Looking for D&D-like alternatives to D&D 5e

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I just went back through and underlined some important parts. And just to reiterate, needs a crunchy, tactical, grid-based combat that still goes quick enough not to dominate a 2.5-3 hour session.

So, what will resonate the DM so that he wants to run it, but would also be a decent fit for the players?

I am not a big fan of crunchy, tactical grid-based combat.

That said, if you're looking for something fun and a little different that would work, why not Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?


WFRP 4e of course. It’s great, and well supported on Foundry VTT.


Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
In one group I'm in the we're on hiatus because the DM and their spouse, who is one of the players, had a baby. Woo!

The DM is looking at moving away from 5e, but keeping to a similar style game. With the proliferation of post-OGL-debacle Fantasy Heartbreakers out there, he's been focusing on them. I'm the "system wonk" in our group, so I've been helping him look at them. The issue is that I believe we have some competing interests in the group. So all of us are way more informed than just I am, so I figured I'd crowd-source this out.

Still looking for a D&D-like fantasy experience, that works well in a 2.5-3 hour weeknight window. Also we have a wide gap in optimization ability and interest in the group, so something like 5e where one person is playing a concept character and another is playing an moderately optimized character aren't super far apart.

EDIT: We play online, so VTTs that help are a good selling point, especially for the established systems that I'd have to convince the DM to look at since he's focused just on the new crop.

The DM: Runs on a spectrum between trad and neo-trad, with a stated preference to shift more neo-trad for this upcoming campaign. While will play a variety of systems including Story Now, for him to run it needs to support that DMing style. Got burned out on 3.x, sees the cracks in 5e and wants to move on even though enjoyed it. While likes all aspects of running, specifically likes mechanical support for crunchier, tactical combat. Likes 4e but didn't get to play a lot so knows there are problems they haven't encountered. Which harkens back to cracks in 5e, especially balance between classes when running short adventuring days - in 4e everyone has the same. Has been primarily looking at the new crop of games like DC20, PF2R, MCDM, Daggerheart and Tales of the Valiant. Wants to do a test run before commiting, so lack of quickstart/playtest/SRD is a problem. Could be sold on other systems, but would need to be shown it's definitively a better fit than the ones he's looking at. Note: 13th Age 2nd Ed has been disqualified because it's not tactical grid combat, so that's a requirement. Also isn't interested in OSR.

The Professor: Super busy, wants to have a straightforward system that they can absorb and understand. (Straightforward doesn't neccesarily mean rules-lite - 5e was fine.) Works best if they understand mechanically what their character can do, doesn't appreciate more free-form RPGs. Once and done - doesn't want to learn lots of systems. Wants to be powerful, doesn't optimize but will make sure not to shoot themselves in the foot. Probably best with a system that's doesn't have half a dozen sourcebooks with character options.

The Dreamer: Not particularly into mechanics. Would not do well with a system with lots of fiddly bits, especially around character creation/advancement. No feat taxes/trap options sort of thing. Fine with 5e, mostly because it's what everybody plays, but also fine with PbtA, Fate, and other systems. Also the person who puts together all of the clues the DM has been dropping and figures out the big picture stuff. Doesn't optimize.

Mr. and Mrs. Professional: Another couple, both whom are DMs of other games, including doing things like paid DM gigs at "D&D in a Castle" events. Experience with multiple systems. They both pick up systems quickly, and like to make quite able/powerful but interesting characters. Expect the least trouble with picking up a new system, though one is laid back and will go with whatever the DM says and the other is a bit more nitpicky about addressing their own wants.

Me: Likes a variety of systems, but never tried PF1 because of how burned out I was from 3ed and 3.5. Don't want to have to preplan a character's advancement to make it work. Have the most fun reigning in optimization to be where the group's power level is, and am concerned if that's a wide gap between the optimizers and non-optimizers in the group. More into neo-trad and Story Now, but I do like a robust character creation/advancement system. EDIT: While the DM likes 4e, two problems I had with it were: far too many conditions to evaluate on different tokens, and one player prone to decision paralysis will slow combat to a halt. I'd like to avoid those.

I just went back through and underlined some important parts. And just to reiterate, needs a crunchy, tactical, grid-based combat that still goes quick enough not to dominate a 2.5-3 hour session.

