It's Not D&D - My Experiences


In response to Matt Colville's "reimagining" of RPGs to scrub the D&D from it, I wanted to reflect on some of the games I've played/ran/read that aren't D&D.

Here's a list of some of my experiences with systems unlike “traditional” D&D (e.g.: OD&D, BECMI, AD&D 1 & 2, D&D 3.x/PF, D&D 5e, and PF2). Feel free to ask questions, comment, or add your own takes.

Palladium (TMNT)
Extent of Experience: My first TTRPG. Ran a few one-shots in middle school, played a short campaign in high school, revisited a one-shot in college.
Status: Occasionally flip through the books for nostalgia. The system is very dated and confusing.
Verdict: Would not run again.

Extent of Experience: Ran a couple short adventures 20 years ago when I was falling off 3.x/PF.
Status: Very complex character creation and difficult to balance. A nightmare to GM because of all the options.
Verdict: Would not run again.

The Fantasy Trip
Extent of Experience: Got the big legacy box based on good reviews online. Was overwhelmed. Followed the guidance to start with Melee mini-game. Ran several battles and found that it was terribly imbalanced and completely possible to “win” almost every battle with a specific build. Verdict: Would not bring it to a table to try with a group.

D&D 4e
Extent of Experience: Bought into it pretty deep. Ran loads of OP at the local comic shop with 1-2 hour D&D Encounters. Home campaigns got very tiring.
Status: Fun for quick sessions, tactical fights. Overstays its welcome in lengthy campaigns. Verdict: Would play games at a convention.

Gamma World (D&D 4e era)
Extent of Experience: Bought all supplements and card packs. Ran a short campaign. Fun and quick compared to D&D 4e.
Verdict: Would run a short campaign again.

WFRP 3e (Fantasy Flight)
Extent of Experience: Bought the boxed set. Made sample characters and tried out the combat system. When a beginning slayer character could solo defeat a dragon, I boxed it up and returned it to the store.
Verdict: Would not try again.

WFRP 4e (Cubicle 7)
Extent of Experience: Bought the core books, complete Enemy Within set and expanded books, a few other supplements. Played an enjoyable Con game. Ran a few sessions of Enemy Within in person before the group fell apart. Ran on Foundry later and got through the first book of Enemy Within.
Status: Rules are needlessly complex. Gritty power level is a hard sell. Would love to adapt the campaign to another system.
Verdict: It would take the right group to try this system again.

Extent of Experience: Played an enjoyable con game, backed the new starter set. Read through new starter set. Got discouraged about the system because of similarities to WFRP and industry stuff (publisher canceling the line, etc.)
Verdict: Like WFRP, would take the right group. Unlike WFRP, I don’t have the extent of the library for Zweihander, and don’t see a compelling reason to switch over.

40K: Rogue Trader
Extent of Experience: Played a short campaign about 6 years ago. Very tongue-in-cheek.
Status: Had a good time, but I can’t imagine it going long term. Don’t own the books anyway. Verdict: Would not try to run a game.

Extent of Experience: Played a short adventure and a short campaign recently.
Status: Was too cerebral to hold my interest. Characters had to be highly specialized to have a chance to succeed. High specialization requirements made certain builds completely inadequate in many scenarios.
Verdict: Wouldn’t try to run a game.

Savage Worlds (Pathfinder, Rifts, Generic Fantasy)
Extent of Experience: GMed short adventures in several different Savage Settings, but nothing long term.
Status: It’s “okay.” The hyper-inflated numbers in Rifts confuse me. The swingy nature of combat makes it seem inappropriate for more than short adventures or one-shots.
Verdict: Would run again with the expectations of “beer and pretzels” gaming - not epic storytelling.

Extent of Experience: Played in a home game, several convention games run by Monte Cook Games
Status: Didn’t like it. No matter the game, my character had one or two abilities that had to be spammed. The enemy DR was frequently too high to surmount. I’ve rarely felt as utterly powerless in a game - not like in Cthulhu - but in a game where the intent is to feel epic and awesome but the mechanics don’t support it.
Verdict: Won’t play again.

