10 Great Games That Aren’t D&D (For One Shots & Mini-Campaigns)

Last Updated on January 22, 2023

The huge surge in popularity that Dungeons & Dragons 5e has seen over the last few years has been fantastic. 

It’s grown the community, brought thousands of new fans into the hobby, and shifted roleplaying games firmly into the mainstream, with references to D&D cropping up in everything from Stranger Things to Hawkeye

Because 5e is such a juggernaut, however, it’s sometimes easy to forget that D&D 5e isn’t the beginning or end of this hobby. 

Sure, it’s the biggest, most popular property on the market by an eye-wateringly wide margin, but it’s definitely not the only game in town. 

There are tons of amazing, well-written, exciting TTRPGs out there, whether you want to explore established universes, new genres, or just different styles of play. 

Now, I know from personal experience that getting a group of 5e players to commit to learning and playing a new system can feel like pulling teeth, especially if you want to dive into something meaty like Call of Cthulhu or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

So, rather than blowing up your 5e campaign like some sort of dice-rolling Nietzean superman (Gygax is dead! We have killed him!) and trying to replace it with something new, may I suggest something a little less drastic? 

I’ve put together a list of 10 fantastic games that you can pick up cheaply (or for free) that tend toward having light rulesets and a strong concept players can grasp in no time and that lend themselves toward one-shots or mini-campaigns. 

If you’ve never run a roleplaying game before, this can be a great way to dip your toes into something less complex than 5e.

If you can see your group’s DM getting burned out, this is a perfect opportunity to offer to take the reins for a few weeks while they get a chance to play.

If your group’s schedule frequently gets messed up, having a second, more casual game ready to go on the back burner is a hugely helpful resource when it comes to making sure people actually get to play something on game night. 

Let’s get started.  

1. Lasers and Feelings

Credit: John Harper
  • Genre: Sci-Fi 
  • Complexity: Ultra-Lite
  • GM Prep: Medium 
  • Free Version: Yes

There’s a school of game design that tries to get you as close to the experience of just sitting around making up stories with your friends as possible, removing all but the flimsiest skeleton of a mechanical system at the core of the game and leaving everything else up to you. 

If you want to run a game where learning the rules takes less time than double-knotting a pair of shoes, then Lasers and Feelings is the system for you.

It’s written by John Harper – whose brilliant, much more involved industrial horror heist RPG Blades in the Dark is also well worth checking out. 

Lasers and Feelings opens with some very light exposition that puts the general tone somewhere between Star Trek and Star Wars and some useful random tables that allow the GM to generate the bare bones of an adventure in the same amount of time it takes everyone else to roll their characters. 

Every character in Lasers and Feelings is good at one of the game’s two stats: Lasers (fighting with rayguns, doing sciencey stuff, and flying spaceships) and Feelings (conducting tense negotiations, flirting with aliens, and bluffing with space pirates).

Characters express both stats with a single number between 2 and 5. 

To determine if something you do is successful or not, you roll between one and three d6 (depending on how good your character is at the thing they want to do) and try to get a result that’s either lower than your stat if you’re rolling lasers or higher than your stat if you’re rolling feelings.

It’s that simple. 

A word of warning: This game can be really fun, but it puts a lot of pressure on the GM to improvise a plot, NPCs, and generally keep the gears turning. 

I’ve run Lasers and Feelings a couple of times, and on both occasions I walked away wishing I’d done more (read: anything at all) to prepare. Rules-Lite does not mean Prep-Lite. 

2. Honey Heist

  • Genre: Heist/Crime
  • Complexity: Ultra-Lite
  • GM Prep: Medium 
  • Free Version: Yes

If you want a game that’s super quick to learn, easy to play, and comes with a rock solid concept baked in, Honey Heist by Grant Howitt is virtually guaranteed to make for a memorable, goofy game night. 

In essence, you’re all playing a crew of criminal bears (with roles like the Driver, the Face, and the Muscle as well as different types of bear, like Sun Bear, Grizzly, and Panda – oh, and you get to roll for a random hat as well, which is super important) with two stats: Criminal and Bear. 

Your crew is after their biggest score yet: Honey Con.

Just remember to maintain the balance between your Criminal and Bear stats, or you’ll either succumb to a life of crime and betray your fellow bears, or go wild, which means someone is going to call animal control. 

