How D&D spawned the Fantasy Heartbreaker RPGs

A look at the origins of “Fantasy Heartbreaker” and how it has evolved as a way of describing tabletop RPGs made in contrast to D&D.

Many people know about tabletop role-playing games through Dungeons and Dragons, the original line of tabletop RPGs, but “Fantasy Heartbreaker” is not a term everyone is familiar with. Many board gamers are inspired to create their own RPGs with a desire to refine the premise of D&D or create a different game system. Some of these derived tabletop RPGs are colloquially known as Fantasy Heartbreakers by folks in the tabletop community. So what exactly qualifies a game to fall under such a label?

Tabletop role-playing games (and their derivatives of computer role-playing games) have been around for almost 40 years, and have undergone many changes during that span. The original Dungeons and Dragons game devised by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson became Basic D&D Y Advanced D&D, then it changed even more in the course of its subsequent editions, now in its fifth. Role-playing games that inspired franchises like Ancient documents, What RuneQuest Y Rolemaster, introduced a new fantasy world and game mechanics to the tabletop RPG industry, while games like Traveler Y Shadowrun told stories in settings wildly different from the classic Western fantasy settings that D&D popularized.

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Dungeons and Dragons still casts a long shadow over the board game subculture to this day, particularly among game designers. There are game designers who want to design completely different RPGs D&D, and there are designers who want to create fantasy RPG systems with all the dungeon crawling adventure they love, but with new innovations around character classes, new versions of the classic D&D character races, battles, skill tests, dice roll and more, in short “D&D, but better. “Sometimes, however, these” daring new role-playing games “don’t live up to their own expectations, or they don’t stray as far from the constraints of D&D as its developers believe.

D&D Origins of the term “Fantasy Heartbreaker”

Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Party Plot

The term “Fantasy Heartbreaker” was first coined in a 2002 article by Ron Edwards on the independent role-playing game website. The forge. In this article, Edwards spoke eloquently about a specific brand of tabletop RPGs that he saw time and again in the indie RPG community: games clearly created by passionate old-school fans. Dungeons and Dragons They wanted to troubleshoot and overcome the limitations they saw in those classic systems. Edwards praises many of these games for having true innovations (magical systems more versatile than the spell system of D&Dfor example) while lamenting the many design assumptions these developers inadvertently carried over (randomly released character attributes, the classic D&D warrior / mage / rogue / cleric class paradigm, human / elf / dwarf race paradigm, etc.). Edwards called these games Fantasy Heartbreakers because they tried to overcome D&D, but they were made by designers who hadn’t actually playedD&D games and experimented with the alternative forms tabletop role-playing games can take.

How D&D and the RPG Scene Have Changed Since “Fantasy Heartbreaker” Was Coined

Two players investigating the Dungeons & Dragons books

Board games have gone through a number of changes since Ron Edward wrote his Fantasy Heartbreakers article. The growth of the internet, to begin with, has made it much easier for table players to try out new online gaming systems through platforms like Roll20 or Discord. The growth of the Internet has also made it easier for tabletop RPG designers to release new games, using digital “Quickstarts” and “Betas” to test their concepts with a wider audience and refine their products into something genuinely innovative. The “Old School Revival” movement of RPG design consciously embraces the basic design principles of Basic D&D from the 1970s, emulating his best qualities while updating his rules for the modern game: “Fantasy Heartbreakers” that don’t actually break hearts, in other words.

Just to clarify: make a fantasy RPG inspired by Dungeons and Dragons it’s perfectly fine! All modern tabletop RPGs, after all, are inspired by D&D to some degree. Rather than focus on creating a completely “original” RPG system, aspiring designers should embrace the spirit of innovation, immerse themselves in the rules and principles of design. D&D and other role-playing games, and then they use their knowledge to design a system that suits the game they want to play, Fantasy Heartbreaker or not.

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