A PbtA Gateway Game

Hello, fellow Gauntleteers!

I am relatively new here, though I have been listening to the podcasts for a while now. I’m super excited to have discovered both Powered by the Apocalypse and this community, and I need your help.

I have a long-running DnD 5e group (been going since the rules came out) that I would very much like to introduce to PbtA. I wonder, what “gateway” PbtA games would you recommend for making new converts to the indy storytelling paradigm of tabletop roleplaying?

My players love high adventure, dangerous mysteries, and cool loot. I’ve already been introducing more story-driven aspects into 5e, but I am becoming exhausted by constantly wrestling the rules into something they are not.

Additionally, I’ve heard much about Dungeon World, but it seems to be a… divisive game. Are there reasons I should avoid that particular game and, if so, what would you recommend instead?

Thanks in advance!


I’ve heard of some D&D grognards that are unhappy with Dungeon World and I have heard there is some upheaval with regards to misconduct by one of the authors.

Anyhow, my fellow Barthes used to say the author is dead, the book is yours. DW is certainly closer to D&D than most other PbtA games but being a PbtA game it is not very close. It retains some of the trappings, esp. classes, levels, and experience. For cool loot it is especially easy to port high powered magic items to DW. But it does away with anything skill based, including combat, and any semblance of turn order and so on. The reason why you roll dice here is completely different from D&D and this can be hard to grasp. Many say that the freely available Dungeon World Guide does help to “get it”.

You will find people who are going to hate Dungeon World, like with anything somebody put out there, so I wouldn’t bother too much. That being said, there are several mods, adaptions, and improvements of DW available, some are even free. From the top of my head I remember Unlimited Dungeons, One Shot World (that’s a good one to try it out! No long term commitment, it even says so in the name), and the excellent Chasing Adventure. (I’m going to add links as I find them).

On a side note, you might find it easier to bring your players into a new play style with a genre that’s not D&D High Fantasy. I’d suggest something like Action Movie World, where you play actors, that play barbarians in a fantasy flic – or spies in a spy flic, and so on. I found it helped my players massivly in understanding the role of the player at the table.


If I were @Alessandro_Piroddi , I’d say Fantasy World.

But, as @Twonk suggests, why not go for a whole different genre ? or game? There are lots of flavours and games, why not pick with the players? They can take responsibility, too.

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If you want to do fantasy adventuring, no matter what you use, it will end up being compared to D&D.
Then the question is: how do your players feel about (your group’s uniquely tailored version of) D&D.
That said, the argument “I am the GM and I am struggling, please let’s use a different set of rules to play our favourite game together” should suffice.
Don’t make it about the games (even though for you it is all about the game :stuck_out_tongue: ), don’t make it a matter of comparison, etc.
Be honest, forward and forthcoming, but make it about you as a person and as a friend, and your need to try doing the same thing in a somewhat different way, and would they like to support you in this?

Very often good people become grognards out of some misplaced brand-identity-loyalty hiccup.
Avoid this, and you’ll have a much better chance of them embracing a different game, whatever it might be.

That said, what are you looking for in a game? :slight_smile:
Dungeon World is a very different beast from D&D, but at the same time it’s a very D&D-ish game itself.
It requires the GM to have a strong grip on both the PbtA framework, without reeeally supporting them too much in that task. It has solid mechanics, but with a bunch of critical grey areas that make it relatively easy to end up playing it like you would D&D, but not really, but different, but the same.
Maybe it’s exactly what you need: a D&D with a more narrative framework.

Other PbtA are much more different from ye olde traditional GM-led rpg, even though they still have a strong GM role at the table. They will fight you more if you play them like D&D, which is generally a good thing, because you either play them correctly, or you soon realize they are not your cup of tea.
But most still rely on GM and Players having a solid PbtA background.
You can learn by doing. They do work. But to grok them can take time and effort that some don’t expect. This can be a jarring experience, and could thus mess with your (and your players) acceptance of this new thing you are trying.
Some just love it immediately though.
Some fervently hate it, too.
You need to try :stuck_out_tongue:

In this context, Fantasy World was designed to introduce people to fantasy adventuring in a definitely non-d&d-ish way.
You explore, you fight, you do all the cool things one could expect, and more… but the focus is on “dramatic” narrative. Character motivations, hard choices, personal stakes. The good stuff of fantasy novels and movies and TV series.