Star Wars (FFG)
Extent of Experience: Ran a short campaign
Status: I never really understood the rules and how to translate the dice pool results. I had to have a co-GM basically handle the rules issues for me. Easy for characters to get so powerful that they were unstoppable except to be challenged by “story moments” (“this whole Star Destroyer is going to blow up in two rounds and there’s nothing you can do about it.”)
Verdict: Won’t run again

Star Wars (WEG)
Extent of Experience: One of my first “not D&D” games. Ran some short adventures in high school and then played at a Con recently.
Status: Honestly, not that bad.
Verdict: Would give it a try, but a little burned out on Star Wars.

PBtA (Dungeon World, Monster of the Week)
Extent of Experience: Ran two short campaigns in Dungeon World and one of Monster of the Week
Status: Fun for a side trek or diversion, but the mechanics don’t support a lengthy campaign.
Verdict: Would happily run a one-shot.

City of Mists
Extent of Experience: Played an adventure
Status: Like Monster of the Week, good for a diversion for a few weeks.
Verdict: Would play again

Extent of Experience: Played a short campaign
Status: More complicated than most of my college classes
Verdict: Would rather clean my bathrooms

Call of Cthulhu
Extent of Experience: Have run several short adventures over the year as well as completing the legendary Masks of Nyarlahotep, played numerous Con games
Status: Loved the newest edition of the system, but the challenge level is still too high to be able to use most of the material. Longterm campaigns require the right group and the alignment of the stars.
Verdict: Honestly, it’s a tired trope anymore for me. Cthulhu is not scary and everything feels fake. Also, well, I’ve distanced myself from the inspiration of Lovecraft because of … issues. I just don’t feel compelled to play or run it anymore.

Extent of Experience: Picked up the Starter Set on PDF for $1. Bought the boxed set and flipped through it.
Status: Was initially impressed that it could be a sort of hybrid of the rules for Cthulhu and WFRP. Beautiful products and great setting lore. Unfortunately, the presentation of rules is bad, character creation and gameplay is needlessly complex.
Verdict: Can’t even read the books for enjoyment. But keeping them on my shelf because they’re pretty.

Dungeon Crawl Classics
Extent of Experience: Got the “New Fan” deal on Goodman with dice, rulebook, adventures, etc. Also got a big Humble Bundle PDF of many adventures. Read the book. Played a funnel adventure at a con recently.
Status: The funnel adventure at the con was terrible. I had one of the worst TTRPG experiences in recent memory. While I think the GM bungled the game, I think the overall theme is something I don’t like in games: everything is incredibly chaotic and random, tables and charts make you dependant to always stopping to look up anything that happens in any situation for an overall boring experience that goes against the very design goals of the system.
Verdict: Would try again, but never a Character Funnel (which is oddly enough, the main selling point of the system - to get LOLZ watching characters die violently to silly stuff).

Hollow Earth Expedition (Ubiquity)
Extent of Experience: Had a great con experience and bought the system and Ubiquity dice. Ran a lengthy adventure at the same time I was tiring of 4E.
Status: It was a good time for the one specific adventure I ran, but it quickly showed that the system was not designed well enough to not be completely power-gamed.
Verdict: I’m fine not playing it again.

Vampire (WoD)
Extent of Experience: Made a character in high school so I could hang out with the cool kids who were playing it. A couple years ago, I made a character (I think in Prometheus) that never took off.
Status: The culture around the game and the feel of the theme just don’t appeal to me.
Verdict: It’s not for me - and that’s alright.

Shadow of the Demon Lord
Extent of Experience: Bought the book on a whim at a con because I liked the look of it. Flipped through it, but never really read it. Didn’t feel connected to the world building. (Something about playing robots, goblins, and undead just don’t feel heroic enough for me.) Too gloomy for me to have fun with.
Verdict: Pass.

13th Age
Extent of Experience: Ran a complete campaign as we were coming off 3.x/PF1 but not into 4E. It held us over until we started 5e.
Status: It was okay. If there were better online tools and more support (published adventures, etc.), I’d consider it more. The massive pools of dice and inability to support good tactical play do hurt my opinions.
Verdict: Again, it’s just okay. Would not be my first choice.

Forbidden Lands
Extent of Experience: Bought based on the design.Played at a con and ended up enjoying the game. Ran several sessions from the boxed set.
Status: Don’t know if I’ll ever get back to it. The survival element, random charts, etc., just don’t appeal to most of my players. Would like to try a short campaign with the right group.
Verdict: Like WFRP it’s a very niche audience who would appreciate this.

