Whether you’re exploring a high fantasy kingdom, a dark and brooding gothic landscape, or a world where fantasy and technology collide, Savage Worlds provides the tools to bring any fantasy setting to life with minimal preparation and maximum excitement.

Ars Magica (Atlas Games)

Set in the mythic backdrop of medieval Europe, Ars Magica offers players the chance to step into the roles of powerful wizards shaping the destiny of the Mythic Europe. The game is renowned for its rich and detailed magic system, which allows for unparalleled creativity in spellcasting and magical research. Players can design their spells, engage in mystical research, and even establish their magical covenants, which serve as the base of operations and a focal point for the game’s storytelling. Ars Magica’s emphasis on collaborative storytelling and the “troupe” system, where players can take on multiple roles, including that of the story guide, encourages a shared narrative experience unlike any other. For those fascinated by the intricacies of magic and the potential for deep, character-driven stories, Ars Magica offers a unique and enriching roleplaying experience.

Exalted (Onyx Path Publishing)

In the world of Exalted (GM Guide and Player’s Guide), players assume the roles of godlike beings endowed with incredible powers, set against a backdrop of myth and legend. The game distinguishes itself with a focus on epic storytelling and heroic deeds, where the characters’ actions can have far-reaching consequences on the world around them. Exalted’s system supports this grand scale of storytelling, offering mechanics that allow players to perform feats of heroism and magic that can alter the course of history. The game’s setting, rich in lore and filled with cosmic challenges, invites players to engage in tales of intrigue, adventure, and divine conflict. For those looking to experience the thrill of wielding godlike powers and shaping the destiny of a fantastical world, Exalted provides an unparalleled platform for epic and inspiring adventures.

Narrative-Driven Adventures

Narrative-driven adventures carve out a special niche, emphasizing storytelling, character development, and the power to shape the game world. These RPGs offer rich, immersive experiences where the story takes centre stage, inviting players to become deeply invested in the unfolding drama and the fates of their characters. Let’s explore two standout RPGs that excel in providing narrative-driven adventures.

Mouse Guard RPG (Archaia Studios Press)

Mouse Guard RPG, inspired by the award-winning comic series by David Petersen, offers a unique take on fantasy roleplaying. In this game, players take on the roles of valiant mice who are members of the Mouse Guard, protectors of their territories against predators, the elements, and other threats. The RPG stands out for its focus on teamwork, duty, and the challenges of being small in a big world. The game mechanics, based on the Burning Wheel system, are designed to facilitate storytelling and character development, encouraging players to think creatively and solve problems in ways that reflect their characters’ traits and the Guard’s ethos. Mouse Guard showcases the power of narrative in roleplaying games, providing a poignant, character-driven experience that is both heartwarming and heroic.

Earthdawn (FASA Games)

Set in a world emerging from the shadows of a magical apocalypse, Earthdawn offers a richly detailed setting filled with ancient ruins, mystical artifacts, and hidden dangers. Players embark on adventures as they explore this post-apocalyptic landscape, uncovering the secrets of the past and facing the horrors that the magical cataclysm unleashed. Earthdawn’s game system is designed to intertwine character backgrounds with the broader world history, making each adventurer’s personal story a part of the larger narrative tapestry. The mechanics emphasize the importance of legends and storytelling within the game world, allowing players’ deeds and discoveries to contribute to their characters’ legacies. Earthdawn provides a deeply narrative-driven experience, where the lore of the world and the stories of the characters are seamlessly interwoven.

Conclusion

Beyond the familiar shores of Dungeons & Dragons is a vast, unexplored territory brimming with potential for adventure, storytelling, and discovery. The fantasy RPGs we’ve covered offer more than just alternative settings and rules; they provide windows into new worlds, each with its own history, culture, and mysteries. They challenge players and Dungeon Masters alike to think creatively, adapt to new storytelling techniques, and engage with fantasy in ways that transcend traditional boundaries.

We encourage readers to delve into these games, to discover the adventures that await within their pages, and to weave their own epic tales. The RPGs highlighted here represent just a fraction of the possibilities that fantasy roleplaying has to offer. These games are ideal for seasoned adventurers seeking new challenges or a newcomers ready to embark on their first quest. Each of these fantasy RFPGs offer rich, immersive worlds that are waiting to be discovered.

In the end, the vast possibilities presented by fantasy RPGs remind us that the heart of roleplaying is the shared experience of storytelling. It’s about coming together with friends, old and new, to tell tales of heroism, adventure, and the triumph of the imagination. So gather your party, roll the dice, and let the stories unfold. The worlds of fantasy RPGs are vast and varied, and they are yours to explore.

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