Gaming on the cheap

Gaming on the cheap!

Roleplaying games can be an expensive hobby, especially when you are the game master. Imagine you want to run games using everyone’s favorite fantasy game. You usually need at least one copy of each core book, perhaps a couple of miniatures and a few dice. Let’s say you already own dice and miniatures, so you just need the core books. Each core book is about 25$, so at the end of the day you’ve been set back 75$. Phew! If you are not sure, if you are really GM material, that’s quite a hefty sum. So, are there any alternatives?

I am a great fan of free games and I’ve written about quite a few free roleplaying games in the past (and I even helped translate one). I’ve reviewed or at least mentioned the following games so far:

All these games you can get for totally free. So, if you have a few dice, pencils and scrap paper and some imagination you can start playing. Even without leaving the better half of your monthly wages in the game store.

From all the commercial games I’ve played, Savage Worlds was probably one of the most inexpensive. You can get the Savage World Explorer Handbook for just $10 and that’s everything you need to start playing. Of course there are various campaign settings and supplements available for Savage Worlds but if you are willing to play in a campaign of your own design, the rule book for $10 is enough. Heck, you can even run complete games just with the Savage World Test Drive rules, that you can download for free. If you are a friend of one-shots, just download a couple one-sheet adventures and you’re done!

If everything else fails, there are a lot of sites out there that host and/or review free roleplaying games. My favorite free RPG sites are The Free RPG Blog (which reviews free RPGs on a regular basis) and 1KM1KT (which hosts free RPGs). Between those two sites you should find enough interesting games to keep you occupied quite some time.

So, what is your favorite free or cheap game? What game can you recommend the player/gamemaster who doesn’t want to spend his kids’ college fund on roleplaying games? What are your thoughts on free games in general? As always I am very interested in your thoughts. So let your voices be heard in the comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

12 thoughts on “Gaming on the cheap”

  1. There's a bunch of cool games in there. I don't see them harming major rpg companies. For every player who tries a free game and sticks to it, there'll be more who start free and then try other systems.

  2. I am partial to the Shadow of Yesterday (licensed under Creative Commons). I'm playing with the Finnish translation loaned from a friendly local library.

    Also, homebrewed games are typically cheap and can take inspiration even from commercial sources with impunity.

  3. Well, I work on two free RPG's in my spare time (Piecemeal and Adventuring Party!) and Im of the view that free RPG's are always worth the read. Even FATAL was worth skimming over for ideas (Even if Ideas what not to do). With their own mechanics and settings they often will spark a game idea even if that game doesn't use the setting or mechanic. When I first read the AD&D Dark Sun game I hated the "Lack of Water makes you Evil" mechanic, but I loved the idea of the concept of the mechanic. The game I ran inspired from that was great.

    Judging by the number of unplayed books on most peoples game shelves, I can't see a reason NOT to skim through as many free RPG's as possible.
    .-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..Meeting interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and NOT killing them =-.

  4. Don't forget about RISUS or PDQ! Both of these are light systems that make it easy to get up and running quickly. The mechanics are flexible and don't bog down the game. Both are definitely worth a look. PDQ is also used for stuff like Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies and Ninja Burger.

    Also, there's Pokethulu. 'nuff said.

  5. A few games that come to mind…

    * Mazes and Minotaurs: This is a really impressive free game, and there's both a "Basic" and an "Advanced" version, as well as compendiums and a Gazetter. Lots of good Greek/Roman fantasy ideas as well as some more expanded / generic fantasy around the edges.

    * ZeFRS: Based on Zeb Cook's roleplaying game engine used for TSR's Conan RPG. Not an amazing game, but like many free games, definitely worth getting and reading if for nothing more than idea mining.

    * Barbarians of Lemuria: Either the free "Basic" version or the expanded & revised version which costs you a few bucks. This game for me defines "beer & pizza gaming". Some really amazing stuff in both versions, and I especially like the career-based non-combat skills mechanic. It does exactly what it needs to do – no more, and no less.

    * The Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG): A good (great?) alternative to Labyrinth Lord. Has a few "new" ideas creeping into it, but nothing that prevents it from being a rock-solid "retro-clone" RPG.

    * Swords & Wizardry: Although not personally a fan of the game, a lot of bloggers out there stand by it, and there's more and more support for this game out there every day. Oh, and it's free.

    * Broadsword RPG: Jeff "Evil DM" Mejia's 1PG System "80's fantasy movie RPG" is well worth the few bucks the PDF cost me, and his "World of Broadsword" campaign setting is likewise worth the price if you want to have a handy default setting to turn to on those nights when you and your buds sit down to do some hackin' & slashin' but don't know just what to play.

    * Castles & Crusades: Although you gotta pay $20 for the PHB and $20 for the Monsters & Treasures book, the rules are simple and straightforward enough that a $40 investment for the GM and a $20 investment by a player or two (so there are "pass around" copies of the PHB) is well worth the price. Yes, you could go with Osric, but the C&C system is clean, simple, straightforward, and the books are quite nice – mine have stood up rather well to the abuse I've put them through.

    Whew – long list, sorry!

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