Gaming on the cheap – 2013 Edition (Part 1/2)

”Roleplaying games can be an expensive hobby, especially when you are the game master.” With these words I started a post in 2009 called “Gaming on the cheap” and it’s still true. But in the meantime a lot of new free games have been released which are worth a look. There are also a couple of inexpensive games available if you are willing to spend a few dollars. But I will talk about those in the next post of this series. Let’s start today with the free games. You’ll notice that there are a couple of games on that list I was involved with, so I hope you don’t mind.

Atomic Highway

In 2011 Colin Chapman released the PDF version of his post-apocalyptic roleplaying game Atomic Highway for free.
Atomic Highway is powered by the V6 Engine, a rules-light game system which is as easy as it’s brilliant. While there’s an assumed setting, AH is basically a toolbox for the post-apocalypse.
It works great with Mad-Max-style games and even comes with rules for modifying your ride.
If you are really excited about post-apoc gaming you could also pick up the cheap Irradiated Freaks supplement which adds new options to the game.

Arcane Heroes

Arcane Heroes is a 5-paged rules-light fantasy game I wrote in November 2010 after playing way too much Fable III. It’s inspired by said game and uses a simple dice pool system for task resolution. Even though it lacks a proper setting it should be fully playable if the GM is willing to fill the holes with his own ideas. The system could probably be easily adapted to other genres as well.

Arcane Secrets by my friend Andrew Modro expands on Arcane Heroes and adds new spells.

A Wanderer’s Romance


A Wanderer’s Romance is a 45-paged game of martial arts duels and tea-making contests written by Chris McDowall. And it’s one of the projects I was proud to be a part of. Back in 2011 I did the layout for AWR and I have to admit I am still proud on how it turned out.

If you are into the fantasy wuxia genre you definitely should check out A Wanderer’s Romance.


“Have you ever wanted to play a game that kicks that logic in the face, twists its arm behind its back and makes it cry for its momma?”

Jay Steven Anyong’s BADASS is exactly that game. It’s a rules light beer & pretzels game in which you play badasses doing badass things. In Badass you can play dinosaurs, robots, ninjas, cops, teachers (yes, there are badass teachers), gamblers, and more. If you ever watched a totally over-the-top Hong Kong movie, you know exactly how BADASS is meant to be played.


Icar is a space opera created by Rob Lang which comes in the form of a 187-paged PDF. Compared with most of the other games mentioned in this post, Icar is huge – both in page count and depth.

It’s also one of the games I always wanted to give a closer look, but never had the time to. I love the sci-fi genre and I – as I probably mentioned before – have a soft spot for percentile system, so there are multiple reasons to give the game a chance.

I wish I had more free time.

Into The Odd

Into The Odd is a survival horror roleplaying game powered by an ultra-light ruleset inspired by D&D. What sets it apart from your regular retro clone is the setting. The Odd world is more early industrial than medieval and the lands are basically littered with ancient artifacts known as Arcana. These Arcana often carry magic spells which can be activated by anyone with a strong will and enough courage.

Adventures in Into The Odd are first and foremost about exploration of strange locales. The game is still in development, but already looks very good and plays even better.

Five By Five

Five By Five is an excellent rules-light game I stumbled upon in August of last year. It’s a 22-paged PDF with a unique system. Characters are described by three player-defined traits, a weakness and health.

For task resolution the game uses d5 (which are d6 where a 6 counts as 0) which may sound gimmicky at first but it seems to work quite well. Five By Five doesn’t come with any setting but can easily adapted to any genre. It’s definitely worth a look.


I think I don’t need to introduce anyone to Fate anymore. If you have been following my blog for the last few years you probably read about my long love for that system. One of my favorite Fate versions is definitely R. Grant Erswell’s FreeFATE especially in the beautifully version laid out by Kathy Schad.

The FreeFATE rules are a condensed and streamlined version of the Fate system used in games like Dresden Files or Spirit of the Century. Aside from the free PDF version there’s also a softcover edition as well which is available through RPGNow.

Mini Six Bare Bones Edition
Mini Six 144w

Mini Six is a variant of the OpenD6 system. OpenD6 is basically the same system that powered West End Games’ Star Wars roleplaying games.

