3 Fantasy RPGs to Try This Winter

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It’s cold outside. Why not warm up by rolling dice?

Now is the great time to find a game you’ll love. Everybody loves Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy, but why not try a different flavor? These three games show you how different a fantasy RPG can be!


Painting by Milivoj Ceran.

Earthdawn is a fantasy RPG in which you play a civilization rising from the ashes of a kaiju monster apocalypse. “Horrors,” attracted by the world’s increasing level of magical energy, attack and lay waste to the world, destroying every inch of civilization. The only place for sentient beings to hide were in kaers, underground redoubts cut off from the Horrors. The Horrors, of course, did all they could to break in to such redoubts, succeeding in some cases. Now, magical energy is decreasing, and the Horrors are leaving the world. Now it is up to your dwarves, elves, and assorted other races such as “obsidiman” to beat back the wild, and discover what was lost. But beware, there are still horrors in the dark.

In an interview with Geek & Sundry, line developer Josh Harrison singled out the setting as one of the great things about the game:

[The world] is incredibly rich… one where a lot of the most common tropes of fantasy gaming (dungeons, classes, levels, etc.) are given an in-setting reality and surrounding structure that makes sense. A player character can be introduced as a “Third Circle Warrior” and it means something to the person they’re speaking to. Why are there so many ruins and underground complexes loaded with monsters, traps, and treasure? There was an apocalyptic situation (the Scourge) where people had to build magical ‘bomb shelters’ to protect themselves from the Horrors, and many of them fell.

Earthdawn was originally released in the late 90s, and was much celebrated as a unique take on fantasy at the time. It’s art was particularly stunning. A Kickstarter for a 4th edition of the game raised over $109,000 in 2014, bringing the game back online. The art is still stunning, and like earlier editions, captures the feel of a wondrous exploration.

The system is unique. Skills and abilities are added together to make a “step” and your step determines how many dice you roll, and of what kind, with higher steps of course being better. It is refreshing to see that fantasy can work even when it is not built on the bones of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics is a fantasy RPG devoted to “Appendix N” fantasy.

What is Appendix N you ask?

Art by Doug Kovacs.

It’s the part of the Dungeon Masters Guide written by Gary Gygax wherein he lists his influences. Dungeon Crawl Classics creator Joseph Goodman spent two years reading deep into the Appendix N list as he was creating Dungeon Crawl Classics. He stated that his intention was to create a fantasy role-playing game that would allow gamers to live the adventures of Appendix N heroes like Elric, Hawkmoon, Conan, and Frodo.

Dungeon Crawl Classics is an excellent fantasy game, though with its phone book sized corebook, it can seem daunting. The game is crunchy and rich with randomized tables, a gaming convention which Joseph Goodman elevates almost to the level of art. There are lists of names, titles, and mutations for spellcasters whose workings go awry.

The game’s art looks like something from a Heavy Metal fever dream, or something drawn by a talented high school senior bored during chemistry in 1978 (and I mean that as a compliment).

Appendix N is certainly a fascinating look into the mind of Gary Gygax. Dungeon Crawl Classics is crunchy, deadly, fun. Players may lose as many as 20 characters just getting to 1st level!

Castles & Crusades

Painting by Peter Bradley.

Speaking of Gary Gygax, his last publisher was Troll Lord Games, which puts out the excellent Castles & Crusades. Where Dungeon Crawl Classics takes a look at 1970s RPGs and embraces complexity, C&C tries to keep it simple. Most of tasks are completed with the roll of a single D20, yet the character classes are rich, evocative, and fun to play.

C&C ejects skills and feats from the game, making it much simpler and faster at the table. C&C CEO Stephen Chenault said in and interview with Geek & Sundry:

Essentially one mechanic drives everything, the SIEGE Engine, which calls for attribute checks to solve game problems. This simplicity allows players to learn the game play quickly and because the mechanic is so elegantly simple, it places the emphasis on the adventure-scenarios and the characters.

You roll ability modifiers against a target number and voila! You’re playing Castles & Crusades!

What is your stripe of fantasy gaming? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy FASA Games.

Other images courtesy FASA, Troll Lord Games, & Goodman Games.

Ben Riggs speaks five languages, and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to man, animal, and werewolf alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points Podcast, available on iTunes or Libsyn

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