Violence is meaningful and scary and never trivial. I lost count of the times when the Players geared up for a “seek and destroy” kind of situation, and them they ended up doing everything in their PC’s power to avoid actual violence. Either because the game treats everything and everyone like “people”, which often is enough to have Players consider social or crafty alternatives to violence as more interesting, fun and often more viable. Or because combat can be both be effective but also extremely dangerous, some even call it Old School -like, and thus Players quickly learn than blindly charging or being needlessly violent is often not a smart choice.

It is also designed to be as n00b friendly as possible: everything strives to be clear, unambiguous, easy to use. This game really teaches you how to play this game.
This is a boon for both people new to RPGs in general, but also for veterans of traditional games (such as D&D) that are new to PbtA games.
Some hate this approach :sweat_smile:
Many are finding it quite refreshing and helpful :heart:
So again, depending on your group’s habits and expectations it might be more or less welcome.

Another title to consider, is Blades in the Dark.
In a way it is even more D&D-ish than DW… relying even more on GM’s spot decisions, on extensive prep, on crunchy bits and options.
But it does so in a smart way, offering good tools and a decent framework to use them in.
And the “fantasy heist” setting is just too cool to ignore :smiley:
Too much work for my personal taste. But it’s another option you might want to look into.


As a transitional PbtA game I can recommend the Unlimited Dungeons version of Dungeon World

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I have floated different possibilities of setting and genre, but my players (one in particular) are not really ready to diverge from what is known and familiar.

This sounds like the ticket! Thanks for sharing; I will be looking into Fantasy World for sure

Of course, I am still totally excited to hear other members’ takes on a good PbtA gateway game for DnD vets.


Fantasy World is one I haven’t played, but I quite like its aims, so I also recommend it.

If you’re looking to try DW, on the other hand (which I don’t think you are, but for the sake of completion), I’d take a look at Homebrew World, which is a really clean rewrite. A bit smoother, with the rough edges taken off.

However, there is a certain dilemma ahead for you:

Do you want to play something “transitional”, or something obviously different?

Playing something that is like D&D feels familiar and comfortable… but also often leads to problems. This is why DW can be a divisive game. People bring in their familiar habits and expectations from D&D, and sometimes this means that they can’t play the new game in a way which is sincere, in a sense. Instead, they end up trying to force the new game into a D&D box, and remain trapped by their assumptions. I’ve seen lots of groups fail because of this. It’s similar enough that you can easily go wrong.

Many people have more luck by playing something very obviously different. Different rules, different premise, different genre, etc. Something that’s clearly foreign and different enough that bad habits and expectations aren’t carried over, and the players engage with it head-on, as its own thing.

I’d generally recommend the latter, unless you have a really clear vision for the former and feel good about it. Fantasy World is a nice middle ground here, and might work, depending on how you approach it, definitely.

There is also Stonetop, which is a lovely “complete” game based on DW, but without D&D trappings. Highly recommend this one as well!


This is a fascinating and insightful point. Thank you


Idk if this would work for you, but when I couldn’t bring myself to run DnD anymore, the pbta game my group switched to was Monster of the Week. It’s a very different genre, but in a lot of ways its closer to DnD than many other pbta games - i.e., it assumes the characters work together as a party to battle monsters in a series of adventures, and has things like weapons and armour and an HP-like Harm track. It’s not my favourite pbta game and I don’t think it works great as a long-running campaign (in hindsight, I’d probably aim for about 8-12 sessions) but as a bridge away from DnD, I think it works pretty well.


Strong arguments by @Paul_T and @Sandy !

I’m going to second Paul’s “Don’t play a fantasy adventure game” suggestion, and Sandy’s “Play Monster of the Week” suggestion, for basically the reasons they set forth – Monster of the Week is a very approachable genre, and it’s still action oriented rather than asking people who are used to DnD to suddenly make the game all about their feelings, but it nudges you a little in that direction, and it gets people used to things like being comfortable with failure that are pretty important shifts from D&D to PbtA. It’s not the most amazing, innovative, “pure” PbtA experience, but I think it makes an excellent, approachable gateway game.