SO YOU WANT TO PLAY DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS
You probably heard it played on The Adventure Zone, or Critical Role, or various other podcasts. Or maybe you saw them playing it in Stranger Things, or in the most famous of the Chick Tracts, or it was brought up on some other show or movie. However you came across it, it made you think that maybe D&D could be really fun, maybe you should give it a try. And it can be! Tabletop games are really fun! I highly recommend them.
Unfortunately for you, D&D is bad. It’s really bad. It’s a trash pile of a game. Getting into tabletops via D&D is similar to getting into video games off of shovelware platformers - it might work, you may have a good time, and it might encourage you to branch out into other, better games, but you are playing garbage to get there. It doesn’t even matter which edition you get - they’re all pretty bad and mired in legacy mechanics and poorly thought out decisions and this weird idea that only spell users get to have or do anything cool.
Fortunately for you, you don’t need to play it first! You can jump into much, much better games right from the get go! The tabletop market is full of really good games right now, but none of them really have an advertising budget like D&D. To help you find the game that’s right for what you and your group want, I’ve put together a flowchart to get you started. And the most important question comes first:
DO YOU EVEN WANT TO PLAY D&D?
A: Yes, I want D&D but better. I want a game with classes that each do specific things, a game where leveling up gives you bigger numbers or more abilities, a game that has relatively balanced fights that take a long time, a game with a feeling of low fantasy as a general deal, a game which emphasises cool loot and gear, a game where magic is somehow both extraordinary and mundane at the same time. I want the Dungeons & Dragons experience.
B: Yes, I want to play a fantasy adventure game, but it doesn’t need to be D&D or D&D adjacent. I want to go on an adventure with a group of friends and have a good time, but I don’t need all that stuff listed in answer A to do it.
C: No, I just want to try roleplaying, as a general thing. Maybe something shorter, just to dip my toe in. D&D gives this expectation that tabletop games have to be a big, long term investment, and that’s just not true - a lot of the very best games are played in only a couple hours over a single evening.
D: No, I want a game that’s nothing like D&D. There’s way more out there than you might believe from all the love the old-school juggernaut gets.
Follow the links above to get your suggested games list. (Click on the blue, underlined text)
SIDE NOTE: A common misconception in claiming D&D is a bad game is that a lot of people playing it have a good time. And that makes sense! You’re goofing off and playing a game together with people you like. But with D&D, more than most games, you’re probably having fun in spite of the game, not because of it. D&D is the bowling, bad movies, or cheap beer of tabletop games - you have a good time because of the company you keep, not the game itself, and this illusion is propped up by the good stories you get to tell out of it.
I’m not trying to attack your good times or say they’re invalid. I’m just going to tell you that you could be having a better time, by playing a game that actually supports the shenanigans you want to get up to. Most of the time, the good times in D&D come from breaking or ignoring the rules in favor of having fun. But that’s not how a good game works. That’s only necessary because D&D is not very good.
For every goofy time a natural 1 or natural 20 caused something cool to happen, or you broke the rules a little to have something silly and creative go down, there will be ten times the game slows to a crawl as someone had to look up a rule, ten times a mediocre roll means your entire turn amounted to nothing and now you need to wait 15 minutes for your next turn, and ten more times where you’ll spend over 2 hours trying to make a new character without even getting into what they’re about, who they are, what they want, or what matters to them. It just takes that long to make their numbers, the most boring but also most important part of a D&D character.
Please, just trust me here. Try out any one of the nearly 30 games listed at the ends of the URL flowchart above. You’re in for a treat.
I’ve been asked a few times what’s wrong with D&D, here is an incomplete list of problems:
Quadratic Wizards: Spell casters are significantly better than fighters or rogues almost immediately. By level 5+, they pretty much run the game. Spell casters get an entire chapter of the book dedicated to fun tricks and gimmicks they can use, while the entire Fighter class is a single page.
Fail And Do Nothing: When you fail a roll, nothing happens. The situation does not change. In combat, this means you just wasted your turn, and won't get another for 10+ minutes. Outside combat, this often just means "okay now re-roll until you get a better number."
Exception-Based Design: D&D is designed around this idea that unless you have a spell or ability saying you CAN do something, you should assume you CANNOT do something. Many players and GMs ignore this aspect of the game, but it is a major part of D&D's core design and difficult to avoid, and many other games do not follow this limiting mindset. Just because you try to ignore it doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.
Trap Choices: There are intentionally worse options available during character creation, that exist entirely to bait you into making a worse character. They're newbie traps, that only exist to punish new players.
Feat Tax: Some feats exist entirely for you to spend a feat slot on them. This includes a number of boring +numbers feats like Weapon Focus that are important for maintaining effectiveness, but also includes feats like Two Weapon Fighting, where the feat doesn't do anything except remove a penalty for playing a certain way.
Item Treadmill: The math requires you to have magic items of a certain strength by a certain level to still be effective, with no indication in the books of when you should have these things or which things you should have.
Required Reading: To play D&D well, you need to have read a certain amount of the game in advance, and every player needs to do this. This is true of all games, but the quantity of required reading for D&D is very high. It isn't the highest amount of required reading in the hobby, but it’s up there, somewhere in the top 10, for no real benefit beyond basic competency.
Ingrained Assumptions: Players who start roleplaying with D&D assume it’s how the hobby generally is, especially the Required Reading, Trap Choices, and Quadratic Wizards parts. This is not the case. Other games play very differently, and there’s many without any of the above flaws. This last point is the main reason for this list - if you start with a game other than D&D, you won’t have D&D’s innate assumptions coloring your experience.
Expensive: D&D is three $45 hardcover books, a $135+ expense, and that can be a big ask. Buying in to D&D makes it difficult to justify playing other games, because you spent so much on this bad game already, so who’s to say other games won’t also be expensive and bad?
I’m to say that, other games are both less expensive and better, don’t play D&D.