Dungeons & Dragons is the OG when it comes to Role Playing Games (RPG), and every tabletop game and video game adhering to its innovations owe it a debt of gratitude. Games like World of Warcraft and many more wouldn’t exist were it not for Dave Armeson and Gary Gygax’s amazing invention requiring the most imaginative of players to sit down, blast some Rush, and enjoy questing with their best friends. The game was invented back in 1974, but it still exists today, having gone through updates and changes. It says something about the legacy of a game when it’s still played in a day and age when virtual reality is an affordable gaming technology in many people’s homes.
While D&D is the first RPG, it isn’t necessarily the best there is. Many games that came after its release worked to improve the game in various ways. When it comes to ranking the games that are better and worse than D&D, we had to dig through what has been released since. There have been thousands of games developed since 1974, but only a small amount could be considered good… much less better than D&D. When it came to finding the worst of the worst, it proved more difficult as there are tons of less than stellar games out there. Even so, these 10 we found are so bad, you might just want to play them to find out. Shout out in the comments and let us know if we missed your favorite… or least favorite… in this list of 10 Role Playing Games better than D&D (and 10 that are worse).
These are presented in no particular order; they are either really good… or really bad!
15. BETTER: STAR WARS THE ROLEPLAYING GAME
When it was adapted into a tabletop RPG in 1987, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game quickly became a popular adaptation worthy of its title. Star Wars RPG was first published by West End Games but eventually went to another company where it was modified and re-released as D6 Space. There are other Star Wars RPGs out there, but the one we are discussing is the original West End Games version published between 1987 and ’99.
The source books for the game were so detailed, Timothy Zahn used them to write his Thrawn trilogy. The books also introduced now-popular names like Rodian, Quarren, and Twi’lek, which are still heavily used in canon today. The game expanded multiple times to include more than 140 sourcebooks and it won the Origins Award in 1987 for “Best Roleplaying Rules.”
14. WORSE: THE ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES ROLE-PLAYING GAME
You might think a game based on the Indiana Jones franchise would be amazing… after all, Star Wars killed it with an RPG. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game, which was released by TSR, Inc. in 1984 and discontinued a decade later. The game was eventually re-released by West End Games under the new name, The World of Indiana Jones.
Like the movies, the game takes place in a historical setting of the 1930s pulp era where players play out scenes described by the referee (GM). Gameplay was significantly limited to characters from the films with no ability to generate new ones, it was boring to play through and would be best suited as an introductory game to the genre, but only if you wanted to turn people away from it.
13. BETTER: SHADOWRUN
Shadowrun was first released in 1989 and it quickly went on to become one of the most successful RPGs on the market. D&D introduced players to different races including orcs, elves and more, and Shadowrun continued that tradition, but with a twist. Instead of taking place in a fantasy setting, Shadowrun is a futuristic sci-fi RPG set in the year 2080, which combines elements of the cyberpunk genre with fantasy and crime.
Instead of advancing statistics just through experience, players could upgrade their characters with cybernetic implants, software upgrades and other means unique to the underlying architecture of the game. Not only is technology running rampant in the Shadowrun universe, so is magic, which blends seamlessly in this entertaining and expansive world. As of 2013, Shadowrun published its Fifth Edition.
12. WORSE: CYBORG COMMANDO
You might be surprised to see Cyborg Commando sitting in the “worse” column of this list, seeing as one of its creators is none other than the legendary man himself: Gary Gygax. That’s right, the man who co-created D&D helped work on a game that absolutely failed in every way possible. After Gygax left TSR, he founded New Infinities Productions, Inc., which published Cyborg Commando in 1987.
The game could have worked, but it was too focused on shoddy mechanics and a strange setting. Players would take on cyborgs who were embroiled in an ongoing conflict with aliens called Xenoborgs. One of the key mechanics had players firing lasers from their fingertips. Fans of Gygax shrugged it off and went back to playing D&D, leaving this game in the ash heap of history.
11. BETTER: WEREWOLF: THE APOCALYPSE
White Wolf Publishing’s successes with the niche audience for Vampire: The Masquerade led the publisher to create Werewolf: The Apocalypse the following year. Like the vampire game, Werewolf was deeply integrated with werewolf lore, though in the game, they are called “Garou.” Werewolf: The Apocalypse gives players the option to live out their dreams of finally becoming a lycanthropic monster who stalks the night!
Like the arguably more well-known Masquerade, Apocalypse has an ongoing conflict revolving around two sides of an ongoing eternal war. Players take on the role of a werewolf who must face enemies on two sides while attempting to thwart the coming apocalypse. The game was first released in 1992 but was discontinued in 2004. A 20th Anniversary Edition was released in 2013 though there hasn’t been any “new” content published in several years.
10. WORSE: THE WORLD OF SYNNIBARR
Few people will tell you an RPG like D&D has simple rules. The rulebook is rather extensive, but where games like D&D differ from others is their rules are easy to follow, learn and adapt. Games like The world of Synnibarr failed to learn from that example with their overly complex rule system, which makes it a contender for one of the worst RPGs ever made.
Ask anyone who has played it and they will regale you with their tale of the flying grizzly bears who shoot lasers from their eyes. While that might sound cool, it absolutely isn’t when it comes to this game. The setting is ridiculous and surreal and it has been compared to the likes of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space in terms of how derided it is.
9. BETTER: SAVAGE WORLDS
Savage Worlds is different from most of the RPGs on this list as it focuses primarily on speed-of-play with less emphasis on preparation of characters than others like D&D. The game utilizes a generic RPG rules system, which takes the players into a world set with specific “plot points.” These help to guide the rate of play towards a specific goal, though there are often “side quests” integrated into gameplay.