So, what will resonate the DM so that he wants to run it, but would also be a decent fit for the players?
Why does the DM want to move away from 5e? If it's an issue with WotC, I would recommend Level Up, which overs a similar experience without having to give WotC a dime.

In fact, I would recommend Level Up in any case.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Worlds Without Number (my favorite, and easily hackable by adding the best elements from other OSR games)
Dragonbane & Forbidden Lands (from Free League)
Low Fantasy Gaming
Dungeon Crawl Classic (mostly for ideas and the spell system)
WWN and DCC are both great options.

I am a big booster of it, but as you describe it, it really sounds like Pathfinder 2E might be the thing you want?

Looking at your group:

The DM: PF2 definitely has crunchier, tactical combat on a grid with rather fantastic VTT support on Foundry VTT. You'd have to learn how to use Foundry, but I generally think that's not too hard and is worth if it you do any sort of online roleplaying, as it'll play just about anything well. PF2 is very reminiscent of 4E, but feels like it sits well between it and 5E, which is probably a benefit. Balance is fantastic between classes because power is largely set by the numbers, and your customization largely deals with how you interact with those numbers. PF2 also assumes that you come fresh into each encounter, so it works on a shorter workday because nova-ing is somewhat assumed in the encounter-building math.

The Professor: This will probably be a really good system for them. The rules are relatively straightforward, and PF2 is good at laying out the options a player has and what they entail: there are a lot of uses for skills and such in combat and outside that are described in such a way that you can use them with some surety of what you'll be doing (also has the benefit of giving the DM a decent idea and outline of what is expected of things if they want to do something off-the-page).

The Dreamer: The PF2 system would be the hardest fit for them out of your group as far as I can tell, but I don't think it'd be bad: especially now with the remaster, feats are generally additive rather than a tax, and you have enough tools that unless you really avoid putting any points into what your class is traditionally supposed to do, you won't be "suboptimal" due to how the math is made. PF2 hands out a good amount of ASIs (4 every 5 levels), so you can have a few tertiary stats outside of what is expected of your class. PF2's advancement is fairly straightforward, largely siloed into feat pools, but if you are looking at all the things at once it can seem daunting. Again, the hardest fit but I don't think it'll be terrible for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Professional: This would probably be a good system for them: a lot of customizability and a bunch of classes with unique mechanics. Your characters will be powerful, but the system is built to avoid creating very overpowered characters. They'd probably grasp the system pretty quickly. I feel like they would really like the Free Archetype variant.

You: I don't think you really have to "preplan" a PF2 character and it gives you ample chances to retrain and change your ideas on the fly. Given how the math works out, "optimized vs. not optimized" characters shouldn't be too much of a problem unless you are having people deliberately create suboptimal characters. Character creation and advancement is very robust and gives you a whole lot of room to run around. The problem you might have is there can be a whole bunch of conditions, but they are standardized and you generally won't be using all of them at any given time. I think the only one that can be irritating is poison, but I find that's easier to manage with a VTT.

I think combat, once you get it down, generally works faster than 5E: there's more for martials to do, but spells are generally less complex/in need of adjudication because they are reined compared to 5E. Classes play well together, teamwork is definitely a thing, and the CR math is tight, so the GM will know if they have created a cakewalk or a boss fight before they get there.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Folks, just a quick calibration.

  1. Neo-Trad DMing style.
  2. 2.5-3 hours weeknight sessions. Just want to play.
  3. Doesn't want 5e any more. Sees lots of cracks, including some deep ones like challenging high level parties without it being super swingy and balance between classes with 1-3 encounters per day.
  4. The do not want OSR.
  5. Enjoy tactical grid combat and it's a requirement. But can't be slow and take up most of a 2.5-3 hour session.
  6. Mostly looking at MCDM, DC20, Daggerheart, Tales of the Valiant, and if I'm to pitch another game will need supporting points (from this list) why it really fits.
Various Players
  1. Need a straightforward game. That's does not mean rules light, but just one where a new player who reads the rules once can understand their options.
  2. Character creation/advancement: No trap options/feat taxes. No need to pre-build for a bunch of levels. Limited places to shoot yourself in the foot. Non-optimized characters need to be viable.
I see lots of great recommendations for games, but I'm trying to find something that threads some specific requirements that vary between the group. If you could limit suggestions to ones that will fulfill these that will help. And if suggesting existing systems, please give me ammunition about why those games would be a better fit than the ones the DM is currently looking at.


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