OpenD6 is not a complicated game by any means, but the authors of Mini Six managed to condense the rules to just 36 pages. And on these few pages you get all the rules needed to play the game, a simple magic system, a huge list of monsters and even a couple of sample settings for you to play in.


PDQ# is the version of the PDQ rules used in the excellent Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies RPG. It has been designed for swashbuckling gaming and can be easily adapted to other genres as well. A few years back I used PDQ# to run a game set into my Ad Astra SF setting which worked quite well.

PDQ feels a bit like FATE with just Aspects and it’s definitely worth a look if you are interested into a more narrativistic approach to gaming.

Resolute, Adventurer & Genius

Resolute, Adventurer & Genius is the game that turns the Wyrm System up to 11. Andrew Modro and Jason Cabral took the system I designed for WR&M (more about that later) and used it to create an awesome pulp roleplaying game.

The 36-paged PDF contains all the rules needed to experience pulp adventures in the early 20th century, an extensive list of allies and adversaries, as well as hints on how to run the games in the various decades.

I have to admit I am biased, but RAG is definitely worth your time.


Renaissance is a free percentile dice roleplaying system that was designed to power Cakebread & Walton’s Clockwork & Chivalry game. It’s based on OpenQuest and a member of the huge family of RuneQuest-based games available today. Who knew this ancient system would still be popular today?

What sets Renaissance apart is that it’s set into the Renaissance era and that it comes with two magic systems – battle alchemy and witchcraft.

I have to admit I haven’t read Renaissance thoroughly yet, but I have a soft spot for percentile systems and I thought it should make the list.


RISUS has been around for a while and it’s probably one of the most well-known beer & pretzel RPGs out there.

In RISUS every character consists of a number of clichés rated in dice. When your character wants to attempt an action you pick the most appropriate cliché and roll the dice, add the results and compare it with a difficulty set by the GM.

RISUS has a simple and universal conflict resolution system that can be used for everything from knife combats to basketweaving contests. RISUS’ lighthearted tone and ultra-light rules might not be for everyone but every gamer should at least have read it once.

Stars Without Number: Free Edition

Stars Without Number is the combination of two great things: old-school D&D and science fiction. The 210-paged book contains all the rules you need to run campaigns set into the far future.

And even though the game comes with a complete setting it’s possible to easily adapt it to almost any Sci-Fi background. The rules feel pretty old-school but the rules are written in a way, that even new players can understand them easily. I have to admit I always had problems with descending Armor Classes until I read SWN. 😉

Wanton Role-Playing System


The Wanton Roleplaying System or WaRP for short is the system that was created about 20 years ago for Over The Edge.  Last year, Atlas Games decided to release the rules under the OGL.

I have to admit, I never read or played Over The Edge, but I got interested and was surprised to see that these old-rules read like something that could have been released quite recently. From what I know it could pretty well be the first system with a strong narrativistic approach to roleplaying games.

Warrior, Rogue & Mage

This list would not have been complete without a mention of Warrior, Rogue & Mage. WR&M is a rules-light fantasy game I’ve written in 2010. In WR&M the three fantasy classes of classic fantasy RPGs are actually the character’s attributes.

The core rules consist of a 41-paged PDF which include all rules needed to play the game, a bestiary and a complete fantasy setting.

In the months following the release of the core rules I was able to make a couple of supplements available which expand on the rules and add additional options for your game. These supplements have been written by me and others including the industry veterans Colin Chapman and Brian Brousseau.



You’re intrigued by the Wyrm System but neither fantasy nor pulp are your thing? Fret not, there’s something for you: WYRED.WYRED is a cyberpunk roleplaying game using the Wyrm System to allow players and GMs to delve into a dark and grim future, which authors like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson have written about.

WYRED is also available in a pocketmod version which is always a plus.

This list is of course far from being extensive. There are countless free RPGs out there, some of them are on par with commercial games, sometimes even better. If you want to read more about free RPGs check out 1KM1KT, The Free RPG Blog, or the Freebies category here on the blog.

What are your thoughts on free RPGs? Do you like them or do you tend to ignore them? Please share your thoughts below!