Playing games on a computer or console is great fun, but these systems set the rules in code and often are designed to be played with just one person in a room. This makes the social aspect of gaming less important and leaves players at the mercy of the game’s rules.
Tabletop role-playing games get around these problems by putting players around the same table. They’re great fun – but in a world where numerous video games are available for $20 or less, the hardcover books required by most tabletop games appear expensive. There are, however, a few online resources that let you start playing for free.
The D6 system has a self-explanatory name. In this game you can accomplish almost anything using the traditional six-sided die. This makes the system more appealing to complete newbies because players don’t need to buy a set of gaming dice.
D6 System hasn’t experienced much development as of late, so the amount of total content for the system is limited compared to big names like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. There’s a lot of older content, however, including a Star Wars RPG and a Ghostbusters RPG. These settings are not free, and pre-date the era of PDFs, but the rulebooks are available used for $10 or less.
With that said, D6 System is not tied to any setting. It’s equally suitable for fantasy, horror, sci-fi or anything else. You can make up anything you’d like or base a game off the free setting-specific expansions for adventure, fantasy and space.
This game has become a cult hit thanks to an incredibly successful Kickstarter that brought the system both money and attention. At its core, Dungeon World is an attempt to blend old-school dungeon crawl aesthetics and feel with intuitive game design. It’s a fluid, focused system that don’t get in the way of the adventure’s narrative.
While the Kickstarter has allowed the developers to work on high-quality artwork for premium PDFs, the entire system is available for free online as a website or a PDF/ePub download. The free rules even provide introductory information to help players start their first session.
Though the core system is free, adventures in the setting will generally be paid. The availability of adventures is limited because the core game is new. You can, of course, create your own adventures for free.
FATE stands for Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment. It’s based off a generic role-playing game called FUDGE that was released in 1992 but is modified in the interest of providing more focus on narrative.
The system does this primarily through the use of Aspects. These are vague descriptors like “Alert” or “Mercenary” that can a player can invoke during the game to provide situational bonuses. For example, an Alert character could invoke that aspect to gain a bonus when attempting to notice monsters nearby.
A variety of FATE resources are available online, many of which can be found on the FATE RPG website. There is a relatively small amount of adventuring content but several books are available including Spirit Of The Century and The Dresden Files RPG. Free content of varying quality can be found on FATE fan sites.
Pathfinder is not generally known as a free product. The core rulebook is $40 in retail stores or can be had for about $30 online, and there’s a huge library of supplemental content on top of that. You can, however, start playing for free. Just visit the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Document and start reading. All the rules you need to begin playing the game can be found there.
Paizo, the company behind the game, even provides free PDF adventures like Horror at Dagger Rock and Master of the Fallen Fortress. These are designed for low-level characters and provide a solid introduction to the system.
Chances are that you’ll eventually want buy some rulebooks, but there’s no need to do so. The free content provides plenty of depth and an imaginative gamer should have no trouble developing new adventures with the rules published online.
The Savage Worlds system uses the tagline “Fast, Furious, Fun!” to describe itself. Corny as it sounds, it’s a good description of the system. Savage Worlds focuses on light, practical rules that are easy to understand and encourage fast, furious fights with numerous opponents instead of complex encounters with a handful of enemies.
Savage Worlds is built to support any genre. The same goes for the test drive rules which, at just 16 pages long, are among the incredibly efficient and easy to understand. You can use these rules in your own setting or in The Wild Hunt, a free adventure released to help players jump right in the game.
Expanding on the rules doesn’t cost much. The Explorers Edition paperback can be found for less than $10 used and the Deluxe book, which includes full-color art, can be had for as little as $20.
These tabletop RPGs all let you start playing with friends immediately. You can print the rules or, if you’d prefer, use tablets, smartphones and eReaders instead. These will help you reduce clutter and save on the cost of paper and ink.
You also can use mobile apps like GM Toolkit, Combat Assistant and Pocket Tabletop RPG Helper to help you keep track of games. A tabletop will still be required but the only piece of paper absolutely required for modern gaming is a character sheet.
Image Credit: Kyle Ferrin
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