Seriously, I’ve yet to pitch this game to an RPG group and not be met by wild enthusiasm. 

The crew from a game of Honey Heist I ran last year, in which BeElon Musk’s super yacht was heisted, robot bees went rogue, and Billy Zane fell into a propeller.

3. Into the Odd

  • Genre: Industrial Survival Horror
  • Complexity: Light
  • GM Prep: Light
  • Free Version: Yes

Created by Chris McDowel, Into the Odd is my latest indie role playing game obsession.

Not only does this game hit a setting and tone that’s sadly underrepresented in the scene, but it also contains some fantastic, innovative mechanics. 

When you make an ability check, you have to roll a d20 and get equal to or under your stat. Except in combat. In combat, to-hit rolls go out the window; every attack hits automatically. 

This completely alters the feel of the game, totally killing the possibility of a boring combat where six different PCs and monsters all stand around whiffing their attacks. It’s frantic and brutal. 

4. Mausritter

Credit: Losing Games 
  • Genre: Swords and Whiskers Fantasy
  • Complexity: Medium-Light
  • GM Prep: Medium
  • Free Version: Yes

Loosely based on Into the Odd but with an inventory management system that uses cute little cut out cards from Knave, creating a very tactile little resource management minigame, Mausritter is the perfect RPG for anyone who wants to spend a few hours blissfully immersed in Redwall nostalgia. 

It’s a wickedly easy game to pick up with free basic rules that take all of 10 minutes to learn.

Also, there are some great starter adventures out there, and a whole heap more are headed for release pretty soon as the result of a giant Kickstarter. 

Fair warning: This is definitely not a game for people who want to have a few hours of wholesome, mousy fun.

Mausritter can be a punishing, deadly experience, and it definitely rewards players who run away from the giant, furry killing machines (cats are this game’s analogue for dragons) rather than toward them. 

That being said, it definitely rewards out of the box thinking, and its system for magic items and spells (especially the ways in which you recharge your spell stones) is wonderful.

5. Wanderhome

Credit: Possum Creek Games
  • Genre: Pastoral Fantasy 
  • Complexity: Medium 
  • GM Prep: None
  • Free Version: No 
  • Paid Version: $24.99 (pdf)

If the violent reality of being whiskered adventurers isn’t for you, how about something that feels more inspired by Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh

Wanderhome, by Jay Dragon, is a dice-less, GM-less storytelling game about a small band of animal-folk making their way through a peaceful, pastoral world. 

It’s the perfect game for players who love to roleplay above all else. There’s no fighting. No monsters to slay. Just the next town and their charming, small-stakes problems. 

It’s very Ghibli, and I think it makes a really refreshing change to the permanent assumption that a TTRPG has to be a game about chewing bubblegum or kicking ass in a town with a chronic bubblegum shortage. 

Mechanically, Wanderhome might throw people used to D&D off a bit at first.

There are no dice. Instead, players make Moves, with weak moves that put you in a tricky spot gaining you tokens to spend on stronger moves that hopefully let you make things go your way down the line. 

Everything’s very narratively focused and freeform – perhaps best exemplified by the fact there is no GM. Instead, everyone works together to create a story they like. 

If the mechanics, but not the setting, of Wonderhome intrigue you, check out either Sleepaway (also by Jay – a game about summer camp, queerness, and surviving a nightmarish monster called the Lindworm) or Dream Askew/Dream Apart (by Avery Alder – two games about communities in isolation, one exploring life in a group of post-apocalyptic survivors, the other dealing with life in a fantasy reimagining of a 1800s Jewish shtetl), both of which use the No Dice, No Masters engine. 

6. Mork Borg

  • Genre: Doom Metal Old School Dungeon Crawling 
  • Complexity: Light 
  • GM Prep: Light 
  • Free Version: No 
  • Paid Version: $14.99 (pdf) but you should totally go buy the hard copy – it’s so pretttyyyyy

If a doom metal album had a baby with a big bag of obsidian knives, you’d get Mork Borg. This hyper-violent, visually striking game pitches itself as “rules-lite, heavy everything else” and delivers on that promise with gusto. 

There’s a great setting, complete with prophetic two-headed basilisks, murderous queens, and a world gone mad in the days before the inevitable end (seriously, there’s a mechanic where you roll every single day to see if the world inches one step closer to the apocalypse). 

