Dungeons & Dragons effectively invented tabletop RPGs as we know them. It’s a testament to its staying power that D&D still remains one of the best tabletop roleplaying games, since its medieval wargaming inception in the '70s.
However, it turns out that there are actually plenty of other tabletop fantasy RPG systems out there which serve as an alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. Plenty synergise with its swords, sorcery and demons vibe, but there are also others that take on fantastic new concepts, like Arthurian mythology, truly savage faeries and steampunk criminals.
There are also a raft of upcoming roleplaying games hitting this year across a range of themes, settings and tones, including sci-fi and horror.
Great fantasy tabletop fantasy RPGs
As you’d expect, there’s an awful lot of dross out there, which is why we’ve sifted through the hallowed dregs of the internet to uncover only the finest fantasy RPGs you can play, that also match up to Dungeons & Dragons in terms of quality and fantastical theme.
If it’s your first time exploring the weird and wild world of tabletop RPGs, we’d recommend starting out with a rules-light and storytelling RPG that’s a little lighter mechanically.
Without further adieu, lets check out the best tabletop roleplaying games that make an awesome Dungeons & Dragons alternative.
1. The 13th Age
13th Adventure takes similar mechanics to D&D, strips them, and adds very fleshed out storytelling flavour and mechanics. For example, through the ‘icon’ mechanic, characters have unique links to the environment. It all provides ample ground for storytelling, both in and out of battle.
Additionally, there’re some wild hijinx to be had with some of the 13th Adventure campaigns. The legendary Eyes of the Stone Thief adventure module involves a literal dungeon that slithers up from beneath the earth and swallows entire cities - incorporating them into its deathly bowls. It’s a module packed with madness, monolithic monsters and vengeance.
Or The Strangling Sea, which takes place in the aptly dubbed Stranglesea: where the rotted carcasses of boats float silently, hideous monsters feast on passers-by, and ships start up via eerie song.
13th Age publisher Pelgrane Press also recently released upcoming tabletop RPG The Yellow King, which sees you investigating eldritch horrors among various twisted fantasy worlds.
Buy 13th Age at Amazon.
2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4E
Not all players like their fantasy filled with dragons and golden-haired heroes. Some of us prefer hideous rat people. Or explosive headshots.
Low fantasy to its core, the Warhammer world veers more toward Evil Dead then it does the lofty elves and noble causes of Middle-earth. Peculiar to its British origins, it’s also blackly comic and steeped in the lurid influences of heavy metal.
Although it has orcs and elves and spells, the world of Warhammer is actually set a little later than your usual classic fantasy fare.
Firearms, for one, are available - although not prolific, as of yet. Magic too, is not embraced, but seen as dangerous - linked to the forces of Chaos that seep into the Warhammer world. Forces which, if they touch you, cause hideous mutations and madness.
As such, casting a lowly spell could lead to a dimensional rift opening up that swallows you whole. The consequences in Warhammer are much nastier then in D&D as a whole.
Lastly, you can play non-heroic classes, like the humble peasant, or an academic. Within these are numerous career options. Perhaps you’d like to be a rat-catcher, equipped with a tiny, vicious dog. Whatever class you choose, you’re pretty likely to die. A lot. But is it fun? Oh yes.
Buy Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4E at Amazon.
3. King Arthur Pendragon
Long live the King! If embarking on perilous quests for your lord and your lady-love in a world of cursed forests and lofty castles appeals, this is the RPG for you.
Each player is a knight starting out under Uther Pendragon. As is tradition, you’ll be accumulating great, godly deeds and glorious battle victories. And, if all goes to plan, you’ll be carving your name onto the Round Table itself along with the mythic heroes of yore.
King Arthur Pendragon eschews dungeon crawls in favour of quests, political and military machinations - or even spiritual journeys.
In between adventures, you can nab your own estate, get married and even have children. Often, characters get retired, and the player starts playing their heir. Campaigns take place across literal generations.
Surprisingly clean, not only does it revolve solely around a d20 system (meaning you won’t specifically need a trove of dice to play, unlike D&D), but its Traits and Passions stats define personality and moral predicaments very effectively.
Definitely one to play if you’re looking for something very different, and perhaps steeped more in the worlds of history over that of monsters. That said, there are some truly fantastic mythic beasts and nasties to meet in the world of King Arthur Pendragon.
Buy King Arthur Pendragon at Amazon.
Made in Sweden, Symbaroum is a dark fantasy set in a deep and dark forest chock full of ancient ruins and treasures. Its landscapes are haunted, its characters traumatised, and its monsters are pure, unbridled nightmare fuel.
Set in a land where Blight reigns, and left untended long enough, it’ll warp your player characters into something abominable. It reminds me of the first Dragon Age game in terms of theme, and then some.
There are inns set in the branches of crooked trees, hungry trolls and blight-infested creatures that are tall, ashen and covered in horns. It’s even got a giant, gaping wyrm named Uncle Linton.
That said - brooding landscape aside - this is definitely one for more combat/exploration based players. Although it’s story and setting is fantastic, there’s not as much of an emphasis given on investigation and interaction, as in some other titles. Also the art by itself is enough to haunt your dreams.
Buy Symbaroum at Amazon.
5. Blades in the Dark
One of the best tabletop roleplaying games out right now, in Blades in the Dark, you are a criminal, and you’ll be pulling off heists on the nasty streets of an industrial-fantasy city.
