Thanks to the Open Gaming License, Dungeons & Dragons has seen a thousand flowers bloom beneath its banner. We here at Geek & Sundry have picked out a few of our favorite games which, while they won’t have Dungeons & Dragons in their title, still take the games rules for their bones and sinews.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Lamentations is an evolution of the 1980s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. The rules themselves are brutal. For example, no one but fighters ever gets a to hit bonus in combat. Ever. Rogues have been renamed specialists, and Summon is a 1st level spell, which sounds great until you realize you could possibly summon antimatter, which explodes, likely pasting the spell-caster all over her surroundings, or some jibbering horror which could destroy the planet. And yes, that’s a first-level spell.
Lamentations is at its most metal in its adventures. The adventures Lamentations produces are what Gary Gygax might have written in the 1980s if, instead of trying to convince the world that D&D wasn’t evil, he decided to embrace it. Standout adventures are the ENnie Award-winning Red and Pleasant Land, which takes Alice in Wonderland, smacks it in the face with Dracula, and adds Elizabeth Bathory to the mix for more bloodshed, and Scenic Dunsmouth is simply one of the best D&D-style adventures written in the past decade. Every time Dunsmouth is played, the DM randomizes the village, remakes its map, its conspiracies, and the relationships of the villagers. A group could play through Dunsmouth a half-dozen times and never have the same experience.
Dungeons & Dragons is a ton of fun. However, it can ask a lot of the Dungeon Master. On Netflix’s Stranger Things, a DM complains to his mother, “I spent two whole weeks planning this campaign!” Unfortunately, now that we’re old enough to have jobs, kids, and commutes, we really don’t have infinite time to spend prepping a session. Dungeon World vastly simplifies prep for the DM. Firstly, the DM never rolls in game, the players do all the rolling. Secondly, a DM is supposed to prepare a few enemies, called “fronts” in the game. The DM should think about their “moves.” In other words, what will they do to make the PCs lives a living nightmare?
Dungeon Wold uses the Apocalypse World engine created by Vincent Baker, meaning the game all but purrs and rubs your leg at the table. The game also uses the concept of failing forward. In other words, there are situations in game in which failing is objectively less interesting than succeeding. For example, stealing the king’s diary from his bedside. However, having characters succeed all the time is likewise boring. Failing forward is the idea that on a bad roll, characters still succeed in their task, but a complication ensues. You may get the king’s diary, but you meet his Master of Assassins on the way out the door.
13th Age is a fantasy role-playing game designed by Jonathon Tweet and Rob Heinsoo. Those names may sound familiar to you, because Tweet was one of the designers of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons and Heinsoo was a lead designer of 4th edition. In 13th Age, the pair come together to make the D&D of their dreams.
13th Age has a number of mechanics that make the game unique. For example, combat in the game uses an escalation die. What’s an escalation die? It’s a six-sided die which is increased by one every round of combat, and player characters may add it to all their combat rolls. It means that the beginning of fights are dangerous, but shortens the amount of game time spent wearing an enemy to the bone. Fights are quicker, and more decisive.
Characters are also blessed with One Unique Things. Perhaps your character is the last of the hill dwarves, owns the only dragon egg still in existence, or is the only person ever captured by orcs who escaped to tell the tale. But whatever you choose becomes true for your game.
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Dungeon Crawl Classics is rife with old-fashioned attitudes about play, and what is supposed to happen at the gaming table. It’s not about relationships, story, or even heroes. It’s about killing monsters and taking their stuff. The back of the book puts it most excellently:
“You’re no hero. You’re an adventurer: a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen-slayer, a tight-lipped warlock guarding long-dead secrets. You seek gold and glory, winning it with sword and spell, caked in the blood and filth of the weak, the dark, the demons, and the vanquished. There are treasures to be won deep underneath, and you shall have them.
Return to the glory days of fantasy with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery. Fast play, cryptic secrets, and a mysterious past await you: turn the page…”
The game embraces an old school ethos with some fun new mechanics. For example, DCC character creation includes the character funnel. Players roll up a number of 0 level ratcatchers, serfs, and peons. Then, this hapless mob goes through a meat-grinder of a dungeon. Whoever is left whole, alive, and sane at the other end is your character.
Dungeon Crawl Classics also has an extensive library of adventures. I personally would recommend Frozen in Time, which is fantastic because your characters explore the base of a time traveler, and discover katanas, lasers, and modern art.
Feature image courtesy Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
What is your favorite D&D clone? Let us know in the comments below!