Players Do Not Need The OGL: Truly Independent Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying

There is a lot of talk about the new version of the open gaming license that effects everything 3rd party D&D related.

And for creators, there’s a lot to chew on, and discuss, and mull over.

But for players… well, for us, there’s two things that I want to remind everyone of.

First, you do not need anything besides two or three core rulebooks.

The player’s handbook, the dungeon master’s guide, and maybe the monster manual. That’s it. Aside from a runthrough of Strahd, I’ve rarely had a character in any "official" campaign setting since the original printing of "Keep on the Borderlands."

That is perhaps one of the biggest strengths of tabletop roleplaying.

The second thing? While Dungeons & Dragons — and all the D20 variants it’s spawned — are pretty good, they are not the only fantasy games in town, and arguably not even the best, depending on your playstyle.

Here’s four other independent systems from independent or small publishers that can scratch that fantasy tabletop itch (in no particular order):

Swordplay & Sorcery (Unisystem)

The oldest of these three, this is a modification of the Unisystem that powered the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG. Written by Jason Vey, the 19 page PDF is still available for free from his website. You will need the Buffy core system, which is currently on sale from DriveThruRPG for $20 and is well worth it on its own.

The Unisystem was well ahead of its time, providing a very cinematic style of play, with streamlined combat and relatively quick character creation.


As part of the "Powered by the Apocalypse" family of games (which includes MonsterHearts and Monster of the Week), Dungeon World is a full-fledged system in its own right, and has a whole plethora of extra settings, playbooks, and various content available on DriveThruRPG. The core rulebook is only $10 there right now as well.

It won a whole bunch of awards when it first came out, and as a PbtA game, it is definitely cinematic in style and speed.


While I have this system, I’ve not yet actually tried it out, but it’s another interesting and completely different take on game mechanics, with only one main stat – focus. Is your character a jack-of-all-trades, or a highly focused specialist?

The system is meant to be able to be used in a wide variety of settings, many of which are included in the full core rulebook ($15 on DriveThruRPG), but there’s also a specific "Dungeons RPG Zine Edition" (which contains the base rules) that is also available on DriveThru for only $7.50.


The Minimus RPG is four pages long.


Written by Ken Burnside, this system has just enough rules to give you some structure, while being brief enough to get out of the way and let you focus on characters and gameplay rather than looking up tables and doing math. It’s also easily the most inexpensive of these, and is directly available from the publisher for only $3.

So while it’s important to push back against the (far more restrictive) update to the Open Gaming License, take this opportunity to try out some really different takes on fantasy tabletop roleplaying with these systems from independent game creators.

Featured Image by Ana Carolina Franco from Pixabay