Role Playing Game Alternatives to Dungeons and Dragons
Explore the changing landscape of role-playing games following the WotC OGL debacle. Discover open-source alternatives like Castles and Crusades, 6D6 RPG, and more.
Has the Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) OGL (Open Gaming License) debacle left a bad taste in your mouth? Has the blush come off the Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) rose? Based on the online chatter I’ve read over the past week I think it’s fair to say the community has changed. I think it’s changing for the better and many players are left scrambling for role playing game alternatives to Dungeons and Dragons.
Part of that reason is the sudden realization that a company that has a massive brand can change a license and then lay claim to all your work to make money, just feels scummy. While they try to make it legal, it doesn’t feel any less than theft!
I’m not a lawyer but from I do have open-source software (OSS) experience. I didn’t create the OSS I use but I do know about the importance of licensing. It’s very hard to create a “retroactive” license that can claw its way back and reset everything from the start. I believe that you can’t turn back the clock.
Going forward from this debacle I see only two scenarios. The first one is that Hasbro and WotC release their new restrictive license, alter the System Reference Document (SRD), and hope that 3rd party players adopt it.
The second scenario is the community builds its own open-source licensed game.
Scenario number two is unfolding right now in front of our eyes.
Castles and crusades
In early 2019 I stumbled across a small gaming store in the next town over. It was off Main Street but just close enough for me to spy the sign and walk over. I went inside and saw a few patrons in the back playing a game.
I looked thru the shop and found a bookcase with a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons books. A lot has changed over the years since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I had only three softcover books at the start but ended up with a hardcover Player’s Manual, Dungeon Master Guide, and Monster Manual.
I spied a book called Castles and Crusades by Troll Lord Games and was intrigued. I pulled out the Castle Keeper’s guide and started reading. The thing that jumped out at me was how simple it was. It reminded me of DnD but felt easier and less encumbering.
There was a Player’s Handbook and Monsters & Treasures book. It had Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, and the same group of monsters I was used to. The best part, it was only three books. With those three books, I could rebuild a fantasy world and play fast and easy games on a weekend night. I didn’t need 20 different books and I didn’t need to worry about complex fighting rounds.
If the rules impede the game flow and the game, you should get rid of those rules. Gaming should always be about fun and flow first and never about encumbered processes.
Castles and Crusades was my first introduction to a role playing game alternative to Dungeons and Dragons, and I loved it.
We still play inside this game system today.
Other role playing game alternatives
My search for other role playing game alternatives and open-source game systems took me down a big rabbit hole. Several Reddit groups were a good first start until I found the Open Game Systems wiki.
This explained the three typical types of gaming licenses: Open Game License (OGL), GNU License (GNU), and Creative Commons (CC). Each is open source but does have some caveats for use, so read their licensing structure carefully.
Out of that list, I discovered two intriguing alternatives to the WotC DnD. The first one is called Gods and Monsters, which is a similar DnD clone. The major changes are different terminology and more high-level player character groups. This might sound more restrictive but it’s not, it does not stand in the way of your creativity. The work that creator Jerry Stratton did is phenomenal.
Another exciting one that lets you apply all kinds of timelines and worlds to it is the 6D6 RPG game system. I like this one because it focuses on a new game mechanic that’s simple and easy to use. It allows you to create detailed and rich player characters.
The best part is that you can place these characters into any game setting. It could be a fantasy world or the Wild West. Hell, I could even apply this game system to a futuristic outer space setting. It was so good I made a donation to the game developer and downloaded the rule book.
Note: You should always support open source whatever. If you use it, make a donation to the creator. It means a lot to them.
Another awesome one I found is Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game (affiliate link). This is a heavily rewritten version of DnD 3rd edition and I like it a lot. If I had to start a new fantasy world again, I would consider using this system. You can download all the manuals as PDFs for free but it is recommended to buy the hardcover books, this way you give the creators a bit of income.
Gamers are good people
The general table top role playing game (TTRPG) world is filled with good, honest, and welcoming people. I was welcomed into every homebrew campaign I ever played with open arms. Everyone was accepted for who they were and we all worked together as a team slaying monsters and counting treasures.
Some of my favorite memories were made around a table rolling dice, playing cards, or buying Monopoly properties. Playing games is something we humans do, as a social thing, and it makes us smarter. We learned how to communicate, play act, and calculate the odds of winning. We learned so much from playing games because it’s a safe way to test out new ideas with one another.
I understand that companies need to make income to survive. I can’t fault WotC for trying to make a profit so they can pay their employees and create new content, after all, I want to get paid for my hard work too. What I can’t support is a blatant grab for your content. I can’t support taking food out of your mouth to enrich shareholders who probably have never played any TTRPG game.
Hasbro rolled for initiative and lost. They rolled a 1 and fumbled.
In one fell swoop Hasbro’s greed has destroyed decades of branding and goodwill and left WotC holding the bag. The community is responding fast and with decisive action.
The world of role-playing games is going to be forever changed. Let’s welcome the alternatives.