There are a cornucopia of crimes, cursed mysteries and bloody allegiances to be had. The world itself is dark, full of literal ghosts (plus phantom architecture) and deep corruption.
Your aim is to rise to the top of the criminal underworld through pulling off a range of jobs and crushing your rivals.
Instead of a barbarian or wizard, you’ll be playing one of a range of seedy criminal archetypes. These include the likes of the Whisper, an occult-fused sort that can force ghosts to do their bidding.
Mechanically, it’s much simpler than Dungeons & Dragons, relying instead on a small d6 dice pool.
As you’d expect in the setting, there are plentiful of opportunities to get tinkering with dangerous gadgets and occult lore. Perfect if you love plotting, scheming (especially if it all goes wrong) and getting your stab on.
Buy Blades in the Dark at Amazon.
D&D's closest rival in terms of scope, production and sales Pathfinder presents its own take on fantasy adventuring. It’s based on 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, and focuses more on crunchy combat. It’s also crazy young, with its second edition only emerging last year.
It has some unique class choices, such as alchemist and witch. Like Dungeons & Dragons it has loads of modules, ranging from the modern world, to strange worlds and horror. Module Kingmaker even lets you build up a castle to store the ludicrous amounts of loot you’ve no doubt accrued on your dungeon crawls.
Again, this is one for those who like the overall Dungeons & Dragons theme and mechanics, but are looking for something a little different - namely, something a little more mechanically crunchy.
Buy Pathfinder at Amazon.
7. Changeling: The Lost
You were ordinary once, until the Fey took you. Wheeled you over the hedges, and past the vast fantastic, where they did unspeakable things to your body, mind and soul.
We’re not talking Tinker bell here, but the inhuman spirits of lore. Cruel, ancient and easily bored. Perhaps they kept you as a lover, or maybe they warped you into a monster.
You were, after all, a plaything, and you old master could literally shift the skeins of reality as they pleased. But somehow, you escaped. No one noticed your return, because your master created a magical clone hewn of twigs, lint and cardboard to replace you.
A dark and mystical tabletop RPG that explores trauma and rebirth, the book contains everything you need to get started. It also moves between other worlds and a modern setting - a rare thing in the world of fantasy RPG games.
And unlike some other books, it really does go to town on the lore and world-building, making it an excellent sandbox playpit for campaigns. Perfect for folks who like their darkness extra black, and are interested in working on developing a character in a drama-focused setting.
Changeling: The Lost is based in the Chronicles of Darkness setting, which also encapsulates upcoming tabletop RPG Hunter: The Vigil, which sees you stalking monsters - including those twisted faeries.
Buy Changeling: The Lost at Drive Thru RPG.
8. The One Ring (system, 2nd edition) - Adventures of Middle Earth
Ah, the “greatest fantasy setting of all time’ finally has its own role playing system. That said, the influence of Tolkien’s imagined worlds is undoubtable. His post war writings created the fantasy genre as we know it.
So, firstly we have The One Ring RPG game, which splits the game into two key phases: adventuring and fellowship. In the first you delve outward seeking adventure, and in the second is a glorified downtime where you can rest, read and plot.
However, The One Ring RPG game also has a D&D friendly build titled Adventures in Middle Earth. If you are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons 5E mechanics, that might be a swift and easy route to take an adventure over to the world of Tolkien.
Unfortunately publisher Cubicle 7 (which is also behind the upcoming RPG Warhammer: Age of Sigmar - Soulbound) cancelled both versions of the RPG last year. However, there are a multitude of excellent supplements and adventures still available for the RPG in both print and digital editions.
Buy The One Ring 2nd edition at Zatu.
9. Dungeon World
Based on the well known Apocalypse World mechanics, it’s effectively a simpler, more narrative driven version of Dungeons & Dragons. For example, Dungeon World monsters don’t have stats, and as such the game master doesn’t need to roll for them during battle.
In this, the high stakes conflicts come not from the game master vs players, but more the overriding narrative that has been created collaboratively. Tactics and strategy will trump lucky rolls anytime, and rolls themselves work in a simpler, more abstract success, failure, and a middling try again with increased risk.
It’s a good shout for folks that want a fantasy RPG experience, but with less mechanical meat or simulation elements. This is definitely not the game that’ll simulate how to ride a dragon in heavy armour down to a tee.
Lastly, and perhaps most impressively, everything the players need to know is presented in a two page spread.
Character sheets are significantly simpler too, although this does mean more restricted character creation. Play this if you want Dungeons & Dragons but considerably simpler and less in depth.
Buy Dungeon World at Amazon.
10. Fate of the Norns
Atabletop RPG that draws from the colourful world of Viking mythology. As such, in Fate of the Norns, Ragnarok is nigh. As such, the sun and moon have been devoured by celestial wolves, stars are dropping from the sky, and death is not necessarily the end for your characters. From the South, a new White God spells the end for the old ways.
In terms of mechanics: Fate of the Norns eschews dice entirely, instead opting for shining rune stones hewn of onyx. You all play characters (of which there are around 15 archetypes to choose from) embarking on an epic journey across a perilous world on the brink of destruction.
You and other heroes have risen from the darkness, set on saving Midgard. With visceral combat and fearsome mythic beasts roaming around a literal world of unending darkness (you have to wonder how much worse it can really get), Fate of the Norns makes for a grisly, and decidedly mythic experience that is completely unique.
Buy Fate of the Norns at Amazon.