Savage Worlds was first released by Shane Lacy Hensley via Pinnacle Entertainment Group in 2003. Because the game’s system is generic, it falls under a number of different genre including pulp, fantasy, horror and science fiction. In 2003, shortly after the game’s release, it was chosen to receive the Origin Gamers’ Choice Award for Best Role-Playing Game.
8. WORSE: SENZAR
Senzar is to heavy metal fans what D&D is to fantasy lovers. The game was long considered to be the worst RPG ever made, but has since been unseated in that role by others on this list. While the game falls under the fantasy RPG genre, it succeeded in creating its own world, which some fans still appreciate. Even with its few fans still playing it today, the game launched amidst controversy.
When the game was released in 1996, the creators went on USENET (the online message system of the day) and over-hyped the game. They also created puppet accounts and derided critics while praising the game. Fans saw through it and the game flopped when it was released.
7. BETTER: CYBERPUNK 2020
Cyberpunk 2020 was originally published under the title, Cyberpunk, but was renamed following the publication of the Second Edition in 1990. The game is, unsurprisingly, a cyberpunk RPG focusing on a stylistically 1980s cyberpunk theme reminiscent of the decade. High-tech weaponry, performance-enhancing substances, cybernetic enhancements, genetic engineering, cloning and artificial intelligence are all important aspects spread throughout the game.
Since its initial release in 1988 by R. Talsorian Games, Cyberpunk 2020 has been updated to a Third Edition. The game has been adapted into two tie-in novels, a collectible card game and multiple video games including a Triple-A title expected to release in 2019 called Cyberpunk 2077, which takes place 57 years following the events of the original tabletop RPG.
6. BETTER: MAGE: THE ASCENSION
Another title by White Wolf Studio, Mage: The Ascension is a themed RPG set in the World of Darkness. instead of taking on the role of a werewolf or vampire, players become mages who are capable of casting powerful magical spells and amazing feats of magic. Unlike other fantasy RPGs involving magic, Mage integrates the magical belief system with other concepts including science and religion. This separates the game from others in the genre, allowing for a unique style of gameplay.
Mage: The Ascension was first released in 1992 and saw two revisions until 2000. By 2005, the property was re-released as Mage: The Awakening, which built on the original concept, but changed the setting and overall premise of the game. A 20th Anniversary Edition was released by the publisher in 2015.
5. WORSE: ZARRAKAN: WHERE THE ADVENTURE NEVER ENDS
Another entry from the 1990s, Zarrakan: Where the Adventure Never Ends is another created and pushed onto the unsuspecting RPG community by its creator. The game is an incomprehensible mess with rules written in English, but almost completely undecipherable by anyone who understands even the minimum of the language. When the game was “rediscovered” on its website by a player in 2003, it was labeled as a parody or a hoax, given its incredible complexity and over-the-top rules.
Normally, we would try to explain the game to you as best we could, but that’s a task far beyond our abilities. If you are looking for something confusing and mildly hateful of the fantasy roleplaying genre while purporting to exist within it, Zarrakan: Where the Adventure Never Ends may be the game for you… if you can even find it.
4. BETTER: GURPS
The Generic Universal RolePlaying System, otherwise known as GURPS, was introduced in 1986 by Steve Jackson Games. The system is engineered to allow for play in any setting imaginable, which deviated from the established setting in games like D&D. In terms of gameplay, GURPS plays out similarly to the classic game. A Game Master controls the flow of play and all actions are carried out audibly, in a storytelling setting.
One key difference between D&D and GURPS involves the manner in which characters are created. Instead of relying on random die rolls to build attributes such as intelligence and strength, GURPS allocates a specific amount to players. Characters are then built utilizing these amounts in whatever way the player chooses. GURPS stands apart due entirely to its generic nature, which makes it highly customizable for any situation.
3. WORSE: WRAETHTHU
Wraeththu was first released in 2005 as a bizarre RPG based on a series of novels by Storm Constantine. While that may be the coolest name we have ever heard of, the books aren’t exactly the type to find anything but a niche audience. In the book (and RPG), the Wraeththu are a race of hermaphroditic supermen intent on taking over the Earth.
There’s a lot in there about the genitalia of the Wraeththu, but a description of that simply isn’t happening. The rules for the game are somewhat ridiculous, but fans of the novels love this. This is one of those games only a specific sort of person is going to enjoy while the rest of society sits by in bafflement wondering why they aren’t simply playing D&D.
2. BETTER: CALL OF CTHULU
An adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s story of the same name, Call of Cthulu, was published by Chaosium in 1981 as a new RPG following a horror theme. Since its release, CoC has been revised into its Seventh Edition, which was published in 2016. The game utilizes a system unique to Chaosium called Basic Role-Playing BRP), which has special rules for attributes such as sanity… an important aspect in a horror game!
CoC is a game of mysteries, secrets and horror that thrusts players into the role of investigators. Players travel to dangerous places throughout the (much darker) world where they must find and battle with insane monsters and crazy cultists. This game is definitely made for the Lovecraft enthusiast, but anyone unfamiliar with the master’s work who enjoys the horror genre will love this game.
1. BETTER: PATHFINDER
It’s not easy to compete with the likes of D&D in the fantasy roleplaying game market, but if there’s any contender worthy of that battle, it’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Pathfinder was first published in 2009 by Paizo Publishing, which had previously published supplemental books for Dungeons and Dragon magazines. When the contract ended, Paizo released Pathfinder as a standalone RPG, which utilized the rules from Dungeons & Dragons edition 3.5 under the Open Game License rules.
In many ways, Pathfinder RPG is incredibly similar to D&D, though it does deviate considerably when it comes to sourcebook storytelling. Gameplay is similar but still ingrained within the 3.5 rulesets, though a second edition is expected to release sometime in 2019. Pathfinder’s success has bled into other industries, allowing for video game adaptations and tie-in books.
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