The Four Best Role-playing Games for Newbies That Are Not Dungeons and Dragon

By Juan Vasquez

A set of role-playing dice. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Role-playing games are perennial go-to for their fans because they let players contribute to the creation of a dynamic world of characters. That versatility is why Dungeons and Dragons has been around for over forty years and still remains a juggernaut in the gaming industry. Despite its popularity and iconic recognition, Dungeons and Dragons isn’t everyone’s flagon of mead. Although it is seen as a mainstream game, many players are thrown off by the game’s myriad of fantasy tropes. So, for those new to the hobby, who want something other than the typical “Lord of the Rings” style fantasy realm, here are four less daunting role-playing games.

Shadowrun Fifth Edition

While it does contain a few (read: a drek-ton of) fantasy elements, Shadowrun’s fifth edition, released in 2013, also takes elements from cyberpunk culture and urban fantasy. Players create and take control of shadow runners, mercenaries and criminals who work on behalf of organized crime groups, corporations, and political associations.

An upside to the game is that players are not bound to a rigid class system, but rather free to create their character as they see fit, from their skill specializations to specific languages. However, this leads to one of Shadowrun’s biggest downsides. The game makes you micromanage EVERYTHING, from your character’s spells and cyberware to each individual bullet they carry. Add this to a steep learning curve and college textbook sized rulebooks and you have one of the most complex RPGs in existence. But who expects running the shadows to be easy?

Golden Sky Stories

Released in 2013, and often referred to as “Hayao Miyazaki: The Roleplaying Game,” Golden Sky Stories lets players take control of spirits and animals in a friendly, non-violent world where humans and nature spirits live side by side. A huge plus is its simplicity, family friendly content, and light-hearted tone, which all make it a good choice for family game night. Its anime style artwork would also make it appealing to the otaku crowd. But while some might be drawn to its completely non-violent approach to conflict resolution, those who like combat might want more bloodthirsty, ravenous murder hobos.


A Cubicle 7 production released in 2015, Kuro is a cyberpunk horror role-playing game that takes place in a futuristic Japan. Players are just ordinary citizens who are caught up in nightmarish situations and must find a way to survive, or else die trying.

Kuro’s biggest strength is the vast scope of perils available, ranging from Ju-on with cybernetic powers to mundane serial killers. You could tell a ton of dark, chilling tales with Kuro. Which leads to the game’s downside: while it does not specifically say so in the book, Kuro is meant for a mature audience, as rape, murder, child abuse, incest, and suicide (among others) are all themes depicted in the game.


Now a decade old, and free to download online, Talislanta’s current fifth edition is not your typical fantasy game. In its rich and vivid variety of settings, most typical fantasy races have either been completely turned on their heads or omitted outright. For example: there are NO elves. Character creation is also simple: players just pick a race, class and skills. The game even includes dozens of pre-made characters to choose from. However, Talislanta’s setting may seem a bit bizarre or overly complex. In particular, some characters are better suited for combat than others, which may frustrate players when they encounter combat situations their characters are not equipped to handle.