Why it is hard to replace D&D with indie RPGs

Alright, so WotC is facing a lot of backlash that is pushing people away from D&D. I’m not going to write about that, much more qualified people then me already have.

I am going to write about why I think calls to play indie RPGs instead of D&D are naive and misguided.

Indie RPGs are smart, well written, simpler to play then D&D and never going to replace D&D for the same reason that arthouse cinema is never going to replace action movies or hallmark romances. D&D is a game you can play when things outside are dark and you need to escape from reality for a while. Indie RPGs, at least the ones I see being pushed on Twitter to replace D&D tend to have themes and messages and don’t fill the same niche in my opinion.

To put it another way: These type of indie RPGs are a dinner at a classy French restaurant, D&D is the local pub. Yes, the French restaurant is better food in most ways, but you have to put on nice cloths and take the time to learn an etiquette about forks and such. D&D is the local diner- yeah, it is greasy and probably bad for you, but you already know where it is and can go in your comfortable cloths. (I mean, D&D probably costs more then the indie RPG, but no metaphor is perfect)

Let me break down what I mean. D&D relies on tropes most people already know: Dwarves are short and like ale. Elves are dexterous archers and wizards. Halfings are hombodies. Adventures tend to be simple- There is a dragon that has taken over the Dwarves homeland, there was a murder at the harvest festival and you need to find who did it, etc.

Most indie RPGs try and get away from this. That means the amount of buy-in you need is much larger. You need to sit down and put in WORK to learn the new setting. You can’t rely on easy tropes you already know. That is an issue, it makes the game less accessible to new players. Now, I agree and am learning more and more that a lot of these tropes are harmful and we need to stop using them- that doesn’t mean we can just stop having tropes though, that means we need to use less harmful ones.

Another thing is that D&D’s style of mechnics are very simple to learn as a player. The DM is the world and all the people who aren’t players. The player controls a character. A lot of indie RPGs break this model, which makes things harder on both the DM and player. I’ve talked online a lot about how narrative games are a bad fit for mysteries, as the DM can’t assume the players won’t add details that change clues or give the person they had intended to have committed an alibi.

Therefore if you want to replace D&D with something, I would suggest looking for games that fulfill the same niche as it. Easy to understand the setting, uses elements that people are already familiar with from popular culture, and that uses traditional mechanics.

Some games I think that are examples of this, though many of them have their own problematic elements:

  • Pathfinder (Ok, it is basically D&D)
  • Numenera
  • Alternity (Star Drive is basically a 90s version of Mass Effect meets Firefly, Dark Matter is basically the X-Files RPG)
  • The Call of Cthulhu (1920s and 1990s are both fairly easy settings to grasp, and it is easier then you’d expect to cut out the racist elements or even all of the supernatural bits.)
  • Basic Roleplay System (BRP) (Powers Call of Cthulhu)
  • GURPS – Much more complicated setup then D&D, but much faster then you would think in play. No setting though, but you could steal another games setting and such if the DM is willing to do some work

I would love for other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments

Published in: on July 5, 2020 at 11:54 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. 13th Age I’ve heard some good things about as well, also in the Pathfinder Fantasy itch
    I’ve had fun playing the newer 7th Sea as well, as it feels like Princess Bride just all the time

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