Vaesen/Coriolis/Twilight 2000
Extent of Experience: (Lumping these together because they’re all basically the same experience.) Bought based on the design.Have never really played them (except for one Con game of Vaesen)
Status: Don’t know if I’ll ever play these.
Verdict: The most niche games I own. Can’t imagine playing more than a one-off of any of these.

Extent of Experience: Unlike the other Free League Games, I haven’t purchased Alien, but played a one-shot adventure.
Status: Didn’t like the traitor mechanics and hopeless nature.
Verdict: Just play a board game next time.

Extent of Experience: Played an excellent con game and purchased everything I could find. Still haven’t run my own game.
Status: It’s like you took the good parts of Alien and Traveller and put it in a simple, straightforward game.
Verdict: I’d run it, with the right group.

Mork Borg/Vast Grimm
Extent of Experience: Had a good con game of Mork Borg and have a friend who loves the system. The art and layout is a curiosity.
Status: Have the books on my shelf, but probably not going to buy anymore.
Verdict: Again, might be fun for a one-shot. It would be exhausting after a

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He / Him
This is a great idea for a thread! I'm impressed by your breadth of experience.

FATE (Accelerated, Core, and Dresden Files)

Extent of Experience:
Played in and helped run a FATE Accelerated game that turned into a FATE Core game over a year or so. I also played in a Dresden Files game for about a year. I was a homeless werewolf, it was great.

Status: I enjoyed playing in and running FATE and its variances. I don't own any of the books (they were all owned by the GM).

Verdict: FATE worked really well for a variety of games, and it was fun figuring out how to use the mechanics to tell interesting stories. However, I found that it wasn't quite crunchy enough for me... It felt like I had to hold back as a player instead of trying to use every advantage.


Extent of Experience:
I have run a few solo games, and then ran a 4-session story for two friends of mine. Now a 3rd friend has joined and we are doing a new story set in the same world, about once a month online.

Status: It's a free game with great Roll20 support. I'm currently running an ongoing campaign starring a big friendly mammoth.

Verdict: I absolutely love running and playing Ironsworn, we wind up with incredible stories. It also rewards a lot of player ingenuity because even if you have very high stats things can still go wrong! At the same time, it's not a very crunchy game and doesn't completely replace D&D. However, it does require zero prep so it works really well for my busy life right now.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
The enthusiasm for the DCC funnel is a lot, for sure. I find that the least interesting part of the game, but there are people for whom that's all they care about, which is weird, because the gonzo stuff really requires you to be above level zero.

Isn't there a systemless Glorantha book? That seems like a good investment -- I agree that the setting is great, but I would never run RuneQuest and I'm not even sure I'd want to play it.

And I think the Alien: Fate of the Nostromo board game is supposed to be excellent, for someone who finds the RPG to not be to their tastes. (Or maybe even if it is.)


Thanks for sharing your experiences, @Retreater .

I'm curious, as there seems to be very little you responded positively to in all of your non-D&D forays. Are there specific commonalities / common components that seem to play into that? Not being critical at all, genuinely curious.

The one thing that seems to be common across your comments is an affinity for D&D's zero-to-hero type of progression. Other than Palladium, the games in question don't seem to offer the right mix of player-facing build, PC progression, and power curve to hold your interest. Would that be accurate?


I'm curious, as there seems to be very little you responded positively to in all of your non-D&D forays. Are there specific commonalities / common components that seem to play into that?
I've mostly stayed with D&D (and adjacent) games. Mostly because they're the most prevalent with the most content and the most familiar.

So I suppose I like these traits:
  • Being able to find players. A ready audience.
  • Having a lot of pre-published content. Modules, campaign settings, DM advice, tool boxes.
  • Not having a built-in, default world. (So I'm not big on multimedia tie-in settings to be able to last.)
  • A bit of crunch - but not so much that it hampers the game's pace, but I do like defined tools. (One thing is that I hate to say "no" to people - so I want the rules to do that for me.)
The one thing that seems to be common across your comments is an affinity for D&D's zero-to-hero type of progression.
I can do "lesser hero to bigger hero" progression. I also enjoy the skill-based progression in Call of Cthulhu (go up a few percentage points on a pretty regular basis) - given that it's a minor increase.

