Dice-rolling, epic quests and imaginary spell-casting.
On a certain level, we all have a general idea of what a typical Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, game looks like: a group of enthusiastic nerds, led by a central, storytelling game master, gathered around a table, performing what can only be described as an hours-long piece of improvised theater complete with Tolkienesque fantasy adventures.
So, that’s what one would expect going into a virtual meeting for ASU’s very own tabletop roleplaying game club, “Adventurers Wanted Inc.” A group that, pre-pandemic, could attract enough players to require extra space for playing weekly D&D adventures.
READ MORE: Passion Projects: Adventurers Wanted Inc.
But soon after introductions were out of the way during the club's last meeting, the conversation didn’t turn to D&D, but rather a pulp adventure involving jet-packed Nazi antagonists. Pretty soon, everyone migrated to a separate channel within the Discord server to play out this outlandish story in the game system “Savage Worlds.”
This meeting was what the club calls their “Other Systems Night,” in which players expand their horizons by exploring other roleplaying games beside D&D.
For inexperienced players, the idea of looking beyond D&D can be quite stressful. After all, since its introduction in 1974, it has remained one of the most popular and successful tabletop roleplaying games of all time.
My own first encounter with the game came about in high school, thanks to my friends who were fans of "Acquisitions Incorporated," a D&D podcast.
It’s easy to see how D&D has cemented itself in pop culture, having seen a recent surge in popularity thanks, in part, to popular web series like “Critical Role,” “The Adventure Zone,” and “Dimension 20,” as well as mentions in hit television shows like “Stranger Things” and “Community."
Given this popularity, it can be hard to convince new players to give other systems a try. But for game masters such as club member Luc Soekrasno, a third-year student studying music performance (jazz) — who began playing D&D three years ago but has since transitioned to running games in second edition "Pathfinder" — the process of pitching a new system is all about playing up what other systems are good for.
“What draws me to other systems is what can they do that I might not be able to get with 5e,” Soekrasno said, referring to the fifth and current edition of D&D. “Why should I try and reinvent the wheel, when someone has already made another innovation of the wheel, somewhere else?”
The appeal of other systems for players like Soekrasno is the opportunity to role play stories beyond the scope of what is typically expected from D&D.
From the horror investigations of “Call of Cthulhu” to the urban social conflicts of “Vampire: The Masquerade,” and even the science fiction worlds of “Starfinder” and “Cyberpunk,” (the latter of which formed the basis of the recent video game “Cyberpunk 2077”) the possibilities are endless for players bored of typical dungeon-crawling and dragon-slaying.
While a much-needed change of imaginary scenery can be fun, the challenge facing many players is one of finding a group to explore with, and, in the eyes of those like club officer Joshua Elkins, sometimes new avenues of play can come from one spark of inspiration.
“It's part of our nature. I think we want to stay in our comfort zone,” Elkins said. “It usually is that one guy who comes out and says, 'Hey, I'm running this thing, now. Who wants to tag in?' Usually you end up with a group people who are like, 'I never would've played this game if you hadn't read the rules and explained it to me.'”
In my own experience as a game master, I even found myself drifting into other systems, having run a custom adventure in "Call of Cthulhu," in early 2020, which lasted several days and practically had my own players begging for a continuation.
One of these players later started running her own game in the system. Even now, as I eagerly explore different systems to introduce to my friends, I find a certain level of reward that comes with reaching outside of the swords-and-sorcery world of D&D.
Whether you’re a seasoned fantasy game veteran or a beginner who wants to explore all that the community has to offer, looking beyond the scope of Dungeons and Dragons may prove to be a rewarding experience.
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