Obscure RPGs

There are tons of RPG systems out there besides the standard D&D and fantasy. Go out and explore. Find something new!


“Obscure” being a relative term, I guess.

Today I realized I collect and love a lot of offbeat RPGs. You know, things that aren’t mainstream D&D. I’m not knocking the grandfather of all RPGs or anything. I still love D&D from BECMI on up. But there are so many other RPGs outside of D&D. Heck, there are plenty of genres outside of fantasy to explore.

I see a lot of posts/articles to the effect of “Alternatives to D&D.” I always chuckle at the notion because some of us have embraced this idea for years now. I don’t just mean Pathfinder or Middle Earth, either. I mean alternatives to fantasy rpgs.

Life can be scary away from spell slinging elves with swords.

Personally, I love the mecha genre of anime style games. Good luck ever finding players for that, btw. (I guess they exist somewhere but not around where I live.) WWII gaming has some appeal, but again players seem to be few and far between. (Check out Operation White Box!) Most people go toward Star Wars in its many incarnations because Space Opera is kind of like fantasy’s futuristic cousin.

I think a lot of sci-fi and modern games get a bad rep because “guns are icky.” Truthfully, many of us have had negative experiences with firearms to the point of not wanting to roleplay characters that use them. And there’s also the percentage of the population that knows little to nothing about guns. Swords and spells are easier to figure out, I suppose. The same can be said for modern horror as well, although Call of Cthulhu is still thriving.

I recommend looking into one’s own favorite genre of books, movies, or tv shows for inspiration. Chances are, there’s probably an RPG out there on the market for it or a way to adapt a current system. Generic, universal RPGs are fairly common these days from the d20 System (OGL, D&D rules,) to FATE, D6, Open Legends, Genre Diversion, and dozens more. There are too many to list here and most are adaptable to anything from gritty historical realism to far flung psychedelic future utopian fantasy.

DrivethruRPG is chock full of alternative games.

Full disclosure: I am NOT a spokesman for OneBookShelf or any subsidiaries, but I’ve been a customer for years. It’s a good RPG shopping site for indie games. There’s also a lot of good reviews there if you’re on the fence about buying a new game or game system.

I could go on all day naming good systems and specific RPGs for people to try out, but it might be easier just to go on Itch.io or DrivethruRPG and look around for yourself. Your local used bookstore might also be a good resource for RPGs off the beaten path.

Please consult your group before launching a new campaign or system.

I want to emphasize that some groups may not be ready to do something other than good old D&D. I have friends who absolutely refused to do anything besides D&D. It was the only game they knew. It was the only genre they were comfortable it and you could not get them out of that comfort zone for love or money. To those friends, I said, “Cool. See you next week for D&D.”

Challenging though it may be at times, one can always find a group online somewhere for almost any game imaginable. It might take some time, persistence, and effort to find said players or GM. If lockdowns taught us anything, it’s that there’s a niche out there for just about everyone on the internet. Failing that, I would recommend trying some solo roleplaying. More on that here.

Whatever your game or system of choice is, please do enjoy. I hope your weekend is full of good friends and superb die rolls. Game on.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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