But if you look at games such as WFRP - you don't really get more powerful. In fact, you likely become worse due to your compounding lingering injuries and death spiral. But storytelling doesn't work that way. You don't expect a climax to be less impressive than how you started the story - in basically any medium. And WFRP is designed where you face increasing challenges, but you're actually worse off than you began in most cases.

And if you do improve, how much? Where are the tools for me to present reasonable challenges to the players? And if it's not level-based and it's all based on step increases to skill percentages, how do you measure that? How do you measure the capabilities of a party of Rat Catchers versus a party of Dwarven Slayers? What is the motivation for the players to stick with a system with such ill-defined rewards (no visible level advancement, no magic items or meaningful treasure)? If it's just the story, why are we playing a game and not sitting around a fire pit with our beverages of choice and telling tall tales?
Other than Palladium, the games in question don't seem to offer the right mix of player-facing build, PC progression, and power curve to hold your interest. Would that be accurate?
It's hard to know. I've not really played anything else with those traits other than the D&D Adjacent titles.

I have a few I could contribute:

Boot Hill (original 1975 TSR version)
Extent of Experience: Lots
Status: Fairly simple game which comes with a couple of maps for standard locations, meant for play with map/minis. A unique d% system, no character progression, very deadly combat and not a lot else is provided. Definitely an 'old school' game!
Verdict: It was a fun diversion from more serious games. Usually you can expect your PC to die before the end of a session, though if you have some really good Speed, Accuracy, and Bravery you might last a while. We did develop one longer running campaign, but it was more 'fantasy wild west' than by-the-book Boot HIll. Probably wouldn't play it NOW simply because there are better replacements.

Traveller(Classic 1977 version)
Extent of Experience: Lots
Status: Very straightforward system offering very limited character advancement. Fairly traditional game, but also rather 'low myth' overall (if you play as per the books planets and subsectors are generated randomly and stories evolve out of interactions with patrons, criminals, government authorities, etc.). There are quite a few adventures and pre-generated settings available however.
Verdict: This is a very solid and fun game, though in its most classic form it expects the players to be fairly proactive and move things forward. It has been rereleased a number of times with only minor tweaks. Quite fun, though a GM who is familiar with some newer GMing techniques should be more successful at getting past the "what exactly are we doing here?" element.

Gamma World 1e
Extent of Experience: Lots
Status: This is a completely off-the-wall RPG that uses rules fairly close to B/X D&D in general structure, but you start with MUCH more hit points and XP/Leveling is not a particularly meaningful part of the game.
Verdict: Definitely a really fun game, rolling up mutants is the best part, but playing them can be loads of fun too! As with many older less serious games PC mortality is HIGH, though if your GM is foolish enough to give you power armor, things can change... Much fun, though not super conducive to long campaigns. There are a few modules, pretty D&D-esque overall. Kinda like playing higher level 1e, except you are all mega-tough wizards...

Star Frontiers
Extent of Experience: Played a few times
Status: Fairly simplistic space opera with a kind of oddball bespoke game engine.
Verdict: Never found this game very special. The setting is almost slapstick, lowbrow space opera at best. The rules are workable but nothing special. Honestly, this game is best forgotten by RPG history...

Extent of Experience: Ran it a couple times, used the components as D&D supplements now and then
Status: This is a pretty solid game on its own, but it was originally conceived as a set of enhancement modules for original D&D. One virtue is it is easy for D&D players to get into.
Verdict: It is a perfectly good game, really well-designed and ICE has since leveraged the core design for a couple other games. OTOH it is really a game that will be loved by those who like having a lot of detailed mechanics!

Call of Cthulhu (various editions up to 7th)
Extent of Experence: Lots of experience mostly with the earliest couple editions. Played 7th edition for a short campaign
Status: As a BRP based game this is fairly straightforward. I have it and a lot of supplements.
Verdict: I consider this game, and BRP in general, clunky and obsolete. The 7th Edition attempts to clean up some of the shortcomings (mostly by reducing the length of the skill list dramatically) but fundamentally this is a mystery game where the mechanics simply don't exist to support carrying through a mystery story! It is pure old-school trad "follow the breadcrumbs" kind of play, and if you muff a die roll somewhere along the way, the GM has to step in and 'fix it'. The campy monsters and such are the fun part, but there are infinitely better systems that you can run nowadays that will let you do mysteries/mythos/cosmic horror. I have no intention of playing this game again.

