There’s no way to be a roleplaying designer or publisher without acknowledging Dungeons & Dragons. It’s always going to be the elephant in the room. Even if you’re working in other genres, and with vastly different mechanics, it will be the benchmark. People might hold your game up against things that are similar in terms of subject matter and approach, but they will definitely compare it to D&D. People take comfort in the familiar, so they’re judging your game against what they know.
Taking Comfort in the Familiar
You don’t have to try to replicate everything about D&D in order to create a roleplaying game. It doesn’t have to be a big, fat book crammed with crunchy rules and full-color illustrations. There’s no reason it has to be fantasy. I would say that you’re less likely to be successful by doing what’s already been done. Both quality and quantity are against you.
What you should look into are other reasons why D&D is successful. What about that game draws players in? Are there familiar elements that you could leverage for your own game, to create resonance? Can you find ways to make potential players comfortable buy replicating things other than genre, mechanics, and trade dress?
There will always be niches within the hobby for your game. There is even plenty of room for other fantasy games, because there are people who dislike one thing or another about D&D. To be successful, though, you have to look at what folks like, not just what they dislike. The hardest part of this industry is getting people to look at your game. You can be brilliant, and innovative, and create the greatest game ever conceived of in the history of humanity. You’ve still got to get someone to try it. The way to do that is to allow them to take comfort in the familiar. Find something they will immediately be drawn to, and feel that they already know and understand.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.