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Our gaming group has been using various forms of D&D for several decades now, and we've enjoyed it quite a bit, but we have zero experience with other roleplaying games. Seeing all the other games mentioned on here has gotten me thinking if D&D is the right system for us to use (we're fine with change).

But it's hard for me to try to find out where we should go, since I don't even know where we're at on the spectrum. It's kind of like we've always lived in the Arctic, but since it's normal to us, we have no idea that most of the rest of the world is warmer.

So where does D&D fall on the spectrum of RPGs?

Summarizing the comments below, it seems that D&D stands out by promoting a focus on combat, a high fantasy setting, with appeal to those who like working a system of numbers, and using dice to determine outcomes.

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There's a spectrum of RPGs, sure, but so far I can't tell which axes of that spectrum you want D&D placed on. Rules light vs. heavy? Narrative vs. simulationist vs. gamist? –  okeefe Oct 10 '11 at 18:40
D&D definitely has its own paradigm. It'll be hard to describe what other games are like in a way that's meaningful simply because how they work doesn't relate to D&D very well—they're in a different paradigm of "what you do at the table" and sometimes "what the rules are for". There are lots of games in the D&D paradigm—GURPS, Savage Worlds, Vampire—and a lot outside it. Your biggest challenge will be "why is this better for me/my group?" because "better" tends to be measured against the metrics that matter to the paradigm you already know. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 10 '11 at 19:13
For the features that might make someone want to try certain other games (and which are by contrast implicit clues about D&D's type), the answers to “Learn a new RPG a year”: Which systems are a must-know? are helpful. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 10 '11 at 19:17
@Joe a summary of sorts is in Ron Edwards' "System Does Matter" at indie-rpgs.com/_articles/system_does_matter.html –  okeefe Oct 10 '11 at 20:48
Note to all- please edit anything useful from these comments into the question and/or answer; the comments will be deleted eventually. –  mxyzplk Oct 12 '11 at 3:48

2 Answers 2

up vote 25 down vote accepted

As noted in the comments, there are a lot of axes to compare role playing games on. Here are a few:

Rules Heavy/Light

D&D tends to be pretty heavy in terms of rules complexity. There are a fair number of special cases, but a lot of them are variations on the basic concept of "roll a d20 and modify it with the appropriate stat." You can find more complex systems out there, but many systems will be simpler.


D&D has varied pretty wildly on this axis over the course of its lifetime. D&D 4e tends to be extremely abstract... The rules operate on their own, and it's up to the group to interpret them.

Focus (combat, social, etc.)

D&D tends to be extremely focused on what happens during combat. Fights make up a large portion of any given adventure. This is not to say that you can't use it for other things... But the bulk of the rules covers what happens during a fight, with only simplified systems for other aspects (social encounters, stealth, economics, and so on).


Latter editions of D&D tend to make it very difficult for player characters to die. Other games make combat extremely deadly.


Are characters built from a template with small customizations, or from scratch from a variety of interchangeable components? D&D is the stereotypical level-based system.

Session Flexibility/Preparation

How well does the system handle unusual group sizes? How much time does it take to prepare an adventure? How quickly can you adjust to someone not making it to a session? In all of these particulars, D&D tends to be relatively rigid (3.x being the worst offender).

And many more...

That's just a few off the top of my head. You might browse the tag to get a feeling for the kind of things that people look for in RPGs.

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This is great, exactly the kind of information I was looking for. The points I understand are that D&D is rules-heavy and combat-focused, and that characters are made up as a particular template (class) with chunks of ability coming in levels. The template vs. interchangeable components point is really making me think, thanks! –  Joe Oct 10 '11 at 19:44
We tend to have maybe one instance of combat per evening of gameplay (3 hours or so). Is that on the combat-heavy end of the spectrum or the combat-light end? –  Joe Oct 10 '11 at 19:47
I imagined what made a game combat-heavy was the particular setting, not the game system. Am I missing something? –  Joe Oct 10 '11 at 20:01
@Joe it isn't setting per se (although that's part of it). A lot of it comes from what the system and rules emphasize (D&D emphasizes combat over other areas). Part of it comes from the tone of the books. Part of it comes from the way the printed adventures are put together. Part of it simply comes from the target audience of the RPG. D&D's default setting can support anything from pure hack-and-slash dungeon delves to combat-free intrigue... It's the other factors that tip it one way or the other. –  AceCalhoon Oct 10 '11 at 20:35
@Joe GURPS is an example of a game with interchangeable components. Rather than "leveling up" you just get more points and those points can go toward whatever (often skills). Skills range from sword fighting to biology to fortune telling. There isn't a predefined path (or set of paths) for a character - at any point you can take a turn in a different direction with future points (pending GM approval). –  user1637 Oct 11 '11 at 2:15

Very good question.

Personally, I'd recommend: sticking with D&D! It was the first fantasy role-playing game and despite the dozens I've played it's still one of my favorites. It's really hard to compare to the true "D&D" feel.

However, since most of the game designers are now dead/switched companies the latest versions of D&D seem to be losing their "D&D" feel, in my opinion. If this is your feeling as well, you might be looking for some new (good) systems to try out. This is pretty much what I did the hard way (by buying them all). Overall, I was mostly disappointed. I couldn't really find much to compare with 3e and 3.5 (not sure which system you use). Even basic D&D was pretty darn cool.

Okay, assuming you're still looking for a new RPG to try out, here's a rundown of some of the ones I've seen/heard of/owned/and played:

Pathfinder: Really, this is just D&D 3.75 under a different name. If you're a big fan of D&D this is a pretty cool game to get into. It's very complicated and rules heavy, but it still retains that 'true D&D' feel.

Horror Rules: This is a nifty little horror role-playing game I came across. I don't even like horror role-playing games, but this one is so hilarious and awesome I'd recommend it to anyone.

Apart from that, I don't really recommend the other major RPGs I've gone through. Here they are anyway:

GURPS: this game has a lot of cool powers. However, the 2d6 core mechanic is a little wonky. Also, it's power based so you're either an invincible, incorporeal monster, or a guy who can drive and shoot a gun (and will also probably die if you get shot).

Savage Worlds: Everyone seems to love this game. It's nice and simple, and works well. However it's a bit too 'normal' for me. One of my players got shot and died. We're kind of more used to heroic fantasy than miniatures combat. Savage Worlds has a strong tactical and miniatures edge and it functions universally allowing you to play sci-fi, or what have you.

Ars Magica: This game is highly role-playing orientated but the mechanics struck me as kind of odd and open to interpretation.

Mutants and Masterminds/Other d20 settings: these seem to be mostly a rip off of 3e and I wouldn't really recommend them. This goes for LOTR rpg and the WOW RPG as well.

Warhammer 40K RPG and Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader: these games seem to cater more to the miniatures fans of the games they represent. They don't strike me as so workable in an RPG. The d100 core mechanic is a little wonky, but semi-workable. You might enjoy them, but they're not really to my taste (I gave away my Rogue Trader book I bought for like 60 bucks without reading it more than once or twice).

Good luck on finding a great system!

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GURPS uses a 3d6 system- not 2d6. From GURPS Lite 4th Ed Pg. 2 - "Whenever a character attempts to perform an action (e.g., use a skill), roll three dice to determine the outcome." –  wraith808 Sep 23 '12 at 3:34
The D&D feel has changed over the editions. I loved and still play AD&D2e. 3.5 is a very different beast. As to what system to recommend, and what system to recommend, it all depends on what you want. oWoD is extremely different, but I enjoy it too, just in a different way than I enjoy D&D. –  TimothyAWiseman Feb 28 '14 at 17:27

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