4e D&D (Not interested in the "is this D&D?" debate, honestly got no horse in that race)
Extent of Experence: Ran several full campaigns
Status: I have most of the books, can and will play when circumstances allow
Verdict: A game which knows it is a game and leverages that fact. Rich with character-facing options and hooks, the game offers the players the chance to author their own quests and construct the destinies of their 'on the path to being epic heroes' characters. IME best played in a much more 'gonzo' and low myth/low prep sort of style compared to other games with the same branding. The implicit milieu is also tweaked in a way that is designed to help set up cool stories vs simply adhering to ancient ideas drawn on a napkin in 1975 that should have died long ago. I will play 4e in an instant, and it is one of a very short list of games I will GM nowadays.

Dungeon World
Extent of Experience: Played in and ran several DW campaigns
Status: I have the PDFs, it is on my list of games worth playing
Verdict: A classic PbtA game. Replaces the AW "scarcity and PC conflict" model with a more D&D-esque "party of heroes" kind of model. Low myth, very open-ended play, designed to grab hold of the PCs and give them the ride of their lives. This is a great game, though due to its borrowing of D&D tropes there is the danger that some GMs may try to actually play D&D using these rules... It AIN'T D&D folks!

Blades in the Dark
Extent of Experience: Playing in one campaign
Status: This is a great game. It is very open-ended and things can range from 'gritty' to 'gonzo' even within the same campaign. I don't think the vanilla BitD, set in Doskvol, etc. is probably a game you will play 100s of times, though you certainly could. OTOH once you understand the system its a quite flexible game engine and there are loads of variants that you can steel from/use to do most anything.
Verdict: This is a very classic Indy game and anyone wanting to have a blast and try something a bit different

Torchbearer 2
Extent of Experience: Played in one campaign for a dozen sessions or so
Status: Another interesting modern RPG with a fantasy genre, this one based on the venerable Burning Wheel system.
Verdict: This is a game with quite a few moving parts, and a rather structured approach to play. We found the structuring to be a bit troublesome in that play, in a narrative sense, didn't always just fit naturally in with the structure. The GM can certainly 'figure it out', but we did trip over this sometimes. OTOH its a fun game, rather brutal, this game DEMANDS that you PLAY, you can't just faff around, or you will die horribly. It is fun though, you are never going to stop worrying about where the food, water, and torches are going to come from!

Top Secret
Extent of Experience: Played through a couple campaigns
Status: I don't own this game, haven't seen it around in years.
Verdict: This game had some very interesting mechanical ideas around 'currency', you could spend Fame and Fortune points to change some of the results in play. Used cleverly you could leverage this as a way of reinforcing your character concept, although it was also possible to simply use your points in a purely mechanical kind of way. This does also somewhat alleviate the issue in older 'trad' games where the PCs have to find the clues or else the GM will need to force things back on track. Fun game, but another that is pretty obsolete when compared with modern Indy games today. Loved it but no real reason to play anymore.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
In fact, you likely become worse due to your compounding lingering injuries and death spiral. But storytelling doesn't work that way. You don't expect a climax to be less impressive than how you started the story - in basically any medium.
Spoiler for an 11-year old game: This is basically what happens in the amazing Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, as the hero's victory basically sickens and weakens her, and she dies at the moment of her triumph. It definitely works in that game, but yeah, it's an outlier and, in that case, a key part of the narrative.


But if you look at games such as WFRP - you don't really get more powerful. In fact, you likely become worse due to your compounding lingering injuries and death spiral. But storytelling doesn't work that way. You don't expect a climax to be less impressive than how you started the story - in basically any medium. And WFRP is designed where you face increasing challenges, but you're actually worse off than you began in most cases.
Couldn't help but think of Darkest Dungeon. Based on the Torchbearer RPG, compounding injuries is kind of the main feature and it's a huge success. Just got a board game adaptation too.

Story wise though, that sounds like the plot to most horror stories to me!

Other than horror though, recently I've watched Die Hard, Rambo, Terminator 2, The Thing, and Escape from New York. All feature protagonists that are weaker towards the end and are all still great stories.

Anyways, cool post, sorry to sidetrack. You already posted my favorite games, but I'll try and add some myself later.

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