Character creation is robust, quick, and will probably leave you naked and afraid, clutching nothing but a single hit point, a rusty knife, and a very small, very angry dog.

Gameplay is simple and intuitive, and the sample dungeon (Rotblack Sludge) included with the core book is a great introduction to just how cheap life in Mork Borg can be. 

Mork Borg is also one of the best-supported indie games in terms of free additional resources, adventures, and online tools on the market.

As a result, there’s a thriving community and a ton of third-party developers turning out piles upon piles of new content all the time if your players want to keep on, uh, Morking and Borging?  

7. Mothership

Credit: Tuesday Knight Games
  • Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
  • Complexity: Medium 
  • GM Prep: Medium 
  • Free Version: Yes

In space, no one can hear you roll for initiative.

Drawing ostensibly from the cold, gritty Alien universe, Mothership by Tuesday Knight Games is replete with deep space horror, callous megacorps, and nasty things lurking in the dark.

It’s also full of rogue AIs, gibbering cultists, and, uh, yeah I think space ghosts? 

Mothership has a pretty robust ruleset and the d100 roll-under core mechanic found in games like Call of Cthulhu.

This might throw your players off a bit, but once you get the hang of this slightly alien (gettit?!) system, everything else (especially the skills and armor mechanics) runs really smoothly. 

Like Mork Borg, this game is also bursting with third-party and extra content from the publishers.

I would totally recommend picking up one of the start adventures (which are presented in really scannable, short zine formats), like A Pound of Flesh or Dead Planet, to start things off with a bang. 

8. Cats Of Catthulhu

Credit: Joel Sparks
  • Genre: Eldritch Paw-ror 
  • Complexity: Light 
  • GM Prep: Medium
  • Free Version: No 
  • Paid Version: $4.95 (pdf)

Want to dip your paws into the eldritch void that exists beyond the mortal world? Want to also be a cat? 

Cats Of Catthulhu is a charming little game that sets its players (and the GM, who’s called the Cat-Herder) on a collision course with the dread machinations of the elder gods. 

It’s great for investigative horror, mixed in with the comedy of watching all your friends roleplay as cats. 

There’s a really evocative and simple character-creation system and even a great mechanic that means any player who wants their cat to pick something up has to hold a pencil in their mouth. 

That being said, the actual core rules are just okay. Great concept, kinda middling in terms of game design when you compare it to some of the other stuff on this list.

Personally, I would keep the skin of this game and steal the mechanics from Into the Odd

9. Goblin Quest

Credit: Rowan Rook & Deckard 
  • Genre: Mayhem? 
  • Complexity: Medium 
  • GM Prep: None 
  • Free Version: No 
  • Paid Version: $15.00 (pdf)

Another Grant Howitt joint, Goblin Quest is a GM-less disaster factory that sets you and your buddies up as the various members (plus backups because, boy howdy, you’re gonna need them) of a tribe of goblins.

There are no grand stakes here. If there were, it wouldn’t matter because, well, goblins are dumb and bad at stuff, and they die a lot. 

If you want to spend a riotous couple of hours trying frantically to make an omelet, during which time three goblins get pecked to death by a chicken and another one gets set on fire, this is definitely the game for you. 

10. The Mecha Hack

  • Genre: Sci-Fi/Gundam
  • Complexity: Light
  • GM Prep: Medium 
  • Free Version: No 
  • Paid Version: $6.95 (pdf)

If you’re looking for a gritty, gritty, hard sci-fi mecha experience, don’t play this game.

Play Lancer by Massif Press instead for the most in depth, beautifully tactical representation of big metal boys beating the crap out of each other (with a gigantic, rich setting that’s to die for). 

If you’re not willing to subject yourself to the 400+ page grimoire of rules so complex they’d make D&D 4e blush, then the Mecha Hack (which is based on a rules-lite D&D hack called The Black Hack) is going to be more your speed. 

From quick, easy character creation (just four types of mech might feel a little limiting, but you can actually accomplish a fair amount of good stuff with the different upgrade options) that favors flavor over crunch to fluid combat that keeps all the dice rolling on the players’ side of the table, The Mecha Hack is a great way to get a gundam- or Neon Genesis-inspired game up and running in no time. 

Also, if you want to cut down on GM prep, there’s a recently released supplement that’s packed with pre-written missions that make running this game out of the box into a very easy experience. 

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