A cold hard fact from the Indie Game Reading Club: you can explore and play ttrpgs without ever mentioning, buying, reading, or playing the most popular game. Our hobby is so much more interesting and diverse than D&D. My list of on-ramps for the indie-curious:
Fiasco (new card-driven version or OG): use prompts to sketch out an overambitious loser headed toward a terrible ending via playsets that offer plenty of structure to jump into play. Characterization, situation, and improv boot camp for all experience levels. Books are at DriveThruRPG, online card version is at Roll20.
Mouse Guard: you are very small and the world is very large. Mechanically elaborate but also an elegant procedural economy that generates drama and rewards embodiment. Different kind of “elaborate” than exceptions-based designs with “simple” resolution systems. PDF is at DriveThruRPG.
Fate: gets you thinking about game fiction in terms of authorship and camera angles, by mechanizing everything that might be relevant to the characters’ success or failure. Pick a genre, there’s probably a rulebook for it out there. I started on Spirit of the Century, ymmv. Learn more at Evil Hat Productions.
InSpectres: super-accessible theme (minimum-wage Ghostbusters) with an emphasis on pacing and authorship. Neat fourth-wall-breaking confessionals where the character reveals their inner thoughts throughout the game. PDF at DriveThruRPG.
Sagas of the Icelanders: play isolated settlers in lawless dark ages Iceland. My go-to intro to PbtA because the moves support the theme, and bloody Viking family melodrama is easy to understand. PDF at DriveThruRPG (and it’s pay-what-you-want!).
Epyllion: fantasy PbtA gaming where you’re the dragon. Emphasizes friendship and cooperation, great prep advice, stealth My Little Pony vibe. PDF at DriveThruRPG.
Ryuutama: pastoral fantasy roleplay from Japan. Easy to understand, infrequently violent, travel-oriented conventional ttrpg with a neat twist – the GM levels up as well. PDF at DriveThruRPG.
Tales from the Loop: easy intro to the Year Zero Engine, with Stranger Things vibes (and its own show on Prime). Kids on bikes saving a small town from weirdness while also dealing with their parents. PDF at DriveThruRPG.
For The Queen: pure storygaming, where the players answer provocative questions about the queen they’re traveling with to a foreign land. Discover characters and their backstories en route. Lovely, fast, GMless, drills down to the core #ttrpg activity. Card deck available from Evil Hat Productions, online version at Roll20.
Primetime Adventures: create a TV show premise and play it out like you’re a show runner. If you watch television you can play this game. Normal playing cards redirect the fiction and generate uncertainty, so it’s still a game and not a storyboarding exercise. PDF and book available from Indie Press Revolution.
I chose the games on this list for mechanical support, thematic accessibility, and availability. I think we can forget how weird indie games can get! Develop your palette and figure out what you actually enjoy.